Review: Marvel’s Spider-Man for the PS4 is the greatest Spider-Man game yet
This is the greatest Spider-man game yet.
That’s a bold statement to start the review on but there’s no other webslinger game that comes even close to this. Not Spider-man 2 on the PS1, not Maximum Carnage on the Mega Drive…nothing.
Insomniac has done the impossible; they’ve copied the formula from Batman: Arkham Knight and successfully translated it to a Marvel property. Still, that really doesn’t do the game justice as Spider-man is everything that made the Arkham games fun and then some.
The game assumes you’re somewhat familiar with the hero. It’s not an origin story (thank god) and it stars a pretty veteran Spider-man. Most of his rogues have been established and imprisoned in The Raft and Peter Parker now works as a research assistant to a very familiar person (which we aren’t spoiling)
There are other differences from Insomniac’s version of the universe compared to the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the 616 (the main comic universe) but most of them are pretty minor, apart from Mary Jane now working for the Daily Bugle.
However, the basic Spider-man mythos is all there. The Parker luck is still in full effect, with Peter’s relationships always suffering from his antics as Spider-man.
The plot brilliantly captures the trials and tribulations that plague Peter’s personal life, as he struggles to juggle his fragile relationship with Mary Jane, his responsibilities as a nephew to May and his duties as an assistant to a researcher. The first few hours are perhaps the most memorable, and personal, look into this version of Spider-man’s life.
We see the webslinger in fine form as he initially takes on the Kingpin (who looks uncannily like a fat Live Schreiber), though it’s the parts where you play as regular Peter Parker that sticks in your mind. There has not been any Spider-man game that gives Parker’s personal life as much weight as this one and it really drives the point home that Peter Parker isn’t just a two-dimensional super hero. With the mask off, he’s a regular joe with a family, a job and a broken relationship with his ex that he’s dead set on mending.
Like a good rollercoaster, Spider-man’s plot starts off slow, and slowly builds up to a climatic second act where all hell breaks loose. It’s a great story though one does wonder, in a New York filled with superheroes, where’s everybody else when the events of the third act occur? It’s not as if they don’t exist in the world; Avengers Tower stands proudly in the game and if you head down Bleecker Street, you can find Dr. Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum. Even Matt Murdock (Daredevil) and Jessica Jones are referenced, though none of them show up in-game. There’s no reason given why they’re MIA.
It’s all Spidey, going up against some of the biggest threats he’s ever faced.
Luckily, Spidey is a kickass fighter.
There have been numerous Spider-man games in the past, though none have featured combat like in this one. Aping the Middle Earth and Arkham games, Spider-man’s combat is eerily familiar to those who’ve played either. Make no mistake, building on a proven foundation means that the combat here is a distilled and refined product and best of all, it’s just plain fun.
Combat falls into a rhythm of dodging and attacking, but with tons of acrobatic moves thrown in for good measure. Spidey dodges, rolls, swings and slides all over the place, punching goons in their faces, throwing them around like dolls and basically does whatever a spider can. In spite of all the movement, the camera does a great job in keeping up with it all. You’ll rarely lose track of where Spidey is, which allows you to keep on fighting the enemies instead of camera angles.
There’s an incredible kinetic charm to the combat, and best of all, it looks damn impressive. You’re not just hitting buttons, you’re actively thinking on the next step to execute to keep Spidey’s combo count going since it’s essential in filling the Focus meter.
While the basic combat will undoubtedly be familiar, Insomniac has added in a few touches to make the game feel different. One is the aforementioned Focus Meter. Fighting and doing tricks slowly fills it up and when it’s full, you can execute a finisher. Some enemies only need a single bar, while the tougher ones use up more. However, the Focus meter also serves as an emergency healing mechanic as you can use the saved Focus to heal Spidey in the middle of a fight. It’s a great idea and keeps the combat flowing even when you’ve messed things up as even the tiniest drop of Focus can be shunted to heal Spidey. It’s doesn’t make the combat easy, as the healing happens over time but it does keep you in the fight instead of restarting it from a checkpoint.
Combat, which is rather basic in the beginning, steadily evolves as Spidey gains new skills from leveling up. From your basic punches, Spidey will learn new moves like the ability to disarm weapons from enemies to being able to slow down time after a perfect dodge. However, the greatest part of combat is how much flexibility it gives you. Your webbing is as much a part of it as the dodges and the punches. In fact, the webbing is so important now that you can end a fight with a single move; webbing enemies to surfaces. That’s right, with enough web fluid, you can stick your enemy to walls, lampposts, benches or whatever you desire, which will take them out of the fight. It’s an amazingly refreshing way to end combat without having to slug it out.
