The last time we got a stand-alone Spider-Man game for consoles was 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (based on the movie of the same name).
Ever since its announcement at 2016’s E3 conference, gamers have been chomping at the bit to get their hands on what was projected to be one of the best games of this year: Marvel’s Spider-Man. Since the game’s initial reveal, developer Insomniac Games didn’t really give away much of anything about the plot, save that we would be facing off against multiple members of Spidey’s rogues’ gallery, as well as the fact that Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson would be playable in some sections.
As we all know, dear readers, the game hit store shelves on Friday; and because this PS4 exclusive was something that a lot of us here at PCU had been waiting for, both Aitch and I were really excited to be able to talk to you about our respective experiences playing this title for the first time over this past weekend.
Much like other recent titles on the PS4, this game is no slouch when it comes to graphics. From the opening cinematic seamlessly transitioning into web-swinging around New York City, it’s all very pretty. One of the graphical details that really resonated with me, though? Semi-destructible environments. From bullet holes, to chunks of concrete being blown away by explosions, and everything in between, Insomniac Games really paid attention to detail in Spider-Man. Occasionally, the textures throughout the game can look a tiny bit muddled, but it’s such a minor thing (in my opinion), that it really doesn’t detract from anything else.
Since we’re talking about detail, however, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the cool landmarks and charm of New York City that Insomniac managed to add in to this game. While the New York of Marvel’s Spider-Man may not be an exact reproduction of the real city, these little bits of reality are a charming addition to the game’s landscape. Seriously, it’s worth it to stop swinging once in a while to take in some of the neat details that Insomniac slid in here.
What would a Spider-Man game be without good writing? Great writing is integral to the character himself, and this game has that in spades. The narrative in Marvel’s Spider-Man really nails it, with layers that you’d expect to see from full-blown Marvel comic book arc. All of the characters involved in this game have also given the writers a great opportunity to show several sides to each of them, without bogging anything down.
There’s more to great writing than just narrative, however. Some of us also like a little ridiculousness here and there. This game really brings a lot of that out, with our Friendly Neighborhood Web-Head whipping out one-liners and snappy banter just as fast as he shoots his webs. Some of the dialogue is also very meta, making references to things that people do out here in the real world when referring to our wall-crawling hero (“Don’t forget the hyphen between ‘Spider’ and ‘Man’”), and that just adds another layer of awesome to the writing in this game.
To top all of that off, one piece of writing in this title really got me. As we all know, Spidey is a smart-ass, and loves to talk a big game (he can back it up, after all). So, what better way to add comedy to a serious story line, than to have Spider-Man refer to himself in the third person while calling himself “Spider-Cop”. Spider-Cop is a character that Peter made up, and he bashes in the faces of bad-guys while putting on the affectation of a deep and silly voice – almost as if he’s some hard-boiled detective. Even though Spider-Cop serves as a source of embarrassment to the character of Yuri Watanabe (Spidey’s friend in the NYPD), it’s a great source of amusement to us as the players.
We here at PCU recently voiced some concerns about the gameplay time, as well as the addition of Day One DLC. Those fears were quickly allayed, however, when I got deep into playing this amazing title. With a vast, open, and gorgeously-realized virtual version of New York City as my web-swinging playground, I was blown away by the smooth traversal around the city, the fun combat system, and the sheer amount of things I could do.
Let’s start with basic movement: This is an open world game pretty much from the get-go, and traversal is very well done. It’s really hard to get more entertaining than web-swinging around Manhattan at high speeds and altitudes. From the grand and sweeping swings between buildings, to diving from the tops of buildings, to a quick web zip to…well…zip through the air at high speed for a shorter distance, Marvel’s Spider-Man really captures a great sense of movement and freedom to go anywhere you want.
As far as the combat in this game goes, if you’ve played any of the Batman: Arkham games, then combat in Marvel’s Spider-Man will feel pretty familiar. Spidey sense warns you of an incoming attack? Dodge out of the way, and counterattack the most direct threat. Spidey’s bouncy and acrobatic fighting style also looks really impressive in this game, making taking out a group of low-level thugs a lot of fun. You’re also treated to some great sound effects and controller feedback in the fights, giving each punch or kick to some goon’s face a solid feeling of impact.
