I love Spider-Man. Since my mid-teens, or somewhere around that point, he’s been my favorite superhero. From comics, cartoons, movies, and of course, video games, I’ve always enjoyed following the web-swinging exploits of everyone’s favorite wisecracking nerd in red and blue tights. I’ve played damn near every Spider-Man game since the PS1 classic by Activision and Neversoft (I also played Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage on the Sega Genesis back in the day, but I sucked at gaming back then and never beat it), so naturally I would make it a point to play Marvel’s Spider-Man from developer Insomniac Games. Since the first trailer for the game was released back in 2016, I had been waiting with great anticipation for this title to release. When Activision had the rights to make games based off our arachnid-based hero, there were plenty of great Spidey titles released (Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man: Web of Shadows being two highlights for me and many other Spidey fans), but there were also some less great titles released, particularly when Activision had Beenox take over development of all Spider-Man titles. That team clearly had a great love for the Spider-Man lore, and I personally had fun with their games, but none of them were exceptional like the legendary Spider-Man 2.
I was optimistic that Insomniac would do a better job with the latest Spidey title, but I was hesitant to automatically conclude that they would be able to make a truly great and standout Spider-Man game that could compare with, let alone surpass, Spider-Man 2. I was also less sure that they could do for Spider-Man what Rocksteady did for Batman, which was fully revitalize the gaming scene for that particular hero and basically rewrite the book on how to make future Spider-Man titles. Well, I am oh-so overjoyed to say that Insomniac have done just that. This is not only the best Spider-Man game to date, but this is one of the best superhero games around, easily comparing with the best of Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham series.
As should be obvious to all involved, you play as Peter Parker, a.k.a.= Spider-Man, as he tries to balance everyday life and his many complicated relationships with his secret career as a masked crimefighter. Things start off with a bang as Peter speeds himself over to help the police deal with the Kingpin and his army of gun-toting goons. After this, you are set free to have all kinds of fun in what is easily the best looking version of an open world New York City. I don’t wish to spoil any story elements here, but as far as the game’s narrative goes, it is by far the best written and most impactful story in any Spider-Man game. Honestly, that’s not saying much since most of the previous Spider-Man games had average to good stories, but again, nothing exceptional. However, the story for Marvel’s Spider-Man is one that many other single-player games would envy. It takes elements from many older Spider-Man stories in other mediums, namely the comics, movies, and tv shows, and combines them into something unique and compelling with some genuinely surprising and humorous moments. In this continuity, Peter Parker is in his early twenties and has been fighting crime as Spider-Man for a few years, and he has an unofficial partnership with police captain Yuriko Watanabe (who was introduced in the comics somewhat more recently). The game’s continuity also has some other differences from that in the comics, like Aunt May working for Martin Li at the F.E.A.S.T. shelter since almost right after Uncle Ben died, Dr. Otto Octavius being a close mentor to Peter (though I’m sure we all know that is doomed to end badly at some point), and Mary Jane working for the Daily Bugle, just to name a few. All these and other story elements combine perfectly to form a tale that does justice to the main source material, especially when it comes to showing both sides of Peter Parker’s dual life as a science nerd struggling to make ends meet and a superhero that doesn’t get half the appreciation he deserves.
As great as the story is, the gameplay is what really launches Marvel’s Spider-Man to the stratosphere in terms of pure fun factor. The short version with regards to the combat would be that it’s like a perfect combination of the combat systems from Spider-Man 2 and the Batman Arkham games (which is appropriate since the Batman combat is basically an updated and more complex version of the combat in the earlier Spidey game). You attack, use webs and gadgets, dodge, etc. with one button for each. There are no overly complicated combos like in Spider-Man 3, and like in Web of Shadows and The Amazing Spider-Man games, there’s a new version of the web strike ability that lets Spider-Man zip himself over to any enemy within range, even if they’re airborne. The combat is seriously out of this world and flows like you wouldn’t believe. You’ll find yourself uppercutting a bad guy, jumping up to kick his ass some more in mid-air, then while still airborne, you’ll use your webs to swing a manhole cover into the guy standing below you before he blows you to hell with a missile launcher, and this is all done while dodging bullets from all the other jokers trying to kill you. Add to this the fact that there’s a weapon wheel that lets Spidey access a number of different gadgets to use in both direct combat and stealth encounters, like web bombs, electric webs, and spider drones, and you’ve got a recipe for a varied combat experience here.
