Review: Marvel’s Spider-Man

Earlier in April of this year I posted this article – and on September 7th, I was finally able to get my hands on Spider-Man to play it. I got the Collector’s Edition and also upgraded my PS4 to the limited edition Spider-Man PS4 Pro. It is an understatement to say that I was excited to play the game. And a little over a week later I’ve completed the game – I earned the Platinum trophy (only one of five that I’ve earned, the others being Horizon: Zero Dawn, Day of the Tentacle Remastered, and two Telltale games which basically only require you to play the entire game to get them).

Spider-Man was an amazing game that I loved almost every minute of – it will almost assuredly be between it and God of War for what I consider my personal game of the year, unless something coming in the next three months manage to impress me more (here’s looking at you Super Smash Bros). It wasn’t a perfect game, though – in fact it actually had a few glaring problems. But considering how Insomniac absolutely nailed everything else, the highs totally outweighed the lows.

So as someone who’s pretty much done everything the base game has to offer, it’s time for my review. There will be mild spoilers for certain parts of the game, but nothing regarding the major plot points that Insomniac wanted to keep secret.

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Marvel’s Spider-Man: Avengers not included.

Insomniac makes the right decision and starts the game off well after Peter Parker has become Spider-Man. Uncle Ben has been dead for eight years, Peter is out of college and working as a lab assistant, and he and MJ have already dated and broken up. He’s put several of the superpowered villains behind bars – Scorpion, Rhino, Electro and others get name-dropped and nods to villains like The Lizard and Mysterio are present as collectibles. The game isn’t worried about doing another origin story for Spider-Man and the game is much, much better for it.

The intro of the game revolves around taking Wilson Fisk AKA Kingpin down, and after his introductory boss sequence (which is actually a masterfully done tutorial on how to take down similar enemies that will appear regularly throughout the rest of the game) Fisk warns Spider-Man that he was holding New York City together and soon Spidey would be wishing Fisk was out of jail and keeping the order. Peter throws out a usual quip and the game continues on. Of course, Fisk turns out to be right and it doesn’t take long for a new gang to start terrorizing New York City and eventually all hell breaks loose – and it’s up to Spider-Man to set everything right.

What Insomniac absolutely nails is Spider-Man’s ease at traversing through New York City. Early on you’re drip-fed a few different ways to maneuver between buildings as you web-swing from one point of interest to another. But once you get used to the rhythm of Spidey’s swinging it becomes a joy to just travel from point A to point B. Unlike pretty much every other open-world game in existence, I rarely ever used fast travel because the moment-to-moment movement was so much fun. (In fact, I pretty much used the fast travel option just enough times to get the associated trophy and then forgot about it.) Spider-Man’s New York City feels sprawling enough to be big but not big enough that you roll your eyes at having to travel from the north to south side, and the verticality and distinct look of all the districts adds a welcome diversity to the different areas of the game.

The combat is also smooth and you have an array of different moves and gadgets you can use to switch things up. It’s a modified version of the Arkham series’ combat but it feels so much better because you expect Spider-Man to be leaping and swinging around while fighting a bunch of bad guys. Unlike Arkham, which splits up its combat scenarios into Predator scenarios (stealthily taking out enemies one-by-one) and straightforward combat, you can enter any combat scenario in Spider-Man stealthily if you choose and you can take out an entire squad without ever being seen if you’re careful. Also while Arkham assigns each gadget to a specific combination of buttons (that I would often forget in the midst of a combo chain) Spidey has one button for gadgets and a gadget wheel to select from which I preferred. It allowed me to take in what enemies I would be facing, switch to the gadget that was most useful, and immediately focus on combat instead of having to furiously wrack my brain for which combination of buttons was the right gadget that countered one particular enemy.

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Kicking people out of trucks is a regular occurrence for Spider-Man.

What Insomniac didn’t nail was Spider-Man’s dexterity and mobility when you aren’t web-swinging or in combat. In a surprising lack of foresight, you’re unable to simply wall crawl down from a higher perch and instead have to jump out and web-swing back into the wall. And while you have the ability to pretty much zip to any surface with your web shooters, the reticle will often wildly target everything in range and you can find yourself flying across the room when you only intended to go five feet. The lack of precision hurts in harder challenges later in the game and can become frustrating when you’re trying to follow a specific path and end up overshooting or undershooting your intended target due to the reticle changing targets at the last moment.

