Genre: Action-Adventure, Open World
Original Release: September 7, 2018
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Played on: PlayStation 4
I grew up in a very Marvel-oriented household. By which I mean that my brother was very much a huge fan of Spider-Man and we had SNES titles like Maximum Carnage and Arcade’s Revenge on the Super Nintendo. Honestly I think Spider-Man might still be his favorite hero to this day. I’m more partial to Venom personally, but I recognize that he is (or at least was) more anti-hero.
So naturally I’ve liked Spider-Man since I was young. Sadly the games that we had growing up weren’t exactly stellar. Arcade’s Revenge and Maximum Carnage are LJN titles, though they’re among their more competent releases; Enter Electro was nowhere near as good as the previous Neversoft title on the PSX, and the Sam Raimi Spider-Man Xbox tie-in game was actually pretty alright if I remember correctly. I’ll need to revisit them all soon, but I can say that of the aforementioned Spider-Man games that I’ve played, Marvel’s Spider-Man is probably the best of them. I don’t really know how low of a bar that is.
I get it, superhero games are hard to pull off. With so much source material to pull from and a devoted fanbase out there, it can feel like walking through a minefield. However, Spider-Man is really, really good. Traversing New York city is (fittingly) amazing, and combat never feels like you’re at too much of a disadvantage. Your spider sense will alert you to incoming attacks that, when dodged at the right time, will build focus and web up your attacker’s face. You can then save that focus to unleash an instant takedown move or use it to heal at a moment’s notice. The choice is ultimately yours, but you have pretty much everything you need to survive and possibly more.
Speaking of, let me talk a little bit about combat itself. Years ago, I mentioned to my brother-in-law that I would love a game that had a combat system reminiscent of the various Batman Arkham games and the traversal system of Prototype. And here we actually get pretty darned close to that. You build a combo as you attack enemies and dodge their attacks, and your focus meters will build with greater speed as your combo gets progressively longer. Certain enemies require certain moves to defeat them, but all of them are susceptible to your gadgets. Web shooters, suspension matrices, web bombs, Spider-Man has a surprisingly deep arsenal at his disposal. However this is also a fairly seasoned Spider-Man. At this point he’s already fought a handful of the staple members of his rogues’ gallery and put them away. He’s been around the not-so-friendly neighborhood quite a few times.
Just like with Batman, defeating an enemy will treat you to a specific sound. In Arkham City, for example, it was the sound of a shotgun. In Spider-Man…it’s hard to really describe it. Like one part of it sounds like a web thwip, but the other part is kind of like a water balloon exploding mixed with a bass thump. I have no idea what it is or what they used to make it, but it’s also really satisfying, so I’ll take it.
But as you might expect, Spider-Man is also primarily an open world game and thus littered with side activities to do. Crimes to stop, side missions, old backpacks to find, landmarks to photograph, and new suits to make by doing these side activities. And it all feels exactly like things that Spider-Man would do. And because you’re Spider-Man, getting around Manhattan is ridiculously fun. You can swing between buildings, parkour your way to the top, dive toward what would be certain doom for anyone who wasn’t previously bitten by a radioactive spider, and toss out a web to use that momentum for some extra speed in a swing. It doesn’t take all that long to get from one end of the island to the other. Amazing what you can do when you don’t have to deal with traffic, isn’t it?
I’ll be honest, this isn’t the first time I’ve played Spider-Man. I picked it up right around the time of release and went absolutely ham on it then and there. With work and everything it took me a couple of days to do everything, but it also felt really nice to look over New York and say to myself “Yeah. This is Spider-Man’s town.” But obviously it isn’t perfect. Each section of New York has a number of crimes to solve, and I could never tell if those crimes were proximity-based or on a timer. Either way, they would almost always pop up right as I got to the next thing I wanted to tackle, be it a stronghold or a side mission. And because they would disappear if I got too far away or launched one of these missions, I always dropped whatever I was doing to head over and solve the matter so that I could just get it out of the way. But at least there was some variety. Like some crimes would have you locate a kidnapping victim, others would have you stop a chase or rescue civilians from car wrecks, but a lot of them end in some amount of combat. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. You’re given bonus objectives that, if completed, will net you extra tokens that you can cash in for new suits…or potentially gadget upgrades. I really don’t remember what all you can exchange the tokens for. The joys of playing on New Game+ after being away for two years, eh?