And I haven’t even mentioned the upgradeable combat and traversal skills you can acquire as Spider-Man levels up, like a charged jump, a healing ability, the ability to swing webbed up and stunned enemies around and throw them into other enemies, yanking enemies’ weapons from them and then throwing them right back at them, etc. The way all these abilities and skills intermingle with each other is a thing of beauty. Now, that’s not to say the combat is easy. For one thing, Spider-Man himself is rather squishy and will go down quickly if just a handful of enemy attacks manage to connect, and button mashing of any kind will lead to a quick game over, so reacting quickly and finding a good flow and rhythm during your bad guy beatdowns is the key to victory. And when you do get the hang of the combat, you look like a real badass as you defeat small armies of henchmen. Speaking of enemies, the variety is pretty impressive. You’ve got regular thugs armed with guns, sniper rifles, and missile launchers, tougher enemies armed with stun batons or energized swords and whips, and the now all too familiar “brute” enemies that must be stunned or immobilized before you can attack them directly (and who hit like freight trains). Then you’ve got the boss fights against villains like Kingpin, Shocker, Mr. Negative, and more, which are all fun (though some are more fun than others).
We’ve covered the combat, now we move onto the other most important aspect of any open world Spider-Man game: the web-swinging and traversal. It is highly refined and intuitive, but very much like the combat, it takes a little getting used to. Once you have gotten used to it, however, you’ll be bounding from rooftop to rooftop and slingshotting over skyscrapers like no one’s business. It’s never been so fun and engaging getting around the city of New York, not since Spider-Man 2 at least (I’ll try not to mention that game again in this review…no promises though). And very much like in Spider-Man 2 (even I thought I’d go a little longer without mentioning the game), your webs attach only to buildings and not the sky when swinging around. Another thing that makes New York such a great environment to swing through is the huge number of collectibles you can find scattered around the map. Chief among them are backpacks that all contain items that Peter, in his usual flightiness, completely forgot about years prior, many of which reveal little hints to Peter’s past and current status with other characters who don’t appear in the game but might very well appear in a possible sequel (let’s make sure that happens, Insomniac). Other collectibles include pigeons that you have to chase down and capture for a friend and cat dolls left in certain nooks and crannies by Black Cat; special landmarks that you can take pictures of, including Avengers Tower and Dr. Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum, and completing missions focused on Oscorp research stations set up by Harry Osborn round out the other main collectibles. It also doesn’t hurt that the city, hell, the entire game, looks incredible. While some NPCs look “okay”, the environments are detailed, and the main characters are almost photorealistic.
Furthermore, finding all these things, as well as beating special challenges and taking down enemy bases, nets you with tokens that let you unlock new suits from the comics and movies. There was a similar feature in the most recent Spidey game, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but in that game the suits merely offered very slight increases to different stats (stealth, web stickiness, attack damage, etc.), while in this game many of the suits actually offer some useful and varied abilities that run on cooldown meters. The Iron Spider suit from the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, for instance, lets Spidey use “spider legs” that sprout from his back and greatly increase his attack damage, and the Spider Armor Mk.II suit protects him from gunfire for a limited time. While the different suits do come with their own abilities, you can switch them out and attach them to any other suit you want, so you’re actually not forced to wear suits that you don’t want to wear. Special unlockable suit mods that offer extra benefits, like increased resistance to firearms, doing extra damage after a well-timed dodge, electrifying enemies if they dare to strike you, etc., can also be attached to any suit of your choosing. This level of personal customization in Spider-Man’s abilities is unprecedented, and the game is better off for it.
But, holy crap, there’s still more! I mentioned there was stealth earlier in this review, but the thing is that you normally aren’t required to use stealth when playing as Spider-Man, except in specific challenge missions. Still, it is fun webbing up unaware enemies in comfy little cocoons and sticking them to light poles and girders, so I recommend using the stealth option whenever you can. Then there are the stealth encounters when playing as the two other playable characters in this game: Mary Jane Watson and Miles Morales. These two troublemakers often find themselves having to sneak past the same enemies that Spider-Man can effectively beat the crap out of, so interacting with the world from the perspective of these very different characters makes the whole experience more complete, in my opinion. It’s even better that these play sessions don’t overstay their welcome either. By the time you start missing being Spider-Man, you’ll be back in his stylish spandex fighting crime and the like. As if the combat, web-swinging, and stealth encounters weren’t enough, there are a number of puzzles based on matching symbols and creating circuit paths in main missions and in other side challenges as well, normally when one of the main characters is analyzing a foreign substance or disarming a bomb. These puzzles were well done; they weren’t frustratingly difficult, but they provided fun challenges that actually made me feel smart for a change when I completed them.
In case I haven’t made this clear enough already, let me just come out and say it: Get this game if you haven’t already, or at least borrow or steal a friend’s copy so you can experience this truly standout game for yourself. Fans of Spider-Man NEED to get this game, and I’m afraid there’s no room for debate on that point. Even if you’re not a particularly big fan of Spider-Man or superheroes in general, I dare say that Marvel’s Spider-Man should be the one open world superhero game that you should definitely try out. I was already excited for this game before it released, but Insomniac have surpassed my expectations with this one.
Developer: Insomniac Games
Release Day: 7th September 2018
Want to see what I thought of the older Spider-Man games I played (except The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which was decent but not great)? Then take a look at a few articles from my old D.G.M.’s Gaming Life Before Gaming Respawn feature HERE, HERE, and HERE.