Happy New Year, dear readers! After a relaxing Christmas/ New Year break and a stressful few weeks of coursework and an essay, I am back to university and my blog. Lectures and my evening class only resumed this week so I don’t yet have the inspiration for any writing posts: hopefully they will resume soon and, at any rate, I also meant to use this blog for various other kinds of posts. What follows is my current thoughts on the game Marvel’s Spider-Man for Playstation 4, which I started playing last weekend.
[Note to reader: I’m going to try and avoid saying “makes you feel like Spider-Man” as much as possible. Apologies in advance if it still crops up.]
As someone who grew up on a healthy diet of Spyro the Dragon and then Ratchet and Clank, I was excited when I heard that Insomniac Games were developing the latest Spider-Man game. It’s not like Spidey games have had much luck recently, with 2004’s Spider-Man 2 still considered the best Spider-Man game. I didn’t particularly intend to pick up the new one : I rarely use my PS4 as it is, I didn’t want another distraction from uni work, and I had just enough Spidey in my life between the comics and recent movies.
But then I thought, after Spider-Man: Homecoming being decent and Into the Spider-verse being amazing (Go see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse. That’s not optional) that hey, maybe it’s a good time for Spider-Man across all media platforms. So, after waiting for the hype to die down and checking in with a few trusted friends and reviewers, last weekend I popped Spider-Man into my PS4 and had a go.
And God damn.
God damn is it good. Is it the best Spider-Man game ever made, better than Spider-Man 2? Sometimes on-par, sometimes better.
Is it perfect? No, but I’ll start with what I like about it first because I want this to be a more positive piece, and my gripes are few.
For me, Marvel’s Spider-Man is to Spider-Man games what Into the Spider-verse is to Spider-Man movies. A well-crafted experience that gets something about Spider-Man that a lot of other recent media/ Sony cash-grabs haven’t managed.
Nothing sums it up much better than the web-swinging, which is the cornerstone of any open-world Spider-Man game. The web swinging looks visually great, with Spider-Man having a fantastic variety of different swinging animations for different moves. Webs look like they (mostly) attach to nearby buildings when swinging, and if there’s nothing around you’ve got to suck it up and either web zip or free-fall until there’s something nearby. Even web zip animations have a bit of variation, as occasionally Spider-Man will grab onto two nearby points to propel himself.
Mechanically the web swinging (and the rest of the game) is great, too. For mobility Spidey has plenty of moves:
• Web swinging, parkour, the “basics”
• Web-zipping (mid-air and to an auto-targeted point),
• A post web-zip “point launch” mechanic for maintaining momentum
• A corner-turn web-zip move
• The ability to manually aim and web-zip to any nearby surface or perch point
Once you get into the swing of things (ha) it’s both a little challenging and very fun to just swing around and get into a rhythm, keeping your momentum going. To top it all off, the fantastic soundtrack by John Paesano has a special track (City of Hope) that only seems to start playing when you start swinging. I’m not sure if it’s triggered by a certain move speed or button presses as the track winds up or down as you start or stop swinging, but whoever though of a special swinging musical number is a bloody genius. Like a beautiful gilded frame on a painting, the track simultaneously ties the web-swinging experience together and further enhances it, making it feel like you’re truly epic as you swing through the city.
The combat feels like a more interesting version of Rocksteady’s Arkham series, with a similar dodge/ counter system but greater focus on mobility and staying airborne. There’s generally a lot more options to start with and unlock; whereas the Arkham series got a little repetitive in its combat and Batman’s gadgets and unlocks didn’t always feel useful to the core combat loop, in Spider-Man the various moves and gadgets feel more required than an optional play-style.
For example, when transitioning from high-speed swinging into combat Spider-Man’s momentum may cause his move to instantly knock-out the first foe you hit, and his web shooters’ different abilities can be used to stun some of the enemies while you deal with others. In general the combat is a little more challenging and keeps you on your toes, as dodging is nowhere near as reliable a tactic for avoiding damage as it was in the Arkham series: all-at-once multiple enemies may be engaging you with fists, melee weapons, shields or different kinds of firearms from pistols up to rocket-launchers.
There’s a lot of other positives too, too many to go into more depth on (especially as I’ve not even finished the core game’s story, let alone grabbed all the collectibles or started the DLC). But here’s my few fairly minor gripes with the game:
Boss fights. As low as my playtime is, I would have expected more so far and I hear there aren’t many boss fights in general. While I’m not expecting the full rogue’s gallery to be popping up every mission, I do miss the amount of boss fights the old Spider-Man games had and hope that they either pop up more frequently as I get further through the story, or if not in a potential sequel.
The open world. Traversing it is great, the collectibles are fairly easy to find and I’m enjoying finding the ones that give you titbits of backstory on this iteration of Spider-Man. But like most modern sandbox/ open-world titles, there is a lot of the same busy-work dotted around that slightly mar the experience. Some of the side missions have been quite dull but are required if you want to obtain their tokens to unlock new suits, upgrades etc.
On a related note, there are “radio towers” dotted around the city that unveil parts of the map, something I’d expect more from a Ubisoft title than an Insomniac one. While they don’t directly inhibit travel around the city, just the viewing of the area and its collectibles on the map, the fact they’re in there feels a bit weird and would certainly give the average Ubisoft exec a bit of a twitch in their nether regions. A lot of the open-world activities feel like they’ve been thrown in haphazardly from other games in the genre, and if the rest of core gameplay and navigation wasn’t so good, this would certainly be a bigger strike against the game.
Finally, to try and cover this point without spoiling the game for readers (or myself, as I’m not that far in) the supporting cast of characters in this game is great, but that doesn’t mean I want to play as them. I’ve had a couple of sections like this so far; one could have been covered in some dialogue, the other was at least necessary for the impact of the scene, but I suspect the game has more of these in store for me and mainly those of the former variety. I understand the justifications for these segments in games; developers feel they need to “give the player a break” from the crazy action going on so that it doesn’t lose its appeal. In Spider-Man this just comes across as Insomniac having a lack of faith in their game – it’s so well crafted and packaged, the core gameplay and story don’t get boring.
In conclusion, while it’s not perfect and does have a couple of issues, Insomniac Games have made an absolutely fantastic game. To fellow gaming fans, super-hero fans or Spider-Man fans, I cannot recommend Marvel’s Spider-Man enough. It nails almost every aspect of gameplay and character and, most importantly, it really makes you feel like Spider-Man.