It’s very rare when a game as grandiose and enjoyable as Marvel’s Spider-Man comes out. The game packs together two very cohesive storylines which both impact the major events of the narrative. To add to that, web-slinging through Insomniac’s rendition of New York is totally rad while combat is fluid and evolving throughout the whole experience, making the gameplay feel unbelievably satisfying. To put it simply, Insomniac Games has nailed nearly every single part of the Spider-Man fantasy.
Not Another Spider-Man Origin Story, Finally:
Marvel’s Spider-Man takes place eight years after Peter Parker is bitten by a spider in an Oscorp lab and gained his superhuman powers. Thanks to this, the game isn’t required to tell the origin story of one of the most well know superheros in comic book and cinematic culture – which is something I really appreciate. Insomniac throws players right into the action as a, now experienced, friendly neighborhood hero. Since it’s not an origin story basic abilities are not locked behind story progression. Peter can climb walls, shoot webs, and has a keenly developed Spider Sense and you have access to it all at the beginning. Players (who are no doubt familiar) do not have to relive the death of Ben Parker which, while integral to Peter’s (and thus Spider-Man’s character), is a story we’ve see redone too many times. It also makes the light callbacks to these earlier moments feel tender instead of traumatic. Even though we jump into a story that is eight years after where a lot of people’s familiarity with the story ends, it is still incredibly easy to pick up and follow along. I would bet that even a player who hasn’t ever heard of Spider-Man (the rare breed that they are) could pick up a DualShock 4 controller and have a great time.
The games’ story is largely focused on Spider-Man’s battle with Mr. Negative (who first appeared in the comics nearly 10 years ago) and later evolves into a full-out brawl against Insomniac’s version of the Sinister Six. With all of that going on you would think the focus is entirely on Spider-Man, yet the game gives almost the majority of the focus to Peter Parker and the struggles with being a broke, mid-20’s citizen in the City That Never Sleeps. Not to mention the complications that come from having to juggle the two personas. It gives a depth to the character that past Spider-Man games haven’t had. Taking on incredible feats as Spider-Man while knowing that it’s Peter Parker under the mask keeps it from feeling like you’re either playing as Spider-Man or Peter; they are one in the same.
The story in the game is also paced nearly perfectly. With Spider-Man‘s multiple story arcs there are several instances where the rising conflict makes it hard to put down the controller until they hit their fantastic climaxes. Once these arcs have finished up the game gives you a little bit of time to breathe, which become perfect opportunities to explore the city and do side missions without feeling like New York is in distress and you’re ignoring it. In fact, there are several points where the game encourages you to go put a stop to crimes, look for collectables, or complete activities for upgrade tokens before the main story will progress. This is normally something that would bother me, however Spider-Man handles it in a way that works with the plot and gives you time to upgrade your gear or hunt for the items to craft a new suit so it rarely feels like a chore.
There are a few missions where, instead of playing as Spider-Man, you play as Mary Jane Watson or Miles Morales. These are mostly stealth based missions which aren’t as exciting to play compared to regular missions, but they do have a lot of purpose in the game. Some events are really interesting to see from the perspective of a person who does not have superpowers or special abilities. It is also neat to slow down the pace in smaller areas with a lot of detail, compared to when you’re web-slinging through the city so fast you can’t take in all of the little handcrafted sights.
Swinging With Style:
Quite possibly the most important part of any Spider-Man game is the web-slinging. It’s hard to put yourself into the experience if this is done poorly, and oppositely if it is executed properly it will easily sell you on the rest of the game. Marvel’s Spider-Man perfectly captures the feeling of swinging between the buildings. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that the traversal in Spider-Man is likely the best main traversal mechanic that I have ever played in a video game to date. The act of this is so enjoyable that I rarely found myself fast travelling. In fact, I did not unlock the trophy you get after fast travelling four times until long after I finished the campaign. It feels so good to jump off of a building and latch your web to another structure mere moments before hitting the ground and begin swinging through the city. One part of this that Insomniac worked on meticulously is the fact that your webs have to physically be able to attach to a structure. Because of this you will travel much slower in areas without large buildings, and you really need to pay optimal attention to what routes you can take to keep web-slinging, such as Central Park. There are very few areas where you do not have objects to attach web to, so you are never forced to stop swinging. Instead, you just need to play a little more attention to how you approach it. You can also pull yourself to ledges and other objects with a combination of the trigger buttons, which gives you a variety of ways to maneuver across the rooftops while maintaining addictive speeds. If you web-swing into the side of a building, instead of punishing you and making you lose your speed, Spider-Man will begin to run along the side of it. You can tell that Insomniac put lot of time and effort into animating Spider-Man’s swinging, as he adds in flips, spins, and other maneuvers that perfectly capture the style of this hero.
