What was great in 2018 remains great in 2020.
If you were a fan of Insomniac’s 2018 Spider-Man game for the PS4, you’ll be happy to know that the remaster for the PS5 is a fitting update to that beloved game. Insomniac hasn’t messed with what was clearly a winning formula here – the original game is pretty much preserved as is, presented with updated graphics and all the DLC included, and not much else in the way of updates. For the most part, this is a sensible decision, because the 2018 game was already pretty damn good – and this remaster, with its handful of improvements, along with the updates that being on the PS5 entails (such as the immensely reduced loading times) make this the definitive way to play this budding modern classic.
If you’re not yet caught up on the PS4 game – in which case I’d like to ask to borrow whatever cave or bomb shelter you’ve been holed up in, given its immense popularity, as one of Sony’s highest selling games of all time – it’s pretty much exactly what you would expect: an open world, high budget AAA Spider-Man game, with the backing and budget that being a Sony first party game brings with it to the table. That means it’s remarkably polished (though this remaster does introduce a few bugs to the game), and, being developed by Insomniac, it plays extremely well.
The look and feeling of webslinging across a virtual New York City is recreated incredibly well, thanks to remarkably simple and intuitive controls that are so easy to master, they quickly become second nature, receding into the background to such an extent that you won’t even realize the complex inputs you are chaining one after the other to pull off the slick moves on screen. Equally important to this feeling being nailed down are the incredible animations on screen, which are so smooth and slick, and so authentic (as authentic as a virtual recreation of a superhero can be, at any rate), that it really does – to borrow a popular phrase – make you feel like Spider-Man.
"This remaster, with its handful of improvements, along with the updates that being on the PS5 entails (such as the immensely reduced loading times) make this the definitive way to play this budding modern classic."
Honestly, the visual work in general across the game is spectacular. The original game was a looker, of course, and the remaster retains that, updating the graphics appropriately so that they look shiny and great on your brand new PS5 as well. However, the real coup de grace here is the performance mode of the game, which has it run in a blistering 60 frames per second. And let me tell you, this is very clearly how Insomniac intended for this game to be played. That smoothness and effortless control that I mentioned? It comes to life in 60fps. It feels like a joy to play this game in this framerate, and honestly, it feels difficult to even imagine playing this game in 30fps once you’ve played it in 60 – the difference is immediately perceptible and palpable.
There is a 30fps mode available with this remaster too, however. The aptly named fidelity mode sacrifices the framerate, matching the original PS4 version’s, to deliver higher quality graphics. The game states that this is the “default” experience, and it’s easy to see why. The graphics look stunning in 4K, and the new lighting and raytracing effects, in particular, are gorgeous. Unfortunately, as mentioned, this does mean you are giving up on that buttery smooth 60fps, which, for me, is a bridge too far – but in case you are curious to see what kind of high quality graphics Insomniac managed to eke out of this more than 2 years old game, or if you can make your peace with the lower framerate better than I could, then this is definitely the way to go for you.
The graphics, sound design, writing, story, music, all of it come together to make the game feel like a playable Marvel movie or comic. Spider-Man on PS4 is a love letter to the character and the decades of media behind him, with loads of references, easter eggs, callbacks, and of course, plot points, that call to mind the web slinger’s outings in various other media. As I mentioned earlier, it all feels authentic.
"The graphics, sound design, writing, story, music, all of it come together to make the game feel like a playable Marvel movie or comic. Spider-Man is a love letter to the character and the decades of media behind him."
A large part of that is how well the game also pulls off combat – which is at least half the battle in a Spider-Man game. Insomniac, again, pretty much nail this. Superficially, the combat seems to recall the Batman: Arkham games, though, of course, what works for Batman doesn’t work for Spider-Man, which is why Insomniac add so many of their own spins to it, to reflect Spidey’s unique powers and incredible athleticism. The combat in Spider-Man will give you as much as you are willing to put into it.
It is possible to simply mash the square button through most encounters, especially on easier difficulties, but the true joy of the combat comes in chaining together long combos, and engaging with all the tools available in Spidey’s arsenal, from all his gadgets, to aerials, dodges, leveraging the environment, and the objects within it, to inflict damage, evade attacks, and simply look stylish and slick as you fight. Once again, Insomniac have wisely decided against rocking the boat, and once again, it works out incredibly well in the remaster’s favor.
This adherence to the original game, however, does have its downsides too. There were several criticisms the original game received, and with one exception, those criticisms can all also be leveled against this remaster. The much maligned stealth sections, featuring other characters such as Miles or M.J., for example, are still here – and while I never really hated them as much as, well, just about everyone else, if you did, then you will still hate them here. The hacking/spectography puzzles from the original game were also similarly criticized.
Once again, I actually quite enjoyed them, but once again, if you didn’t, then the exact same thing being in this game will hardly go down well with you (thankfully, as in the original game, you can simply skip any puzzle you like). Then there was the repetitive nature of the activities in the open world, which sent you after hundreds of mindless collectibles, and trite side missions. These I did hate in the original, and in my experience, they were the biggest blemish on an otherwise great experience. These, too, unfortunately, are present in the game as is, and they do mar the experience, more so now than in 2018, what with so many Sony open world games since having contextualized in-game side activities so much better.
The one flaw of the original that has been addressed is the long loading times. This, of course, comes with the territory of being on the PS5, with its extremely fast SSD. Loading is basically instant, and Insomniac even flex the PS5’s SSD muscle by allowing you to outright turn off the “quick” travel animations in the original game, which had Spidey travelling using the New York subway. While that concept is humorous by definition, on the whole, I am glad that the loading times are gone (if you really want, you can find a setting to turn on the original animations in the options menu).
"This adherence to the original game, however, does have its downsides too. There were several criticisms the original game received, and with one exception, those criticisms can all also be leveled against this remaster."
By and large, this remaster is pretty much on par with what I expected from it. There is one area, however, where it disappointed me relative to my expectations. A lot has been said about the PS5’s haptics. The DualSense controller is packed with advanced and sophisticated haptics that can increase immersion. I was eager to feel these haptics in action in Spider-Man, and unfortunately, these disappoint. They are there, but they are very slight, so slight, in fact, that I originally thought I had enabled some accessibility setting to turn down their intensity by mistake. Going into the Options menu revealed I had done no such thing, unfortunately, and that the “classic” vibration setting very barely feels like anything. This isn’t a game breaker, of course, but it does come off as a disappointment, given the sheer potential that haptics could have in a game like this.
I started this review by saying that if you loved the 2018 game, you will still love this remaster; that comes with the territory of this largely being the same game with some slight, if far-reaching, enhancements. Conversely, however, if the 2018 game didn’t do it for you, I can’t see this remaster changing your mind at all, unless your sole reason for not liking the PS4 game was a lack of ray tracing, or 60 fps, or quick loading speeds, or some combination of all of those.
If you fall under neither of those categories, and this will be your first time playing Spider-Man, then you are in for a treat. With great power comes great responsibility, we are told, and Insomniac, given the power to develop a Spider-Man game, lived up to their responsibility, by delivering a game that stood out as among the best on the PS4 – and now stands out as among the best on the PS5.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
The 60fps mode is a revelation, while the 30fps mode looks absolutely gorgeous; Quick loading times are a game changer.
Some new bugs and glitches; Disappointing implementation of the DualSense's haptics.
Spider-Man was one of the best games on the PS4, and it is now one of the best games in the PS5's burgeoning library.