‘With great power, there must also come great responsibility.’
It’s the mantra that has underpinned the entire Spider-Man ethos. It is a lasting reminder that no one is infallible, regardless of their strengths. Insomniac, a developer in as good a form as any coming off the under-appreciated Sunset Overdrive, has undertaken a herculean task in carving out a fresh take on the famed web-slinger. When dealing with material held so dearly by millions of comic book and film fans, it’s like painting over the top of a masterpiece and hoping the public still adores it. Marvel’s Spider-Man not only honours all that came before it, it chisels out its deserved spot in Sony’s first-party ranks.
Placing players in the red woven booties of Spider-Man has never seemed like a trying task, a few quips here and there and you’ve just about nailed the ‘wholesome Deadpool vibe’ Spider-Man has long had. Not looking to settle for the easy task, Insomniac has placed an enormous focus on the man behind the mask. Peter Parker’s good nature makes him an instantly likeable hero as his love for his city and his want to help those outside his inner circle is so typical of his character. Spider-Man introduces us to an established web-slinger, years into his tenure as New York City’s protector. It’s refreshing that Insomniac didn’t resort to wasting the player’s time with Spider-Man’s origins instead deciding to spend more time on Parker’s personal relationships with not only Mary Jane and his Aunt May, but people like Martin Li, who goes on to become part of Spider-Man’s rogues’ gallery.
Peter Parker’s double life grants us a window through which to view the duality of these villains, which helps us appreciate their arc even more. Though only the two main antagonists are really well written, four of the Sinister Six are relegated to bit parts, it still helps us empathise with them in light of their dirty deeds. The story wouldn’t be one bit out of place on the silver screen. Marketing material has tried its hardest to spoil all of Spider-Man’s best work, but I assure you there’s still a couple of twists Insomniac throw into the mix, both expected and very unexpected.
A lot of games have emulated the Arkham series for their combat and it’s fair enough, it mastered free-flow fighting and ripped the biff from the pages of a comic and helped it play out at our fingertips. Marvel’s Spider-Man is the latest to imitate Rocksteady’s style as Peter Parker pulls out a lot of the same tricks Bruce Wayne has used for years. Spidey has more than just his fists and reflexes at his disposal as the game plays up Peter’s scientific proficiency as he’s seen pulling double-duty working in the field all the while concocting gadgets for his Spider-Man persona. There’s a lot of fun to be had with these gadgets which range from trip mines to anti-gravity wells that send thugs skyward. It becomes a game within the game to keep the combo counter ticking over and the combat never really staled in my experiences with the game.
The game’s first cutscene concludes with Spider-Man leaping from a window with aspirations to finally put a long-time rival of his behind bars. As control is handed to the player, the first prompt you’ll see is for web swinging. I don’t believe for a second that this is mere coincidence as slinging throughout this painstakingly recreated Big Apple is Spider-Man’s unmatched highlight. It’s hard to describe just how fun it is to zip through this concrete jungle at dizzying heights. The game does have a fast travel option but I was more than happy to just swing from district to district, it’s that fun.
Much like other open-world titles, you’ll likely stray from the main path with a multitude of side quests, street crime and challenging activities to contend with. Though they’ll likely feel a tad repetitive as you grind toward 100%, there is a surprising variety to the street crime and it never gets old seeing Spider-Man catch a car in mid-air in an attempt to safely defuse a chase. To see everything this New York City has to offer and tick everything off the list might take you around forty hours, though the story will account for less than half of that. It’s paced incredibly well with three sharp, cinematic acts forming not just the best Spider-Man story put on disc, but the best story of a comic book adaptation in a video game period. Arkham included.
So while Spider-Man perhaps won’t be as long as some are perhaps hoping, the game uses its first hour magnificently well. The tutorial doles out a number of the game’s mechanics in a very palatable fashion all the while showing off a number of huge set pieces, something the game does well. It leans so heavily into this cinematic feel that most of the game’s boss fights lack any real challenge. It’s a spectacle to experience and that’s clearly a deliberate choice from Insomniac to take an almost Naughty Dog route in keeping the big movielike feel alive, but it comes at the cost of a rewarding and difficult endgame tussle.
Don’t let all this talk of puddles fool you, there’s nothing wrong with how Spider-Man looks, as it’s still a beautiful game to behold. It boasts a stunning New York City that begs to be explored both from the air and on foot, though it’s when your nearest the ground that you see some warts as the game’s character models can be a bit ugly. Of course, the same cannot be said for the notable players in Spider-Man stories who all look magnificent with Insomniac reimagining a number of them with a very distinct style. After living through the Tom Holland era of films, it was almost jarring to see an older, more independent Peter Parker but even he, I think, is set to become an iconic portrayal of the superhero. The animation is fluid and the game, despite its pace, never really jutters, managing to run smooth as butter throughout its runtime.
Insomniac has done magnificently casting the voice talent for Spider-Man as the performances are wonderful from the top of the bill to the bottom. The game has a surprising amount of tender moments that are note-perfect. Had the performance faltered at any point, some of the true-to-comics ham dialogue might have been exposed but fortunately, it’s excellent. Beyond the game’s sound design being sublime across the board, John Paesano’s score plays an enormous role in setting the scene and helping along that movie-like feel I touched on.
THE PS4 VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED ON A PLAYSTATION 4 PRO FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
It’s hard to fault Marvel’s Spider-Man as Insomniac has taken their game to the next level. As a developer, they have gone from strength to strength and Spider-Man is a culmination of their past hits. There’s a stunning verticality that compliments the game’s watertight mechanics and, despite the literal boundaries, still makes the city seem boundless. If you’re a Marvel die-hard, there’s enough fanfare here to sink a ship as Spider-Man emerges as the new gold standard. Spider-Man is, without question, the best superhero game ever.