Superhero games are incredibly difficult to get right. As unlike with other games, developers don’t just have to aim for excellence in terms of game design, and the technical prowess, but also in terms of the adaptation of a select superhero, or an entire universe. Spider-Man has famously been the most controversial figure in terms of both video games, and film, as whenever a new product were released featuring the Amazing Spider-Man, people would complain in droves that either the portrayal of Peter Parker is incorrect, that the suit is not outlandish enough, or that the villains are not convincing. It seems like Insomniac Games have studied the long and winded list of criticisms of the masked super hero, as their recently released Marvel’s Spider-Man, for PlayStation 4, has seemingly taken care of all the issues which have flared up in the past.
Insomniac’s Spider-Man, while relying on a well known and established IP, is in many ways like nothing that most of us have ever seen before. Sure, the comic book fans might have experienced an alike incarnation of the titular hero before, but the vast majority of people has only ever had a chance to experience the high-school student Peter Parker, who seemingly had to watch his uncle die whenever a new game, or film has been released. Whereas Insomniac’s Spider-Man has been a super hero for over eight years at the time of the game’s start, and he is not only well versed in the ways of a masked avenger, but is also over his past. And sure, the story of uncle Ben is brought up every now and then, but you are never forced to sit through a fifteen minute cut-scene of him dying, nor are you ever have to listen to aunt May crying, and reminiscing about Ben for hours at the time.
The way in which Spider-Man handles, well, the past of Spider-Man is simply superb. As it assumes that you know what this particular super hero is about, and that you are well aware of his past. And what makes this adaptation of the IP even better, is that it does all this with all the other characters as well. From Mary Jayne, through aunt May, all the way down to J Jonah Jameson. And while all the in-game characters differ slightly from their comic, or silver screen counter parts, then you don’t have to worry about ever getting lost in the title’s narrative, as each and every discrepancy is either explained by Peter Parker, the character themselves, or by a back pack collectibles of which Spider-Man has over 52.
Some of you may dislike the idea of collectibles, but Spider-Man is an open world game, and those are a must for any title with an open, and expansive environment. And while it is right of you to assume that collectibles can be a chore, then in the instance of Spider-Man, picking up backpacks or taking pictures of New York’s landmarks is an absolute joy. The above-mentioned backpacks feature items from Peter’s past which provide you with closure into his life, as well as the back story of some side characters, as well as villains; whereas the landmark’s give the Insomniac’s rendition of New York a true sense of place, as they turn the otherwise generic city into a relatable, real-life metropolis.
Title such as Grand Theft Auto 4, and Batman: Arkham Knight have done a great job of creating a New York’esque city, within a video game environment. However, Insomiac’s effort beats both these titles by a country mile, even if they were to be put together. As Spider-Man’s New York, unlike Batman’s Arkham and Grand Theft Auto’s Liberty City, comes across as a true to life location. The streets are filled to the brim with bustling pedestrians which react to the titular character with either love or disdain, the streets are covered with the iconic yellow taxis and other vehicles, and most importantly, the city feels like a part of a much larger world due to the high amount of landmarks, billboards, and other environmental story telling devices. And to put it simply, the world of Spider-Man is simply breathtaking, and you’ll know exactly what I mean, as soon as you’ll have a look at the image below. An image which showcases some of the best aspects of the title: the Spider-Man himself, the city, and the rather incredibly web-swinging mechanic.
If you look at the past incarnations of the masked avenger – within the world of video games – you’ll notice that despite featuring an open world, in nearly all instances, the titles never cared too much about Spider-Man’s main form of transport – web-swinging. It wither was too slow and lethargic, and made Spider-Man feel like he was always suspended in jelly; or on the other hand, it was fast paced, sloppy, and cared very little about aspects of physics such as momentum. And as I mentioned at the start of this interview, Insomniac games has looked at all the previous video games featuring the Amazing Spider-Man, looked at all their flaws, and fixed them according – web-swinging included.
Unlike in most previous titles, Spider-Man can only swing as long as he can attach his web to a tangible, physical object, which has to be within his reach. So, no, you can’t swing in mid-air, above the trees of the Central Park, while firing your web into thin air. But you can, dive straight towards the ground, and swing using the said trees all the way to the nearest sky scraper. And once you get there, you can’t simply ascend to the roof tops, and in order to reach greater heights, you will either need to utilise the title’s momentum based physics, and progressively reach higher grounds, while swinging, or you can latch onto a wall and sprint all the way to the roof with R2. And while sprinting is often a viable option, as you can run up, or along any in-game wall, then it has to be said that swinging can be much faster when used correctly, and even when not used efficiently it is often a much more stylish mode of transport, as Spider-Man is animated beautifully when soaring thorough New York’s skyline.
As it is now the tradition for all PlayStation exclusives, Spider-Man is beautifully animated. Every single in-game motion no matter how trivial, is animated with a Swiss-like precision and with a Bordway’esque flair. And due to the animation’s alone, Insomiac’s Spider-Man is the most impressive super hero title to date. However, what makes this particular title truly stand out is its incredibly fluid and exciting combat, which while in part resembling the one of the Arkham series, improves upon it greatly in all aspects. Spider-Man’s combat catalog is much more profound than the one of Batman’s, and as ingenious and as tech savvy as Bruce Wayne seems to be, he has nothing on Peter Parker’s arsenal of gadget and abilities. And the combination of beautifully animated combat moves, an expansive dossier of combat manoeuvers, and a seemingly endless arsenal of tools and gadgets, come together to form the most impressive, and satisfying combat system to date. Which as strangely as it may sound, even puts Rocksteady’s Batman to shame.
Insomniac’s Spider-Man is simply a beautiful, beautiful game. And it is the studio’s best title to date without a shadow of a doubt. But as excellent as it may be, it is not all roses, as does possess some minor, but noticeable flaws. One of them concerns the fact that as star-studded as the main cast of villains may be, it is not as omnipresent as one would like it to be – and in fact, it is not really all that present. In addition, unlike the above-mentioned Arkham Knight, Spider-Man doesn’t feature a secondary cast of villains of high-caliber, as the vast majority of public has probably have never heard of characters such as Tombstone, or Shockwave. And this leads me to believe that as large and profound as this Spider-Man title may be, it might be an opening for a much bigger, and most importantly much more expensive title, which considering how incredible this game is, is going to come sooner rather than later.
After being largely skeptical about this release prior to its launch, then I have to admit that I was wrong to ever doubt in Insomniac’s ability to create games. And that’s because they have not just developed a great game, but the best Super Hero game of this generation. And yes, it does feature some padding in form of side-quests, collectibles, and arenas, but such are never mandatory to complete, but when finished, even in-part, provide you with a host of tokens which can be used to upgrade Spider-Man’s gadgets, or to buy Parker a set of new costumes – which by the way, are truly excellent. But even if you skip those completely, you will never feel under-powered or weak, as all in-game upgrades are there to add even more spice to the already red-hot title. And if you happen to be in the market for your first PlayStation 4, and are looking for your very first PlayStation 4 exclusive, then you should definitely go with Marvel’s Spider-Man, because it is one of the most impressive games of this generation, and does not require you to sacrifice your first-born, unlike God of War, or Horizon Zero Dawn.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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