The game does throw quite a bit at you very early on in teaching the control scheme, and the button combinations and sequences in combat can also seem somewhat daunting at first, since the combat is so frantic (there really is a lot going on at once). Still, it’s nothing a little practice can’t help you get used to relatively quickly.
There are two issues I did encounter in this game, and the first is one that’s unfortunately been a repeat problem with a lot of Spider-Man games: the camera. There were times when the camera was spot on, and then there were others when it wouldn’t turn properly, causing me to take a big hit from an off-screen enemy, or miss a marker that I was trying to hit when swinging to a new destination. Second, with no discernable way to lock on to a single enemy, I found myself punching an unarmed baddie while his buddy with the gun tried to shoot me in the back.
With so much to do in Marvel’s Spider-Man, I could see myself spending a lot of time on this game. I could also see coming back to it over and over, to challenge myself with the harder difficulty levels, and trying to complete everything there is to do (it’s the curse of a completionist). Also, the ability to take “selfies” around the city, makes for some great views of New York City, and makes me want to see what kinds of images I can get just for giggles.
All in all, Marvel’s Spider-Man is a pretty great game. To repeat a comparison I made earlier, if you liked the Arkham games, you’ll really like this title. If the camera and lack of lock-on issues were fixed, this would be a perfect Spider-Man game.
Aitch’s 2 cents
There is so much about this with which I agree with my colleague. However, there something that needs expanding on. This is the first time in a long time (if ever) that we’ve really gotten a well-rounded Spider-Man game. Let’s look at a few points.
Well yes, it’s pretty obvious that this game is set in New York City. I don’t know what Marvel had to do to get the licenses to many of the iconic landmarks in NYC, but this is one of the best representations of NYC I have seen since Grand Theft Auto 4. Even my wife (who is a Staten Island native) says that this is a fairly accurate representation. The city has heart and character. I also liked how the day and night cycles were subtly added in as a result. If you pay attention, there is even an ebb and flow to the traffic…although there could be a few more buses in the game as well.
Since Doug mentioned the meta of the game, it’s impressive how the neighborhoods are represented. For instance, not too far from Octavius’ labs, you will spot a pride flag — as well as a mural not too far from that. In my opinion, this goes to show how inclusive Insomniac wanted this game to be, and to let people know that they were not forgotten or left out. This is something that you don’t see in a lot of games. When you play this game, I strongly urge you to actually take time out from swinging around from point to point, and actually take a moment to walk the street and check out the actual sights and sounds of the city. And if you ARE from New York, let us know how close it comes to representing it for you.
This is where Spider-Man sets itself apart from the Arkham games. While they established themselves as the definitive Batman games, there was just one small problem: you were always Batman (mind you, there is nothing wrong with that). Sure, with later DLC you can play as a few other characters, but for the bulk of the narrative, you played as Batman. In this game, however, you spend time as Peter Parker as well as a few other characters. This gives a better look at the different viewpoints going on around this entire plot, eventually coming back to being Spider-Man. In doing this, it gives the story a weightier feel, which helps strike a good balance between Spider-Man and the supporting characters.
Before you read further, peep out the Stan Lee cameo. I mean, it wouldn’t be a Marvel experience without him popping up, right?
You enjoyed the picture? Good. Ok.
One more thing:
***MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD. READ AT YOUR OWN PERIL***
So the thing that took me by surprise is, considering that 9/11 is a few days away, there is actually a moment in the game where there is a terrorist attack on City Hall. It’s not on the scale of 9/11, but maybe closer to the Boston Marathon attack. I understand how it all plays into the narrative of the story (not to mention changing the origins of a character being introduced) but this is a risky and ballsy move by Insomniac Games. Not only to have it in this game, but also at the time when this game releases. I wouldn’t be too surprised if there are a few outlets that come out with something to say about this move. However, it’s there and it’s kind of hard to say “Well, it’s just a game” when there are people still recovering from such a nation-changing event.
I do wish there was a way for people who are still suffering from the trauma of past terrorist events in the US (and even abroad) to skip this sequence but it’s there, and it’s a bit shocking how it continues the narrative.
All in all, I have thus far enjoyed my time with this game, and Insomniac has done so much to finally give all gamers a great representation of Spider-man title, in much the same way that we got a good Batman game.
Still holding my breath for another Marvel Ultimate Alliance game though!
4.5 Electric Webs out of 5