Back in the summer of 2016, when I first heard Insomniac were developing a Spiderman game for PS4 I was delighted. I felt like it was an announcement targeted just at me and that nothing but a masterpiece could come from the marriage of one of my favourite developers and a much-beloved superhero. Then 2 years passed, my hype died down, I was still excited, but more cautiously optimistic. After finally getting my hands on a copy, I’m happy to say Marvel’s Spiderman is a great game. At times it’s a mixed bag, but one filled with far more good than bad, similar to a bag of Revels, filled mostly with chocolate and toffee but also the occasional raisin.
The story stars a more experienced Peter Parker whos been spiderman for 8 years now. As such, you’re thrown in at the deep end with the task of bringing down Willson “Kingpin” Fisk, a notorious crime boss, and it’s not long before you’re swinging across the rooftops of New York City chasing after a medley of other notorious Spiderman Villains. It’s a relatively typical Superhero story but it was refreshing not having to be lectured about Spiderman’s origins for the umpteenth time.
The way the characters were written was a little hit or miss. Peter felt like such a one-dimensional “good guy”. I know he’s Spiderman but I couldn’t help hoping he’d have just one flaw to humanise him and balance his character out. That said, when Peter donned his signature Spiderman suit, he transformed into the charismatic, quick-witted hero and was a joy to listen to and play as.
Mary Jane and Miles Morales also had prominent roles in the game, at times even being controlled by the player. Neither suffered from the same moral boringness as Peter and felt like real grounded characters. The sections where you play as one of them never overstayed their welcome and served as nice punctuation in the story of Peter Parker.
The villains of the game were surprisingly well written, with a lot of detail put into their backstories and motives. One or two were written as one dimensional as Peter but this was fitting as they were supposed to just be assholes and nothing more.
The overall story is well rounded and concludes satisfyingly in an action-packed Third act, with several hints at future games to come.
First things first, the web-swinging is as close to perfect as it could ever get. Insomniac have done a great job at balancing speed with maneuverability, which they’d already shown with Sunset Overdrive. There are certain times where you seem to lose a lot of momentum, but I believe this was simply an effort to stop players from needing to take a break every 5 minutes from motion-sickness. You don’t just swing either, Spiderman has other modes of traversal at his disposal, you can grapple to a fixed point and boost from there, you can shoot a web forward to increase your speed and altitude and you can even run along the sides of buildings. All of which, for the most part, feel natural and satisfying to pull off.
The main missions normally involve beating waves of enemies, stealth sections, swinging around and light puzzles. It’s all put together well and as far as the main story goes it never feels like just going to one location, fighting bad guys and going to the next location to do it again (This can’t be said for the side missions though, which I’ll get into later).
The combat is both deep yet overly familiar. If you’ve played any of the Arkham games or 2015’s Mad Max you’ll instantly know what’s up. You can mash one button, building up a combo only to stop routinely to dodge an incoming attack indicated by a flashing icon above Spiderman’s head. However this time there’s a huge focus on aerial combat. Spiderman is much more powerful in the air, where he can kick and volley his opponents building up a combo from above their heads. Your movement isn't restricted when you enter combat so you can still run on walls, swing around and assault your enemies from afar with a range of gadgets. This was enough to keep the combat fresh and entertaining well into the 20-hour campaign. Think Arkham combat if Batman could fly.
Spiderman has a couple of gadgets which can be selected from a weapon wheel in combat or when solving puzzles. There are 8 in total including Peter’s web shooters, more powerful web blasters and laser firing drones. Each gadget has a limited amount of charges (Except for your web shooters) and you’ll gain a charge randomly when you take out an enemy, this design choice forced me to constantly switch between them and made combat more dynamic and led to less button mashing.
There’s also stealth combat. I’m not particularly good at stealth games, but I found it remarkably easy to clear out a room without being noticed at all. The game even tells you if it’s safe to carry out a stealth takedown with an icon above your enemies head. Eventually, you’ll be starting out every combat encounter quickly picking off a few hired thugs before engaging with what’s left of the mob.
It wouldn’t be an Insomniac game without an upgrade system. You get upgrade points as you collect XP from missions and side quests and can then spend these on new combat abilities, better stealth attacks or new swinging manoeuvres. At first, this system felt a bit tacked on, but once you start playing and get into the swing of things, you realise if they had of given you all this from the get-go the controls would’ve been overwhelming. I would have liked to see the upgrades expand on the swinging mechanics a bit more, as combat seemed to get a priority.
