With great power, there must also come great responsibility.
From the first appearance of Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15 to the more recent Hollywood movies, these are formative words for Peter Parker and his arachnid alter-ego. To Insomniac Games, these words must surely take on a meaning of their own. Not only do they define the character at the core of their newest title, they define the responsibility behind bringing him to players all over the world. He’s a personality that many hold dear, their expectations for any piece of media sporting his name immediately firing through the roof.
It goes without saying that there’s a lot of pressure adapting Spider-Man into the video game world, however, it’s a pressure that Insomniac rises above with ease.
From the explosive opening chapter to the emotional final moments, Insomniac’s first venture into the world of the web-slinging superhero is the greatest to ever make its way to a console. Whether it’s the fluid traversal, satisfying combat, beautiful visuals or gripping narrative, there are very few games in Spider-Man’s backlog that so convincingly place you in his shoes. It’s simply a tonne of fun, and whilst it does have issues, what it nails vastly outweighs what it doesn’t quite master.
From the moment you switch Marvel’s Spider-Man on, you can tell it’s a game that’s lovingly crafted. There’s simply an amazing attention to detail, whether that comes in the phenomenal facial animations, lighting, environmental storytelling or absolutely exceptional sound design. This is unquestionably a comic world that feels authentic and detailed; Insomniac take the time to make this one of the most visually exciting games to ever grace a console.
Marvel’s Spider-Man is more than just a pretty face, however, with the narrative becoming more than just a standard campaign but a highlight reel of what makes the character so special. From a high-octane chase aboard a prison raft to a heart-wrenching final chapter, this is a Spider-Man story that feeds off the web-slinger’s best outings from both the comics and the big screen.
The narrative’s not only a great Spider-Man story, though. Allowing players to take control of Peter (and a few others), the game cleverly drives up the stakes by showing the protagonists interactions with those around him, seeing their lives change as they deal with the consequences of his actions. Like all great Spider-Man tales, it’s as much a story about the arachnid-inspired superhero as it is the awkward scientist who fills his boots.
But what would a great Spider-Man video game be if you didn’t feel like Spider-Man? Luckily, Insomniac have that covered.
The gameplay is mainly divided into two parts: traversal and combat. The highlight of the two here is easily the traversal, Insomniac going to great lengths to allow players to swing around the city fluidly and freely. Centred around the player holding the right trigger to swing before launching themselves with the X button, it doesn’t take long for web-slinging to become second nature, the process rewarding player experimentation and quickly making you feel skilled after just minutes of play. What’s more is it simply never stops being satisfying; the act of diving down to street level before launching a well-timed web and swinging into the sky still feeling electric after hours of play.
As you grow more adept, you can also add wall runs and web-zips into your web-slinging arsenal, the controls never becoming too difficult to prevent you feeling empowered but never easy enough to ever make it feel simplistic.
The second slice of Spider-Man‘s gameplay loop comes in its combat. Giving you a varied toolset from the beginning, the beauty of the combat system comes in how much it encourages the kind of improvisation that’s synonymous with the character. Whilst you begin with basic web-moves, dodges and attacks, the introduction of gadgets such as web-bombs and trip mines mean that you can quickly begin crafting combos that feel natural and spontaneous. It’s a lot of fun once you get the hang of it, however, it is perhaps a little too challenging to begin with, making some of the earlier combat encounters intimidating due to its steep learning curve.
In addition to the main moves, there’s also the game’s special attacks which come equipped with different suits. These add a fun extra element to the game as each suit feels like more than a cosmetic item, the range of abilities meaning that you can not only wear the suit but use it in gameplay to get a unique edge.
The final aspect of the combat comes in the game’s stealth missions, which are a welcome – if not a little safe – change of pace to the main fights. They mostly entail Spidey swinging between vantage points and picking off enemies, and whilst they can be fun, they aren’t challenging enough to ever really make much of an impact. Stealth missions where you briefly get to play as other characters add more variety and while they are a little basic, make a change from Spider-Man’s vertiginous approach to sneaking.
You’ll utilise both these combat and traversal sections in the campaign frequently, however, you’ll also use them in equal measure in the open-world. New York is a massive city, and thanks to Insomniac, it’s filled with a wealth of content to indulge in. This is sadly both Spider-Man’s greatest strength and most crippling weakness.
At its finest, the open world is filled with interesting collectables, such as lore filled backpacks, iconic Spidey suits and brilliant side missions that see you thwarting notable super-villains. Yet, at its weakest its populated with tedious wave-base enemy towers and repetitive crime-in-progress missions which quickly become a chore. Whilst playing around in the world is always fun, the monotonous nature of some of the side content can often make combing through the game’s final hours a little dull.
Not only is Marvel’s Spider-Man a monumental achievement for Insomniac Games and Sony, but it’s also a landmark moment for the superhero genre in general. Much like Arkham Asylum back in 2009, Spider-Man is the benchmark for other titles to follow, its ambitious design and serious take on its character crafting an experience that is quintessential for his fans.
After 20 hours within this world, you realise its more than just an entertaining game; it’s an unforgettable Spider-Man story as well.
Platform: PlayStation 4
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: Out now
Spider-Man is the best of the web-slinger’s video game debuts to date; the visuals are striking, its story engaging, and its gameplay is some of the most fluid anywhere on a modern console. Whilst it does occasionally get tangled in its own ambitious web, it makes up for its minor shortcomings with a large helping of heart and an even larger dose of pure fun.
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