Also, the hero game we deserve.
I like Spider-Man so much, it’s likely to become the second PlayStation game I bother to earn its Platinum Trophy. You mightn’t know me, but let me assure you: that statement is huge.
Spider-Man games have never been bad; developer Beenox did right by Peter Parker and friends near the end of Activision’s run with the super-hero. It’s just that, you know, the games weren’t ever best in class — they weren’t on par with the likes of Batman: Arkham Asylum or Arkham City. Insomniac Games has changed all that, providing a title that’s better than Arkham in some respects and just ever so behind in others. The result is a stellar super-hero game that will be enjoyed by Marvel and DC fans alike.
Spider-Man is set in Insomniac’s own universe, which seems impressive but becomes less so as you realise Insomniac has really just borrowed the best bits from every Spider-Man we’ve seen in recent years. All the main players are present, but they might have a slightly different origin story than you’re used to. This means Mary Jane Watson isn’t the President of the USA, but she is a reporter seen standing outside an Avengers Tower stylised like the one in recent Marvel’s recent films.
Insomniac’s tale is set eight years into Peter Parker’s career as Spider-Man, which means the hero has seen (and done) it all. Enemies Scorpion, Vulture and Electro are safely behind bars and the game opens as Peter is in the middle of putting away another heavy-hitter. The instability of New York after Parker’s actions is really where game mechanics come in – small-time (along with some not-so small-time) crooks fill the power vacuum left behind.
Spider-Man is an open world dream designed for those of us who like to tick off to-do lists. You begin by synchronising towers throughout Manhattan, which in turn unlocks crime events to find and thwart. Spider-Man does a better job than Arkham City in that events and side-missions feel far more relevant to Parker’s overall story (and involve a lot more science too). A bunch of different event types are slowly drip fed into Manhattan; you’ll generally unlock a new one right around the time you’re getting sick of the type you’re grinding through.
Combat and traversal seem clunky at first, but Spider-Man gets with the program as you progress through story missions and unlock the white spider emblem suit seen on the game’s cover and marketing materials. The suit introduces the concept of other suits – all of which can be earned in-game if you didn’t bother to pre-order – and better still, suit powers. The powers give Spidey the extra edge he needs to tackle large groups of enemies head-on, or stealthily if you so choose. They’re varied and all very fun to try out. Moving through Manhattan using Spider-Man’s web-swinging abilities is sheer bliss – he has an entire skill tree dedicated to make bouncing around Manhattan all the easier.
Combat is a mixed affair. Story missions never pose a real difficulty, even on Superior difficulty (the highest we could play at review); Spider-Man’s Web Blossom suit power, in which he spins around webbing everything in sight, can end a complex fight in mere seconds. Almost comically, the toughest challenges come from simple crime events with a high-level faction; I’ve lost count of the number of times Spider-Man was immediately put down by six or seven sniper rounds as soon as he swung into an area. That particular faction also requires Spidey to web-up a car-mounted gun and for the life of me I couldn’t ever target it properly, consistently grabbing several trash cans and manhole covers around it first.
Boss battles are perhaps the easiest, dullest fights experienced in the entire game. They all feel the same and require Spidey to dodge a couple times before going in for a couple punches of his own. Some even have quicktime events thrown in for fun. The way that the bosses are handled as well – basically, has-beens who the eight-year veteran Spidey doesn’t have any trouble with – also do things a disservice.
Spider-Man’s biggest failure is its story, a brilliantly-crafted affair over two acts that crumbles in its third. Proceedings are utterly captivating at first, only to mean little to nothing as every bell and whistle Insomniac could think of gets carted out to finish things off. If this game was split between its second and third act — and fleshed out just a little bit more — Insomniac realistically had enough content for two games as its disposal. Despite all this jam-packed into one game, Insomniac has also gone and forcefully (read: noticeably) woven sequel-inspired threads into the mix. Most are unnecessary and detract from the overall experience.
While its story may let it down, we’re here for open-world super-heroics and that’s precisely what Spider-Man excels at. While story and bosses lack in comparison to the Batman: Arkham franchise (and let’s face it, there were some stinker boss battles in that franchise too), Spider-Man absolutely nails the feeling of being Spider-Man (and Peter Parker too). It also acknowledges and demonstrates how important relationships are to Peter as well, something that lets the game pull at your heartstrings all throughout the experience. Spider-Man is a heroic masterpiece, and one certainly worth playing. You’ll find yourself happily overlooking some small rough edges just to get back to slinging some webs.
Spider-Man was reviewed using a promotional code on PS4, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.