Until just recently, I could only imagine what it would be like to launch myself from a strand of webbing into the air dozens of feet above the streets of Times Square, dipping into a headfirst dive toward the ground before shooting out another web at the last possible second and swinging back up through the city skies. At the risk of sounding cliche, it was my childhood dream.
I’ve been a fan of the Amazing Spider-Man for as long as I can remember- and I’ve played many Spidey games.
My hype for Insomniac’s Marvel’s Spider-Man was unprecedented, but I was also extremely wary on account of being severely disappointed in the last few years with the webhead’s previous game outings. That wariness was misplaced, however – Insomniac’s title is the absolute pinnacle gaming experience for not only a Spider-Man title but also superhero gaming as a whole. Its silky smooth mechanics, exceptional storytelling, gorgeous visuals, and authenticity melt together seamlessly to create a genuinely satisfying gaming experience that will leave you craving more and scouring for every last secret and piece of content it has to offer. A handful of crashes, minor technical bugs and underwhelming side missions prevent this from being perfect but Marvel’s Spider-Man has been a game I’ve savored every moment of my 25-30 hours playing, and there’s still so much more Spidey-ing around to be done.
When you play a superhero video game, it’s no secret that you want to feel like the hero you’re portraying. In the Batman Arkham games, you want to feel like the brooding guy who spent years training with ninja assassins before using his money and skills to jump from the shadows and beat the snot out of unsuspecting criminals. Even if, like me, Batman isn’t really your type of hero you can’t argue how well those games allow you to embody the caped-crusader. Spider-Man, on the other hand, has a rough past when it comes to making you feel like the masked web-slinger.
Popular opinion decrees that 2004’s Spider-Man 2 is the top of the food chain when it comes to video game canon (though I prefer Ultimate Spider-Man) and the reasons are pretty simple. Through excellent physics and smooth combat, the player is placed firmly in Spidey’s knee-high red boots. For 14 years it held the title of one of the greatest superhero video games of all time. So naturally a lot of folks, myself included, were cautiously optimistic at best when it was announced that a new Spider-Man game would try to replicate the elusive highs of the genre. Some were understandably more encouraged after hearing that Insomniac Games would be at the helm of the project. Some of their previous titles helped solidify the idea that they would take the idea and run with it. Ratchet and Clank’s deep and elaborate world-building and smooth use of various gadgets could be melted together with Sunset Overdrive’s detailed open world and unique characters to create something truly special. After spending hours with the final product, I’m incredibly elated to say that the wait was definitely worth it.
Marvel’s Spider-Man allowed me to realise that childhood dream, or as close to it as I can come, with a tightly designed game that also inspires raw, critical admiration at traversal mechanics, combat choreography and open world gameplay. There is very obviously a ton of work put into this game; the fresh gameplay often made me feel as though I was playing the lead in a Spider-Man film rather than simply playing a game. Insomniac put years of choreographed martial arts and parkour motion capture love into this game, and they succeed at making the player fall into effortless immersion from the first moment of gameplay. Swinging through the city feels seamless, and even when passing over the shorter buildings Spidey doesn’t miss a beat- and after a little practice, swinging into action feels like a comic book come to life. Spider-Man flips through fire escapes and corrects himself when running around the corners of buildings to keep your course plotted, but the best part is that it isn’t all automated. Most of what Spider-Man performs is done by the player through a series of well-choreographed button inputs meant to put you in Spidey’s shoes as often as possible. Of course, open-world games of this scale will inevitably have some bugs – enemies stuck in a running animation behind objects or the camera shooting below the map for a second, crashes – but constant updates seem to have fixed those issues.
Any true Spidey fan knows that he uses an array of gadgets to fight off criminals and get out of sticky situations- and no one understands this more than Insomniac. The Ratchet influence definitely shines through, and the wallcrawler has quite a few neat gadgets that can be upgraded and used at any time. These are tailored to personal playstyle, and I have a feeling that everyone will have different preferences based on the way they like to handle certain missions and objectives. Sometimes a more stealthy approach is required, so a web trip mine is more useful than the spider-drone- or maybe you don’t care about stealth and you’d rather jump right in with web bombs and electric webs and that’s just fine. Insomniac truly allows the player to choose their path and style on the fly- in true Spidey style.
Gadgets and web swinging aside, a simple but highly useful skill tree grants players the ability to learn brand new skills to improve their style and flow. The skill tree is split into three different categories that each lend to different mechanics of core gameplay- such as traversal and improvisation (using environmental objects and gadgets against enemies). Playing long enough will merit you all the skills, but gradually unlocking them lets you truly master the spider arts at a comfortable and satisfying pace. Skills can range from something as light as performing tricks in the air after swinging to more technically useful moves such as ground smashes and yanking guns from the hands of your foes. Progression is paced well and doesn’t punish the player for choosing one play-style over another- which I was very happy with.
