Marvel’s Spider-Man, available exclusively on the PS4, is a joyous adventure that fully understands its characters and gives us a new adventure in Peter Parker’s life. The game, developed by Insomniac Studios, boasts of an open-world rendition of New York City, allowing you to swing around and beat bad guys to your heart’s content. The game’s good, but is it any better than any of the other games in the genre? Yes, it is. In case you missed it, our first impressions can be found by clicking HERE.
Video games based on comic book characters have never really soared high on critical acclaim. Or at least that was the case until 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum hit the shelves and practically became a household name overnight. That game fully understood its characters and lore and used that knowledge to cook up a wholly original story, with new takes on familiar characters. Many reviews of that game hit one point in particular- you felt like Batman. That was the focus of that game, and Insomniac has done something similar with our friendly neighborhood.
The Story: Familiar Faces, New Interactions
Marvel’s Spider-Man starts off with Peter having been the wall-crawler for 8 years. He’s already left the Daily Bugle and is working for Dr. Otto Octavius as a research assistant. As Spider-Man, he’s achieved a well-known status of a celebrity among his citizens, with even the police helping him from time to time. Now in a working relationship with Yuri Watanabe and an already broken romantic one with Mary Jane, it seems like Spidey has left the carefree high school life that we’ve known & loved him for over the years.
Starting off on that carefree note, the story follows Peter as he struggles to manage his personal and private life while also dealing with some new, albeit familiar faces. These faces include, but are not limited to, Wilson Fisk (The Kingpin), the Scorpion, Rhino, Vulture, Electro and a couple others that I won’t spoil here. After all, part of the fun of the game is recognizing all the breadcrumbs the developers’ pepper throughout the story to foreshadow the arrival of the said others. However, if you do want to check out the full roster, click HERE to get spoiled.
Suffice it to say that the story present here will satisfy fans of the character(s). The relationship shown between Peter and MJ is a highlight here, along with the introduction of Miles Morales. You even get to play as them in certain sections of the game! The main story will take you roughly 16 hours to beat, while the additional side content can add up to maybe 30 hours tops, which is pretty decent for a title as big as this.
The Combat- Sting Like a Spider
Yeah, I know that spiders don’t sting but it makes up for a nice title now doesn’t it? Look, Spider-Man is a strong guy. If you’ve ever read the comics, you’ll know that. The guy can lift up to 10 times his own weight. As such, any game would need to show that appropriately, and Insomniac have done it gracefully. Combat is fast-paced but with a little bit of practice you’ll soon be jumping, crawling, punching and swinging around enemy camps with ease. The gameplay trailers have drawn some fan complaints, with the biggest being “It’s too Arkham-like.” Well, to be honest, it kinda is and isn’t.
Let me explain: Yes, it may look like Arkham, but the system present here is far different from it than you may realize. Turn the nostalgia clock back, and you’ll remember the combat system that was perfected in Spider-Man 2. You had spidey sense to dodge, could web up enemies to swirl them around, and use the environments to your advantage. The same is true for the 2018 edition. You can do all that in a prettier package here. Instead of a “counter” button like the Batman games, you have a dodge button. And like those games, you also have a focus meter, gadgets, and finishers.
Talking about gadgets, there’s plenty here. While most of them are only useful in combat, there’s a couple which can help you during the stealth sections of the game. Yes, there are stealth sections. Your friendly neighborhood may be strong, but when the room is chock full of bad guys, maybe being sneaky is a better idea. Thankfully, these sections are just as tense, and fun to play, as the straight-up action sequences.
Finally, coming to the big elephant in the room- the Quick Time Events (QTEs). Yes, the game has them and yes, it can get annoying sometimes. However, being the good people that they are, Insomniac has included an option to turn them off completely so that they might act as cinematics themselves. Quite clever, we would say. Bonus points to you, Insomniac.
The Traversal- Silky Smooth Fun
Ask anyone what’s their favorite thing to do in a Spider-Man game is and they’ll surely say it’s swinging around the environments. And Insomniac has nailed that here. The web-swinging mechanic present in the game instantly reminded us of the masterpiece that was Spider-Man 2. Long gone are the days when your webs to attach to an invisible skybox. Just like Spider-Man 2 (& 3), you’ll want to be near actual structures to swing around.
