Spider-Man for the PlayStation 4 is more proof that Sony’s console is the system to beat, if for no other reason than the sheer quantity of amazing, exclusive titles you can’t play anywhere else.
It’s more than a little amazing to see a game as good as Spider-Man release just a few months after the incredible God Of War reboot.That game has already become a critical and financial success, wowing critics and gamers alike with its new surprisingly fresh take on Kratos’s story and gameplay.
Now we have Spider-Man from Insomniac Games (Ratchet & Clank, Sunset Overdrive) and get ready to be wowed all over again. In this review I’ll talk about the gameplay, graphics and the quality of the story itself without spoiling anything important from the story. I’ll have a more detailed look at the narrative elements after the game has launched.
Let’s start off by making the inevitable comparison.
Spider-Man’s Arkham Style
Marvel’s Spider-Man and DC’s Batman share much in common. They’re both denizens of a fictional New York City (aka Gotham in Batman’s universe.) They both wear masks and use high-tech gadgets to take down enemies. And (usually) they’re both non-lethal superheroes, preferring to incapacitate their enemies rather than kill them.
They even have two remarkably similar games. For Batman it’s the Arkham trilogy which culminated in the big, open-world game Arkham Knight. Now Spider-Man has his very own open-world game, Spider-Man, and it shares plenty in common with the Arkham series while also surpassing it in many ways.
After all, Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker only share so much in common. The billionaire playboy and the friendly neighborhood superhero are both good guys, but they’re not the same kind of good guy.
There’s no denying that Spider-Man plays similarly to Arkham. You zip around NYC with webs instead of a flying cape, but you’re still navigating skyscrapers from on high rather than running around the ground. Fighting with webs and web-based gadgets is different, but still mechanically similar, to Batman’s array of toys.
But whatever Arkham does, Spider-Man can do better. (Before the chorus of dissent, I’ll admit this is likely a matter of opinion. I’m usually a Batman guy but I’m team Spider-Man now.)
Web-swinging through the city (which entails swinging, dashing forward, doing cool tricks in the air, running up and along walls and zipping to perches) is glorious. There’s nothing quite like it in modern video games. In many ways it’s the high-definition sequel to 2004’s Spider-Man 2 and shares many of the same systems.
Natural Character’s Move
That simply can’t be overstated. Moving about the expansive, richly detailed open-world burgh of Manhattan is a joy. This is a world tied directly to the MCU films though in an alternate universe where Spidey himself is older and more experienced. He’s put plenty of bad guys behind bars. He’s had a relationship with Mary Jane that’s already on the rocks. He’s worked for, and departed from The Daily Bugle. And he can fly through the city like a god. You’ll spot the Avengers building and the Wakanda embassy along the way.
Seriously, the traversal system in Spider-Man is a rush and it gets better as you level up. It’s some of the most fun I’ve had just moving through a game in ages. You can do tricks in the air, run up or across the sides of skyscrapers, zip across rooftops and once you master it, which shouldn’t take long, you won’t always want to use fast travel (aka the subway.) Moving is half the fun here, and the city is scattered with various types of challenges that become more and more diverse as you advance.
There are stealth challenges, combat challenges, movement-based challenges, research challenges and much, much more. This is an open world filled with stuff to do and all of it helps you unlock an array of gadgets, Spider-Man suits and their associated special powers, as well as level up and fill out your skill tree. A good deal of that skill tree is devoted to traversal. Much of the rest of it is geared toward Spidey’s other talent: Kicking butt.
Once again, the comparison to the Arkham games is apparent. This is almost a sub-genre now, with the Shadow of Mordor titles also making an appearance. I’m not including Assassin’s Creed because those games employ a very different, much more simplified combat system. Even Assassin’s Creed Origins employs a much simpler form of combat than what we have here.
That isn’t to say that (on normal difficulty) Spider-Man’s combat is ever too hard. I still have to play it on the harder difficulty setting (or the Ultra that’s being patched in at release) but at normal difficulty combat is fun. You can pull of combos, tinker around with your array of web and tech-based gadgets, and wreak havoc on your unwitting foes. As you unlock your skill tree and gadgets, combat becomes far more varied and interesting. That’s good, because enemies get tougher as the game progresses as well.
Most non-story combat encounters such as taking out an enemy base or stopping a crime will come packaged with challenges. So you’re tasked with webbing five enemies to walls, or electrocuting three enemies at once, or doing ten swing kicks and so on and so forth. You get more Tokens for this. Pretty much every challenge in the game rewards Tokens of one stripe or another, whether they’re Challenge Tokens, Base Tokens, Crime Tokens or Research Tokens, etc. These are spent to upgrade and unlock gadgets and suits.
Where the game shines even more brightly is its story. It’s one of the best Spider-Man stories outside of the comics—period. I enjoyed it as much as the best of the Spider-Man films. It’s not terribly surprising—maybe to newcomers to the Spider-Man mythos and the cast of villains surrounding Peter Parker—but the surprises don’t carry the story regardless. There’s a lot of emotional weight to the story, which culminates in a finale that’s truly powerful. Great performances and solid writing really help also.
That isn’t to say that it’s all weighty and emotional. There’s plenty of good Spider-Man humor and levity to keep the game clipping along. It’s a good mix. I enjoyed it a lot and I’m pretty critical of many video game stories. I’m very impatient with cutscenes a lot of the time but I never felt impatient during the game’s main storyline.
I did find myself impatient at other points in the game, however.