Platform: PlayStation 4 (reviewed)
It’s been about two years since Spider-man for PlayStation 4 was announced. During PlayStation’s huge E3 2016 media briefing, the game’s announcement was a highlight among other big announcements like God of War, Death Stranding, and Resident Evil 7, cementing the PlayStation 4’s dominance in the console gaming market.
Developed by Insomniac Games (Sunset Overdrive, Ratchet & Clank), Sony, along with Marvel, were looking to reboot the AAA video game side of Spider-man after spending years being published by Activision and developed by a who’s who of devs from Vicarious Visions to Treyarch to Beenox.
Now that the game is finished and here, does it live up to the hype?
Spider-man, the adult
One of my favorite things about this Spider-man title, besides it not being tied to any movie releases, is that it takes place years after Peter Parker acquired his powers. Parker is 23 years old, he has his own apartment, and he’s been fighting crime and putting baddies behind bars as Spider-man for a number of years. Peter and Aunt May are no longer mourning Uncle Ben’s death, and Pete is at the beginning of his science career as a research assistant. It’s nice not having to go through his origin story again.
The game begins with Spidey chasing down Wilson Fisk aka Kingpin, the notorious mob boss who he’s been chasing for years. Fisk is his white whale. When Spider-man finally defeats and captures Fisk, it sets off a chain of events in New York City that no one was expecting, and the onus is on Spidey to bring calm back to the city.
Without spoiling much, there are multiple stories throughout the game, of course the overarching one follows Spider-man’s quest to defeat Martin Li aka Mr. Negative and his Inner Demons crew as they try to take over Fisk’s territory and wreak havoc on the city. But Mr. Negative’s true motive is revenge. Against who and why is revealed as you play through the game along with other major villains and characters who pop-up to give Spidey trouble.
There’s also Parker’s relationship with Mary Jane, who is now his ex-girlfriend, that he’s trying to repair, and also his career aspirations in a scientific field as he works with a very familiar character to invent new technology to help disabled people. There are also story threads with surprise characters that I won’t spoil here, but die-hard Spider-man fans will likely be happy to experience. But even if you’re a casual Spider-man fan, who just keeps up with the movies and maybe the animated series, there’s still a lot to enjoy without feeling lost.
And while Spider-man is a hero, the writers did a great job showcasing his flaws and vulnerabilities. Peter Parker is late to everything, almost to a point where its disrespectful to people he cares about. He also makes poor decisions. And some of those decisions make situations worse and at times he looks down on help that he’s offered, which hurts his relationships. There’s even one scene where Parker and MJ are exchanging texts and a miscommunication mishap turns into a bigger deal than it should have. Anyone who’s ever been in a serious relationship would be able to relate. Love, right?
Spider-man: Arkham Arachnid
Let’s just get this out of the way… yes, Spider-man’s gameplay is very reminiscent of the Batman Arkham series, but it’s use of Spider-man’s web is what sets it apart from everything else. Swinging through New York City is an exhilarating experience. The swinging is consistent, rhythmic, and fluid. While there is fast travel to certain areas of the game’s Manhattan map, most of the time I preferred to swing through buildings, launch myself over rooftops, and zip from perch to perch. It’s not often that I take the long way to mission starting points in open world games.
When it comes to combat, Spider-man has a regular attack, jump, and dodge buttons that show off the cool fight animations like the Batman Arkham games. But Spidey comes into his own with his web technology, being able to wrap enemies in webbing and swing them around, web them to the ground or to a wall, and then uppercut them in the air and use his web to yank them down. These are just some of the aspects and moves that separates it from Arkham. When it comes to stealth, Spider-man will perch on a lamp post and at the right moment, web up an unsuspecting enemy and hang him from the light. I never got tired of doing that.
Spidey also has a nice collection of gadgets. Aside from his web shooters, favorites of mine include the web bomb, web trip mine, and the robot spider, all which have different ways of webbing up enemies making them easier to take down. Other gadgets like electricfied webbing, concussion attacks, and a gadget that suspends enemies in the air while you take them out one by one, were also fun to use and changed up your play style.
Along with the gadgets, as you play through the game, you unlock different Spider-man suits. Each suit (well, most of them) comes with a power ranging from increasing your focus during battle or creating a distortion field to being bullet proof or blowing enemies away with rock music (yes, that’s a thing). Once you unlock a suit, you can apply its power to any suit you already own. My favorite suit power, however, is web blossom. Spidey just jumps in the air and fires web in every direction, wrapping up anyone that’s caught in the web’s path. The power comes in super helpful if you ever get overwhelmed by the number of enemies.
Let’s be honest here, the Arkham series had some of the best third person combat in gaming, and I’m not mad that Spider-man is somewhat influenced by that. It’s a great system that works, and tweaking it to fit Spider-man’s essence was a good decision.
The City Never Sleeps
Like most open world games these days, Spider-man’s New York City is filled with dozens and dozens of activities. Also, like most open world games these days, it isn’t that innovative. Spider-man is tasked with activating towers across Manhattan to reveal what activities are available in the area.
Crime activities in the city has you stopping thugs from breaking in stores, kidnapping people, or getting in a shootout with police. The car chases are fun too. There was a crime activity where Spider-man saves people from a car accident. You can also play tourist and take pictures of landmarks, go around and collect old backpacks Spidey left in different corners of the city, or take on challenges where your hero tries to defuse bombs and drones around town before a timer runs out.
The Base activity is like a mini-horde experience where you take on four to five waves of enemies ranging from Fisk’s thugs at a construction site to Martin Li’s henchmen at an office building, or Sable super soldiers at a base of operations.
Completing these activities awards you tokens, and if you’re able to accomplish certain challenges within the activity (like web throw 5 enemies), you can earn a couple of extra. These tokens are used to craft new gadgets and upgrade them as well as acquire new suits. I found that I used my web shooters and web bombs the most early on and leaned toward upgrading those first.
As you complete missions and activities, you also earn XP which then earns you skills points. You use those skills points to enhance three areas of your game play – Innovator, Defender, and Webslinger. These three skill trees have abilities that range from being able to swing faster through the city to allowing you to snatch weapons from enemies and hit them with it. It’s a solid system that encourages you to find new ways to take down foes.
The game isn’t all swinging and beating up thugs, however. There are moments in the game where you play as Peter Parker (and a couple of other characters) and solve puzzles, investigate offices, and find hidden items. While some of these sequences were getting a bit too long for my taste, most of the time, it was a nice break from the nonstop action and also allows you to dig a bit deeper into the story and the backgrounds of some the game’s major characters.
A Marvel presentation
Playing on PlayStation 4 Pro, the game looks stunning. Insomniac did a remarkable job creating Spider-man’s Manhattan and while it’s not an exact replica of the Big Apple, they definitely captured the feel and aesthetic of the city. Landmarks like Times Square and the Empire State Building are funs spots to run through and climb.
The same can be said about the cut scenes and the amazing fast-paced, action-packed set pieces that find Spidey in the midst of some intense undertakings where quick timed events come into play. The action is exhilarating and do a superb job of bringing that comic book action to life.
Yuri Lowenthal is the voice behind Peter Parker in the game and does an excellent job capturing the range of emotions the character goes through throughout the game. Then with Laura Bailey as Mary Jane, the two have some pretty good chemistry. It’s also fun walking down the street and hearing people yell at you, either giving you props or talking trash. Ahhh, New York, gotta love it!
And not to be outdone, John Paesano’s musical score rivals Alan Silvestri’s Avengers score. Yeah, it’s pretty good folks.
All in all, this is the best Spider-man game ever made.