At the heart of a good game is the ability to want to be the main character, or to be able to identify what it is that they stand for. As a child, or an adult looking back on their youth, most would recognise the desire to be a superhero, whether that be; Superman, Batman or Captain America. Welcome to the world of Insomniac Games 2018 release of Spider-Man. Does this game reach the pinnacle of a Manhattan skyscraper or will it bring you crashing down to earth?
Spider-Man is an action adventure sandbox style game set in the 3rd person view. You primarily play the role of Spider-Man, but also that of Peter Parker. This gives an interesting twist to the story, as it allows you to delve into both characters’ personalities and how they tackle their own unique problems.
At the beginning of the game, you are thrust immediately into the action. There is a tutorial that will help you learn the web slinging mechanics to navigate around the city of Manhattan. I was guilty, perhaps of being pessimistic about how this would work out, but I was glad I was wrong. The movement, methods of controlling your swings, tumbles, dives from dizzying heights, wall running and bouncing off buildings is astounding. The freedom this gives you to weave between buildings, vehicles and the backdrops really draw you in. Traversing the open world really was a delight and is an exceptional part of this game. The fact that you have total freedom around the sandbox world to play how you wish, gives the player the choice to; tackle the story, side tasks or just play around.
Talking of side tasks, oh my word! You will have total control from the outset as to whether you tackle the main storyline or venture around. If you choose the latter, you can unlock radio signals which will start to unveil the map, this is akin to the waypoints that you will find in the Assassins Creed series. Opening the map will identify backpacks for you to collect and crimes that are happening in that area. As you progress through the game, more activities become available. You will have; challenges, Fisk hideouts, landscapes to take photographs of, and much more. If you wished, you could ignore these activities, but do so at your detriment. As you complete the crimes, photograph landscapes, and collect the 50+ forgotten backpacks you will receive tokens. These are used to purchase; suits, gadgets and upgrades which will help with your crime fighting escapades. Completion of all these activities will add an extra 15 hours or so as a minimum to your adventure and sure at the beginning (with the exception of taking photo’s and collecting backpacks) you will feel like a true hero saving Manhattan, but after repeating the same activity for the 20th time it becomes a bit of a tedious task. If there was more variety it would have helped, but after stopping the same drug deal, same store robbery, same car chase…. You get the idea, it was just a bit meh.
Further to this, completing the research activities was just lame. If I wanted to save the environment in a game, I would want to play as Captain Planet, not Spider-Man. Some will argue it plays into the background of Harry, Peter’s best friend. That is a fair point, but the activity ruins the immersive nature of the title. Why would I want to; swing through smog, save a fish, kill algae or look for pigeons for a killer Avian flu? I don’t recall Spider-Man doing this. Yes, he is a superhero, but this was just obvious padding out to me and I felt unbelievably bored completing them.
The main story slowly simmers away over 15+ hours and will introduce you to the well-known and lesser known villains. It has lots of small cutscenes and this bitty approach can leave it feeling slightly disjointed, but overall it is an extremely good rollercoaster of an experience. The story highlights his struggle to balance his personal life with his promise to his Uncle Ben, whilst trying to live up to the expectation of those he holds dear. Peter has to sacrifice aspects of his life to fulfil his destiny as a superhero, the plot has an emotional twist and this adds to the value of the game in my opinion. The inclusion of being able to control Peter, Spider-Man, MJ and Miles (a character introduced near the start of the campaign) adds additional subplots and lets you feel closer to the main protagonists. Unlike the side activities, this doesn’t feel padded out, it is a great example of story telling and worthy of purchasing the game just for the experience.
Gamers place a high level of expectation on triple A titles when it comes to the graphics, and rightfully so. Spider-Man doesn’t disappoint, in fact, it excels in this field, the landscape is instantly recognisable, (albeit a scaled down version) the draw distance is a decent level, very rarely were there frame rate drops. The reflections off the windows and water were crisp and adds further realism. Another point worth mentioning is the pre-set animations for entering vents, certain attacks and other movements all are brilliantly done and play to the movement and flexibility expected of a spider.
Sandbox adventure titles are often judged by their ability to make the environment and world bustling and feel alive. Again, this is something that is done exceptionally well. Imagine New York City and you picture the street filled with; taxi’s, cars and other automobiles. Pedestrians walking around in a hurry, a buzz of noise and energy fills the streets, this has all but replicated this. The only aspect missing was more vehicles, traffic jams, etc., but that is me being picky. In other titles I have played, you interact with NPC’s and they carry on likely mindless zombies, this is certainly not realistic. In Spider-Man if you drop down next to a group of people, you may get asked for a photo, or hear the cheers of support, equally you might get attacked by random thugs, and have abuse screamed at you. This makes you feel part of the world, which has been finished to a very high standard. It was clear that the developers wanted you to explore and lose yourself in their creation.
The gameplay is phenomenal. The open world is vibrant and lively. The freedom of the web slinging and traversing is seamless, surely this couldn’t also run into the close quarter claustrophobic environments of buildings and smaller rooms too? I was pleasantly surprised at how well the game mechanics worked within such confined spaces. The game design is done in such a clever way, it allows you to plan ahead. Whether you want to stealth around through vents, web sling onto beams to time when to perfectly strike, use gadgets to distract or destroy your enemies or just go “full-on Rambo” style, the choice is entirely yours. The environment has been created in such a way that it allows the player to consider a tactical approach, without this the gameplay would effectively be a mess of button mashing. Because of this I relished returning to play, in my opinion, this is an element that the developers excelled in.
