Insomniac’s Spider-Man game for the PS4 is one of the most anticipated titles in recent years, especially given the fact that there hasn’t been a triple-A Marvel superhero game – at least, not one on this scale – in a long time. While Spider-Man appeared in several team-up games over the years, such as Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2, he has also headlined numerous solo outings as well, the last of which was The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – a tie-in game for Marc Webb’s blockbuster movie of the same name. (Note: this doesn’t count the mobile game released by Gameloft in 2016.)
Marvel Entertainment wanted to change that, so they formed a Marvel Games division that operates in the same capacity as Marvel Studios, but dedicated entirely to the interactive medium. Immediately after acquiring the rights to the characters and launching the new department, Marvel Games approached Sony PlayStation to make a third-party game in the vein of their first-party titles, which is where Insomniac Games came into the picture – and it has been a long, arduous journey for them ever since.
Getting a game as anticipated like Spider-Man on store shelves isn’t an easy feat, especially since the studio’s biggest title before this was arguably the 2014 Xbox exclusive Sunset Overdrive. The question is, does Marvel’s Spider-Man live up to the hype? Bottom line: yes… and no.
A Spider-Man Story Worth Playing
From the start, it’s clear that this game is just as much about Peter Parker as it is about Spider-Man (err… Spider-Cop). But when it comes to choosing between his daily responsibilities – including going to work and paying his bills – and saving the city, he’ll choose the city… always. It’s his responsibility as a veteran superhero to do so, without hesitation or concern for his own wellbeing but rather the concern for the wellbeing of the people he holds most dear as well as the city as a whole. Make no mistake, though, this is very much a Spider-Man story, and it’s arguably the best one ever told in any medium outside of comics. Compared to past games, it’s not a superhero title with a story mode; instead, it’s a playable, cinematic adventure that dives deep into who Spider-Man is – and that includes the fact there’s a hyphen in his name. Best not to forget that.
What truly stands out from this story compared to past superhero games is that it takes the time to explain why each villain is part of Spidey’s rogues’ gallery. They aren’t fighting him blindly or for megalomaniacal reasons, but instead for personal reasons that epitomize why they are villains in the first place. It’s refreshing, to say the least, and also unnerving to feel some sort of empathy for people who want to destroy New York City (and, at times, the world). Granted, Spider-Man PS4’s story isn’t a full deconstruction of the villains, but it does show there’s more than meets the eye – and that’s why together they form the Sinister Six, as shown in past E3 trailers. In addition to playing through the actual story, however, the side tasks players can complete, such as finding all of Peter Parker’s backpacks that he forgot about while in school, are all representative of the character.
Feel Like Spider-Man In A Generic Open World
Unfortunately, the story’s unmatched quality doesn’t carry over to the rest of the game. A significant detraction of Spider-Man‘s open world is that it relies almost entirely on tried-and-tested gameplay mechanics – scaling buildings to perform a task that would reveal a new area, for instance – without at least taking the next step in evolving the genre, thus resulting in a game that lacks ingenuity on a grand scale. However, that’s not to say swinging across Manhattan isn’t fun, because it is – there’s nothing like going from building to building, and tower to tower using spider webs just like Spider-Man does in the comics and movies.
The fact is, traversal in this game is incredible, and there’s certainly a level of attention to detail that Marvel Comics fans will appreciate most. But beyond that, the actual open world is rather generic. Every street that players land on is practically the same, with the same people doing the same things. For instance, there’s usually a woman trying to hail a taxi every hundred feet or so. Cool thing is, when players are just standing there, someone might come up to them and give them a high five for saving the city. Perhaps the most unique aspect of the open world lies within the game’s social system, in which virtually everything Spidey does is documented by people on social media. It is the 21st century, after all.
What’s more, while the city is incredibly detailed, especially when it comes to select Marvel locations, the rest of the city is rather lackluster. It’s full of life, sure, but virtually every interaction players have with anyone in the open world – that’s not part of a mission – is average. But it’s worth pointing out that all the worries of a graphics downgrade are all for naught. Marvel’s Spider-Man is visually stunning, no question about it.
Spider-Man’s Gameplay Is Fluid… With Some Major Drawbacks
Simply put, Insomniac’s Spider-Man game makes players truly feel like they’re Spider-Man. Considering that’s the game’s intent, the studio certainly accomplishes their goal – but what Spider-Man doesn’t do is hone in on everything else. Combat is much more advanced and interactive than Arkham‘s, which is what the game has frequently been compared to. Rather than just attack and dodge with some slight aerial combat involved, Insomniac has spent time refining Spidey’s fluidity and allowing players to use the environment to fight enemies, just as Spidey would in the comics. Plus, being able to combo attacks and dodges, as well as incorporate all sorts of gadgets, is absolutely fun. On the flip side, though, the enemy AI is, well… unintelligent. It isn’t difficult getting up to a 100-point combo when facing waves of enemies, so getting over the novelty of playing as Spider-Man can happen sooner rather than later. Moreover, the inability to combat multiple enemies at the same time, aside from swinging projectiles around, feels like a step backward, especially since non-superhero games have already incorporated similar mechanics for years now.
Also, quick-time events have outgrown their welcome and cheapen otherwise epic fighting sequences. (Context-sensitive situations could’ve been applied instead to amplify the adrenaline players experience chasing someone all while dodging debris.) Boss fights are cool in their own ways but are rather generic and repetitive. Most of the time, players just have to dodge boss attacks until they tire themselves out. Then, the game prompts players to attack the boss with a specific button; they just have to do that a couple times and the boss will be defeated. Boss fights are all about making them vulnerable, which happens either by the player webbing them or throwing objects at them, if not simply tiring them out. Because of that, there’s little to no difference between each boss battle. The thing is, we’ve done this song and dance for far too long. In Spider-Man, it’s all about repeating the same attack and dodge moves over and over again. Sure, that allows for cinematic-style fights, which seems to be what Insomniac is going for – in that regard, it does work – but it leaves much to be desired for a modern take on a superhero boss battle.
Furthermore, there are a handful of enemy factions in the game, and it’s initially exciting when another one joins the fold. However, after fighting the second faction – and then the third and the fourth – it becomes painfully obvious that they’re more alike than Insomniac may realize. Aside from one or two unique, seemingly inconsequential aspects of each group, they all fight the same way and effectively utilize the same weapons. Maybe one group will have RPGs while the other has sniper rifles, or a riot shield and an ordinary shield, but no matter what happens, players defeat them the exact same way. And since enemies don’t scale to the players’ levels, fighting them outside of story missions can become tedious… fast.
Ultimately, Marvel’s Spider-Man masters practically every aspect of superhero games that have come before, but it does so in an uninspiring way. That’s not to diminish the experience of playing as the wall-crawler, but if gamers are looking at Insomniac’s adaptation of Spider-Man as the next step in gaming, they will be (somewhat) disappointed. Perhaps the game isn’t meant to take the genre to the next level, and that’s okay. What it aims to do – to tell the definitive version of Spidey’s story on an epic scale – it does so exceptionally well, and that is possibly all fans can ask for at this stage. Because, really, aside from fluid combat against an unintelligent AI system, the main thing that holds this game together is Peter Parker’s story.
Marvel’s Spider-Man releases September 7 only on PS4. Screen Rant was provided a copy for the PS4 for the purposes of this review.