Those are but a few of the adjectives games media journalists who review the game would choose to describe Marvel’s Spider-Man for the PlayStation 4. But if you were to ask me what word I would choose?
It would be “human”.
Never before have I played as a superhero feeling more human than when I am in Peter Parker’s shoes. His dilemma, life choices and tribulations in and out of the suit puts this superhero video game on a whole new level never achieved before in other titles.
While of course, anyone who jumps into the game knows very well of Peter’s struggles in juggling his superhero work with his daily commitments, developer Insomniac excelled in portraying this in the most convincing and effective manner. For that, kudos to the writing staff.
Can He Swing From A Thread?
No Spider-Man game is complete without some talk about the wallcrawler’s gravity-defying action he pulls off above the streets of Manhattan. In Spider-Man, Insomniac’s past experience from Sunset Overdrive was shown in spades.
The experience feels familiar yet novel; exhilarating yet natural. I lost count the number of times I went “whoa, I could do that?!” and then repeating that same feat almost instantly. The controls may be a tad tricky in the beginning, but you’ll get the hang of it in all scenarios – traveling and combat – almost instantaneously.
Spidey’s method of travel – albeit unconventional – were fleshed out in the most satisfying manner as momentum play a huge part in itself. The mixture of the classic swing, quick dives, rolls, point vaults, and air dashes make traveling a satisfying, thrilling activity which felt like a mini-game itself.
So confident were Insomniac of their game that right off the bat, they plunge you straight into the iconic suit, darting face-first towards New York City’s pavement.
Above: Our Preview Of Insomniac’s Spider-Man
The developers also added realism to the whole swinging mechanic where you cannot simply hold down the R2 button to swing when there are no other taller structures around you. Improvisation is a common word associated with Marvel’s Spider-Man and it’s exactly that which improves your swinging experience tenfold.
We implore you to try swinging past, over, and through a multitude of locations such as billboards, permanent obstructions and even the fire escape. The animation tackles each of these obstacles in varying manner, allowing that seamless, organic feel to Spider-Man’s traversing around New York.
While you can go for the boring ‘Quick Travel’ option which is peppered throughout the city, I bet you’d opt for manual travel. Yes, it IS that fun.
Catching Thieves, Just Like Flies
More often than not, you will find yourself distracted from whatever you are doing by random crimes occurring throughout the city. It could be a mugging, break-in, a car chase or even criminals engaged in a shootout with the cops. Spider-Man’s involvement is not compulsory but being a friendly neighbourhood superhero does reward do-gooders.
Combat-wise, Spider-Man’s acrobatic maneuvers are a far cry from the bruiser-style as shown by Batman in the Arkham series. While these two games share some similarities especially with the “one man vs an army” theme, Spider-Man’s more improvisational style makes him the Jackie Chan to Batman’s Bruce Lee.
Almost any item or object in sight can be used as a weapon be it manhole covers, scaffolding and even the RPG that is being fired at you.
Our minor gripe though would be the camera which can be disorienting and not intuitive enough especially during fight sequences involving a swarm of enemies. Quite often we found ourselves webbing the wrong thug despite Spider-Man directly facing them, resulting in an otherwise avoidable gunshot. This can be fatal especially during boss fights where the split second spent on reorienting yourself may result in a one-hit knockout if you’re not careful.
Most open-world games have issues of over-saturating maps with lots of pointless activities which when completed, does not feel as rewarding as they should be. In Spider-Man, Insomniac tackled this hurdle by introducing several types of in-game currency called ‘Tokens’.
These tokens can be obtained by completing objectives of varying difficulty levels around the map. Completing specific tasks such as catching petty criminals, taking down hoodlums behind dodgy alleys and even running errands for the cops will reward you with a number of tokens.
Take A Look, Overhead
Although Insomniac claim that they did not build a 1:1 representation of the island of Manhattan, players can still visit real and fictional New York landmarks including the Grand Central Station, the Chrysler and Empire State buildings, Central Park, the Avengers Tower, Rand Enterprises building, the New York Sanctum Sanctorum and even the office building for Alias Investigations. Visiting these locales, in turn, reward you with an opportunity to snap a picture, which then contributes to Landmark Tokens.
The Photo Mode, which is available on launch-date (7th September), will definitely be a popular tool as players are expected to hunt for the most scenic vantage points in Manhattan island, which is made even more impressive with the in-game day and night cycles.
