Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Released: September 7, 2018
Copy supplied by publisher
Much like the film franchise, the Spider-Man video game series has seen its up and downs over the years. The 2017 theatrical release of Spider-Man: Homecoming saw a return to form for Spidey on the big screen and the PS4 exclusive Spider-Man hopes to do the same for the wall-crawler’s gaming fortunes. The video game industry has a long and storied history with adaptations of comic and film properties and gamers have suffered through some lackluster efforts. The Spider-Man series has fared better than most, with such highlights as 2000’s Spider-Man and 2004’s Spider-Man 2, both of which were published by Activision. The key component to a quality video game experience featuring the young web-slinger has been the successful adaptation of Spider-Man’s unique abilities. Providing a compelling story wrapped up in a fun and intuitive gameplay experience featuring an iconic superhero is a tall task that requires the full attention of the developer.
Insomniac Games is well known for its acumen when it comes to delivering a concise and technically proficient traversal of a 3D environment, which was on full display in 2014’s underrated Xbox One exclusive Sunset Overdrive. Insomniac has been at the forefront of 3D action-adventure games since they the entered the scene with the Spyro the Dragon franchise on the original PlayStation. The evolution of the genre could be witnessed with the developer’s work on the Ratchet & Clank franchise, which has spanned three generations of Sony consoles. Despite the long relationship with Sony, it was arguably Insomniac’s lone flirtation with Microsoft exclusivity that proved that they were the top candidate to revitalize the Spider-Man franchise. Twenty years of development have provided the framework for what is arguably the pinnacle of 3D open world traversal. Combined with some gorgeous visuals and a compelling narrative, Spider-Man stands alone as the greatest Spider-Man video game and arguably the best in its genre.
The game’s story is well executed for the most part and features several arcs and narrative viewpoints. You’ll play as multiple characters in the Spider-Man universe who help to flesh out the story from a different perspective. Marvel’s Spider-Man skips the origin story and follows a Peter Parker with eight years of experience behind the mask. The game is successful in highlighting Peter’s struggle with balancing personal responsibilities and relationships while carrying the weight of knowing that the fate of New York City rests on his shoulders. The story’s central plot centers around Peter Parker’s relationship with Dr. Otto Octavius and his inevitable fall into madness. If you know anything about the Spider-Man universe you’ll recognize the road that Peter’s brilliant mentor is headed down, but it’s that journey that makes this the game’s most compelling storyline. Spider-Man isn’t afraid to shock; there were several catastrophic events featured during my 30-40 hour experience, including a terrorist attack and the death of several characters leading up to a climactic ending. While there are multiple interesting plotlines that are intertwined throughout the story, it can get a little overwhelming at times and there are a few that I could have done without, including the entire Silver Sable arc. It’s a minor gripe for what otherwise is a story that is on par with the best of the Spider-Man films.
There has been a surprising amount of controversy surrounding the graphics featured in Marvel’s Spider-Man and I’m happy to report that the game is absolutely gorgeous. While it may not quite live up that now infamous E3 trailer, it’s pretty damn close. Spider-Man is a massive game that takes place in a fully realized New York City full of character, charm, grit, and violence. The city looks fantastic whether you’re perched atop the Empire State building or in the streets of Times Square. Admittedly, there are some NPCs that look as though they were plucked from GTA IV and some lower resolution textures scattered throughout the game, but nothing that takes away from the overall experience. This is the first game where I’ve actually been looking forward to using the “photo mode” and capturing the beauty of the in-game universe.
There are also several dozen suits that Spider-Man can adorn throughout the game and each one provides a unique visual experience alongside special abilities. Swinging through the streets of New York, I find found myself on autopilot at times while I marveled at the beautifully rendered suits as Spider-Man navigated through the sea of skyscrapers. The game’s voice acting is also fantastic, with the work of Yuri Lowenthal as Spider-Man stealing the show as the wisecracking web-slinger. In a game that relies so heavily on narrative, it was of vital importance that the main actor is believable as the iconic hero and Insomniac made the correct choice with casting Lowenthal. Overall, the visuals and sound in Marvel’s Spider-Man rival the best of anything we’ve seen on home consoles to date.
As I discussed earlier, the most important aspect of any Spider-Man video game is the adaptation of Spider-Man’s abilities and specifically the traversal of a 3D environment. Insomniac nailed this so well that I’m struggling to find a way to articulate my feelings and can only describe it as, “wow.” I have never simply played a video game that has felt this good to control. It takes a little bit of time to learn how to chain the multiple ways to navigate through the world but once you get a firm grasp on the controls, you’ll completely forget about using “fast travel” to move through the boroughs. Combat is also a thing of beauty. At first, you’ll find yourself spamming the basic attack buttons but after a few hours, you’ll be combining stealth takedowns with gadget attacks and special abilities provided by your current suit. Using Spider-Man’s full array of abilities and gadgets is vital to your success in combat, as you’ll often be faced with hordes of enemies and multiple attackers. Marvel’s Spider-Man isn’t a difficult game once you’ve grasped the combat systems and learned how to dodge attacks. Instead, the difficulty comes with mastering a given mission through achieving certain goals within it. The game’s main story missions and boss battles aren’t that difficult but the world is scattered with side quests and challenges that will put your combat, stealth, traversal, and puzzle-solving skills to the test.
Sony and Insomniac Games have delivered on the hype and lived up to fans’ lofty expectations, providing yet another must-play experience for PS4 owners. If you have somehow still been on the fence about picking up a PS4 even after the release of God of War earlier this year, now is the time. Marvel’s Spider-Man features a story that rivals that of a Hollywood blockbuster, some of the best visuals seen on home consoles, fantastic voice acting, and genre-defining gameplay. There’s also a ton of content: a 15-20 hour main storyline, plenty of side missions, various challenges, and a stream of collectibles and audio logs that help to build the universe. While some of the challenges and missions begin to feel a little repetitive there’s plenty of variety to mix thing up. Though the game doesn’t take many risks I was beyond impressed by the final product and can’t wait to see where the story goes in Insomniac’s next effort. Marvel’s Spider-Man is not only my favorite game of the year but is cemented as one of my favorite games of all-time.