Overall Score: 5 / 5
After several long years of development, including several delays, the world was finally blessed with the arrival of the PlayStation 4 exclusive Marvel’s Spider-Man. After so much delay and anticipation, the big question that lingered on everyone’s mind was ‘Is it going to be worth all this waiting?’ In a nutshell, the answer to that question is a resounding ‘Oh hell yes!’
To many people, the quintessential Spider-Man game to date was 2004’s Spider-Man 2 movie tie-in game. This game had the best example of web-swinging in any free roam Spider-Man game that felt natural and easy to execute. To most Spider-Man fans, this was considered the biggest hurdle in making a Spider-Man game and was cause for the largest amount of concern when Insomniac studios announced that they were making this game. I can tell you right now that the web-swinging in this game is so fluid, so seamless that it completely blows Spider-Man 2 out of the water. The ability to swing off any building or tree, come to a dead-end, either web-zip to the top of the building and launch off a steam vent or simply run straight up and parkour over the top of the building is so satisfying and easy to do that I rarely find myself using the game’s fast travel system as it’s so much fun to swing around everywhere. The developers realized how fun it was at some point and actually made a trophy that can only be obtained by using the fast travel system 5 times so that it would actually get some use.
This game sees a Peter Parker who’s graduated from university and has been Spider-Man for 8 years already. We find him working in Otto Octavius’ lab developing limb prosthetics. After putting Wilson Fisk (aka Kingpin) behind bars, Spidey goes to the lab to discover that their funding is being threatened by Norman Osborn, current mayor of New York City. In addition to this personal issue, New York is being threatened by a new gang of mask-wearing thugs possessing some mysterious mystical power that Spider-Man, along with his ex-girlfriend Mary Jane, begins to investigate. Their investigation leads to them discovering that the leader of this gang, dubbed ‘The Demons,’ is Martin Li, the main proprietor of F.E.A.S.T., a homeless shelter that Peter’s Aunt May helps run. A more detailed, spoilerific look at the plot is down below.
A major concern of fans who watched the E3 demo footage was that the game would be filled with many Quick-Time Events (QTEs). Those that have read my past video game reviews know that I, along with a lot of the gaming community, despise QTEs as they wrestle full control away from the players and force you to press a single button or combination of buttons at just the right moment to trigger a pre-rendered cinematic. The E3 demo footage had a lengthy QTE sequence which concerned viewers. Insomniac went on record the following week reassuring people that QTE’s would not be present outside of key pre-rendered cutscenes. And true to their word that’s exactly the case. There are very few QTE’s throughout the course of the game; everything else is completely player input and skill based.
Throughout the development of the game, there were a lot of comparisons made to this game and the last majorly successful superhero video game franchise, Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham series. Anyone who has played at least one of those games will instantly feel a sense of commonality between that series and this Spider-Man game. And that’s not a bad thing. Those games were fantastic and while certain elements from this game do seem to mirror the Arkham games, each specific element has been tailored to Spider-Man and his unique style. The combat feels fluid and fast-paced with a focus on aerial combat as opposed to Batman’s beat-em-up kung-fu style of combat. Spider-Man is capable of using gadgets mid-fight just as Batman was, but with Spider-Man it feels much more quick and action-packed.
Like the Arkham games, there’s a dodge indicator in the form of Spider-Man’s Spidey Sense. My biggest issue with the Spidey Sense, one that I have mostly since gotten used to, is that the indicator appears white and in the middle of combat it can be difficult to see. And since Spider-Man isn’t built like a tank like Batman, it doesn’t take many hits or bullets to deplete your health bar. It’s easy enough to heal mid-fight, at the expense of your Focus Bar which is used to pull off finishing moves, but it still feels like it could have used just a little bit of tweaking.
Even the side missions are varied and overall fun to do. In some missions you may be tasked with hunting down pigeons around the city. In another you have to dash between buildings during a thunderstorm to align satellite dishes while trying to avoid being struck by lightning. In others you have to race around disposing of bombs before they explode. Each one brings its own unique style of gameplay and traversal. There are also arena style combat areas where you are thrown wave after wave of enemies and are tasked with just beating the ever-loving shit out of them and once you get into a combat rhythm, these are so much fun and so satisfying to pull off successfully.