Oh yeah, this game has a New Game+ option. I love it when you can start a fresh game with all of the stuff you’ve acquired from previous runs. Your suits, gadget upgrades, abilities, and levels are all retained. And if you hit level 50, any additional level ups will net you an extra health point and an additional 1% melee damage. If you’re a trophy hunter or a completionist, you’ll also be able to take on New Game+ on Ultimate difficulty. And let me tell you, it’s brutal…like I died a lot. I’m not a god gamer by any stretch of the imagination, but somehow I managed to bumble through it and honestly? It was satisfying to do it. You might have better luck. Or you might have a harder time, but if I can do it, you definitely can. I believe in you!
Now obviously I’m not going into the story, but I do want to let you know that throughout the game I laughed a lot, got emotionally invested in some of the main characters, and nearly cried at points. I would have cried, but I didn’t want to stain my notes as I wrote them and so you can imagine Goku sucking his tears back into his eyes through sheer force of will. That’s what it felt like. I’m not joking either, my handwriting is already hard enough to read, water stains would just make it worse. And I have five pages of notes on this game. Needless to say, the base game alone is well worth your time. But recently I went through the DLC for the first time since the game’s release and I’ll have a lot more to say about that. So let’s get into it!
THE CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS: CHAPTER 1 – THE HEIST
Following the events of the main game, Peter finds himself on the trail of Black Cat as she steals her way across New York in more ways than one. What’s she after? That’s for you to find out. But with most of Peter’s big bads put away, what’s going on in the streets? Well this time around, the criminal families known as the Maggia have taken to the streets and there are shootouts, attempted kidnappings, and car bombs to disarm. Variety! Further, the questionably loveable yet totally nutty Screwball has returned from the main story and scattered challenges across the city. Some involve combat, some involve shutting down EMP generators, some require you to use two specific gadgets, but they’re all fairly decent challenge. As was the case in Prototype, you’re graded based on your performance, ranging from bronze to gold. Unlike in the main game, Screwball will call you after each challenge and either chide or praise you based on your performance. You only need to hit the silver rating for the trophies and I was more engaged in the story than anything, so I just left it at giving each of them a try and getting the silver. Some of you might want to go for the gold and that’s totally okay! It’s just not for me.
Still, as you make progress, you’ll be able to team up with Black Cat and synergize your stealth takedowns. Sort of. At one point, Cat has a marker on certain enemies that you can use to direct her to take them down. While she’s doing that, you can take down another and expedite the process of clearing the area. Stealth sections in the game aren’t too bad by themselves, and it’s made easier when you scan the area and each mook is marked with either “safe” for enemies you can take down with no problem or “danger” if a takedown will alert nearby enemies. It’s not quite as fluid as the stealth sections in the Arkham games, but it still works really well all things considered! Still, the DLC isn’t terribly long by nature of being DLC, so it won’t take you more than a day to handle, even if you take your time with it. And honestly, I feel like The Heist is the strongest episode, if only because of the greater variety of things to do. But I’ll touch on that in the next part.
THE CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS: CHAPTER 2 – TURF WARS
Before we get into the DLC proper, I want to talk a little bit about Yuri. She’s a police captain who keeps in fairly regular contact with Spider-Man and I love her dearly. She’s hard-headed and driven, but she’s got a good heart and puts up with Spider-Man’s antics more than a lot of people in her line of work might. Seeing the line “drawn into the fray” worried me for a number of reasons.
