Developer: Insomniac Games
Review code provided
After a certain snap in Avengers: Infinity War, Spider-Man fans were left in shock, wondering how our beloved company could do us wrong like that. Thankfully, Spider-Man has swung back into our lives onto the PS4, better than ever. The game is packed to the brim with so many small but important details that will bring joy back into the hole of your dark, Spider-less heart.
The game kicks right off and knows you don’t need yet another origin story, which is perfect. It also doesn’t need to give you all the backstory leading up to that moment straight away, instead choosing to let you find out when it says you’re ready. Chucking you right into the gameplay, Spider-Man lets you know exactly what it feels like to be swinging around New York City. It’s great.
There are few things in gaming that feel as free as web-singing does here, in my experience. It feels so satisfying to pull off fast swings, catching up to a car filled with criminals, or just swinging all through Central Park, watching the trees rush by. The game world would feel hopelessly massive if you couldn’t swing around from street to street, but it’s the perfect size for the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. Whether you’re trying to gain as much speed as possible or doing somersaults in mid-air so that you barely scrape the ground before you keep going, it’s up to you. Sadly, the tricks you can do don’t have much variety, and can occasionally feel slightly stiff, however, they’re completely optional and only give you small XP bonuses anyway.
Later in the game when you unlock fast-travel, most of the time you don’t even want to use it, for fear of missing something in the open world map. None of the collectables feel out of place, and each of them has a different way of acquiring them. These can be anything from finding backpacks you webbed away years ago to clearing out Wilson Fisk’s bases. There are also actual side-missions to that help you get XP, for example clearing bombs out of a park or going after Screwball’s newest hostage. Next to the collectables, the game world is filled with tons of details and beloved places, like the Sanctum Sanctorum or the Avengers Tower that just make the game even better.
Don’t forget to listen to Just the Facts with J Jonah Jameson, which is one of the small details in the game that just goes to show how much thought was put into it, with the infamous JJJ being at the head of a conspiratorial news show à la Info Wars with Alex Jones. He comments on the different suits you wear and the events of the game, pinning the blame on Spider-Man whenever something goes wrong in the city. Another detail that makes the game so much better is the previously mentioned backpacks, each containing items from Parker’s life up to that moment, from contracts to menus to plush toys. You can also check out the city’s current Twitter feed and watch the people react to the story and things you recently did.
You can also work with the police to stop crimes while they’re happening. They pop up on your minimap and you can either choose to check them out or to move on if you’re in a rush. Crimes are one of the ways to get some of the items needed to craft new suits or gadgets. There are more than twenty-five suits that you can craft, some of which are unlocked by leveling up, others are unlocked by completing certain side-missions. Each of these come with specialized abilities that can you can activate to facilitate your combat experience, with tons of possibilities between using the Iron Spider arms and webbing everything in a radius around you. Whenever you use the ability, you have to wait until it recharges, but you can almost always go back to the menu and switch skills on the fly so that you have a more suitable one when the slot recharges. On top of these, you have different gadgets you can use, too, from normal web shooters to concussive blasts, web mines or electric webs.
Even the combat is smooth and filled to the brim with different possibilities. It probably gives you even more freedom than web-slinging around the city. Although stealth isn’t always an option, you’re free to choose whether you want to stay on the ground and pummel your enemies, fly in the air and web them down, or some combination of both. Either way, it feels incredibly rewarding to see enemies stuck to the walls or flying off buildings. Eventually, the combo counter racks up and so does your focus bar. Your focus bar can be used to heal you or to instantly defeat an enemy of your choice (provided they aren’t one of the big brutes, in which case they need two focus bars). Once you get to the bigger combos, it feels really satisfying to see hit after hit land on the enemies as you hit, block, and swing your way around them. Using different gadgets to out-manoeuvre your enemies makes for a enthralling time where you can really let your creativity run wild.
You can also unlock a variety of combat and traversal skills on each of the three skill trees. These can be simple things like yanking enemies into the air or more badass things like throwing someone’s missile back at them. Once you unlock these and become more experienced in combat, you start to develop your own fighting style and pattern. No Spider-Man game would be complete without Spider-Sense, either, which is shown with those squiggly lines around his head that you know and love.
One of the game’s biggest themes is what it means to be a hero. As one of the main characters says perfectly: “A hero is someone who never gives up.” It doesn’t only talk about this in its cutscenes, but it also discusses it with its gameplay, letting you play as Mary Jane, who refuses to be reduced to a damsel in distress. There are scenes in the game where their teamwork makes for one or two very well done scenes, switching between the two of them as you face a problem from two different perspectives. The relationship between Peter Parker and Mary Jane isn’t the most straightforward one in Marvel’s Spider-Man, which makes for a very interesting story that goes way above and beyond the often used bland love interest plotline. The game tackles a lot of hard-hitting topics perfect for a Spider-Man game, showing that Insomniac Games knew what they were doing while making this game.
Another interesting relationship is the one between Peter Parker and Spider-Man. What this game does fantastically is that it realizes that neither of them can really exist without the other, and it shows that in the gameplay, too. Generally, Spider-Man games tend to leave Peter Parker out of the equation, focussing instead only on the web-slinging action, but for a good Spider-Man story, you need both. There are several types of science puzzles that you can do as Peter Parker that give you XP and research tokens, used for suits and gadgets. The characterization and development of characters is superb, too, with few characters really being completely black and white. So many characters had well-thought-out motivations and there was so much history there between some of them that really just worked.
On top of the story being really well done and having both heart-warming and soul-crushing beautiful moments, the game’s design is absolutely gorgeous, especially the cutscenes. So many things are intricately detailed even in-game, for example letting you read the text on the items you pick up from the backpacks lying around town, and the main characters have some of the most realistic faces I’ve seen in gaming. There were scenes near the end of the game where I had to double take several times despite technically being used to high quality renders. The cinematography of the cutscenes (if you can call it that) is excellent, too, choosing angles that are often more significant than you might realize at first sight. The game’s dialogue is always top-notch, too, especially the banter you hear and say while talking to MJ.
Spider-Man for PS4 is the definitive Spider-Man experience, topping all of the Spider-Man movies by far, and the previous games, too. It’s highly enjoyable in every aspect, well balanced, and very well-written. Not only is it the perfect game for any Spider-Man fan, but it’s a fantastic game all around. If you’re looking for a game where the open world breathes freedom and the fights get down and dirty, you can’t go wrong with Marvel’s Spider-Man: hands down one of the best games I’ve played.
With all the freedom it gives you to web-sling through New York City and stick goons to walls, Spider-Man for PS4 is the best Spider-Story I’ve had the pleasure to experience, and even on its own is a brilliant game.