Marvel's Spider-Man: Review
Since Arkham Asylum hit the shelves in August of 2009, Rocksteady and the Caped Crusader have sat atop the peak of the superhero game mountain. After spending more hours than I care to admit web-slinging through a beautifully rendered New York City, I can confidently say that Spider-Man has succeeded in becoming the standard bearer for how an open world, superhero adventure should be constructed. Combining fluid combat that allows player creativity, a fantastically written story which stands alone in the Marvel Universe, and engaging side quests that always give the player a reason to skip out on fast traveling, Insomniac Games has created a one-of-a-kind experience that you surely won't forget.
As the story begins, our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man is embarking on a mission to finally put away Wilson Fisk. Insomniac wastes no time showing the players what they can expect as Spider-Man is dropped directly into the thick of battle. This prologue mission serves as a perfect appetizer for the inevitable main course. Here, you are taught the basic combat mechanics as well as how to move freely through the city slinging those trademark webs. Even with the bare bones combat that accompanies the first mission, you realize how innovative the fight sequences are. Taking a page from the Arkham playbook, Spider-Man will be able to punch and kick with the square button while he can dodge incoming enemy attacks using circle. The formula is nothing new, but the spin that Insomniac puts on these sequences is one of the reasons why Spider-Man can arguably be considered the best of the superhero genre.
Completing missions and side activities will grant Spider-Man XP that he can use to rank up three specific skill trees: Innovator, Defender, and Webslinger. Ranking up each tree will continue to grow Spidey's impressive arsenal of combat moves as well as improve upon his movement throughout the city. When he's fully ranked up, the variety of moves you can string together in one combo is astounding. It's very easy for the "beat-em-up" style of combat to get stale, but that never happens in Spider-Man. Even after 30 or so hours, I'm still finding new and fun ways to take down my foes. Insomniac definitely outdid themselves with the interactive environment that surrounds Spider-Man during every battle. Grabbing a nearby electrical box, launching it at some thugs, and electrocuting the whole bunch really never gets old. Whether you're bouncing off walls and landing a vicious haymaker, dousing enemies in webs and hurling them at their criminal buddies, or moving silently while you pick opponents off one-by-one, there is never a moment where you don't want to engage in combat.
Another area where Spider-Man has surpassed the Arkham games is in the open world environment. Unlike Batman, who doesn't really lend himself to witty sidewalk banter with citizens, Spider-Man uses his charm and approachable personality to interact with passersby on the busy New York City streets. The attention to detail on the city is second to none. This is New York and you'll know that the minute you perch Spidey atop the Empire State Building and take in the scenery. The day and night cycles flow seamlessly, and thanks to Photo Mode you're able to catch some stunning, Spider-Man sunset shots (SSSS for short). I'm not sure what all that hoopla about puddles was, but I can assure you that this game's presentation is nothing short of gorgeous. So much can be said about the visual graphics but the audio is just as spectacular. Every time you set off to soar through the air you're met with a booming score that adds weight to the setting, making the player truly feel like Spider-Man. When you're swinging through the trees you can hear the leaves rustle against Spider-Man's suit. If you switch suits to something like the Iron Suit, you'll notice his footsteps now sound different than when he's wearing his traditional mesh suit. No stone was left unturned in regards to the presentation, as this is as polished of a game as I've played this generation.
Not only is this open world absolutely beautiful, but traversing the vast city as you sling from building to building is absolutely as fluid as it gets. It may take you a couple of missions to fully get the hang of the web-slinging controls, but once you find your groove you’ll watch as Spider-Man effortlessly flies through New York. While it is plenty of fun to just slingshot around the city you need some things to keep you occupied. Luckily you're never short on activities. All of the side quests have a purpose as you'll need to complete them to receive various tokens. These will go towards unlocking suits, purchasing suit modifications, and upgrading the assortment of gadgets that Spider-Man gathers as the story progresses. There is a sense of tamed freedom as you can spend a good portion of time completing these activities early on, but you won't have access to everything the world has to offer right away. Insomniac does a tremendous job in regards to the pace at which activities become available. Certain side missions and activities are contingent upon the completion of distinct parts of the main story. How this is handled goes a long way in giving the player a constant assortment of activities while not overwhelming them with too many icons on the map.
