The Talon

Marvel’s Spider-Man Game Review

"Don't forget the hyphen between 'Spider' and 'Man'!"

Zack, Writer

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Insomniac Games has delivered on their promise of a fast-paced, epic wall crawling adventure with the latest PS4 exclusive, Spider-Man, an open world action experience that left me satisfied and impressed. Before I continue, there’s two things I feel need to be addressed. Why is this review out so late? I purchased the game on its release date, September 7th, but I wanted to actually finish the game’s story and most of the side content before publishing any final thoughts. Too many reviewers I’ve seen have admitted to not finishing the story, but still have the audacity to review it in full. If I’m going to give an honest critique of the game’s characters, story and progression systems, I think it’s only logical that I complete it before doing so. I also wanted to flesh out the review and include as much depth as possible. The second thing to bring up is spoilers. If you’re unfamiliar with basic Spider-Man lore (the story of Doctor Octopus, for example), consider this your minor spoiler warning. Don’t expect any spoilers beyond that, however. With that out of the way, let’s get into the review.

The World

Spider-Man takes place in a detailed, albeit compressed version of Manhattan, featuring a wide array of both real and fictional New York landmarks such as the Empire State Building and Avengers Tower. This setting serves doubly as a useful backdrop for the narrative and as an immense playground for web-swinging, succeeding at both. From the looming skyscrapers and high-rises that sprawl the urban areas to the more tight-knit, industrial buildings along the borders, there’s no shortage of fun to be had swinging around in this well-crafted landscape.

Insomniac crafted an impressive world that manages to feel alive and fulfill web-swinging desires.

It also helps that the world looks absolutely phenomenal in terms of graphics. Playing on the PS4 with a serviceable HD TV, this game is visually one of the most impressive of this console generation. Buildings have visible interiors, reflections drastically change based on the time of day and what kind of glass a building has, and small wildlife like pigeons and squirrels scurry about the environment, all making for a breathtaking visual experience. But obviously, graphics don’t make a game. What’s underneath all of that visual polish?

One aspect that caught me by surprise was the amount of care and attention put into making the actual world interesting. Since most of the game is spent web-swinging and often beating up bad guys on rooftops, I naturally assumed there wouldn’t be much to dig into at ground-level. Boy, was I wrong. Civilian NPCs aren’t simply for show; they call out Spider-Man when he’s in view with compliments and sometimes insults, give him high-fives, take selfies with him, and much more. This gives the world a feeling of life that can be difficult to craft in these types of games. I also want to mention one of my favorite features in the game: the social feed. This mechanic adds an extra layer to your crime-fighting escapades and to the world-building in general, by having NPCs comment on a social media feed about crimes you thwart throughout the city. They also talk about general New York life, their interactions with Spidey, and how they’re dealing with the evolving circumstances of the city as the main story progresses. While not ground-breaking, it’s a neat feature that I think deserves some praise.

The world of Spider-Man is alive and breathing, thanks to mechanics like civilian interactions and the social feed.

All of these inspired aspects of the game world make it feel alive and worth exploring, even if the activities within the map aren’t quite as enthralling. If you’ve played a lot of open world games like me, you’ll quickly come to realize that the game’s side activities are alarmingly familiar to those of other titles. Some of these include restoring power to surveillance towers to reveal more of the map, taking down enemy hideouts, completing challenges, and finding collectibles in easy-to-reach places. It’s all too similar to games like Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry. This wouldn’t be a huge problem if they had subverted the tired genre of open world games by getting creative with these side activities and adding more unique ones to the mix. Granted, there are some pretty interesting activities, like Harry Osborn’s research stations, which are all different from one another and are usually enjoyable. The side missions are also, for the most part, fun and distinct experiences that don’t fall into the all-too-familiar open world checkbox. Backpacks, while quite boring to collect, contain interesting items connected to Peter Parker’s past, like pieces of villains’ armor and pictures of Uncle Ben. Furthermore, landmarks all across the map can be photographed, adding more motivation to sight-see. Unfortunately, the few interesting side activities are outweighed by bland, done-before diversions that really could’ve been better.