Combat is another largely important aspect of any Spider-Man media. The swift kicks and fast, agile movements are what distinguish him from the other well-known superheros. Insomniac’s interpretation of Spider-Man takes these facts to heart and executes them really well. You can throw all sorts of flashy kicks and web tricks while fighting enemies on the ground. Knocking foes up high to juggle them in the air is a great way to to get away from a swarm of enemies. Gadgets add a lot of variety to combat, and are incorporated well thanks to Insomniac’s experience doing similar work with Ratchet & Clank. Using the combination of these lets combat be as stylish and functional as the player wants it to be. I enjoyed shooting enemies with webbing gadgets to trap them, then knocking them up high with Spider-Man’s flagrantly powerful uppercut, and finally swing-kicking them sending the enemies flying away from the group of their accomplices. If you angle this correctly, you can send stronger enemies off of rooftops to pacify them quickly. Thanks to Spider-Man’s firm stance against killing, enemies that are thrown off rooftops are stuck to the side of the building to wait for pickup from the local police. I love the attention that was paid to all of these little details. It really sells you on the passion that Insomniac has for the source material.
When you take a break from the heroics, the puzzles that you complete as Peter Parker are a great change of pace. Most of these draw from scientific or engineering inspiration, matching one of the core components of Peter’s character. There are electrical circuit type puzzles, spectrograph brainteasers, and several other activities. Each of which make sense for Peter to be doing.
Ultimately, the gameplay is the seller in Marvel’s Spider-Man because it is always fun to play during the entirety of the game. Web-swinging through the city will always be fun, story missions have variety in the actions that you do, especially regarding boss battles (which to me feel arcade-y by keep up with the times well), and the semi-randomized crimes that pop up throughout the city really sells you on the fantasy of being a hero looking to do good in the world. A bonus fact for that last point it in times where you are trying to get somewhere, or are in the middle of another activity, it really makes you feel like there isn’t enough time in the day to save everyone which is a very major component in the Spider-Man universe. The only, very minor gameplay issue I have is that the reoccurring activities that you must complete to get tokens for suit and gadget upgrades begin to feel similar and get repetitive very quickly. The Demon Warehouses and the Fisk Construction Sites at their core are the same thing (wave based arena brawlers), just that one is in an abandoned/overtaken building and the other is in a Fisk owned construction site. This is not a major issue, especially if you do one or two between story beats, but it is the area where the game feels like it drags its feet.
The Soundtrack To Accompany A Hero:
So how does the music sound in Spider-Man? Take a listen for yourself. It has the iconic trumpets and brass instruments that have become the theme of any Spider-Man movie, game, etc. This is paired with a fullness and bass that gave me the same vibe that the Avengers movies do when you first sit down to watch them in a theater. It would not be an exaggeration to say when I first turned on the game the opening song gave me chills. I feel like any superhero movie or game has to have the soundtrack to back it up, and Spider-Man makes it a point to give that to players. Some of the most important parts in the game and many of the twists (which there are a lot of) are accompanied by some of the most incredible musical scores in recent gaming. The atmosphere that these tracks set have a lot of influence over the player’s emotional response to what is happening at that time in the game.
Some of the music can get repetitive, such as the music that automatically plays when you begin web-swinging. This will become especially apparent when you are aiming for full game completion. I wish there were a few more tracks made for this because you spend a lot of time traversing New York so you will quickly become familiar with these melodies.
What’s the Verdict On Marvel’s Spider-Man?
The game, in a nutshell, is a masterpiece. I would place it on the list of games that absolutely needs to be experienced during this console generation. I feel almost guilty that it is a platform exclusive for Sony and that those who do not have a PlayStation 4 cannot experience it. Anyone who is considering buying a PS4 seriously should to check this game (and many other fantastic titles on the system) out.
With a story so loving crafted and original, on top of being superbly paced, and boasting gameplay that really never stops being fun, Marvel’s Spider-Man is an easy recommend to players familiar with the source, as well as those who might not be. Backing all of that up is a fantastic, tension-building, and emotionally evocative musical score. This is a game worth your attention.