Marvel’s Spider-Man – Powerful storytelling with thrilling action set pieces
Marvel’s Spider-Man is the game that Spidey fans have been waiting for. When Rocksteady released the first installment of the Batman: Arkham series in 2009, it raised the bar for action adventure titles, setting a new benchmark for comicbook superhero games in general. And comparisons between Marvel’s Spider-Man and Rocksteady’s sensational series are hard to avoid. Insomniac Games, the developer behind Marvel’s Spider-Man, has delivered a Spider-Man game that is not only on par with the sensational gameplay elements of Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City, but also excels in areas such as its powerful storytelling and thrilling action set piece moments.
Marvel’s Spider-Man isn’t just another Spider-Man origin story. It has been eight years since Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider, giving him arachnid powers and abilities that allow him to help others as the masked superhero known as Spider-Man. Over those years Peter has been honing his powers and is entering his prime; his resume already boasts the arrests of supervillains like Scorpion, Electro, Rihno and Vulture, all the while working alongside the police to fight crime in New York City. And this is where Marvel’s Spider-Man opens, with Spidey receiving a notification that the New York Police Department are gathering out the front of Fisk Tower. Spider-Man calls Yuri Watanabe – one of his allies from the NYPD – who explains that The Kingpin is about to be arrested and it wouldn’t hurt if he came along to help out.
The way the story for Marvel’s Spider-Man is told is fantastic. Insomniac Games’ in-house writers Jon Paquette and Ben Arfmann teamed up with Marvel Comics’ veterans Christos Gage, who has helped write a few arcs for The Amazing Spider-Man and The Superior Spider-Man over the years, and Dan Slott, who recently ended a momentous decade long run on The Amazing Spider-Man and helped on the early stage conceptualisation of the big picture story for Marvel’s Spider-Man.
Insomniac has put a lot of time and care into creating their own Spider-Man universe, and within the first thirty seconds of the game you immediately start to get a vibe for world they are trying to build. We get a glimpse of how hard it is for Peter to find the balance in his life, struggling to do things like pay his bills, while still wanting to help others and be Spider-Man. This struggle is prominent throughout the game as other aspects of Peter’s and Spider-Man’s worlds begin to collide.
But it’s not just the story that Insomniac has focused all its attention on. Spider-Man’s iconic web-swinging has been handled masterfully, with what is the best execution of the mechanic I’ve seen for the superhero yet. There are anchor points setup throughout the environment on elements like buildings, trees, light posts, helicopters, construction cranes and more – all of which Spidey’s webs can attach to, allowing him to swing throughout the world. This requires you to think a little more about when to fire off a web to ensure you land on an anchor point. There is also momentum with the web-swinging, so if you attach to an anchor point on your right, then you’ll slightly be pulled towards the right – although the game doesn’t make it hard to go in the other direction.
If you want to get some speed going, then you’ll need to release the web at the correct point of the arc – towards to the bottom. Similarly, if you want to gain some height you simply hold on until you reach the apex of the swing. The web-swinging is pretty simple to learn, but as you start to progress though the game you’ll realise how complex it can actually get. The mechanic handles so well and while there is a fast-travel system you can use, I never actually felt the need (or the desire) to do so.
Combat is another aspect of Marvel’s Spider-Man that has been implemented very well. There are upwards of two dozen move sets that you can unleash upon your foes through a variety of button combinations. Also at his disposal are a selection of gadgets, which Peter has personally created, that can be unlocked during the course of the game, along with an assortment of Spider-Man suits from other story lines, each of which have their own unique special abilities. These suits are fun to see and are easily interchangeable, as once you have unlocked the suit, the ability can then be attached to any other suit you’ve already attained. With Spidey’s superhuman agility, mechanical web-shooters and array of gadgets you’re able to gracefully take down enemies in satisfyingly fast paced and stylish combat encounters.
The backdrop of New York City for this open-world game is stunning. From the tallest skyscrapers to the smallest puddles, Marvel’s Spider-Man is one of the best-looking PlayStation 4 titles to date – and even more so if you have the luxury of playing it on the PlayStation 4 Pro in 4K. The world is filled with interesting things to go and look at while on your adventures, and Insomniac have included a special treat for Marvel fans by sprinkling little Easter eggs throughout the world. Even thirty hours into the game I found myself saying ‘Wow’ as I found new things to see.
Aside from the main story there are a decent number of side activities to work through. Each district has a police radio tower that you’ll need to set to the right frequency, and once done will start to unlock the events in that area on the map. These can range from collecting Peter’s old backpacks that he accidentally left webbed up around the city, taking photographs of landmark locations, helping Harry Osborn out with jobs at Osborn research stations, completing a selection of challenge missions, or stopping random crime encounters. I was surprised that after hours of playing the game, I didn’t find the side activities very tedious. Insomniac has done a great job at ensuring they vary over the course of the game, so it doesn’t feel like you’re just doing the same thing over and over again every single time. Upon finishing a side activity you’ll not only earn experience but also receive tokens that can be traded in to unlock gadgets, skill upgrades and suits. Speaking of skills, there are three different categories in the skill tree – Innovator, Defender, and Webslinger. Each of these have their own branches that can change the way you approach combat and travel in the game.
While the side activities are a lot of fun, it is the main missions where Marvel’s Spider-Man really stands out as something special. There are some spectacular action set pieces showcased throughout the course of the game which look amazing. At the same time, it strikes a remarkable balance where there are also moments where the action quietens down and you’ll be in the shoes of Peter Parker going about his day. But again, this is all held together by the narrative that Insomniac has decided to focus on. The relationships we see develop among the story’s main characters are handled brilliantly. From Spider-Man’s quips while fighting notable villains, to the outstanding interactions between Peter’s boss and mentor at his work. There are even little things like mini-puzzles to solve throughout the environment, which might not seem like much, but they do add tiny bits of flavour to the story and help expand the world.
While Marvel’s Spider-Man gets a lot of things right, it does have a few minor weaknesses; predominantly in the third act of the game. At a critical turning point in the story, there are some armed defence contractors that show up in the city who aren’t the biggest Spidey fans. As a result, every moment you pop your head into sight, they’ll try to shoot you out of the sky. This turns what was a fun web-swinging mechanic into a bit of a nightmare as you’re getting rained on by bullets every few blocks of the city. My only other major gripe with the game was around the implementation of a certain villain encounter, which sees Spider-Man infected by a toxin that makes him hallucinate. Sound familiar? Its execution is handled a lot better in other games that have attempted this, and the locations that are presented in this moment are just ugly when compared with the rest of the game.
Despite these minor flaws, Marvel’s Spider-Man is not only one of the best PlayStation 4 games to be released so far, it’s also one of the finest titles to come out in gaming this year. With this being Marvel’s first foray into delivering a blockbuster triple-A video game, it will be exciting to see what else they can come up with in the future – because they’ve done one heck of a job partnering with Sony and Insomniac Games for this first title. The stunning visuals as you swing around the city, the satisfyingly stylish combat, and the brilliant storytelling all culminate into one spectacular gaming experience. Marvel’s Spider-Man is what exactly fans have been wanting, and it won’t disappoint.
Review code for Marvel’s Spider-Man was provided by Sony Australia