Played on PlayStation 4 Pro for review
Marvel’s Spider-Man was developed by Insomniac Games (Ratchet and Clank, Sunset Overdrive) exclusively for the Sony PlayStation. The story follows our favorite wall-crawler, 8 years into his tenure, as a new villain threatens the city and pushes Peter to his physical and mental limits. To say that I’ve been eagerly awaiting this game is an understatement. I’ve been a Spider-Man fan since I was a child. Peter is the hero I wanted to grow up to be, he shaped a good deal of my life. Spidey has had a turbulent time with adaptations, from failed animated shows to great cinematic outings, and video games of varying quality. I’m happy to say that Marvel’s Spider-Man isn’t just the best Spider-Man game I’ve played, but also possibly the best adaptation of the character ever.
Part of what sets this game apart is the focus on how experienced this Spider-Man is, and the history behind him within this new universe. A good chunk of his “rogues gallery” already know him and have faced him before the events of the game; Peter knows what he’s doing, we aren’t watching him go through hero-growing-pains. He’s a proficient fighter, and he has a handle on developing gadgets to aid him in his crime fighting, his relationships are also well defined and possess a history. All of this rolls into what is perhaps the strongest aspect of this game, the story. Peter’s journey through this game is a transformative one, and it tests him immensely, not just as Spider-Man, but as Peter Parker as well. The writers did an excellent job of showing all facets of Peter, from his issues with relationships and his career due to his double life, to his money troubles and chronic tardiness. It’s an excellent window into the life of a modern young adult, that just happens also to be a superhero.
Martin Li/Negative Man is an incredibly strong villain, one with genuinely understandable motives, but there’s more at work behind the scenes. He does horrible things, but they give you just enough of a window into him as a person for you to understand his plight. The relationship between Peter and Mary Jane also winds up being an essential part of the story, no spoilers, but she has a sizable role to play, and she teaches Peter some of the most critical lessons he’ll learn during your playtime; she genuinely moved me emotionally once or twice. Peter’s mentor is also an active part of the plot. He’s a driving force for both sides of our hero, and I won’t spoil who he is here for those who don’t know, just know that where they take this relationship is equal parts heartbreaking and enraging in a good way. Peter’s relationship with Aunt May is also excellent, and the way she factors into this story in the third act is genuinely compelling. This is due in part to an incredibly strong script and performances from every single actor. Yuri Lowenthal especially puts in a powerhouse performance as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. He delivers each line with conviction and authenticity, he feels so emotionally connected to this character that I can’t help but buy his performance in every scene. Laura Bailey is equally excellent as Mary Jane, the way she bounces off of Lowenthal’s Peter is perfection, and she sells every word. Nancy Linari delivers a powerful and meaningful performance as Aunt May. You can hear the love and affection in her voice as she talks to Peter. Stephen Oyoung is also great as Martin Li/Negative Man. He’s very charming, well mannered and pleasant as Martin Li, but once he goes full tilt bad guy, he becomes incredibly intimidating.
From a game-play perspective, Spider-Man plays like a dream. The web-slinging is addictive, those who described it as “therapeutic” weren’t kidding. There are few things in games as calming as swinging through Insomniac’s New York City. Insomniac made NYC so easy to traverse with its astounding locomotive mechanics. The swinging itself is physics-based, so if you release mid-swing, you speed forward, and if you release at the top of the swing, you soar higher. Couple that with the easy parkour system and web zip mechanics, and you’ll have an expert flow in no time. It’s so damn satisfying that I’ve spent hours just swinging around the city. The combat is also a strong point. It utilizes a lot of similar aspects that Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham franchise used, focusing on attacking and dodging incoming attacks. Insomniac managed to take this template and turn it up a notch with Spider-Man, adding to how much of an authentic adaptation this is. Spidey’s movements are acrobatic, fast, and hard hitting. The animations are top notch too, with Spider-Man sliding between thugs’ legs, flurries of kicks, and air attacks. Rather than having a counter button, you press the circle button to do a simple dodge. Using this at the right time could change your position just enough to get a couple of excellent hits in. You can also combine fisticuffs with gadgets, like web bombs to instantly web up a group of enemies, trip mines to suck enemies against a wall and web them, and electric webbing, among others. All of these options sound like it would make combat easy, but the way that Insomniac throws different, albeit not original, enemy types at you change the combat up. Shield enemies, riflemen, snipers, brutes, fliers, etc. change the flow of combat, and at the speed you are usually traveling during these fights, you have to pay attention to each enemy you take on, as they usually don’t wait their turn to attack you. Thankfully, you have means of crowd control, including the suit abilities. These special powers are tied to a meter that grants you a useful ability in sticky situations; these can range from area-of-effect attacks to restocking your gadget instantly. Pairing these abilities with your gadgets and skills is how you’re going to really unlock the fun of combat. The best part about this portion of the game is that it really makes you feel like a superhero; you’re attacks FEEL powerful, knocking enemies into each other and sending them flying. It’s the definition of a power fantasy.
