We’ve all grown up with supermen and dark knights, but the “Age of Heroes” has never been more apparent than it is now. Countless superhero films, numerous TV shows, various comic book promotions and tie-ins – now, more than ever, is a time when heroes are the major media properties of our age. However, Spider-Man always represented more than just a major media property. Peter Parker wasn’t just the quirky nerd that had to balance his personal and super hero lives. He was the friendly neighbourhood web-slinger, a helping hand for the average citizen. More importantly, he taught us that with great power comes great responsibility, a lesson that still rings true in today’s superhero lexicon. Does Insomniac’s Spider-Man live up to that lofty saying or fall short in the eyes of Uncle Ben?
You probably know the story by now. Peter Parker is your average twenty-something, city-living scientist with a loving aunt and an on-again-off-again relationship with a beautiful girl. He’s also Spider-Man, but far from a rookie – the game takes place eight years after Peter first dons the mask. As such, he’s always looking towards the next big threat. In trying to combat all the crime that New York City is facing, Spider-Man has to play both detective and crime-fighter. But things are different this time. What’s the deal with the recent crime-wave? Who’s orchestrating it?
"The story, however, plays second fiddle to the massive open world that is New York City. This is Spider-Man’s playground, a vertical jungle-gym of concrete, skyscrapers and subways."
Sadly, this leads to a by-the-numbers story approach where the evil mastermind pulling the strings is as dull as they come. You’ll always be three steps ahead of the plot and without any twists or turns, the larger overarching story feels like a wasted opportunity. It could have had some really intense moments, but overall, the core story takes a “been there, done that” approach at almost every turn.
Insomniac could have done a lot more. At the very least, the campaign’s story features mostly great characters and pacing along with the expected larger-than-life circumstances. In terms of characterization and likeability, Mary Jane and Aunt May are on point, providing an emotional attachment to Peter Parker that has felt lacking in other Spidey titles. The cutscenes further accentuate this, lending a heavy cinematic feel to the game. Though Peter Parker and Mary Jane may also kick in at key points for gameplay purposes, their overall delivery and pacing is well done. Facial motion capture is the biggest draw – seeing the emotion playing out on the faces of these familiar characters is very endearing, even if we’ve known them for decades.
The story, however, plays second fiddle to the massive open world that is New York City. This is Spider-Man’s playground, a vertical jungle-gym of concrete, skyscrapers and subways. However, on the ground level, it’s a multi-faceted society with bystanders and citizens both excited and enamoured with Spider-Man. Some sights will be familiar to Marvel Comics fans, while the vehicular density and reactions of bystanders as they ask for high-fives and call out to you really make this feel like Marvel’s backyard. It’s the little things that really help cement the fact that you are Spider-Man.
"Seeing Spider-Man sway around the city, hurdling over towers, brushing tree tops on city streets and making quick-turn shortcuts through alleys is a treat."
Additionally, while everyone is talking about graphical downgrades, I played on a base PS4- and the game looks great for the most part. Much of New York City is beautiful, especially when you’re soaring by towers at breakneck speed. There are some muddy details here and there, but nothing that should distract from an altogether beautiful world.
You’ll be spending much of your time web swinging around the city, travelling from point A to point B, so the game has implemented a few optional sightseeing quests to try and get you on the ground from time to time. There are fast travel points for those who get tired of swinging, but I preferred going the long way, every time. The controls for swinging are a simple trigger pull and release mechanic where, if you practice enough, getting around at top speed becomes second nature. It’s all physics and momentum-based, though, so if there’s nothing to web-sling from, Spidey is effectively grounded.
If you’re not good enough and crash into a building or need a quick workaround, literally running up walls at top speed will be your friend. Seeing Spider-Man sway around the city, hurdling over towers, brushing tree tops on city streets and making quick-turn shortcuts through alleys is a treat. If you thought Insomniac was on point with Sunset Overdrive’s movement, then Spider-Man takes it several steps further still.
"In terms of his arsenal, Spider-Man has an entire closet of suits along with numerous gadgets. With a number of unlockable suits, you’re sure to find a costume that will make you feel like the Spider-Man you want to be."
