From attempting to foil a bank heist by a supervillain, to rushing to make dinner at Mary Jane’s apartment – all in the space of 5 minutes – Spider-Man does an incredible job at capturing the dual-life dichotomy of Marvel’s iconic superhero, which is something many games have tried and failed to do in the past. Thankfully, Insomniac’s reimagined vision of everyone’s favourite wall-crawler is a celebratory adventure of the beloved character and easily the best Spider-Man game to date; but it’s not without its bugs.
One of the great things about licensed games which are untied to any film or existing canon is that they can play with the source material, and this is exactly what Insomniac has done with their retelling of the now well-exposed universe. The game takes place a few years into Spider-Man’s superhero antics, where he has locked up most of the notorious villains in his roster of baddies, but there are a few refreshing changes: Mary Jane is a reporter at the Daily Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson is a podcaster, Aunt May runs a shelter in Harlem, and Norman Osborne is the mayor of New York City. There’s a few other narrative table-flips of the known material, but we won’t spoil any of those; but fans can be assured that you get more than enough Spider-Man fanfare, with familiar faces popping up all over the place, without it being a total shock to the system.
One thing that never changes with any interpretation of Spider-Man is of course his web-swinging. Movement and traversal through New York City is as slick as its ever been, and anyone who’s played any open-world Spidey games will feel right at home with the control scheme. In addition, some really clever contextual animations have been added, allowing you to zip through small gaps between railings and openings in the environment, and make sharp 90-degree turns around bends. These help tremendously and maintain the sense of momentum built when chasing down a rogue getaway van or flying villain. Not to mention the spirit-lifting orchestral score, which sparks up whenever you begin swinging, making simple travel between mission points feel like a cinematic set-piece.
Combat is interesting and somewhat tricky, but in a good sense. There is a great feeling of fluidity once you nail the dodging, webbing, and melee mechanics the game presents, but timing these and having some notable muscle memory is needed when taking on 10 to 15 enemies at a time. You’ll be dodging bullets, throwing trash cans, webbing guns away from goons, and uppercutting thugs into the air in almost a Tony Hawk Pro Skater-combo fashion, and while there’s a bit of a learning curve, it’s poetry in motion when done right.
When you’re not punching New York’s not-finest in the face, there are some smaller mini-game type segments attached to main story missions where you play as Peter Parker (which is great); and while it’s admirable that Insomniac attempted to add some gameplay variety with these side quests in the form of circuitry puzzles, it’s hard not to feel like they’re a little out of place and pull the handbrake on the momentum of the game.
Speaking of slowing down, the camera is also an enemy that Spidey has to deal with. For the most part, the camera works well, but during a number of combat scenarios, particularly interior ones, the camera did find itself in an uncomfortable position and hampered the action here and there – with one of the mid-game boss battles being a particularly tricky one. However, the game looks and sounds spectacular thanks to meticulously-detailed character models, fantastic voice-acting, and the most dense and bustling open-world this side of Grand Theft Auto V.
Even with these somewhat minor hiccups, Spider-Man manages to deliver exactly what you want from a Spidey game: making you feel like the friendly neighbourhood superhero, a ton of fan-service that’ll make players feel like they’re watching the 90s TV series, and diving into Peter Parker’s side of the story, while all looking gorgeous in the process. It’s a must-buy from us, and a legitimate contender to Arkham City as one of the best superhero games to date.
Spider-Man is available exclusively on PS4.