What’s not refreshing is how switching gadgets is handled.
The Arkham games’ button combination shortcuts for Batman’s gadgets might that some memorizing but they work really well when you get the hang of things. Here, it’s a hassle to switch gadgets as you have to press L1 (which pauses the game), select the gadget you want and then release the button. It breaks the fluid combat of the game and tremendously out of place and awkward to use. Sure, there’s a shortcut to return to the previous gadget (double tap L1) but you can only cycle between the two you last used. It’s a shame since ALL of the gadgets are useful but I end up just ignoring them in most fights simply because of how awkward it is to switch.
Stealth is also a major factor in the game though sadly, it’s not a really viable option as the game forces you into combat most times, no matter how good you are. However, when the game allows you to, being stealthy is awesome. You can pounce on enemies or web them up to surfaces, with some incredibly cool animations. Weirdly however, the game doesn’t allow you to execute a stealth takedown when you’re sticking to walls, only when you’re perching on a ledge or beam. Insomniac’s added an ingenious feature to the game in the form of a callout that tells you whether your target is safe to take down. If he’s not, the game will let you know that taking him out will alert his nearby friends. Now if you mess up, it’s YOUR fault.
On top of that, there are also instances where you’ll be sneaking around as characters other than Peter Parker. These are usually short sequences and serve as a nice diversion from playing as Spidey. Plus, the characters you control during these sequences also have their own special abilities, which makes playing as them unique as well.
Of course, fighting and sneaking won’t be the only things you’ll be doing.
Web swinging is marvelously fun, and as you get the hang of it, incredibly impressive to watch. Chaining together swings, doing tricks, wall-running and launching off objects makes you feel like you’re really Spider-man. The ‘thwips’ the webshooters make really sell it and the dynamic music that plays whenever you’re swinging seals the deal.
That’s good because there’s a huge version of Manhattan that you’re able to explore. There’s even a fast travel option to get around quick, though I heartily encourage getting around simply via swinging. However, if you do opt to fast travel, you’ll get some rather funny loading screens of Spidey riding the subway, which are the best reasons to fast travel.
Fast travel too much though and you might miss out on one of my favourite parts of the game; J. Jonah Jameson’s ‘Just the Facts’ radio show. Jonah’s moved on from the Daily Bugle but he’s still not above airing his gripes about Spider-man. He rants and raves about the wallcrawler and it’s hilarious how he blames everything on Spidey, even when callers try to set him straight. The show adapts to what you’ve done in the story, so you’ll keep getting new episodes as you play.
There are a ton of distractions that’ll eat up your time from side missions to crimes to special challenges. Completing most of the optional events nets you medals, which you can use to upgrade your equipment and unlock new suits.
Stopping random crimes have always been a stable of the open world Spider-man games ever since Neversoft’s Spider-man 2 on the PS1. The problem was the crimes tended to lack in variety. There’s a lot of different crimes in the game but sadly, they too recycle after a while. Honestly though, it’s more bearable this time around simply because there’s more variety, so you’ll rarely be getting two car chases in a row.
One of the best optional events are the landmark photography missions. Scattered across the island are special landmarks, which you can take pictures of to earn special medals. Some of the locations are pretty basic like Avengers Tower or the Brooklyn Bridge but a few of them are great easter eggs for the hardcore. Places like the Bar with No Name (the bar where every villain goes to), the H.E.A.R.T Clinic (where Cardiac works) and Damage Control HQ aren’t important to the plot, but are great to see for fans. Weirdly, there are some noticeable omissions; there’s no Baxter Building or Olympus Group HQ for some weird reason, despite them being prominent landmarks in the comics.
Sadly, not all of the diversions are as fun as the photography missions.
The side missions for one, are a bit of a letdown. While they do have their own self-contained plot, the majority of them aren’t interesting, except for the one involving a certain biker leader (who shall remain nameless due to spoilers). The missions tied to the biker leader are leagues ahead of the rest of the side missions are incredibly awesome as they touch upon ancillary plot points that aren’t expanded on if you just stick to the main story missions. I just wish more of the side missions are as interesting.
The biggest gripe I have about them is a surprising one; I want more Spider-bot missions. They give a unique viewpoint to the game and I’d LOVE more missions involving them.
