Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Review by Ryan M. Holt
Spider-Man has seen many incarnations in gaming, and Peter Parker’s latest adventure as a PlayStation 4 exclusive may be his best one yet.
Marvel’s Spider-Man takes place in a brand new universe that takes all of the best parts of the Ultimate Universe, the Animated Series from the 90’s, nods to the MCU and of course the standard 616 universe and puts them in a blender. The resulting juice gives a sense of familiarity to any casual Spider-fan and includes some great nods to the hardcore fans.
The story opens with the apprehension of Wilson Fisk, serving as a combat tutorial for the game before dumping you into the open world of Manhattan. Following that brief introduction, we are dumped right into multiple conflicts that have always made Peter Parker and Spider-Man so compelling: The balance of a real life and a hero life. In the first couple hours of the game, Peter gets evicted from his apartment and is helping out Aunt May at the FEAST center, while Spider-Man is tracking down the remnants of the Kingpin’s empire. If you have read any of Dan Slott or Christos Gage’s Spider-Man stuff (basically any Amazing Spider-Man stuff from the past 10 years) this will all feel very familiar.
To help bring some different gameplay stuff into the fold, the story mode brings in two other playable characters, Mary Jane Watson and Miles Morales. The Mary Jane sequences are usually built around taking photographs and trying to find a piece of the larger puzzle for Peter, while the Miles sequences focus more on Miles journey to becoming a hero himself. I mentioned a lot of this on this past episode of Not Enough Resources, but I cannot overstate how much I love this iteration of Mary Jane. Making her an investigative reporter gives her more agency and power than I have ever seen in the character, and fully moves her out of manic pixie dream girl territory into a fully fleshed out character. Ditto on Miles too, he gets some of the most emotionally powerful moments in the game, and it really feels like the writers and developers took care with the character.
Gameplay wise, this game isn’t very revolutionary compared to other open world games. Combat is a fun mix of the Arkham series with the launchers and fidelity of Ultimate Marvel VS Capcom 3, hell there are even stealth missions later on that feel exactly like the predator missions from Arkham. Later on in the game you do run into some fun and unique enemy types, but early on everything is pretty basic and harkens back to old school 16-bit brawlers. Oh, this guy has a ranged weapon? Disarm him. This guy is using a shield? Hit him from behind. Yawn. Later enemies like the Jetpacked Sable units and the demon powered whip units of Mr. Negative are fun to fight and bring their own experiences to the game, but by then you are so grossly overpowered that they are more a nuisance than a challenge.
So what makes this game so great? Two things: Web-swinging and Collectible Gating.
Throughout the 30 or so hours it took me to platinum the game I only used the fast travel feature five times, the minimum amount required to get a bronze level trophy. These loading screens show Spider-Man taking the subway, and while that is pretty great and brings a smile to my face, why would I go through a loading screen to get from one end of the island to another when traversing there via web is so much fun? Between swinging and zipping, the two main abilities used to travel, it takes only a couple minutes to go from the east side of Manhattan to the west, so why deny yourself that fun?
Collectibles have always been a thorn in the side of open world games, but thankfully Insomniac Games has found a way to keep this from being the case. As with most games of this nature there are unlock points that reveal a large subsection of the overall map, and with them a slew of collectibles throughout that area. Spider-Man gates these collectibles depending on your progress in the story though, so instead of getting 45+ little icons thrown on your minimap all at once, the collectibles you have access to evolves over the course of the game. This keeps players from getting overwhelmed, while forcing ADHD players who have to collect everything to go through the story.
Of course, the third act of the game sings. Following a massive breakout at the Raft, which was shown at E3 this past year, the game transforms into a constant traversal through hostile territory as Spider-Man has to hunt down the escapees. While most of these fights become quickly formulaic, the fight to apprehend Electro takes a fun left turn and turns into a pure adrenaline rush where you constantly feel overwhelmed. Beating that part of that game brought a smile to my face and put the game in the running for game of the year for me.
Verdict: Buy it.
Even if you are a casual fan of the webbed hero, Marvel’s Spider-Man this game offers a lot of fun. Manhattan is fun to traverse and explore, the story is on par with some of the best Spidey stories in recent years, and the game doesn’t waste time with things like an origin story. While the combat feels very been-there-done-that, having a very traditional quippy Spider-Man adding his own take on things makes the game feel so pure and true to the Peter Parker we have all grown to love over the years.