Accumulating these Landmark Tokens and combining them with those obtained from other mini side quests mentioned earlier can then be used to unlock loads of cool stuff including suits, skill upgrades and ‘Spider Gadgets’ to improve one’s travelling and combat abilities.
Speaking of suits, there are 27 to collect in the game – each with their own special abilities. Of the 27, three are among those included via the pre-order bundle. So even if you have not pre-ordered the game, fret not. You should be able to obtain these suits (assuming you have the number of tokens required) about halfway through completion of the game.
Most suits comes with a special ability which, while unlocked along with the suit, isn’t bound to it. You can mix and match these abilities with other suits you have unlocked prior – For example, while the default Suit Power for the Infinity War Iron Spider suit is ‘Iron Arms’, you can modify this suit to feature Web Bloom instead, which is the default Suit Power for the classic, OG suit.
In addition to that, you have up to three slots to mod any suit to, ahem, suit your own style of play. That way, you are not forced to don a particular look just because you prefer its default Suit Power or ability.
Also, it is worth reminding here that locating all of Peter Parker’s hidden backpacks around the island will reward players with the “Homemade Suit” from the MCU’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.
There’s A Hero In Everyone
However, focusing solely on the gameplay and its mechanics means ignoring the brilliant story which is told here. Spider-Man comics have always been about family and the people surrounding Peter Parker and in Insomniac’s Spider-Man, it is no different. Actually, it’s probably the best representation of Peter’s small circle ever fleshed out not just in video games, but across all other media.
You quickly grow to genuinely care for these characters; even the baddies whose background stories were crafted with deep care and thought. A mark of a well-rounded and well-written villain is when they are able to make the viewers empathize with their cause. And in this game, they come in droves.
The women in Pete’s life are brilliantly fleshed out as well. Gone are the days where they were just cannon fodder for the villains or treated as liabilities waiting for Spider-Man to swing in and save the day. Each character have their own thoughts, storylines, and reasons for being part of the story.
Insomniac’s take on Mary Jane Watson is a breath of fresh air as not only is she able to hold her own, she is also given her own stealth missions which are a welcomed change of pace from the high-wire web-slinging action which makes up about 90% of the game.
Spider-Man’s inside help in the NYPD, Yuri Watanabe is no slouch either. While we don’t get to play as her in the base game, she’s a very well-written character whose role is more than just a pretty face feeding Spidey with police intel.
The banter between Spider-Man and Yuri turned out to be one of my cherished moments in the game – almost sibling-like and we’d love to see more of her snarky quips in upcoming DLCs for the game.
Since we are on the topic of quips, keep your ears open for the radio show featuring our favourite moustachioed news editor-turned-radio host, J. Jonah Jameson!
Miles Morales’ inclusion in the game sets the building blocks for a much larger universe which isn’t just contained to Peter Parker’s long-established circle. You will learn how he fits in the Spider-verse and keen-eyed players would instantly notice the subtle hints of where things are headed.
And lastly, there’s our titular hero Peter Parker. Eight years into the job, he’s seen and done it all, but it doesn’t mean he is immune to what the life of a secret superhero entails. Seeing his relationship with MJ stagnate while simultaneously facing issues paying rent, his only escape was to don the red and blue tights and combat crime.
Coupled with earlier mentioned Avengers-linked landmarks, we foresee this game being the first step for a Marvel Cinematic Universe-like ecosystem for Marvel’s video games. Insomniac declined to comment on their direction after this but based on what we’ve been playing for the past few days, they’d be mad to not steer in that direction.
All Webbed Up
Insomniac’s Spider-Man is a masterpiece in storytelling and execution of action sequences from top to bottom. It excels where other superhero video games failed to date – bringing an element of humanity to their title character. In the end, it isn’t the suit, gadgets nor special abilities that make Peter Parker the hero we all aspire to be. It is Peter Parker’s humanity that makes him THE superhero.
A superhero isn’t gauged by how hard they pack in a punch, but the size of their heart is what matters most. Marvel’s Spider-Man embodies that through and through.
+ Organic and intuitive swinging mechanics
+ Free-flowing, seamless combat system
+ Great storytelling
+ Deep customization options
+ Gorgeous graphics
+ Various and worthwhile side missions
– Some dodgy camera work
Full Score: 90/100
Reviewed on the PlayStation 4 and review copy courtesy of Sony Interactive Entertainment (Singapore).