A game can have the most gratifying gameplay possible, but without an equally immersive narrative, it’s only mindless fun. Thankfully, Insomniac doesn’t pull any punches with their project, and their story left me whooping with joy and tearing up in heartbreak. Without spoiling anything, the narrative tones of mentorship and partnership that Insomniac built up in the months leading to release shine brightly in the game, and the story follows Spider-Man as he discovers that one man can’t accomplish everything alone. It’s a tough pill to swallow for titular hero Peter Parker, especially when it comes to letting his longtime friend and love interest Mary Jane Watson throw herself into danger to help him reach his goal. Throughout the duration of the story, Peter grows to accept that his friends are the key to getting him out of the jams he finds himself in. Miles Morales also makes an excellent friend and apprentice to Spidey, and Peter takes many opportunities to instil his morals and advice into him; their dynamic proves refreshing and succeeds in ultimately raising the stakes to all-or-nothing levels.
Previous Spider-Man games lacked a narrative that made me feel like the stakes were real or at least motivational, but Insomniac has crafted a genuinely engaging tale, making me empathize with not only Peter Parker, but every supporting character as well. I felt every emotion that Peter experienced at any given moment, as actor Yuri Lowenthal does a wonderful job portraying the web-slinger, coupled with an excellent script. Since playing, I’ve been telling friends that I would forever hear Yuri when reading Spidey comics from now on, which is, needless to say, something of a feat in itself. The game also has sections that put you in stealth situations as investigative journalist MJ; while I knew these moments were key in tying the story together, I felt that they were a little slow. I found myself pushing through so that I could jump back in as Spidey again. This isn’t to say I didn’t appreciate them, but their quality is bittersweet as it somewhat breaks immersion and the momentum I felt as Spider-Man. Any good superhero action story knows that faster-paced action has to be well-balanced with slower storytelling to avoid becoming an explosion-filled mess. And Marvel’s Spider-Man mostly achieves this balance well, proving fun web-slinging action with an interest in the supporting characters.
After savouring every moment of its story and watching its threads tie together with a heated battle and tear-jerking conclusion, I was reminded of how I felt after playing the recent God of War– gratified but also wanting more, waiting for the rest of the questions posed to be answered. It’s not your typical showstopping cliffhanger, but it leaves you wondering what’s next- creating scenarios in your mind of what the future will bring. It’s the sign of story well told and I can’t wait to see where Insomniac will take things next.
It’s no secret that Marvel’s Spider-Man pushes the power of the Playstation 4 to its limits, taking advantage of all of its graphical and technical capabilities- and boy is it a sight to behold. The game looks absolutely beautiful, and I didn’t experience any hiccups in visuals in my playtime. This is extremely impressive, as the game is lightning fast paced and that’s usually a recipe for choppiness and dropped frames. The game is a technical masterpiece, and it’s topped off with the popular photo mode.
Keeping the integrity of Spider-Man, photo mode allows the player to take hundreds of different screenshots at any time in-game, giving them the ability to add different filters, stickers, and even throw the camera into “selfie mode”, making for some very silly and exciting photo ops. People are falling in love with this feature, even saying that it provides a lot of post-game content, becoming an art installation and opportunity for people to show their skills as would-be photographers. It’s an ingenious decision on Insomniac’s part, and I’ve had my fair share of captures that would surprise even J. Jonah Jameson himself.
The visual flair of the game doesn’t stop at the photo mode either, I have been extremely satisfied with the various costumes available in the game. Spidey has donned dozens of different outfits in his years fighting crime, and many make it into the game and look absolutely stunning. Insomniac even threw in a few surprises with suits that they designed in collaboration with various comic artists and designers within the studio. All the suits are unlocked through a combination of specific level caps and completing correlating side activities that grant tokens as currency. These activities include stopping crimes, locating backpacks that Spidey has left around the city (each with pretty neat lore tied to them) and infiltrating enemy bases as well as completing challenges for the Taskmaster. Nothing satisfies me more than leaping around in dozens of visually pleasing suits with equally awesome abilities tied to them, and I found myself hunting to finish the requirements to unlock every last one of them as soon as possible. There are over 20 suits in the game currently, with more slotted to release with the upcoming post-launch content.
As a lifelong Spider-Man fan, I had high expectations for this game, and Insomniac met and exceeded them tenfold. I’ve spent hours with this game, and months getting hyped for it. The inner nerd in me says that it was absolutely worth it. I still have so much more to dive into with it, and I cannot wait to play every piece of content it has to offer and see what Insomniac brings with their DLC in the coming months. Marvel’s Spider-Man is the ultimate love letter to comic book and Spidey fans alike, and I’m definitely swooning.