There are also regular mini-games you’ll encounter as you progress. One of them tasks you with matching columns. You pick from multiple different options and try to match the given image. It’s a pretty fun mini-game (and some of them are fiendishly hard) though I wish there were more of them.
The other mini-game involves you directing electric current through capacitors. It’s a bit like Tetris but sadly all the puzzles are way too easy to solve. Also, like the previous mini-game, I sure wish there are more of them.
You’ll naturally encounter both types as your progress in the story but you can also optionally do a few more in Peter’s lab. Once you complete them however, you’ll be left wanting more.
As mentioned earlier, as you level you’ll also unlock the ability to craft new suits. You’ll need to use the tokens you get from completing the secondary diversions to unlock them and you’ll be able to get pretty much half of them with no problem. The other half though, require Challenge Tokens which you get from doing special challenges. The problem is that these challenges can be incredibly tough, making it hard to get the requisite amount of tokens to unlock every suit in the game.
You gain a new suit every 2 or 3 levels, right up to Level 45 (the max level is 50) and it’s a great incentive to level up. There are a ton of superb suits taken from Spider-man’s history, though the majority of them are from the comics from the last decade or so.
However, as a hardcore fan of the comic, I’m a little sad to see that some iconic suits are missing. For example, the Ben Reilly Spider-man suit (though the Scarlet Spider suit is in) isn’t in the game. Neither is the Future Foundation suit, the Symbiote suit, the Superior Spider-man suit, the comic Iron Spider suit or the Captain Universe suit…and that’s just scratching the surface. Hopefully more suits are incoming with the DLC.
One piece of good news is that the suits included in preorders (the Spidey Suits Pack) are all in-game, you’ll just need to progress to unlock them instead of them being unlocked early.
Glaring omissions of several fan favourites aside, the suits not only look cool and show up in the cutscenes and loading screens, but most of them also come with their own special ability. Once you unlock a suit though, you can swap out its ability with any other unlocked ability, so you’re not forced to wear a certain suit just because it has an ability you like.
On top of that, there are also mods you can attach to your suit, which gives you even more customization options. Mods can do anything from reducing the damage you take, to making time slow down. One even unlocks a hidden feature, though you’ll only unlock it once you hit the max level. You can continue to earn XP and new buffs for filling up the XP meter, but your level will still be fixed at 50 though.
As you level (which increases your stats), you’ll also gain skill points, which can be assigned to three different skill trees. No worries though, you’ll be able to unlock every skill from every tree if you max Spidey’s level, so there’s no need for regret. The skills you can unlock are pretty good and improve the gameplay, though there are a couple of duds like Quick Recovery, which allows you to jump back into the air after a roll. It’s pretty much rendered useless if you’ve mastered using the Point Launch or Charge Jump abilities.
Luckily, there isn’t that much to gripe about.
The visuals for the game are spectacular, with incredible detail on everything. Buildings have interiors you can peer into, squirrels dart from tree to tree on the streets…you can even take a selfie or high-five civilians if you choose to walk around on the ground! The best part is that the cutscenes are all done in real time, which means that Spidey will be donning the suit you current choose…well apart from a few cinematics at the end anyway. The cutscenes really highlight the incredible detail that went into the game, you can easily make out the mesh on Spidey’s suit when zoomed in.
Still, there are a few minor nitpicks I have with the visuals. While swinging and general travel through New York is a dream come true, the draw distance for vehicles is a bit on the low side. It’s especially jarring if you’ve been swinging up high and then dive down to just above street level. Taxis and other cars will sometimes just magically fade in as you swing by. It’s not a major thing, and may even be fixed in future patches so don’t worry about it too much.
One thing I don’t really see being fixed though is the lack of real time reflections. With all the glass and shiny surfaces around, it’s sad that the reflections are all baked in. I’d have loved to see Spidey being reflected as he swings by. It’s a bummer but that’s mainly due to how insanely detailed the rest of the game is.
Even the voices reflect the quality of the game. Nearly every voice actor delivers a capable performance but it’s Yuri Lowenthal’s performance as Peter that makes the game. It’s a good thing really, since he’s the voice you’ll be hearing throughout the whole game. When Peter makes his impassioned plea to a certain somebody at the end of the game, you can really feel the heartbreak in his voice as he’s forced to make his choice.
It’s the little details like that that makes the game incredible. From the voices, to the visuals to the tons of things you can do in the game, they all come together to make such a fun game that really does justice to Spider-man.
If you have a PS4, you NEED to play this game. It’s simply amazing.
(Image Credits: Sony PlayStation)