Combat in the last third of the game gets a little dicey as well. Like most games, the late game combat adds new enemy types that are supposed to be more of a challenge (since by this time you have a wide range of gadgets and abilities at your disposal). Unfortunately, Spidey’s dodge ability only tracks one target at a time – and since every enemy with ranged attack has perfect aim (and some of the late-game enemy squads come equipped with nothing but guns), I would find myself dodging one attack only to still take damage as I was being hit by several other targets. In one particular case later in the game I actually executed a perfect dodge on one enemy’s attack, only to immediately be hit by other enemies’ ranged attacks consecutively and I was stun-locked to death. Spidey also has an ability in combat to grab objects littered around the area to throw at enemies, which is cool. But another late-game enemy involves a mobile turret that can only be disabled by using this grab-and-throw mechanic. And the reticle is just as finicky as when it targets for movement, so I often found myself having to move to a very specific position next to the turret and slowly aim my camera at it, all while it fired at me, just so I wouldn’t pick up and throw every manhole cover and mailbox in the general vicinity instead.

So the game doesn’t do everything perfectly. But one thing it does perfect is the story. You don’t just play as Spider-Man – you also get to play as Peter Parker. There are sections of the game where you interact with Aunt May, MJ, and others as Peter instead of Spider-Man which gives the character the down-to-earth humanity Peter has always had. You spend time both at F.E.A.S.T. – a homeless shelter that May helps run, and at Peter’s lab workplace. While these sections are never long and you’re quick to get back to web-swinging across the city to be friendly in neighborhoods, it’s a nice change of pace to get to be the man behind the mask – something the Arkham games didn’t choose to do with Batman.

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My Spidey-Sense is tingling…did I leave the stove on?!

You also aren’t always in Peter’s shoes – there are sections of gameplay where you play as both MJ and Miles Morales. While getting to see through the eyes of MJ and Miles is a great idea, the actual gameplay involved with these sections is less than stellar. Almost every one of these sections of gameplay involve stealth and immediate loss conditions if you’re spotted. It results in a stark contrast when you have so many options while playing as Spider-Man, but are stuck in “don’t get caught” mode when playing as anybody else. The most fun sequences with MJ and Miles both come later in the game when they try to switch up the stealth formula a bit – and those sequences naturally ended up feeling the best.

The game’s main story is stellar. There are several main villains and the overall arc for all the characters is engaging and ends in a satisfying way. Insomniac got free reign to make their own Spidey universe so the story told in Spider-Man isn’t a rehash of a specific comic book or movie – it’s its own thing. (Although there’s a fun Spider-Man 2 reference during the game that was actually pretty funny and didn’t feel too fanservice-y.) If you’re a fan of Spider-Man it’s pretty obvious where the story will go and there aren’t any big “twists” for the sake of twists – this game proves you don’t need a big twist to make a compelling story.

Spider-Man also does a neat thing where between main story missions, the game actually makes you do a side mission or two before getting your next main quest marker. It gives the story a little time to breathe so you don’t rush through it and also reinforces the idea that Spider-Man is the everyman’s hero who helps with neighborhood problems as well as stops supervillains. Don’t expect to see Spidey’s rogue gallery show up in most sidequests – unlike Arkham where pretty much every side mission resulted in a showdown with one of his nemeses, Spider-Man’s sidequests mostly revolve around him being a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. It’s not very glamorous and if you want flash and “meaning” behind every sidequest you’ll likely find 100%ing the game a chore. But if you’re like me and enjoy just being Spider-Man and the moment-to-moment web-swinging, you won’t have a problem helping a man catch his pet pigeons or locating lost college students based on pictures. Don’t fret though, a few of the sidequests still end up having a mastermind behind them – one in particular had a deep cut villain so deep I actually had to go to Wikipedia to make sure they were an established character and not someone Insomniac made up for the game.

Finally, I’ll end this review talking about the suits and photo mode. There’s a boatload of suits you can unlock for Spidey to wear (28 in total) and most have a unique ability associated with them. Thankfully, Insomniac made it so once you’ve unlocked a suit you can use its ability with any suit so you can style your Spider-Man but still use the power best suited to your play style. I rocked the Spider-Man: Homecoming and Iron Spider suits for a lot of the game, but my favorites ended up being the old-school cel-shaded Animated suit and the Last Stand suit. The photo mode is ridiculous – you can take free range pictures or have Peter take selfies as he goes around punching dudes in the face. You can edit the photos and add stickers or frames, making your own comic book covers if you choose. I spent almost as much time taking photos in this game as I did playing the main story.

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Let’s end on an action shot!

I’ll wrap this up by saying Spider-Man doesn’t do anything new. It’s not going to go down as innovative. But the gameplay is 99% polished, the story had me hooked from start to finish, and I completed every task in the game because it just felt so good to play. Insomniac delivered a game where you really feel like Peter Parker and Spider-Man, and for that I couldn’t be more thankful.

Spider-Man is a definite PLAY.