Now, the traversal is heavily momentum based. You’ll need to keep up a constant rhythm of speed and control over Spidey. And yes, before you ask, the game does manage to give you that sense of speed, largely thanks to the effective use of motion blur. With a locked framerate of 30 fps on both the base and the Pro PS4s, the game manages to keep up its visuals by employing some subtle tricks up its sleeves. We won’t get into the details here, as the good guys at Digital Foundry have. You can check out the complete analysis by clicking HERE. Settings such as motion blur and chromatic aberration can be turned off in the settings.
The Setting- I <3 New York City
When you think Spider-Man, you think New York. The city has been an integral part of the Spider-Man mythos and is in itself a character in the game. The open world present here is sufficiently sizable, with the common tropes like fast travel points, collectibles, unlockable tower systems, etc. You know, elements which are now present in every open world game ever. It’s here that the devs could have maybe innovated a little, seeing as we’ve all seen the same mechanics present in other games of this stature.
However, minor complaints aside, the city presented here is beautiful! I’ve never been to New York but goddamn I want to after its presentation here. While you’ll spend most of the game high above among the skyscrapers, there’s plenty of detail to be found at ground level. It’s where the city comes alive may I say. You can even interact with the pedestrians on the streets, taking selfies with them and high-fiving them. Keeping in mind that Parker has been the wall-crawler for nearly 8 years, it’s nice to see (most of) the city recognize our hero for who he is. The game even whips up its own version of Twitter, with Spider-Man having his own page which gets updated as events happen.
Now, there’s no dynamic day and night system here. It changes according to the point in the story that you’ve reached. Once you beat the game though, you can change the time of the day. Kinda beats the purpose but we’re fine with it.
Music and Presentation- A Marvel of its Own
Kudos to John Paesano for creating what is in my opinion, the best Spider-Man theme ever made since, well, maybe Danny Elfman’s score for Sam Raimi’s original film Spider-Man. Heroic when it has to be, and frightening when the need arises, Paesano’s score perfectly evokes the feeling you’d get had this world been real. It has a certain nostalgic element, reminding us of all the great themes we’ve heard over the years, but also is wholly original on its own. Just look at the top comment HERE, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Also, there’s an option to listen to J. Jonah. Jameson’s podcast commenting on the in-game events after they happen. We highly recommend keeping it on the whole time to get the ultimate Spider-Man experience.
And then there are the visuals. The PS4 has proved itself to be a sufficiently powerful console, & with the barrage of good looking exclusives that have come out in this generation, it’s no surprise to see Spider-Man look just as good, if not better than the rest of them. Ranking up high with other titles like Uncharted 4, God of War and Horizon Zero Dawn, Marvel’s Spider-Man is a gorgeous game to look at. Add to the fact that the cinematics and actual gameplay have been seamlessly integrated together and you’ve got one of the best looking games on the PS4 ever. We only encountered one small instance of bugs when the game decided to loop in an audio file. However, it was fixed with the recent 1.05 patch. Thumbs up to the devs for giving us a polished game. It’s getting hard to say that in 2018.
We played the game on a slim variant of the PlayStation 4, and the performance holds up surprisingly well. While the Pro has some advantages in terms of performance, you’d be hard pressed to find any significant difference in quality over the base model. As mentioned above, the game is locked to 30 fps to maintain the visual fidelity. The game runs at a native resolution of 1080p on the base models, however, we did notice some lower resolution textures in some instances. We’d love to see this title on PC though, with a silky smooth 4K 60 fps experience but I guess that’s too much to ask. While it doesn’t detract from the experience that much, it can get in the way of taking those amazing selfies. Speaking of selfies…
A Special Mention for Photo Mode
It wouldn’t be a good looking AAA title without a built-in photo mode now, would it? Yeah, as you can guess, the game gives you the ability to pause and play around with the scene in question. Wanna change the focus? Cool. Wanna put a nice frame around that screenshot? Super. Hell, I think I spent more time within the photo mode than beating bad guys up, and the crispy graphics only add to that.
Add to the fact that there are nearly 30 suits to unlock, and you’re in for a nice photo shoot session. Oh, and yeah, those suits aren’t there just for show though. Each suit you unlock will have a special ability assigned with it, and the best part is you can mix and match abilities with different suits!
Insomniac has delivered an excellent game which recognizes and respects the Spider-Man lore from the comics. With an amazing combat system and the best traversal we’ve ever experienced in the wall crawler’s foray into video games, Marvel’s Spider-Man is a must own for any die-hard fan of the character, as well as for any self-respecting PS4 owner. Go get it, Tiger!