Marvel’s Spider-Man is finally out as an exclusive for the PS4. Insomniac is aiming high and bold with Spider-Man, hoping to make the same kind of dent in the superhero genre that the Arkham series managed to do. Spider-Man’s ridiculously large collection of lost backpacks, Mary Jane the super spy, fun times in the science lab and Peter Parker’s endless bad luck. Hit the jump to see how Marvel’s Spider-Man stacks up.
First, let’s talk a bit about graphics, performance and the overall design for the New York playground we get to swing our way through. Graphically, Spider-Man is at most times one of the best looking games on any platform to date. This is especially true on Spidey himself, with rich textures and colors blending with a ton of tiny details for the many suits you can outfit through your adventures. Faces range from excellent, to looking a little lacking in definition depending on the character. Just about any main character gets the special treatment with some very impressive facial detailing, while random citizens, thugs and some side characters look a little muddled. This is acceptable though in a game this large, and it has it where it counts.
Frame rate was never an issue running on a PS4 Pro, and the world itself runs into the same issue as the characters. Most times it looks phenomenal, other times a bit flat and jagged, but again it has it where it counts. Most of the time spent swinging at high speeds while the sunset gleams off the skyline in New York it looks nothing short of spectacular. The city itself is full of Marvel landmarks like Dr. Strange’s Sanctum Santorum, the Wakandan Embassy and the grave of Ben Parker, (there’s actually a trophy for paying your respects here in Harlem). Insomniac took a page from other good open-world titles and had the world change a bit throughout your playthrough. Nothing too crazy, but something to break up each act and they worked well. The city is tons of fun to explore, with the only minor gripe being there wasn’t quite enough in the way of surprises you could stumble upon by accident.
This is definitely a game that rewards you for taking the time to complete the extra tasks that open up to you. Sure there are plenty of random crime to stop, car chases and robberies to help out on, but tackling the challenges and side missions have some of the game’s best surprises including a great optional boss encounter. There are great references to Spider-Man lore and a few that unlock some choice suits for Spidey. One awesome detail is being able to use any of the numerous suits at any point you wish and having those displayed in the game’s cut-scenes. It’s always a pet peeve when you change your outfit, then you come along to a cinematic and your character is magically in their default get up.
Swing, Sling, and Spider-Sting
Plenty of Spider-Man games have gotten web swinging right, giving you that exhilaration and freedom of being Spider-Man let loose in a dense city. Marvel’s Spider-Man has not only gotten that right but perfected it. Swinging is precise while managing a perfect degree of control over direction, speed, and height. Unlocking more traversal abilities like launching off of any point you zip to by hitting X at that perfect moment feels fantastic. Zipping to the right point on a water tower and having Spidey pull himself between the bars then launching from another point and diving into a group of rooftop thugs is cinematic and thrilling. Everything works so well, you’ll rarely feel the need to fast-travel despite the neat detail of Spider-Man riding the subway talking to strangers dressed like him or sleeping on his shoulder.
Combat will feel like coming home to anyone familiar with the Arkham series, but that is in no way a detriment to it. The combat is simple in its’ approach but imbues you with an array of options on how to execute your attacks. You can zip to an enemy, flip over them, throw a mailbox at another, web one into the wall, flip off a surface and perform a lunge attack, flip one into the air to slam them down into another foe and use your bar to execute an instant finisher on the last man standing. This degree of option when it comes to approaching combat gives Marvel’s Spider-Man a feeling all its’ own despite being a system we’re very familiar with.
As you progress throughout Spider-Man’s story, which will last you about 15-20 hours for main missions, you’ll unlock different suits. These must be purchased with tokens earned from doing the extra stuff like taking landmark pictures, completing research missions and collecting your left behind backpacks which are filled with great Spider-Man items that add to the lore of our hero’s 8-year run. Most of the suits come equipped with a unique power like low-gravity for extended air combos, tendrils from the Iron-Spider that break through shields and shockwave attacks. My personal favorite comes late in the game which allows you to quip your enemies, stunning them for a short period. Classic Spider-Man.
You can mix any suit power with any suit, and any three abilities you can modify to your liking. There is an upgrade tree for Spider-Man that you can spend points on earned from each level gained. These increase traversal, combat abilities and stealth options. They’re simple increases, but well implemented and useful upgrades that add to the experience throughout. You can also upgrade your unlocked gadgets like impact web that will slam smaller enemies to a wall, or stun web that will electrify thugs for pummeling.
Peter Parker or The World’s Least Lucky Super Hero
Insomniac wanted to tell a story that was as much about Peter Parker as it is about Spider-Man, and the finished product is better for it. The story has an incredible pacing. The early acts feel a bit like a day in the life of Spider-Man rather than facing down his most famous villains. Peter’s been sporting the tights and locking up criminals for 8 years, so most of the big names inhabit the RAFT prison. There are a lot of slower story moments peppered into your main missions. Working with Otto Octavius at his lab on cybernetic enhancements (you can probably guess how that ends up), talking with Aunt May at the FEAST shelter she works in and desperately trying to fix your wonky relationship with Mary Jane. It all pays off tremendously in the final act of the game where your actions have more weight because you’ve spent time knowing these characters and caring about their well-being.
There is one area where your mileage may vary. You’ll either love these small breaks in the action or despise them while waiting for your next opportunity to swing and sling your way around. Multiple sections of the game have you taking control of either Mary Jane or Miles Morales. These sections consist of light stealth while expanding on some story elements. Some of these are great additions while others feel like a short slog that could’ve easily just been a minor cinematic. Despite that though, it was nice to get to know Miles Morales as he learns what it means to be a hero from Spider-Man and do what he can as a normal person. It was also refreshing to see Mary Jane used as a character with ambitions and goals and not just a plot device for Peter to save. That very point is the main crux of their relationship issues and it plays out at a great pace throughout the story.
Without any spoilers, the main story really takes off in the third act. More villains make their way onto the scene, New York becomes littered with more groups of enemies to fight at random and we get to see the weight of Peter’s decisions come to haunt him. The story beats are a bit familiar, and there aren’t too many twists you wouldn’t have seen coming, but the finale has a wonderful emotional weight to it that is perfectly captured by the talented voice cast that does an incredible job throughout the game. By the end of Marvel’s Spider-Man, I was only left wanting more. There are a couple after-credits scenes that give you a pretty good idea of where we’ll see the next game going and it’s a great direction.
Marvel and Insomniac set out to make the best Spider-Man game they could, and they’ve definitely exceeded that mark. Marvel’s Spider-Man for better or worse stuffs a lot of content into its’ world. Some of the side missions are great, while others are tedious or just not fun anymore after the tenth time stopping a car chase by slamming square until the car halts. The QTE’s throughout the game make you feel like more of a random participant to action rather than the conductor of Spidey’s amazing movements. None of this, however, distracts from a great story with well-done character moments, perfected web swinging, fluid combat with lots of options for approach and lots left to do once the credits roll. Marvel’s Spider-Man leaves you wanting more, and I’m sure the inevitable sequel will be something to behold for not just the superhero genre, but open-world games in general.