There have been many, many attempts at a video game adaptation of Spider-Man over the years. You can go all the way back to the Atari 2600 in the early 80’s to find them. Video game developers have been trying and trying and trying to get it right for the last 30+ years. You could say this for a lot of games based on classic comics, but there was a watershed moment in the last generation when someone got it right. That was Rocksteady with Batman: Arkham Asylum, who effectively laid a solid blueprint for a great comic book game.
Under the Activision publishing label, the last generation saw a number of good, but not great, Spider-Man games hit consoles. The Amazing Spider-Man series from Beenox was the last attempt at giving players the unrivaled feeling of zipping through New York as the web-slinging everyman, Peter Parker. Ultimately, those games proved to be on the right path. They took a page out of the Rocksteady playbook and offered some of the best Spider-Man games to date. They were, however, missing that special something that separates good games from great ones.
While it has been a few years since we’ve seen everyone’s favorite web-head, Spider-Man is back with Insomniac Games’ take on the classic comic franchise. The pedigree is strong when it comes to the developers of this game. They’re only responsible for some of the biggest game franchises in history: Spyro The Dragon, Ratchet & Clank, and Resistance. Though the one that may have had the biggest influence on this open world Spider-Man game is their most recent release in Sunset Overdrive.
One of the best comic book games of all time
Marvel’s Spider-Man on the PlayStation 4 is hands-down one of the best comic book video games of all-time, and it’s all because Insomniac Games has nailed down to a tee what it should feel like to take control of the iconic hero and his ability to swing freely through New York City. Other games have certainly tried to capture this magical moment from movies and translate it to the controller, but none have succeeded like this. Insomniac gives players a sense of freedom to explore and fight crime, while also empowering them with all of the acrobatic combat and gadgetry to take down a who’s who list of baddies from the Spider-Man comics all with an incredible level of visual fidelity and fan service to boot. This formula should be pretty standard for a game based on a comic book, certainly ones that are as popular as this one, but it’s obviously not that simple as there are far more bad games using the Spider-Man license than good ones.
The problem that a lot of the previous efforts for Spider-Man games has run into in the past has been that they’ve been tied to movies in some way or another. Insomniac’s take on Spider-Man is one that completely immerses players into the world of Peter Parker. He’s already Spider-Man in this game. He’s the protector of New York City. It’s not going to go over the backstory with you. It takes a huge roster of characters from the comic and intertwines them for an original story, even if it is somewhat a low-effort tale with twists you can see coming a mile away. The aren’t re-writing Spider-Man lore in this game, so much as they are adopting and adapting it. The great part about it is how deep it takes you into this world, the level to which you get to interact with this cast — with deep dives into your relationships with Aunt May, Mary Jane, Norman Osborn, and goes even deeper into the lore with characters like Miles Morales.
Finally a Spider-Man game worthy of the name
Marvel’s Spider-Man does this through a couple of different devices. Incredible cutscenes for one. There’s been some really great work done here on the cinematic front. A series of mini-games where you’re immersed in the laboratory work that Peter Parker does when he’s not fighting crime, and then through a number of different gameplay segments where you aren’t controlling Spidey at all, you’re navigating sequences while controlling other characters, to further flesh out the story. On the visual front, Spider-Man is another incredible looking title on the PlayStation 4, and looks even better on the PS4 Pro. The recent “puddle gate” controversy that’s been making its rounds on the internet is almost laughable after playing through this game in its entirety. Was there a downgrade? It’s possible, but Spider-Man for the PlayStation 4 is one of the best looking games of the generation thus far. From jaw-dropping boss fights to cinematic vistas from the tops of New York’s tallest skyscrapers, Spider-Man constantly has you in awe.
The one thing that Insomniac absolutely nails in Spider-Man is probably the most important thing in giving players a great traversal system. The city is littered with what is likely thousands of spots where players can latch on to the environment and swing to their heart’s content. It’s far and away, the best job that any developer has ever done in recreating Spider-Man’s web traversal mechanics. The open world playground of Spider-Man is massive, but getting from point to point is fun from start to finish. What’s an even bigger testament is that despite there being a fast-travel system in the game, I never once thought that would be a better option than swinging through the city. It’s an absolutely remarkable feat in my opinion.
Web swinging has never been better
This one system has to work to make Spider-Man enjoyable as everything is built around this mechanic. Whether that’s swinging around the city to your next story mission which advances the narrative of the game or stopping off to pick-up collectibles, perform challenges, fight crime, perform side-missions or any of other tasks at your figertips. Spider-Man has no shortage of things to do in the games distinct NYC districts. While the main story advances and is enjoyable in its own rite, there are a ton of things to unlock along the way. This includes things like new skills for Spider-Man which come from skill points earned for completing missions and earning levels, or through tokens which are earned by completing specific challenges. These are wide-ranging in themselves with things like backpacks to collect, photos of landmarks to secure, outposts and hideouts to clear, research challenges, and criminal activity to thwart. There is always something just around the corner for Spider-Man to get into and the game allows you to take it all at your own pace. Should you proceed to barrel down the main story path, you’ll constantly be reminded that you should be doing your duty as the Spider-Man in stopping off to fight crime or perform other activities that will further bolster your skills and abilities.
Once you get to your destination, much of Spider-Man is built around the combat elements of the game. Spider-Man certainly takes a page from Batman Arkham in this regard, but it’s not a complete carbon copy. The core dodging and counter mechanics feel awfully familiar, but the pace of the combat and the different combos and gadgets that Spidey can use certainly make it feel much different. The structure of combat is free-flowing, allowing you to really experiment with different methods as there are so many viable options in terms of how you want to take enemies out. You can take a stealthy approach, silently catching your foes in a web. Or, you can fight groups of enemies at once and dispatch them with multiple web variations and an arsenal of acrobatic hand-to-hand combat moves. Whether dispatching an enemy with a well timed focus take-down or just trapping them in an inescapable web, it’s all feels fast and fluid. There’s a ton to learn and master here.
The ultimate super hero power fantasy
Just about everything in Spider-Man is exceptional. The open world, the traversal, the combat, the progression, it’s all near perfection on it’s own. The glue that does hold it all together may be the only detractor. There have been plenty of seamless open world experiences, but Spider-Man is not that. There are somewhat jarring transitions between the many different gameplay elements of the game. Going from open world exploration to a story mission, for example, can feel a little detached at times as you’ll instantly zoom out of one thing into another while important contextual things are ongoing. On the flip side, going from cinematic sequence back to open world leaves you feeling somewhat disconnected from your previous efforts.
That said, the good absolutely outweighs any of these small nuisances in the game. Spider-Man fans will adore the depth to which Insomniac explores the world of this popular comic book character. The game immerses players into the world of Peter Parker. Whether that be in his day to day life as a laboratory assistant or through his crime fighting exploits, players are showered in fan service for the 20+ hours that it’ll take to make it through the main story path. Along said path, you’ll be treated to some incredible visuals and equally good gameplay. Upon release, Insomniac’s Spider-Man instantly becomes one of the best comic book games ever made.
Spider-Man games have a long history of being disappointing on some level, but Insomniac has crafted a game worthy of the name. They’ve managed to capture the essence of what controlling Spider-Man should feel like and surrounded this core idea with an incredible presentation and level of depth that few games using the Spider-Man license have.
- Available On: PlayStation 4
- Published By: SIE
- Developed By: Insomniac Games
- Genre: Open-World
- US Release Date: September 8th, 2018
- Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
- Quote: "Spider-Man games have a long history of being disappointing on some level, but Insomniac has crafted a game worthy of the name. "