However, deja vu is a big factor here. During the campaign, you’ll notice action scenes playing out identically to others before them. In fact, just as an example, as I was battling my way through a certain sequence, I realised a set piece had been reused and recycled at least three times within the campaign. This repeated use of scenes and moments within the game is actually a much bigger deal than it may sound. As the entire game takes place within New York City, seeing the same buildings and monuments continually necessitates some big moments to spice things up. Repeated experiences or moments that are only slightly changed from before, then, can end up feeling a bit more egregious in their monotony as a result.
In terms of his arsenal, Spider-Man has an entire closet of suits along with numerous gadgets. With a number of unlockable suits, you’re sure to find a costume that will make you feel like the Spider-Man you want to be. Most suits have unlockable powers or abilities to help you on your adventure. While some will be helpful (like the default Advanced Suit), others are just for fun (which we’ll leave for you to discover as the game goes on). Each suit is unlocked with in-game progression and through the resource token system.
When Spidey can’t get the job done with his fists, his various gadgets come into play. Whether it’s using the web shooters to stick enemies to walls, or web bombs, these gadgets can be especially helpful, and are easily accessible via the gadget wheel in combat. Overall, however, the gadgets feel uninspired, leaving you wanting more than what’s on offer, which is surprising to see in an Insomniac game. If you’re not smart with your usage of gadgets, you’ll run out very quickly, as each of them only has a few uses. Unlike the web shooter, most gadgets also do not reload after a period of time. However, along with finishing off enemies and performing certain manoeuvres around the city, each gadget can be upgraded to provide more uses. And of course, upgrading them also makes them more potent.
Spider-Man is also equipped with a set of unlockable skills, which are spread across three ability trees, with each focusing on separate aspects of the gameplay loop. Choosing the Quick Zip ability, for instance, allows you to move around the city faster, while Yank and Throw lets Spider-Man pull guns out of enemy hands with a single web-sling. Thanks to the generous amount of XP from main missions, these skills are also easy to unlock, and come in quite handy. Being able to pick and choose your skills provide some nice twists for those who want to play Spider-Man in their own specific ways.
"Side quests and missions are scattered throughout every inch of the city. Several different side mission types exist, like Backpack, Crime, Landmark, Base, Research, and Challenge."
If you really want to get into the meat of progression, the resource tokens, which I mentioned earlier, are your ticket. Resource tokens are earned through side quests and side missions, motivating players to go out of their way and explore the city. The tokens are most helpful for upgrading suits, or providing upgrades such as more damage resistance or greater melee damage, among other things. Mods can also be upgraded with tokens, and bestow benefits like increased Focus time. From Research tokens to Backpack tokens, if you want a specific gadget or Spider suit, you’ll have to partake in the required side missions that give out those specific kinds of tokens.
Side quests and missions are scattered throughout every inch of the city. Several different side mission types exist, like Backpack, Crime, Landmark, Base, Research, and Challenge. These will be easy to locate on the mini map once you’ve made the entire city visible following a distortion breach as part of a Ubisoft-esque radio towers mechanic. Backpack quests send Spider-Man out hunting for his own webbed backpacks from his earlier years as the webslinger hidden throughout the city. Crime missions are random crimes that must be stopped. Landmark quests require photographing buildings and monuments scattered around New York. Base missions send you to enemy strongholds to clear them out. Research missions have Spider-Man collecting airborne samples, and finally, Challenge missions require competing in a variety of time-based obstacles. This doesn’t include the requests from citizens while our hero swings around the city, restoring power generators and chasing birds. All, or most of these activities, though, have an element of fetch-questing to them, which makes them all feel the same.
Coming to the combat, it becomes very obvious that the Free Flow Combat from the Batman: Arkham games is a major influence. Hit square to attack and circle to dodge, building up combos and filling that Focus meter. Using gadgets and abilities along with fisticuffs will be your best chance at surviving the constant onslaught of enemies. By filling the Focus meter, Spider-Man can execute special moves to clear out the average slate of goons immediately. However, keep in mind that mindlessly punching is easily punishable by your foes. Dodging bullets and cheap shots, making good use of spider webs and gadgets, and applying the right mod along with the right suit can often turn the tide, resulting in your Focus meter getting filled. If you decide to go the gadget route, be prepared to start swinging your fists right after, because only a few gadgets will take an enemy down on their own. They’re mostly designed to hinder the enemy, but use them smartly and you can end up with interesting results, despite them being largely uninteresting. As such, combining your skills, gadgets, and melee attacks together is paramount to success.
