Fri, 21 Sept 2018
Title: Marvel’s Spider-Man
Platforms: PS4 (tested)
Release Date: 7th September 2018
Rating: PEGI 16
After a short opening cut scene, it took all of 10 seconds for me to be grinning like an idiot, as I took my first swings through New York. The very act of moving in Spider-Man is without doubt a series high and possibly one the most satisfying in modern gaming, period.
There is a huge array of moves available for players to move Spidey around the Big Apple with. It may come across quite daunting at first but it doesn't take long before our whipping around the city with ease. Stringing together a series of swings, leaps and dives in sequence is incredibly rewarding and does a brilliant job making you feel like you’ve slipped on the famous red and blue spandex for yourself.
Sprinting to the top of the Empire State building and diving off, before slinging out a web at the last second never gets old. Actions like this are necessary as momentum plays a big part in how you get around the city.
There's a tremendous physicality to the way Spider-Man gets around. Webbing homes in on the nearest structure and you have to get a good angle on your swing to carry any real speed. Challenges arise when you enter areas such as parks where the isn't anything to latch onto but Spider-Man has a few tricks up his sleeve to pull himself along.
Insomniac does a terrific job of keeping momentum going by implementing some stunning animations that see Spider-Man clear almost any obstacle in his path with ease. Be that diving through fire escapes or spring boarding off the top of lamp posts. Marvel’s Spider-Man feels at its best when you are moving at great speed. Unfortunately this master class in traversal doesn't always ring true in some the smaller indoor environments where pinpoint platforming can feel a bit finicky.
But this, thankfully, is only a small portion of the game and you will find most of your time spent bounding across rooftops and launching yourself between buildings in Spideys personal playground, that is Manhattan.
Few games have recreated New York with such love and attention as seen here. Every street corner and high rise building has been lovingly recreated and players are encouraged to take the tour in way of photo opportunity side missions. One of the many collectable markers on a busy map. Classic locations such as Times Square and Central Park are all present and correct, coupled with some nice smaller details such as the ice rink at the base of the Rockefeller center or Wall Street Bull which has been adorably replaced by a bronze statue of Lockjaw (the mascot of fellow Marvel heroes, the Inhumans).
Marvel’s Spider-Man is littered with fun little Easter eggs from the Marvel universe. Fictional spots such as the Avengers Tower, Doctor Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum and the Wakandan Embassy are all waiting to be discovered on your journey, all of which adds terrific lore to Marvel's version of New York.
It’s a good thing as well as if you are looking to 100% this game you are going to spend a long time here, tackling all the many side missions and collectibles in the game. Modern open world video game staples such as enemy outposts that need clearing and look out points that reveal new areas of the map are all present.
Collectables like Peter Parker's abandoned backpacks will take some time to collect but each one offers a bit of history to our favorite web slingers back story. Most of these sides are tied to a supervillain of some sort and most offer some form of reward for beating them which makes a little up for the often repetitive nature of the tasks. With such a wealth of source material, I wish we weren’t subjected to such a vanilla roster of side quest though. And if you want to upgrade one of your many gadgets or unlock new suits, you will have to grind through a lot of them as each challenge offers up the tokens you’ll need to progress with as a reward. Tokens that can be spent on a number of upgrades and aesthetical changes such as news suits that not only change appearance but offer ‘Suit Powers’.
A kind of rechargeable special move that can be unleashed on enemies, be that a friendly spider drone sidekick that fights alongside you or (my favorite) Web Blossom. A move that sees Spider-Man jump into the air before unleashing a torrent of webbing at anything in your vicinity. Or to buy new gadgets such as trip mines and electric webbing.
If it wasn’t for how fun Spider-Man feels when getting to these missions, clearing the 5 waves of faceless goons for 6th time, so you can unlock Spidey’s Avengers Infinity War costume, would feel rather tedious. Thankfully by the time these bitesize tasks cleared, you’ve thrown yourself off a building into another string of high flying acrobatics and fun ensues once again.
If you’ve ever played any of the Batman Arkham games then combat will be very familiar to you. Fights play out largely in the same way. Tapping the attack button in the direction of the enemy will set Spider-Man off into a flurry of punches and kicks. Counter attacks can be actioned by hitting circle when your ‘Spidey sense’ prompt appears above your head. Even the stealth sections seem to be lifted from the Dark Knight. Perching above an enemy and snatching them into the air and leaving them hanging incapacitated seems very familiar.
It's not a bad series to pull from though, as Rocksteady (Batman Arkham Asylum's creators) practically rewrote the book on how to make a successful superhero video game. And there is an argument to be made that these mechanics are best suited to Spider-Man's move set any way. Thankfully Spider-Man feels different enough in a fight that you won't be hung up on this detail for too long.
Thanks to Spider-Man's web shooters, you'll have plenty of room for expression and before long you’ll develop your best combos to take down enemies. Striking an enemy into the air and knotting them up with a blast of webbing before slamming and sticking him to the ground is very cool. Making use of your environment by spring off walls into enemies and catapulting objects such as manhole covers is exactly what you’d expect from an established Spider-Man.
Which is exactly the version of Spider-Man we're presented with here.
See, one of the things I have failed to mention is that we are not going through the same origin story we get subjected to every time Spider-Man is reinvented. In fact Peter Parker has been fighting crime as the Spider-Man for 8 years now. Villains such as Rhino and Electro are already established and in most cases behind bars. Whereas some have not quite become the baddies we love to route against just yet.
And that leads us on to one of Spider-Man's greatest strengths. Its story.
Peter is long out of school and working in a lab with Dr. Octavius, a brilliant scientist who we know to become Dr. Octopus later on down the line. Interactions with ‘Doc Ock’ are not only tense, because you know the path he is heading down, but incredibly warm and touching as you can see the strength of their bond laid out in front of you not only in their work but also as sort of father and son dynamic. Favorites like Aunt May and Norman Osborn are also here, as you'd expect as well as some surprising additions to the cast, that are sure to please fans of the comic books and movies alike.
Peter Parker’s relationship with Mary Jane is one of the real highlights of the campaign and one that a great job of grounding the story and bringing it into the modern-day. Things have obviously gone south over the years in Peter and MJ’s relationship and life has taken them on separate paths only to be brought back together again in the events that unfold.
Scenes where the former high schools sweethearts are arguing over text or reminiscing on the time Peter upset the neighbors by setting their kitchen on fire are very relatable and incredibly endearing. But Mary Jane isn’t just sidelined to the role of damsel in distress like she has so many times before. Players will actually take control of the spunky investigative journalist as she sneaks behind enemy lines trying get the latest scoop for the Daily Bugle. These sections give good respite from the frantic action of the main game and also lets players delve into the world of the villains a little deeper.
It's these moments of insight that help round out a game crammed full of nods and back story that pay great homage to the history of a character that has been in the forefront of popular culture for more than 50 years.
Amazing. Superior. Ultimate. Whichever adjective you choose to put in front of the title fits. Insomniacs Spider-Man offers not only the best video game version of the loveable wall crawler but one of the most engaging and relatable incarnations we’ve seen to date and I cannot wait to see what comes next. Excelsior!