Marvel’s Spider-Man – A Sensational Review
The most-anticipated superhero game possibly ever, the latest iteration of the Wall-Crawler is by far his best. I won’t dawdle with preamble. I will, however, offer a disclaimer: I am one of the biggest Spider-Man fans in the world (I’m that confident in my obsession), and will do my best to leave my bias at the door.
That said, onto the review. And let’s not forget the hyphen between Spider and Man!
Excelsior, Spidey Squad! The Web-Head has finally returned, and he has returned with style, grace, and a complete upgrade in graphics, gameplay, narrative, and…well, pretty much everything. New hardware helps, but it takes a special team to get this character right, and Insomniac has done exactly that.
From the outset, Insomniac has said this story is as much about Spider-Man as it is Peter; that duality is what makes him such a great character and the team absolutely hit it out of Central Park. In a sense, Peter and Spider-Man are treated as separate characters, as far as development goes. Threads of Peter’s personality bleed through to his alter ego, though, bringing the two entities together as one.
His moral compass as both Peter and Spider-Man is spot on. Not a single enemy is killed (let’s suspend some disbelief for the whiplash of being webbed to a building after falling four stories), and the care he has for every person in his life truly shines here. Even in his romping around the city, beating up baddies, you feel a moral obligation. And to say nothing of his quips, we even have a suit power that spouts off one-liners each time.
This approach creates a dynamic many characters fail to obtain within the medium. Of course, this could be attributed to the source material, but Insomniac handled the complexity with a deft hand.
That said, ancillary characters are also perfect. Dumping the damsel trope with Mary Jane was one of the best decisions they could have made, because the interplay between her and Pete was 100% stronger due to her reporting job with the Bugle. There was a relativity there, as well as a believable history for the two on-again-off-again lovers. Aunt May, while we didn’t see her too often, the times we did see her, she was as I think we all expected: the doting and loving adopted mother. Even Miles, as an introduction to his character, was perfect. The way they were developed helped deepen the plot–and I always say–a narrative is only as good as the characters that live in its world.
Which brings me to setting.Insomniac’s New York is one of the most realized versions of the Big Apple we have in any video game to date. Not only does it include a plethora of references to Marvel’s New York, it actually feels alive. Citizens react to Spidey on the ground, or in the air; they will try to dodge (and fail) if he lands too close…there is ALWAYS traffic, just like the real Manhattan. Even the interior of some buildings can be seen; you might find a high rise apartment kitchen with magnets on the refrigerator, or an office with a desk and computer. It’s a nice touch to help the world feel lived-in.
As Tom Holland says in Infinity War “I can’t be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man if there’s no neighborhood.” It’s true there, and in this case as well. The world is so cared-for that if you don’t stop a random mugging, or car chase, you actually feel like you’re letting everyone down. This circles back to absolutely fantastic character development, and as I always say–again–a good character is only as good as the setting.
That said, graphics are gorgeous. The rendering is clean and crisp and the draw distance is incredible. You can see cars moving across the island and pedestrians a good 15 blocks away. The 30 fps lock is absolutely necessary, because if you’re moving as fast as Spidey can move, any higher would cause pop-in issues. The cap also aids during combat; Spidey–being as acrobatic as he is–players want to actually SEE that happening. Any higher and it would move too quick for any kind of fidelity.
This brings me to detail. Insomniac’s attention to minutia in the world, especially with Spidey’s animations is off the charts. The fun with details is finding them for yourself, so go play it! To name a few I found entertaining:
- Some NPCs are can be found completing real crossword puzzles
- On the rockets fired from RPGs, you can see a message “guaranteed to kill spiders”
- Mourners can be found in the cemetery
- Immaculate reflection of the skyline on the more elaborate buildings
- Spidey’s iconic hand gesture when spinning webs can be seen during swinging
Speaking of swinging…that’s up next, and HOOOOOOO BOY is it spectacular. You truly feel like you can do whatever a Spider-Man can. It’s fluid, it’s precise, stylishly acrobatic, and just plain fun. As mentioned, Spidey’s animations during swinging are top-notch; Insomniac’s own love (looking at you Brian Intihar; we in the Spidey Squad owe you, man) for the character is superbly evident and without that, we would not have such a gem.
The soundtrack does something special here, too. When standing still, the orchestra is silent, but as soon as Spidey begins a swing, it strikes up in a symphony worthy of the red and blue arachnid.
This brings me to combat. I’m going to say two things:
1.) Batman: Arkham City was not the first to use this type of combat. While it perhaps popularized it into the modern era of gaming, our very own Spider-Man 2 even came prior. And before that, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.
2.) This combat was meant for Spider-Man.
The fluidity and acrobatic nature of the Web Head makes the combat style a perfect fit. Combined with Insomniac’s penchant for gadgetry and mercurial movement, this iteration has given the old formula a new face with immense variation. Every encounter is an experiment in differentiation; how many ways can I take out an enemy? How quickly can I web up each of these thugs?
This was something Insomniac invested in early on. They knew Spidey needed an arsenal for us to do just that. Not only an arsenal of gadgets and suit powers, but mods to change the way battle works, and in many cases, turn the tide in Spidey’s favor.
That said, however, enemy types–while varied between each faction–don’t really change over the course of the game. There’s the brute, the sniper, assault force, and general melee. It definitely gave enough to be tactical throughout each encounter, but some have viewed this as a diminutive roster. Boss fights, however, are completely different, especially in the end-game. I won’t talk much about them to keep this spoiler-free, but they were a blast.
So, I’ve talked a lot about this game and did my best to hold my bias back. But it’s just not possible. This game is a
I cannot wait for October for the first DLC to drop, and I absolutely cannot wait to see what the further future has in store for my favorite hero. Below you’ll find a gallery of my unused captures and a bit later this week, I will update this with a surprise.
Till next time, true believers.