Insomniac’s stab at a Spider-Man game blows all my expectations out of the water.
Marvel’s Spider-Man had astronomical amounts of hype surrounding it, and while I wasn’t part of that, I think that it’s an awesome game. As a free-roam, story driven action title, comparisons to the Batman: Arkham series will definitely be made. However, I would say as of now, I think it’s better than even the critical darling that is 2011’s Arkham City. Web-slinging has never felt this good.
Players navigate the game as Spider-Man/Peter Parker, the universally known web-slinger, who goes on a quest to stop a mysterious group of terrorists with supernatural weapons. The villains are lead by a nemisis called Mr. Negative. Players also have opportunities to play as Mary Jane Watson in a stealth-centric missions, but the majority of the time they are Spidey.
The first thing that stands out is the story. At this point, I think the writers involved with Sony Exclusive games are better than the writers involved in the films Sony Pictures puts out. Yuri Lowenthal (who is already an established voice actor, having been around maybe even before I was around) kills it as a Peter Parker in his 20s, even with the intentionally cringey jokes Peter makes.
The villain, Mr. Negative, a Marvel villain I will admit I have never heard of, reminds me of Homecoming’s Vulture because he has not been done before. He is wholly unique compared to the Green Goblin and the rest of the established villains that Maguire/Raimi and Andrew Garfield used. Mr. Negative has a presence and his goons are totally fun to fight. Other villains are sprinkled in as well, including obscure Spidey villains such as Tombstone, Shocker, Taskmaster and several others.
The story missions take full advantage of Spidey and his powers in creative ways. One example would be a mission that has players crawling up an elevator shaft with enemies aiming for them out of open elevator doors. The combat and Spidey’s capabilities for maneuverability allow these missions to work so well. Web-slinging was awkward for me at first, but when it clicks (and it quickly will) it is so fun to swing around New York City. The game includes fast travel points, but I rarely ever used them as it’s so enjoyable to swing from place to place. Along the way there are even opportunities to do some awesome urban parkour-ish tricks.
This movement system is truly one of the most fun and fast-paced, and it has definitely surpassed past Spider-Man and Batman games in that regard. However, the story missions showed flaws in one area. Playing as Mary Jane Watson would sometimes lead to being caught and receiving a mission failed. This is just a small thing, though, and for the most part I did enjoy those segments as well.
The combat, in my opinion, has also one-upped the Arkham combat that it takes inspiration from. It is more fast-paced and generally more satisfying. Players will be dodging bullets a lot, and landing punches and shooting webs at criminals is even more fun with the detail that’s given. Insomniac really went out of their way for a memorable experience.
To make things even more fun, Spider-Man has access to gadgets, such as explosive webs and electric webs, and some of them actually pack a punch. In the Batman: Arkham games, the gadgets were never particularly effective in combat, but these really mix things up and add a lot of fun to the game.
Even with these additions, the combat is still challenging (sometimes frustrating) so players will always have to be on their toes to dodge enemy attacks. As mentioned before, there are some normal goons, but Mr. Negative’s goons are something special and shake things up whenever players encounter them.
The combat and maneuverability improve overtime. Spidey has levelling and a skill tree system with many perks that make him stronger and increase web-slinging speed. Levelling also provides rewards such as around 27 different costumes for Spider-Man to wear. There’s no loading screen, so players can just go to the menu, switch their costume and continue slinging. I haven’t yet unlocked all of them, but my personal favorite is the Scarlet Spider: a solid red Spidey clad with a blue hoodie. It’s a staple suit from 90’s Spider-Man comics.
However, there are some noticeable absences within the outfits (as nitpicky as this is) that has lead to a lot of backlash from fans on the internet. Particularly the absence of the classic black Symbiote suit and the Sam Raimi suit has caused upset players. The suits are noticeablly missing but will probably come in the form of DLC down the line. The sheer detail in all the suits I’ve used is incredible. They fit in the world and Spidey never looks goofy wearing them in a cutscene.
The biggest criticism I have seen for the game is the open world side activities, which for some (including myself) is not an issue. There is an Assassin’s Creed map system where players get to a specific high point in an area to unlock the map.I had no problem with this since the slinging was fun. There are also collectables, side missions, side challenges, Far Cry outpost-esque enemy lairs and a few other distractions. Insomniac gives players incentive to complete these in the form of tokens. Completing one unlocks upgrades and costumes for Spidey.
The only time the open world side distractions actually annoyed me was when random crimes would show up. I was very focused on doing one particular thing at that moment and this would pop up on the minimap. Most of them would be the same scenario (some fun, some just repetitive) and the completionist in me would feel the need to go and do it.
Slightly flawed or not, I think Insomniac’s take on Spider-Man is an amazing game. Its core fluid movement just makes everything more fun and it’s most definitely up to par with the other Sony PS4 exclusives that have also received critical acclaim. I am not as big of a Spider-Man fan as I was when I was kid watching the Tobey Maguire films, but I think this is a game that Marvel fans and gamers alike will enjoy. Insomniac should be proud of how great this game is.