Review – Spider-Man
When you think about the best superhero game ever made, a few titles come into mind. The vast majority will affirm that Batman: Arkham City is the best game featuring a costumed lunatic fighting baddies ever conceived. If you’re a bit older, you may as well say that Konami’s X-Men arcade game was the bee’s knees. I have a different opinion. I have always cherished Spider-Man 2, a movie tie-in of all things, as the best superhero game I have ever played… until now. Insomniac’s take on Spidey can now be easily considered the best superhero game out there. It’s such a joy to be able to say that!
This brand new take on the webhead’s world isn’t based off any particular comic book or storyline. This is a Peter Parker who has had his abilities for years, a guy already well-known around town, who has previously met many Marvel characters and beaten several of his enemies. Nothing has been confirmed about this game’s participation on the current Marvel Cinematic Universe or any other universe to be exact, but you’ll find nods to the Avengers, the Defenders, and so on. The best thing Insomniac could have ever done was creating its own Spidey universe, free of external influences.
This is a very story-based game, as you would obviously expect from a Sony-published title, but I wasn’t expecting for the story to be this good. Not entering spoiler territory, all I can say is that not only is the plot entertaining for comic book fans in search of action, but also plenty funny at times and actually touching when it also needs to be. Some people may criticize Sony for often going full dramatic in some of their stories, but that’s not the case here. Peter is still very much a pun machine, jokes are often told by more than one character, and so on.
You can’t just make a good game out of a great story. You need good gameplay as well, right? In a Spider-Man game, two key elements are essential: good combat and good web swinging mechanics. In this case, both are great. That initial QTE-heavy E3 trailer might have bummed you out a bit with a good reason, but rest assured, this game is gameplay-centric, not cinematic-centric.
Some might complain that the game’s combat is a bit too similar to the Arkham series. Well, it is, but to Spider-Man‘s defense, isn’t Arkham‘s combat already considered one of the best in the business and weren’t some of Batman’s attacks in those games, namely those involving grappling hooks, quite similar to what Spider-Man would do in the first place? The combat system isn’t exactly simple to learn, but it offers so many possibilities on how to beat up bad guys you won’t even bother stressing about it right away. It’ll take a few hours for you to finally master your entire arsenal of moves. Not only can you use acrobatics and melee attacks, but you also have a wide assortment of web attacks at your disposal, as well as special abilities depending on your current suit, Iron Spider legs included!
The web swinging is great, making you feel like Spidey while traversing Manhattan at ungodly speeds. At first, I wasn’t a big fan of the swinging mechanics, partially due to my decades of playing Spider-Man 2 on the Gamecube, as well as the fact that both the run and the web commands are assigned to the same button, R2. Hold R2 when on the ground and you’ll run, hold R2 while on air and you’ll throw a web at the nearest building. It took me a while to get used to these mechanics, as well as a few extra powerups in order to improve the swinging’s speed and handling, but after a little while it became second nature. I also ended up enjoying the control scheme, as there’s so much you can do in Spider-Man when it comes to commands and movements, so certain compromises were probably inevitable.
Technically-speaking, Spider-Man is fantastic. That pathetic discussion about the visuals being downgraded because of a puddle couldn’t have been any more wrong. New York looks astonishing, with fantastic attention to detail and great lighting effects. Besides, if you’re looking for puddles in this game, I think the Hudson River has enough water to satisfy your needs.
Cutscenes are spectacular, with characters looking as good as the best CGI humans you’d find in blockbuster movies. Sadly, the same can’t be said with characters outside of cutscenes, as they feature really subpar facial animations (sometimes none at all), but the action is so fast-paced and hectic you won’t even have time to pay attention to those issues. The framerate is, for the most part, a very solid 30 frames per second. Occasional dips occur whenever there’s too much chaos onscreen, namely whenever you’re fighting half a dozen thugs with machine guns, incendiary grenades and rocket launchers while being illuminated by big colorful neon signs.
Spider-Man‘s sound design is great. The soundtrack isn’t exactly packed with tunes, but the few that are present are epic and instantly memorable. I didn’t even mind the classic Spider-Man theme song isn’t present in this game in any shape or form, as the game’s own theme song is excellent in its own right. The voice acting is equally great. Peter’s voice actor, Yuri Lowenthal, deserves additional praise for his portrayal of the character, displaying a wide array of feelings. He maked me laugh when needed and he even made me shed a tear when things got more sentimental. At no moment did anyone’s character portrayal in this game feel forced.
Just like any other open world game, Spider-Man isn’t solely comprised of its lengthy story. There are tons of sidequests to do. The main highlights were tracking down Black Cat by solving mysteries, collecting backpacks full of Spider-Man and other Marvel fanservice, tracking down the supervillain Tombstone, and going full tourist by taking pictures of not only Manhattan’s most famous landmarks, but also a few Marvel-esque buildings located inside the Big Apple. Sadly, not all sidequests were as entertaining: taking down enemy bases felt more like a chore, a bloated horde mode that lasted for longer than it should have. The pigeon hunting minigames brought back repressed memories of catching balloons in Spider-Man 2 and that’s never a good thing.
Finally, if I had to point one issue in Spider-Man, that would be related to its villains. I’m not talking about the game’s main villains, as they are fantastic and actually relatable in a weird way. I’m talking about some additional supervillains, all part of Spidey’s classic gallery of bad guys, who are introduced very late into the game and disappear not long afterwards. While I appreciate the focus given to the main bad guys, I felt like the inclusion of these other villains looked more like a last minute addition to the game, given how inconsequential their presence turned out to be. Thankfully, there are a couple of famous supervillains that only show up in their own sidequests and are around for a lengthier amount of time.
By allying addictive gameplay, a good combat system, lots of side missions, and arguably the best story ever put into a superhero game, Sony and Insomniac have managed to deliver what I firmly believe is the best superhero title ever released for a console. Spider-Man is just pure fun from start to finish: this is easily one of the best exclusives available for the PS4 and a must-have for any owner of the system.
The visuals are fantastic for the most part, with the exception of some very occasional framerate dips and some weird facial animations when outside of the cinematics.
Even if assigning the running and web swinging commands to the same button sounded odd at first, I can’t deny how fun swinging around is. The combat is also great. Some camera issues hinder the gameplay a bit.
A memorable soundtrack and excellent voice acting for the most part. Yuri Lowenthal, who voiced Peter deserves a handshake. And a hug.
Fun Factor: 9.0
Despite a few really boring open world side missions and a couple of very underwhelming story moments, this is easily the best Spider-Man game to date and the most fun I’ve had with a Sony game this year.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Spider-Man is available now on PS4.