The Narrative

I had moderately low expectations for the story of Spider-Man. It’s a superhero game, and in my experience playing them, I’ve always found them to be weak in the narrative department. Thankfully, there’s a lot more to dig into with this Spider-Man story. To summarize, Spider-Man ditches the origin story of Peter Parker in favor of an original adventure centered on an older, more experienced wall-crawler, as he struggles to balance his blossoming career potential with his crime-fighting persona. Many different comic-book story lines are creatively mixed together to make a wholly unique Spider-Man adventure, and Insomniac clearly took a lot of time to give credit to classic web-slinger tales.

In this fresh spin on Spider-Man tales, Peter Parker is more experienced, but still struggling to balance his double life.

One of the most interesting, to me, was the retold story of Otto Octavius, a.k.a. Doctor Octopus. Peter works with him in a lab throughout much of the game, and as the player, you witness his descent into madness through character encounters and simple voice recordings. I was genuinely unnerved by his transformation into the psychotic mastermind comic book fans know so well. Unfortunately, this interesting character arch undermined that of the game’s other villain, Mr. Negative. I was pretty disappointed with this guy, and I found his motives and backstory dull. That’s not to say he was bad, but he certainly wasn’t anything special.

I found one of the game’s main villains, Mr. Negative, to be hit-or-miss compared to the much more interesting Doctor Octopus.

The narrative, at least for me, broke new ground in that it managed to meld so many Spider-Man stories into one without sacrificing originality or becoming total nonsense.

The Game play

Last but not least, let’s talk about the game play of Spider-Man, which is essentially the core of the entire game. Bad game play, bad game. Period. Thankfully, Insomniac succeeded yet again with some of the best combat I’ve experienced in a long time. There is a plethora of combos and strategies, the latter of which is especially crucial during some of the game’s more challenging scenarios. By the second act alone, you’ll be fighting turrets, guys on jet packs, and demonic sword fighters all at once, so taking advantage of the various spider-gadgets, suit abilities, and skill trees at your disposal is crucial to ensuring that your combat experience will be a forgiving one. Don’t get the wrong idea, the game is fairly moderate difficulty-wise, but it can definitely be a struggle for survival if you don’t use the right tactics. Spider-Man can web up enemies to throw them at others, stick them to walls, swing kick them into each other, and much more. The best kind of game play accommodates different play-styles, and Spider-Man definitely achieves this.

The web swinging is better than ever, and it leads to some impressive moments. With this amazing method of traversal, why did they feel the need to put in fast travel?

Another no-brainer to bring up is the web-swinging, which should be great in a Spider-Man game. While it isn’t quite as momentum-based as older titles like Spider-Man 2 (which I think is grossly overrated, but I digress), it works perfectly with the previously mentioned layout of the world. Spidey can run up buildings and jump off in elegant dives, and then swing up for impressive feats. In addition, the player can perform aerial tricks to gain XP during traversal. These tricks are pretty basic and get unimpressive after a while, but I’m glad they’ve been implemented. I was bewildered to see that fast travel even existed, and if it weren’t a trophy requirement, I would’ve forgotten about it entirely.

The game features a basic stealth mechanic, undermined by its counterpart, combat. But that’s not to say it doesn’t lead to some awesome moments.

Stealth has little depth, and I found myself enjoying combat much more, but it’s hard to deny that hanging enemies from ceiling beams with webbing is awesome. You can also make use of Spidey’s various gadgets for silent take downs, which I thought opened the gates for creative approaches to enemy encounters.

The game play of Spider-Man managed to impress me at almost every level, even with the occasional uninspired drawbacks like basic stealth and easy web-swinging.

Conclusion

I think it’s fair to say that Marvel’s Spider-Man is Insomniac Games’ magnum opus (a little exaggeration on my part) and easily one of the best games on the PS4. It may not be ground-breaking in every regard, but it creates a new standard for the web-swinging superhero, and for superhero games in general. I’m giving Spider-Man9/10; if it weren’t for some uninspired game design choices and basic mechanics, it might’ve even warranted a 10. I strongly recommend this to anyone with a PS4, and I think it should go down as the best superhero game ever made. Yes, better than Batman Arkham. That’s right, I said it.

Click here to check out Marvel’s Spider-Man on PS4!

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Marvel’s Spider-Man Game Review