So Turf Wars picks up shortly after the conclusion of The Heist. Yuri and some of her fellow police officers have cornered Hammerhead in a long-abandoned sanitarium in Harlem. It’s as spooky as you would expect, but Hammerhead has a few tricks up his sleeve in the form of military-grade equipment, among other things. And while this episode of DLC starts off promising, the second half just felt like a slog to me. Little variety in the crimes you can solve, mostly just shootouts and combat, the strongholds were ridiculous at the best of times because of how much damage they can do in one sitting (so many rocket launchers), and even the story missions were kind of dull. I was playing on Normal and still just found it dull. Again, I don’t know if that’s because I’m not familiar with Hammerhead or because his claim to fame is a durable metal plate in his head and his status as a mob boss, but he’s just not interesting to me. Like being completely honest, I would have really preferred to see something involving Kraven or even Walrus. Walrus! When was the last time Walrus even made an appearance? The Fear Itself Deadpool arc? I really don’t know.
Anyway, after the first half it all feels really samey to me. Hammerheads goons aren’t all that interesting to fight and the configurations just get tougher and tougher to deal with as they get shields and jetpacks. Dodging them mid-combat just lost me and eventually I relied on electric webs and the suspension matrix gadgets to hold them in place while I popped the quad damage suit power and wailed on them. It’s probably the weakest episode to me and it sucks to say that. I love the game, but the pacing just gets marred at this point. Again, I was playing through the DLC on normal difficulty. After Ultimate, you wouldn’t think it’d be that hard, but it just wasn’t as much fun to me. I dunno, maybe you’ll have a better time with it.
Now I would probably transition to the last chapter of the DLC here, but looking over my notes, I want to talk about the Screwball challenges in a little more depth. Each one features an opportunity for bonus points in the form of a photobomb meter. Screwball will light up a portion of the arena in most of the challenges and, depending on the challenge, performing certain actions will trigger the appearance of a photobomb meter.
In theory this isn’t too bad, just a matter of timing. Stop it at the very end and score the most points. However, I found through a number of attempts that the meter will lag, holding its position. And then when you stop it, it’ll be in a different position. Obviously this can be frustrating if you want to score reasonably well, but I would imagine that it’s infuriating if you want to go for the gold. There’s already so little room for error, and then the meter doesn’t update properly. It just sucks, and I don’t like saying that if I can help it.
But enough about Turf Wars, let’s talk about the last episode of the DLC and cleanse our palates.
THE CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS: CHAPTER 3 – SILVER LINING
Silver Sable is one of the characters that makes an appearance partway through the main story. It’s her equipment that Hammerhead’s goons have stolen, and as you might expect they get even tougher this time around. They’ve got armor, the jetpack goons can fly now, and they’ve got drones that leave energy clouds in the air that will drain your health and temporarily disable your gadgets. Somehow I found myself missing the demons from the main story. At least their weaponry had this awesome blue-black tinge to it. The stolen sable equipment just got repetitive. I just wanted Hammerhead to go away toward the end.
Though I will say that this episode does pick back up toward the second half. I found myself invested again, and while the crime variety was still lacking, I didn’t mind as much. Things really ramped up toward the end and while dealing with Screwball yet again was still really obnoxious, I was able deal with her challenges in relatively short order.
All in all, the game as a whole is fun, but it might suffer from “too much of a good thing” for me. Maybe I’m just burned out on open world games. Maybe it’s just the same problem that Yoshi’s Island has where going for 100% right away kind of kills the game’s pace and detracts from your enjoyment. Like I’m the kind of person who likes to end the story with everything done so that all the loose ends are tied up, but sometimes things won’t spawn until you hit the postgame segment. And having grown up with games like Fable where you can’t do much else after you finish the story, I don’t tend to do much after the main story, it just isn’t quite as interesting to me as the story proper.
And yet, I still feel comfortable recommending this game. Again, it’s fun and there’s plenty to do, and I think they really nail the feel of Spider-Man. He’s strong, but not indestructible. He’s witty, but also flawed. He’s human, but also so much more. And yes, there is a Stan Lee cameo.
Give the game a try if you’re on the fence. Borrow it from a friend, see if it’s in PlayStation’s monthly free game selection, or just watch some gameplay videos to try and get a feel for it. Either way, I’m going to recommend trying Marvel’s Spider-Man for yourself.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take a long break from open world games. I need something linear to clear my mind. Maybe I’ll do Broken Age next. Maybe not.