There was a particular moment early on in Marvel’s Spider-Man that told me exactly what was to come over the next 12-15 hours. It was when I was being introduced to the game’s menus within the opening act. Within the menus you’ll find the usual open-world stuff; world map, skill trees, gear, etc. But also, in Spider-Man, there’s a screen where you can swap out Peter’s regular Spider-Man outfit for another, so long as you’ve earned it. There’s no option to buy any extra suits. You just need to play through the game, explore, fight, and rescue, and all of the suits could be yours. No predatory lootboxes or microtransactions, just an honest to goodness video game. And that’s exactly what Marvel’s Spider-Man game is.
You start the game with Peter in something of a rut. He’s always late to work, he’s got no lady to go home to each evening – heck, it isn’t long before he doesn’t have anywhere to go each evening. We’re not looking at a puberty-stricken Parker in Insomniac’s take on the webhead, but instead an older, wiser, and more human Peter Parker. Because as much as the story is about Spider-Man defeating bad guys and saving the day, it’s also Peter’s story. He’s a poor sod who can’t catch a break, and while the movies and numerous TV shows have done great jobs in bringing Peter to the forefront, video games haven’t. At least until now.
We all know Spidey’s a cheeky chap with a penchant for a pun in a tense situation, but he’s also a hurt lad. We always see Spidey come out triumphant, but we never seen Peter celebrate his victories. Marvel’s Spider-Man doesn’t do anything particularly groundbreaking with its tale of trust, deceit, and humanity, but it does show a side to Peter that’s seldom seen in video games. For instance, after a trying battle with two of the Sinister Six, Peter takes to a rooftop and collapses in exhaustion and notes to himself that he hates it when super villains team up before falling asleep from exhaustion. He is, after all, still just a man.
Insomniac’s Spider-Man treads familiar ground from the word go. Before I’d even played it I had heard mutterings of it being an Arkham clone. And it is. Blatantly. There’s no denying that Spider-Man owes a lot to the famed Rocksteady trilogy. Everything from its combo driven combat to its “detective” vision to its mini-games. You can add Ubisoft to the “Special Thanks” list, too, what with the Ubisoft-style towers, outposts (in this case bases) and a map chuffed with icons.
I know you’re reading this and thinking “oh no, here we go, this guy is trolling to tank the game’s MetaCritic rating”. Well, first off, we’re not on MetaCritic. And secondly, I mean everything above in the best possible way. The Arkham games and Ubisoft’s open-worlds are among the best games out there. The fact Spider-Man apes them at every turn is not a bad thing. Why? Because it typically does them just as well, and many times even better.
Combat is fast and at times frightening. You’re still looking at the familiar two-button, dodge, attack, repeat combo, but it’s with the Spidey twist. If Batman’s combat was originally set to be a dance-based affair, Spider-Man’s would be ballet.
Fight events are easy to begin with as the game introduces you to the mechanics. You’ll soon nail down the basics before being let free to experiment with your own methods. For those wanting to charge every situation in a gung-ho manner, you can. The game even lets you suit up and customise your gadgets for such a choice. You can send Spider-Man into crowds of enemies and let loose every gadget you have. You can even equip a special power to your suit to support your playstyle. If you’re a web-orientated hero, you can keep your supplies loaded with the appropriate suit power. Alternatively, you could gain some crowd control with the Spider-Bro drone. That’s just two options; there’s one new power per-suit earned, and there’s over 20 different Spidey outfits.
Unlocking the outfits requires you to level up and meet certain conditions. One costume requires you to collect all of Peter’s old rucksacks that are stashed around the city. Others may require you to reach a certain level, but all of them will cost currency. There’s a few different currencies in the game but, before you start panicking, they’re not overly complicated or related to microtransactions in any way.
Different upgrades and suits need different amounts of Tokens. Say, for example, a suit needs three base tokens, 2 research tokens, and three crime tokens, you’ll need to engage in clearing the map of relevant icons. It’s a nice system that works well, and even though I didn’t really put too much emphasis on the collectables and side-events, I still managed to get the skill tree filled out before the end credits rolled and the post-credits scene began. This is a Marvel game, of course there’s a post-credits scene.
Much like Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed, the map and its activities must be unlocked by reaching high-up locations and activating a tower. Standard non-GTA open world gameplay mechanic. While this was often a pain in the anus in Ubisoft’s games, it was nothing short of joyful in Spider-Man – and not because the Arkham frequency puzzle unlocks the map. No, it’s because just getting to one of the towers is a joy in itself.