After playing through multiple styles of the same activity it can feel slightly repetitive. However, even the most common activity (crimes that pop up randomly throughout the city) does a good job at shuffling the deck so you don't feel like you did the same exact mission 50 times over. The variety of side activities is enough to keep the game feeling fresh, even as I'm rapidly approaching 100% completion. Other than basic combat missions, the player will participate in challenges consisting of chasing down drones, disposing of bombs, and engaging in strictly stealth-based missions, all of which are designed to allow the player to hone each skill the game presents. A few other notable side activities have you hacking Oscorp towers in an effort to open up access to areas on your map, specific side missions that allow for some lesser known villains to pop up, and, my personal favorite, hunting down Peter's old backpacks. Each backpack provides a quick snippet of the history for this iteration of Spider-Man. What you learn from these is that this is a Peter Parker who has been at it for a while and has learned from past failures.
I mentioned earlier that this story stands alone in the Marvel universe. While it uses the familiar characters, this is a fresh take on Spider-Man and easily one of the best stories for the character in recent memory. The characters are all well rounded and one of the best parts about the writing is that each character's motivation makes sense. While some of the foreshadowing certainly lacks subtlety, it doesn't lessen the impact of the big moments in acts two and three. There are times where you might be able to see what's coming, but after it happens you'll find yourself saying "Well it definitely made sense." You're able to empathize with villains even after you've watched them do terrible things, which is a huge credit to the writing team at Insomniac. Additionally you have Yuri Lowenthal delivering a top notch performance as Peter Parker. Yuri perfectly captured the awkward humor, intelligence, quick wit, and heartfelt emotion that we’ve grown accustomed to in regards to Spider-Man.
Spider-Man is hardly a one man show and it wouldn't work without a strong supporting cast. Mary Jane (MJ) and Miles Morales provide a nice change of pace from the typical rigors of life as a superhero. MJ stands out in this story as a successful journalist who will put herself at risk to uncover the truth. She is more than capable of finding her way out of tough situations and makes for a brilliant partner for Peter. When playing as either MJ or Miles, you're stripped down to the point where your only way to combat enemies is by distracting them with lures or knocking items over. These missions are strictly stealth, and if you're seen it's a failure. There's no doubt that these breaks from the action can be a turn off to people who aren't a fan of stealth games. When you're playing as Spider-Man you're able to mix and match between stealth and brute force, but with Miles and MJ the capability of fighting is nearly absent. The good news for folks who aren't interested in sneaking missions is that there are only a handful in the story. I love the inclusion of these two as part of a team with Spider-Man, but I believe this game serves as the building blocks for things to come. Both of these co-stars are a vital part of Peter/Spider-Man's growth throughout the game and left me excited about what's in store for them in future installments.
Mr. Negative is a worthy villain, but if you've seen the E3 trailer you know he's not the main adversary that Spider-Man contends with. He is certainly a well rounded character as his backstory is well written and his motivations are believable. However, they made the right call by not making him the endgame opponent. Before wrapping up the discussion on the standout cast who were all voice acted superbly, I have to mention two cornerstones of the game: Aunt May and J. Jonah Jameson. Aunt May is an absolute sweetheart and everyone needs her in their lives. With how much effort she gives at the F.E.A.S.T. shelter you can argue that she might even be more heroic than Peter! Any time she's on the screen my heart filled with joy. Lastly, hands down my favorite part of the game is J. Jonah Jameson's radio show "Just the Facts." It plays while you're swinging through the city, usually after you complete missions or activities. Jameson will comment on whichever activity you just did and use it as a way to try and work his listeners up into a Spider-Man hating frenzy. The humor is spot on and it's a perfect commentary at how some of today's media outlets operate. Anytime Jameson’s voice pops up make sure you stop what you're doing and listen! You won't regret it.
There truly aren't enough positive things to say about Spider-Man. Once you pick up the controller, and get over the very small learning curve to master web-slinging through the city, it will be impossible to put down. Even after I platinum the game I will be starting another save file because it never gets old feeling like Spidey. While Sony, deservedly, takes some heat for their lack of cross-play, you can't deny that their exclusive library is filled with instant classics. Spider-Man is another addition to the catalog and is on par with the likes of Horizon Zero Dawn and God of War. Game of the Year for 2018 will be a tight contest, but there's no doubt in my mind that Spider-Man can go toe-to-toe with any other release. Simply put: go play this game.