Stealth combat is also a factor in Spider-Man, and this aspect plays very similarly to the predator missions and skills in the Arkham franchise. Perching above and webbing up baddies is simple, and the situations are rarely too difficult if you pay attention to enemy eye-lines. Admittedly, the system can be a little too easy at times, with a generous heads-up display that tells you whether or not it’s safe make a move. You have some skills to use other than just standard grab tactics. You can distract enemies with a well-placed web shot to break up groups, use trip mines to silently web enemies to walls (or each other if you’re feeling particularly mean), and in the Mary Jane sequences (yes, she’s playable), you must stay completely invisible. This is a little more challenging, but if you have even a rudimentary understanding of stealth tactics, you’ll be fine.
As said before, Spider-Man’s NYC is stellar, but the amount that Insomniac has packed into the world is what will keep you playing for hours past the credit roll. From the collectibles, like Peter’s old backpacks scattered around the city, to NYC and Marvel landmarks to photograph, these are fun little diversions, as they add more dimension to the universe and history of Spidey in this iteration. There are also a substantial number of side missions, ranging from pretty standard to a mini side-story featuring a couple Spider-Man villains. Then there are the random crimes, which are a continuously rotating collection of combat encounters. They’re simple, they’re fun, and really help you get used to the combat mechanics. I can see how people would find them repetitive, but I haven’t gotten bored with them in my pretty long play-through. There are also challenge missions put out by a certain Marvel villain (whom I won’t spoil for those who are unaware), centered around stealth, time trials, and combat. These award 1-3 stars based upon your score, kind of like any other challenge mission; depending on which challenge, getting to three stars can be pretty hard. It took me around nine attempts to get three stars on one of the challenges. There are also research puzzles to partake in to earn research tokens, which you can use to craft new gadgets, suit upgrades, or entirely new suits. These puzzles are pretty simple in concept, although some of them get a little more complex later on; they’re mostly just visual puzzles, but I never felt annoyed doing them, and the suits were worth the time.
Let’s talk about the suits. There are twenty-eight main suits in the game, and they’re primarily unlocked through earning tokens and leveling up. I like most of the suits, but there are a few I’m not a huge fan of, like the “Fear Itself” suit, which is just ugly as hell. I’m also not big on the fact that there are THREE MCU suits in the game (Iron Spider, Stark Suit, and Homemade Suit), that just feels like overkill. Obviously, I understand it’s marketing and the most recent rendition of the character; I just think you could easily have removed one or two of those for one of the more iconic suits.
On the technical side, Spider-Man is absolutely gorgeous, the lighting is especially stunning. It’s sad that there isn’t a day-night cycle because watching that illumination gradually change would be pretty sweet, but they do allow you to pick the time of day after you complete the story. The texture work is also phenomenal. I played the game on the PS4 Pro, so I had it on its highest settings, and the fabrics are impressiv; the weave and texture of Spidey’s suit is jaw-dropping, the leather of MJ’s jacket is stellar. The main character models look excellent as well, in cut-scenes, you can see a surprising level of detail in the characters’ skin. It’s not without issues, as there is some pop-in when you’re swinging through the city at high speeds, I also encountered a couple minor clipping issues, but overall its a fantastic looking game, easily one of the best graphical games on Sony’s platform.
John Paesano’s musical score is FANTASTIC. This might be the second best Spider-Man score behind Danny Elfman’s iconic soundtrack. The sheer epic qualities it invokes within action scenes, and the way Paesano improves every emotional situation with the music is astounding. Easily one of the strongest scores of the year. The sound effects are also strong, with punches sounding suitably meaty, gunfire feeling punchy, and explosions booming. The ambient noises of the city around you are also realistic. In the distance you can hear helicopters, horns honking, pigeons cooing, and the breeze blowing. It’s all so well mixed together, I never had any issues hearing the dialogue over the sound effects or music, and never needed subtitles.
Spider-Man will run about 20-25 hours most likely, and with side missions, you could extend that length. That alone makes it worth the sixty dollar price tag. It’s difficulty is fair, although there are some obnoxious moments during combat that make it feel a little annoying, like when you dodge away from someone, and they just turn around and connect with you despite the dodge, or when you get caught in an explosion radius that you should have certainly been out of. Little things that, while not game breaking, can annoy and make the game feel more difficult at times than it really is.
Marvel’s Spider-Man is an excellent first entry into this new wall-crawler saga. It’s gorgeous, its emotionally impactful, and fun as hell to play. There are some annoyances, as well as a stealth system that may be a little too easy at times, but even with those minor issues, this is a game that should be in every gamer’s collection, and one of the greatest comic book games to be released this decade.
What did you think of Marvel’s Spider-Man? Let me know in the comment section below. Stay nerdy everyone!