The combat is similar to that found within the Batman Arkham series, it is fluid. You can jump around like a nimble acrobat before knocking people out with the ferocity of Mike Tyson. You can use special powers associated with specific suits that change your style, or use gadgets to stick baddies to walls or incapacitate them. There are items scattered around the environment, including scaffolding that you can fling at enemies to give you the upper hand or distract them. The choice of combat moves is fairly large, however, I generally found that I rotated the same tried and tested attacks. This didn’t lead to any less enjoyment on my side, as they say if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. The combat is brilliant and really gives you the feeling of being superhuman, the punches give a bone crunching impact, the kicks are so over the top they fit perfectly within the superhero theme. This increased strength makes you feel empowered, all superhero titles should be like this. The Quick-Time-Events that come with fighting the villains is well placed and mixes the general fluid action with a bit of concentrated precision, it truly does add to the drama.
Like all good superhero games, you need a few elements to make it feel great. Smooth combat, superhuman powers, a strong storyline with decent villains, witty one liners and a variety of gadgets. We have covered the majority of these points and they are all exceptional in their presentation. It is time to discuss the last two points, witty one liners and gadgets. Peter Parker as most will know used to be a geek, someone looked down on by his peers and not respected. Once he received his powers he started to find his place, this led to his confidence increasing and becoming a bit cocksure of himself. This personality trait oozes out of his character Spider-Man, and some might find this endearing. I initially found his puns amusing, but after hearing this time after time it was like having a re-run of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s action movies on permanent loop. 30 hours of playing and I was punned out, it just felt annoying. I do understand this is the character’s persona, but I just really wanted him to shut up.
On a more positive note, the gadgets. You initially start out with none, they are slowly introduced as the game progresses. You will end up with a plethora of toys to play around with. All of these are viable choices depending on your play style and the circumstances you find yourself in. Some are obviously more powerful or better than others and I found myself using the same ones most of the time. I did however play around with all of them multiple times and can see the great game design and time invested by Insomniac into these.
The general noise in Manhattan is great, the beeping of cars, general chit chat of pedestrians walking around, the sound of swooping as you swing or free fall. The over the top crunching noise as you impact with baddies, explosions of cars and gun fire really add into the vibe of being a superhero. As much as I started disliking the puns, the voice acting for the villains and other characters is well done and I can’t criticise any of the audio aspects.
The base game is not a particularly challenging completion for those who hunt trophies. Expect 35 – 40 hours for everything without a guide. Those who prefer to play with one, you can expect to complete this in 25 hours, however you will still need to be adept at the game mechanics. The greatest difficulty is definitely the challenges. To obtain the best rewards, you are going to have to work really hard. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut around this other than to get good at the fighting and traversing mechanics. Even with YouTube videos or guides, this doesn’t substitute the gaming skills you will need to be successful. You honestly need to be prepared to have controller smashing rage at some points, however, perseverance will allow you to collect all the trophies.
Some people will have purchased the game of the year (GOTY) addition or the associated DLC with this game. This will unlock 3 new chapters; The Heist, Turf Wars and Silver Lining. This DLC goes on sale regularly and with the GOTY addition very minimally more expensive than the base game is it worth your money and more importantly time?
The DLC brings the Maggia mafia into the frame, in particular the Supervillain Hammerhead. He is plotting to fill the void for the position of criminal mastermind. You will quickly find that you are reintroduced to Black Cat and other characters from the main game and this will fill in their back stories as you progress naturally through the 3 DLC’s. If you concentrate purely on the story alone, all of the DLC’s will be completed in just a little over 3 – 4 hours. I found this to be extremely well written and well paced, it adds more depth to the base game and therefore it is worth playing this just for that reason alone. You will not find any new gadgets or skills to play with, but will be able to access new suits depending on what activities you complete.
You will have additional side activities that are optional and although they add a slightly different variation to that of the original base game, ultimately it’s the same old mundane activities. Screwball makes a return in each of the DLC’s and these add what can only be described as frustrating challenges. You also get new hideout’s to tackle as well as other activities. You can skip these, however for those wishing to get all the trophies you’re in for the long haul and will have to perfect the challenges to complete your trophy haul. Your skill level will dictate how long the side activities will take, but it is fair to assume that for the average gamer, it will take 5 – 6 hours for each DLC to be completed in its entirety.
So I hear you ask, if it worth investing in? I would say that if you thoroughly enjoyed the base game, you will obviously love the DLC. For those, like myself, who found it padded out at times, I still very much enjoyed it. I balance this with the fact that I purchased it on sale and I definitely feel I got value for money. Would I pay full price for this? No is my answer, but as this is on sale regularly, you won’t be waiting too long to own it. Additionally, the GOTY edition is only marginally more expensive than the standalone base game, so most would go for that option anyway.
Spider-Man received plaudits when it was released and rightly so. Where the game excels, it was leaps and bounds ahead of its rivals, it is a glorious example of a sandbox action adventure game that other still struggle to replicate in 2020. The only downside I can think of is the unnecessary padding out of the side activities and how repetitive they are in nature. With NG+ available as well, the game offers a replay value for those wishing to return to the Superhero lifestyle. So it’s time to put down the camera, slip on some Lycra, and save the day anyway you can.
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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Marvel’s Spider-Man Review
Gameplay - 9/10
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9/10
Replay Value - 9/10
Everyone secretly wants to be a superhero, now you have the opportunity in this near perfect open world adventure.
Great fighting mechanics.
Open world movement is exhilarating.
Side missions are repetitive, and not always relevant.