The developers have gone to great lengths to make swinging feel right in Spider-Man, and it shows. Remember how you first leapt from a building and shot a web line in Treyarch’s Spider-Man 2? I do, and it was amazing. Marvel’s Spider-Man is that, but times 10 better. Watching Spidey float across the skyline with ease is just brilliant to see, helped no less by accessible controls and some of the best open-world environments I’ve ever seen.
My first few minutes swinging around were blissful, but then I took my eyes off of Spidey’s pert arse cheeks and noticed the cityscape and… Wow. I’m not one to over hype a game’s graphics, but there are times that Spider-Man looks real. But not real. It’s more a case of it looking like a movie; a stylised version of reality. It really does look that good. The graphics are not just good for an open world game, they’re good full stop. The presentation is really up there with the best of them, and I guess it helps I was playing on a PS4 Pro with a 4K TV. While the game may not be native 4K, it looked damn good on my setup, and that’s enough for me.
What’s more is that the attention to detail is just astounding. Swinging through downtown you can see the hustle and bustle of New York. The familiar yellow cabs mooch the streets, while New Yorkers flood the pavements, going about their daily lives. Even on ground level – a place you won’t be spending that much time – things hold up and keep the illusion of a living city. Citizens will say hi to Spidey as he walks the streets, or maybe they’ll exclaim while he parkours over the heavy New York traffic in between saving the city and keeping up with Aunt May.
There are a lot of familiar names in this incarnation of Spider-Man. I won’t spoil anything that isn’t already known, so read on with confidence, true believer!
Peter’s close circle of friends are his backbone in this story. But it’s not exactly what you’d expect from a Spider-Man. For one, there’s no moaning about dead Uncle Ben, and Peter isn’t a reporter at the Daily Bugle. In this universe he’s a competent scientist working alongside esteemed scientist Dr. Otto Octavious. He’s also been Spider-Man for a long time, so he’s a veteran in the super-hero racket. Meanwhile, Mary-Jane is the bustling reporter doing all she can to score the big scoop. Things are a little different this time around, but it works well and it’s all very believable, helped in no small part by the brilliant voice-acting and character animation.
Some of these changes bring about different ways of playing the game. And this is where things go tits up. What do we, us gamers, hate most of all about video games? Stealth sections. More specifically, forced stealth sections. And Spider-Man has more than its fair share of annoying missions. Most of the time you’ll be playing as Spider-Man, but there are some sections where you’re forced to take control of MJ and some young lad, the latter being someone you’d only really know about if you read the comics. These are by far and away the most frustrating moments in an otherwise good game.
There are shitty mini-games, as per the open-world-guidebook, but these can at least be skipped. The stealth sections, however, are mandatory, and they suck balls. It starts off cool enough and I was initially like “oh, cool a little bit with MJ” but it soon became obvious she was to play a bigger role. To be fair, these sections only last around 10-15 minutes at most, but that’s 10-15 minutes that I’m not swinging around like a badass, or throwing manhole covers at bad guys. You have been warned.
For the most part though, Spider-Man delivers its thrills. There’s a long story with a few twists and turns to follow, but nothing groundbreaking. It all comes along at a nice pace with story beats hitting their expected marks, but some characters, villains in particular don’t seem to get enough screen time or proper coverage. If you though The Amazing Spider-Man 2 movie was spreading itself too thin with an extended cast, Insomniac’s is not better. I can’t say much more without spoiling story beats, but perhaps you shouldn’t get too attached to the villains as only a small selection of them have any real impact on the story.
Gameplay and graphics marry to create a believable world that is a true joy to play around in. The side content is fun the first few times but it does soon become repetitive, and once you’ve finished the main story you’re left with a map full of icons that you need to clear to get 100% completion. The problem I have now is that I’m at around 75% game completion, but I can’t be jeffed with going from one spot on the map to the next. Story DLC could not come soon enough!
It’s not without its flaws, but Marvel’s Spider-Man is without a doubt the best super-hero video game available right now. Oh, and as an added bonus for comedy fans, Peter Parker looks just like Jim Halpert from The Office. Enjoy the playing the game while you sit waiting for Peter to shrug and grin into the camera during cutscenes…
Marvel's Spider-Man PS4 Review
- Overall - Fantastic - 8.9/108.9/10
Marvel's Spider-Man leans heavily on the tried-and-tested open-world formula, to its benefit and its loss. While it apes those that came before at every turn, it does so in such a way that it doesn't even matter - it's a beautiful Spider-Man game that tells its own story while delivering gameplay that's familiar but fine-tuned. Spend a few minutes swinging around and you'll barely care for the game's shortcomings. This isn't just the best Spider-Man game to do - it's the best super-hero game thus far.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game bought at the expense of the reviewer. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using PS4 Pro.