Spider-Man has had a very interesting time as far as his strides in the video-game medium are concerned. My journey playing as the web-crawler began with Spider-Man on the Original PlayStation (or on the PC, which is where I played it), a fun action-adventure I hold a lot of fond memories for. Admittedly, I haven’t played Spider-Man “2000” in over a decade, but I always regarded it as a benchmark for superhero video-games released in that time-period. (Mind you,Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro, which I’ve played in the current decade was not something I’d recommend.) Not unlike the PlayStation outing, the same could be said about Spider-Man 2, the video-game adaptation of the Sam Raimi film, which I also held in very high-regard.
Since then, Spider-Man has had highs and lows, highs like Spider-Man: Web of Shadow and Shattered Dimensions, and lows like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man: Edge of Time. Some of the outings weren’t horrid, so much so as they aren’t up to the standard players are looking for, especially when it has been a decade since Rocksteady set the bar so high with Batman: Arkham Asylum. Marvel’s Spider-Man brings Insomniac Games on-board, a notable and very talented team of developers that have brought us series’ like Spyro the Dragon and Ratchet & Clank. If there was ever a chance for Spider-Man to return to form and even evolve, it was with this game, which begs the question: Does it? Here are my thoughts …
In the PlayStation 4 exclusive, Spider-Man follows our titular hero eight-years into being the “menace” that J. Jonah Jameson loves to criticize so much. By now, many notable events have already happened in Spider-Man’s life, including Uncle Ben’s death. Not only that, but he no longer works at the Daily Bugle, citing the grisly and unfavorable newspaper articles about Spider-Man as the reason, and his relationship with Mary Jane Watson has taken a nose-dive. The same can be said about his bank account, as he struggles to make ends meet, working for Doctor Otto Octavius. Harry Osbourne is mysteriously out of the country, while his father Norman Osbourne is the mayor of New York. Finally, a new supervillain has shown up named Mr. Negative, who threatens to release a deadly virus unless Spider-Man can stop him. All this information might seem redundant, but together, it fully expresses all the moving pieces, which work in cohesion for the video-games intertwining narrative. It truly is a meticulously spun web by the writers involved.
The story-line, as well as the voice-acting performances, succeed at making this feel like a lived-in and likable portrayal of their world. Peter Parker is charismatic and likable, while naïve and in enough over his head to add dimensions to his character. M.J.’s character has had character added to her that has felt absent from most mainstream-adaptations. I wouldn’t say I ever disliked the Mary Jane character, but Spider-Man PS4 is the first time I can say I ever truly saw her as her own fleshed out person. Even if you’re only a casual-fan of Spider-Man, it’s for certain you’ll be able to call out a lot of what’s happening before it will happen. If you see Dr. Octavius and Peter Parker interact, one immediately wonders when the cheese will slide off the Doc’s cracker and he’ll start wreaking havoc with robotic tentacles. When you see Norman Osbourne, you wonder when Spider-Man will be dodging pumpkin bombs. This is a setback, but I feel the story is paced well enough, jugging the many fixtures in Peter’s life in a way that weaves them together in its own creation. I wasn’t very familiar with Mr. Negative prior to playing, and I found him to be a unique inclusion, blended seamlessly with the more common antagonists.
The graphics and the robust open-world have an attractive aesthetic and considerable attention to detail, with a ridiculous number of collectibles that beseech players to check-out Easter Eggs and landmarks, like The Avengers Tower or the Nelson and Murdock Law Office.
I have some criticisms about the overall game-play, but, for the most part, I look back at my time with Spider-Man as very positive. The fighting-mechanics has some resemblance to the Batman: Arkham series, a comparison that holds a lot of weight when talking about how Spider-Man is structured. The Amazing Spider-Man video-games developed by Beenox also took a lot of inspiration from The Caped Crusaders’ fighting, but unlike those, I feel like Insomniac implements enough variation and intricacies to make it feel distinct. Swinging around the city is fast-paced and slick and is the most fun it has ever been. I wasn’t exactly Superior Spider-Man in the early-going, but I found myself easily able to traverse the concrete jungle, and, by the end, found myself able to navigate very smoothly. It’s something that’s easy to use but takes progression to fully master. Playing as Spider-Man is also as diverse as ever, as you have access to around twenty different costumes to choose from (such as the costume from the Sam Raimi film, or Noir Spider-Man, or 2099 Spider-Man).
The side-missions and collectibles are plentiful in Spider-Man, but, unfortunately, they can become tedious and repetitive by the end. Collecting “Crime Tokens” for the Platinum Trophy was a chore, where I found myself repeating practically the same exact situation again and again, like pulling debris off civilians or stopping car-thieves, all while Spider-Man spouts the same lines over and over. Meanwhile, the Spectrograph puzzles and other mini-games of the sort overstay their welcome and become particularly grating the longer you’re exposed to them. I found a lot of these things enjoyable at first but felt like I was worn down by the end from all the excess. The best-case scenario would be to add more character and personality to the side-missions and more variation to the criminal activities, but if that couldn’t have happened, I would say that less might have meant more. There’s also a handful of glitches I came across, but I found most of them to be small and inconsequential.
Looking at the open-world aspects of Spider-Man, I wouldn’t refer to it as a trailblazer. It feels like a natural progression from earlier video-games we’ve had. It still feels like we’re treading a lot of the same-ground we’ve been treading since Spider-Man 2.
However, looking solely at the main-campaign, Spider-Man PS4 is the best time I’ve ever had with the character in a video-game. The game-play is fun, the characters are enjoyable and colorful, and it feels like a full-fledged Spider-Man experience. Something the video-game can do as well, that the films, for instance, aren’t allowed to do, is its allowed to breathe with long-form storytelling.
This game allowed us to meet so many of Spidey’s rogue’s gallery in a meaningful way, all while assuring us that more ambitious adventures await. Insomniac’s care and attention to the characters and what’s important about them makes me very excited for what will come, and I highly recommend Spider-Man PS4 to fans of the character and genre.