After two hours of hands-on time with Insomniac’s upcoming Spider-Man game, I came away more than impressed. Gameplay systems feel like they’ve been tweaked to near perfection, while swinging around New York City as one of Marvel’s most beloved superheroes is an absolute treat. I’m a bit worried about repetition down the line with some of the side missions on offer and general combat, though a lot of what I played throughout my time with the game genuinely blew me away.
Something James Stevenson, Community Director of Insomniac Games, mentioned throughout the preview session was that the team wanted to nail the feeling of having Peter Parker and Spider-Man’s worlds collide. And that can be seen in the way a range of key characters find themselves interacting with one another, and the situations that stem from that. Mary Jane Watson, for instance, is now an up and coming investigative journalist for the Daily Bugle, and there’re times where she might run into Spidey on her adventures trying to track down stories for the paper. Their relationship is noticeably different to what we’ve seen in Spider-Man’s big screen outings, and initial impressions suggest this changes up the pace wonderfully well.
The same can be said about one of the game’s key villains, Martin Li (aka Mister Negative), as well. A fascinating addition to the character roster, Mister Negative also plays an important role in both Peter Parker and Spider-Man’s worlds, though I’ll save the intricacies and details in fear of spoiling too much.
Even though I played just a couple of hours, I was particularly pleased at how well MJ fit into the game’s story — not just because her and Pete were interacting in ways I hadn’t really seen before, but also in the way she came across as a strong, independent character in her own right. She’s no damsel in distress, and I absolutely adore that.
Given I was only allotted a few hours of time with the game, I prioritised getting ahead with Spider-Man’s story rather than swinging around NYC doing side missions and the like. Instead of focusing on an origin story, Insomniac have conjured up a narrative that sees us take control of Spidey eight years into his crime fighting exploits. Further, Peter Parker’s 23, he’s out of college and in that stage of trying to step out into the real world. It’s a refreshing take on the Spider-Man narrative, and I think lends well in completely establishing this game as its own take on Spidey rather than leaning on past iterations of the web-slinger. It’s still wonderfully comical and tonally appropriate for the classic Parker humour we know and love, but seems to wrap things up in a way that feels completely unique to Insomniac.
Of course, I didn’t have that much time with the story but initial impressions are quite positive. As I mentioned before, I love the way Insomniac are handling both well known and new characters, expertly melding their own story around the web-slinger and his adventures. Time will tell whether or not it manages to hold up, though from the early hours I’m quite confident (and excited) to see where both Peter Parker and Spider-Man head in terms of character development and general narrative.
Something I’ve always loved about the Spider-Man games is traversal, and all signs point to Insomniac’s Spider-Man being the best iteration of Spidey traversal yet. There’s a wide range of ways to execute moves while you’re flinging yourself about the world, with web zips quickly changing direction and perch jumps giving you a ton of momentum to launch Spidey into missions or take on side activities. It’s an absolute blast, and I particularly loved the feeling of weight web-slinging has to it, especially when you drop down to the streets of New York City and zoom by oncoming traffic.
Fighting feels excellent too, with a good blend of dodge-based combat previously seen in the Batman Arkham series layered over with a range of Spidey-exclusive abilities. It feels a bit overwhelming at first, given the range of options you have at your disposal — ranging from environmental attacks, to web-based offence, to general hand-based combat — but overtime I got to grips with what was on offer and had a great time with it. Every attack you do adds to a focus meter, which then allows you to activate a suit power when the meter is full. Suit powers allow you to do a ton of different things, though I only had a chance to use one of the early game powers, which allowed me to continue to gather focus and therefore take out an enemy with the tap of two buttons — something you’re also able to do when the focus meter is filled.
It’s also worth mentioning building up focus allows you to heal, which you’ll need to do a lot especially when there are lots of enemies surrounding you. The AI here consistently backed me up into tight spaces and alternated attacks fairly well, and there were a couple of times where I struggled to gain the rhythm of dodging attacks and reply with my own.
Taking on enemies, completing missions, and doing side activities all grant you XP as you play, in turn allowing Spidey to be upgraded and become stronger. A skill tree allows you to fine tune specific functions of Spider-Man’s repertoire as you progress and level up as well. The Innovator skill tree, for example, gives you access to new methods of dealing with enemies and environmental attacks, whereas the Webslinger skill tree allows you to refine ways of attacking enemies and working with your webs. Further to this, side activities will also grant you specific tokens, which can then be used to craft new suits, upgrade suit abilities and powers, and craft suit mods. Gadgets also are included in the game, and follow a similar style of unlocking to become available for Spider-Man to use and upgrade.
All of these upgrades felt overwhelming initially, but I slowly began to love what’s been set up here — everything you do in the world of Spider-Man contributes towards your progress in some way or another. Interestingly, each side activity grants Spidey different tokens, of which you need a combination in order to craft a lot of the items and gadgets on offer. Backpacks are littered throughout the world, for example, and collecting those will give you backpack tokens, whereas taking photos of the landscapes of New York City will give you landscape tokens. So yeah, it’s a bit confusing initially but seems to be a good way of encouraging the player to try out a range of different activities in order to fully kit out Spider-Man.
Throughout my time with the game I found it relatively hard to wipe a smile off of my face, and that’s genuinely because I had so much fun with it. I appreciate how Insomniac have reworked beloved and relatively unknown characters in their own little way, while the music and general tone of the game play so well into what Spidey fans have come to know and love about the web-slinger and his adventures. All signs currently point to Insomniac’s Spider-Man being something really special, and I came away more than impressed with what I played — I can’t wait to properly dive into it next month.