"Jumping directly into enemy grounds doesn’t always have to be your approach, though. Spider-Man’s coveted Spider Sense is here, and it lets you know when enemies are about to attack, giving you an upper hand in combat."
In a fairly interesting departure from the Batman: Arkham games, Spider-Man employs air combat, which helps in beating enemies that are weak to it. Some of the story-focused battles will have you fighting in enclosed spaces, though, making the air combat inconvenient in such cases. Jumping directly into enemy grounds doesn’t always have to be your approach, though. Spider-Man’s coveted Spider Sense is here, and it lets you know when enemies are about to attack, giving you an upper hand in combat. There’s also an AR scanner that spots silhouettes of enemies through walls, further aiding in a stealthy approach. Of course, there are some segments where the player controls Mary Jane and employs stealth along with distractions to get the job done. It’s a unique take and fits her character well.
However, some scenarios are quite melee-heavy, where stealth just isn’t be an option. That may sound fine from time to time, but enemies are heavily armoured, and mostly outnumber Spider-Man, thus causing his immediate death if you’re not careful. This isn’t to say the difficulty is a negative, of course, but with so many hordes of enemies, combat can become a blur, and it’s often confusing to know where Spider-Man is and what move he’s currently executing. I often found myself running from battle to split the groups up, taking away a lot of the momentum to try and cure the unnecessary amount of confusion on-screen.
The AI within the game is also, for the most part, pretty standard, with little by way of tactics besides the see-and-shoot approach. It’s surprising, especially since Insomniac have executed these types of situations well in their other franchises. If you’re spotted during a stealth sequence, though, they’ll hunt you down without even thinking about it. Bullets will fly even if they’re several feet away.
Each enemy type works off of specific weaknesses and strengths too- Baton enemies are weak to air attacks, but strong against frontal attacks. Brutes are strong against air attacks, but weak to thrown objects- and so on. Defeating wave after wave of enemies will be the task more often than not throughout the campaign. Sometimes, it feels like the only real challenge is in more of the same enemies being thrown at you. This leads to some repetition in combat scenarios, as you’ll battle waves of thugs again and again.
"Much like our favourite web-slinger, this bold new Spider-Man game has its ups and downs."
What about bosses, though? Well, when Spider-Man starts out, you’ll experience the game’s first mini-boss pretty quickly. Sadly, for the remainder of the adventure, the bosses are not well spaced out. With the Spider-Man franchise’s huge library of rogues and story arcs, it’s amazing how waves of no-name enemies have been substituted here for an extended time. However, the actual boss fights themselves, when they do arrive, are fun, and their characterization for the most part is spot-on. The use of QTEs might put off some players, or even disappoint many, but for the most part, there is a nice balance between QTE cinematics and gameplay. So, the boss fights could go either way depending on what you are expecting. If you are looking forward to a cinematic style boss fight, then Spider-Man will surely not disappoint. If you have a different taste, then it will surely not please you.
Much like our favourite web-slinger, this bold new Spider-Man game has its ups and downs. The excellent cinematic presentation, wonderful characterization, stellar movement, and strong combat, not to mention the atmosphere of New York and its denizens coupled with the sheer number of things to do, stand out as strong points to rally behind. However, repetition, poorly spaced out boss battles, uninspired gadgets, fetch-quest style side missions, and the story’s predictability can affect the experience for some.
Spider-Man may be criticized by some for not being the stellar PS4 exclusive that it was ravenously hyped up to be by many. While the jury may be out on whether or not Insomniac takes ol’ webhead to new heights, Spider-Man gives us Peter Parker, his world, and a life through the eyes of great responsibility, wrinkles and all.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Great visuals, top notch voice acting, combat mechanics and progression system is well implemented, great characterization, New York City is a terrific playground for Spider-Man to show off his skills, awesome swinging mechanics.
Predictable story, uninspired gadgets, repetitive elements, sequence of boss fights are not paced well, some side quests are one dimensional.