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Spider-Man isn’t exactly a newcomer when video games are involved. Various titles have tried to capture his abilities to varying levels of success, though it’s been a long time since a great game based on the franchise has been released. With this latest attempt, it seems like developers Insomniac truly understand what makes Spider-Man both a great superhero and a great choice for videogames.
The basic story setup should be somewhat familiar for fans, though there are a few differences compared to previous Spider-Man media. Instead of giving us yet another replay of his origin story, the game takes place when he’s already made a name for himself. Peter Parker, who was bitten by a radioactive spider to become the titular wall crawling hero, has long since finished university and is working on prosthetics with the scientist Otto Octavius. Starting with a slightly older and more established Spider-Man allows the writers to create some new stories instead of just retelling what we already know.
That doesn’t mean that newcomers will have a hard time figuring things out though. You quickly get an understanding for what this Peter Parker is like and his accomplishments. This is still the same charismatic hero that many will know from the comics, and it’s fun seeing how he interacts with his friends and the various villains throughout the game. What did come as a surprise was the amount of time spent focusing on Peter Parker himself rather than just his alter ego Spider-Man. It makes this story feel a little more nuanced, offering a look at both his superhero antics along with his regular life.
While Peter’s interactions with various familiar faces may be humorous, the overall story ends up being a little disappointing. Some elements – like Peter’s work with Otto – are well developed, but near the end of the game many plot elements are rushed just to try and fit in a few more villains. That’s not to say that it’s still not an enjoyable story as a whole, it’s just that the main story could have done with a few more hours to give a little more time towards character development. The ending does still end up having a lot of emotional impact regardless of these shortcomings, and it was nice to see how many familiar faces were included in the game even with their lack of screen time.
Web swinging is where Spider-Man really shines, offering the closest representation of the superhero’s powers so far. Swinging feels natural, each web physically attaching to buildings instead of just magically latching onto the sky as they did in some of the earlier Spider-Man games. Building up speed is easy, and it’s fun just to whizz though the air as you chain web swings together. But this isn’t just what makes traversing New York fun. Our hero has a plethora of different movement abilities alongside his regular web slinging. He can pull himself towards certain objects and spring off them for a burst off speed, along with quickly being able to switch from wall running to web slinging without any delay.
Combat also makes use of Spider-Man’s unique moveset, though not to the same level of success. Fighting is similar to the Batman Arkham games, focussing on dodges and counter-attacks against large groups of enemies. You have access to basic combo attacks, along with a variety of skills and upgradeable gadgets. From basic webbing to small robots that shock enemies, there are a decent variety of ways to deal with enemies. The problem is that it’s usually most effective to just web up enemies against walls or other objects, since basic goons can be webbed up extremely quickly. This leaves you with a large moveset that for the most part can be ignored, though some of the harder encounters do at least require a little more diversity in your attacks. One addition to combat that we’d like to see in other games of this type is the focus meter. When this fills, you can perform an instant KO on one enemy, or more importantly heal some of your HP. It adds an element of risk versus reward – do you take out an enemy easily or keep your health topped up – and makes battles a little more interesting even with the aforementioned issues.
This wouldn’t be an open world game without an excessive amount of collectibles and side activities, and for the most part Spider-Man does these right. These side activities can range from taking out bases full of enemies to time trials, each type of mission awarding various tokens. These tokens are used to unlock new suits with their own abilities and upgrades for your gadgets. A lot of types of activities have bonus objectives that award extra tokens, many of which requiring you to use moves that you’d usually ignore. These help to make optional content seem a little more varied, but after a while the amount of extra missions you can do feel a little bloated. There are many different crimes you can solve in each part of the city. Even after having done everything else on the map and unlocked every suit bar one, there were still around half of these crimes left to complete.
One aspect of Spider-Man that really surprised us is the visuals. Everything looks fantastic on a base PS4, and the game runs at a solid 30fps most of the time. This helps to make swinging around New York feel even better than previous games, being the first game to really capture Spider-Man’s speed. The amount of detail is also impressive, especially when it comes to the various suits you can use. Each one has been faithfully recreated, right down to the type of material used when you look closely. The amount of graphics options are also welcome. Being able to turn down the motion blur is something all games should have, and it really makes a difference in Spider-Man.
After a multitude of rather disappointing games, this is an amazing return to form for the web crawling hero. Spider-Man may not have the greatest story, and it suffers from some of the usual problems found in open-world games, but it’s still a fantastic experience. This is what future superhero focused titles should aspire to be, and I can’t wait to see what Insomniac Games will create in the coming years.