Now we come to my major problem with the game, its side missions. Do not 100% the game. Some side missions are fun, like the Oscorp research ones, but others are incredibly repetitive and numerous. At the start of the game you’ll be asked to repair police towers across the city, these towers when repaired unlock the ability to locate crimes and stop them and in return receive “crime tokens” to unlock suits and gadget upgrades. These crimes all follow the pattern of “ go somewhere, beat up some guys” with 4 or 5 slight variations. Across the course of the game, you’ll be able to do around 20 “crime waves” in each of New York’s 9 regions (with the exception of central park) adding up to a total of 150+ generic side missions. The combat is fun in Spiderman, but not fun enough to do the same thing again and again 150 times. When you get good, each of them only takes a minute or two, but you have to wait around for the scanners to pick up a new crime and travel to the scene of the next one each time and this adds up. They’re not mandatory and you only have to do about half of them to unlock everything you’ll want but they just felt like busy work to me. Some other side missions are also similarly repetitive but the crime waves stuck out. They don’t take away from the main story and some of the other side missions are much better, I just felt like Insomniacs approach to side content was “quantity over quality”.
Enjoy the game but don’t stress over completing it, unless that’s what you enjoy, knock yourself out.
I had read that boss fights were just full of QTEs but this is completely untrue. Sure, there are QTEs in all of them but for the most part, bosses are like regular enemies but with unique abilities and more health. I was surprised by how fun they were. You’re immersion is rarely broken and generally, you’re in control of Spiderman for about 80% each boss fight (apart from the final one which I didn’t really like but I won’t go into spoilers).
Bugs and Glitches were few and far between, which is impressive for a game of this size. Occasionally the game wouldn’t recognise I’d completed a side mission or the prompt to open a door or use a computer wouldn’t show up requiring a restart. The game also crashed once but none of this took away from my enjoyment.
Lengthwise, the game took around 30 hours to complete (achieving 100%), but for a normal playthrough, it should take around 20. I found it to be the right length (apart from the more tedious side missions).
On a side note, having heard Insomniac will be developing more games for Marvel and that Marvel are starting up their own video game universe I wonder how they’ll change the formula for other heroes. For example, if they were to make an open world Iron Man game it’d play just like Spiderman. I really hope they don’t just try to make blockbuster open world AAA games every time and explore some other niche categories to avoid superhero fatigue. Imagine a Metroidvania that incorporated the infinity gauntlet for new abilities or maybe a Starfox style guardians of the galaxy game.
Insomniac have done a great job of capturing a comic book style new york. Every street is bustling with life, cars and pedestrians look great and most importantly the assortment of buildings is vast and varied. Buildings had incredible detail, to the point where you could see individual items of furniture through some of the windows. There are some recognisable areas like Central Park and the Empire State Building, but also some marvel specific additions such as The Avengers Tower and a statue of Lockjaw. Draw distance is surprisingly far and despite this, the framerate never seemed to take a hit (on a PS4 Pro) allowing you to enjoy the immense detail of the game’s version of New York.
Spiderman himself looks amazing, his animations as he swings and sprints through new york are fantastic. You could take a frame from any moment of action in the game and it wouldn’t look out of place in a comic book. Spiderman’s collection of suits all look unique and I always found myself excited to unlock the next one. Menus and UI were fine, I could always find what I was looking for. They could’ve shown overall totals for side missions but it was easy enough to work out yourself.
Something that shocked me was how much the source material was respected and how well it was implemented. The world just feels like it’s part of the Marvel Universe. They could’ve taken a half-ass approach and just stuck in The Avengers Tower and called it a day, but there are little details scattered all over New York. If you explore a bit you’ll find interesting Marvel locations such as the offices of Nelson & Murdock, the Wakandan Embassy and even New York’s Sanctum. All these references are just scattered about and no major attention is ever drawn to them, which makes it feel so much more authentic. You can easily tell Insomniac had some real Marvel fans on board for this one.I hate to have to criticize Peter again, but I didn’t particularly like his character model. Most of the faces in the game have something off with them, something uncanny. Peter himself constantly looked shocked sad or just dead, maybe it’s the eyebrows. Everyone who wore costumes looked the part but when they took them off, more often than not they looked like walking corpses. Side mission characters were the worst offenders barely even moving their mouths to talk.
Sound design was good but nothing really stuck out. That said, whenever a part of the story hit its climax, the music playing paired well with the atmosphere and helped that part of the game have much more of an impact. Voice acting was superb, Yuri Lowenthal did a brilliant job as Spiderman, delivering his quips and one-liners perfectly.
Overall Insomniac’s take on Spiderman is an exciting action-packed adventure that is sure to go down as one of its platforms best titles.