Another type of collectible on the map is Landmark Tokens. These are fairly straightforward in that you go to the designated landmark, fictional or real, and take a picture of it. These landmarks include the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, but also include famous Marvel locations such as Avengers Tower and Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum. Which brings me to my next point: while you’re swinging around the city finding all of these secrets and taking photos of these landmarks, you realize just how beautiful this game really is. Now I’m running this on a PS4 Pro so I don’t know if that has something to do with it, but even non-Pro gameplay that I’ve seen looks stunning. Most games today have a Photo Mode included in it and I never gave them the time of day. This is the first game that I’ve actually bothered to stop and play around with the Photo Mode (if it weren't obvious enough from the number of screenshots I've included in this article) because of how beautiful this game is and because of the amazing stuff you can do with Spidey.
The writing in this game is also top notch. While swinging around the city or beating up on criminals, Spidey will throw out quip after quip, making light of every situation as is true to his comic counterpart. Another of the collectibles are old backpacks that Peter left around New York and within each one there’s little easter egg. When you investigate each of them, Peter gives a little description of what it is and often makes some joke or smart remark that feels like such natural conversation.
Quick little spoiler section here for the story. After learning about Martin Li and The Demons, Spidey and MJ learn about a shipment of weapons coming in through the docks. During the course of this raid Spidey is aided by NYPD Officer Davis who later is given an award by the city for valor. Peter and MJ go to Osborn’s campaign rally/award ceremony when it gets attacked by The Demons. Officer Davis, who we learned moments prior is the father of none other than Miles Morales, is killed during the attack. During Miles’ grieving he’s eventually directed towards helping out at F.E.A.S.T. and joining Pete and MJ’s crusade to stop Li. Because of the attack Osborn hires an outside PMC, Sable International headed by Silver Sable, to act as a peacekeeping force in the city. After a lengthy sequence at Grand Central Terminal (one in which the game takes a shot at the train stopping scene from the movie Spider-Man 2), Spidey eventually defeats Martin Li and sends him to The Raft.
A little while later a prisoner riot on Riker’s Island calls Spider-Man’s attention. While stopping this disturbance, explosions are heard over at The Raft. Spidey heads over to find all the inmates, including the superpowered foes he’s put away, roaming rampant. After chasing Electro through the prison, Spidey is met with what would come to be dubbed as the Sinister Six: Electro, Vulture, Rhino, Scorpion, Mr Negative, and Doc Ock. And this is where the story seems to lose itself (as seems to be the case in any of the Spider-Man films wherein multiple villains are present).
Towards the end of the game everything felt incredibly rushed. The Sinister Six was introduced and almost as quickly as they came, they were defeated and put behind bars again. While the tandem boss battles of Vulture/Electro and Rhino/Scorpion were rather fun and interesting, these boss battles were pretty much the only time we saw or interacted with the Six after The Raft escape.
While in the city, Sable and Spidey were butting heads the entire time. But during the second-to-last mission you rush to Oscorp to save Osborn from Li. Spidey encounters Sable before entering the building and after a small speech from Peter, him and Sable become friends simply because he was there to save Osborn.
Otto’s whole plan was to publicly humiliate and ruin Norman Osborn, but it started to make no sense towards the end. We see Otto slowly give in to the neural implant that’s corrupting his mind but we’re also told multiple times that he only wants to destroy Norman and that he has no intention of causing other casualties. But then he releases a plague on NYC and refuses to let Spider-Man release the cure. Releasing the plague and blaming Oscorp should have been enough to ridicule Norman yet that wasn’t enough for Otto, even though that was his entire plan’s purpose.
And one final note regarding the main story, Spidey’s final suit that he develops before confronting Otto (the 'Anti-Ock Suit') was cool looking but what was the point? The dialogue prior to the cut-scene where he made the suit made it sound like he was developing a suit that would be able to directly combat Otto’s arms, maybe even wrestle control from them, but it didn’t. The only advantage that it gave Spidey was that it let the player have unlimited gadgets to use during the fight. It was only an outer armor, and a piss-poor one at that as it was immediately pierced by Otto’s arm.
After 14 long years of sub-par Spider-Man games, it seems like Insomniac studios has finally done what no one thought would be possible after Spider-Man 2. And while there are many comparisons to be made between this game and the Arkham series, Marvel’s Spider-Man shines brightly on its own merits. The traversal around the city is perfect. The dialog is extremely well written. The game is absolutely beautiful to look at. The story started off on a strong note and while not bad towards the end, I couldn’t help but feel that it was overly rushed and that Insomniac was feeling the pressure of all those development delays. The story ended on a bittersweet note but set up a sequel nicely with Miles getting his powers and the mystery surrounding Harry taking an unexpected turn. Despite the rushed feeling in the story towards the end, this game is easily just another on my short list for Game of the Year contenders.