Superhero games have never been able to shake their bad reputation brought on by corporate powers that wanted to “diversify” their product range by throwing rushed games out there to coincide with movie releases. They were a plague in the previous generation with superhero titles being alarmingly mediocre at best and more often than not just completely terrible. This was an almost accepted practice in the gaming industry for a while until the likes of Batman Arkham Asylum came out and became a showcase for how a true superhero game should be handled. Exploring the villains, fleshing out the world and providing a meaningful narrative were just a few hallmarks of what made the Arkham series so great and another superhero game is yet to come along to rival it.
Well, until Marvel’s Spider-Man came along.
That is unequivocally a bold claim to make, especially in a franchise which last had a decent game to its name in the Gamecube era with Spider-Man 2. The subsequent movie tie-in games made an effort, but they all ultimately fell short of being respectable games and all of them failed to capture the sense of actually being Spider-Man in one way or another. With Marvel’s Spider-Man, however, this curse has been broken with the careful care used to bring the web-slinging, quip-cracking hero properly into the interactive medium. The game achieves this goal by focusing on all of its individual aspects in order to create a grand experience that you should definitely not ignore.
Get me pictures of Spider-Man!
Spider-Man is the guardian of New York, a disguise for the ingenious but often absent Peter Parker. New York has always been a haven for the seedy, the greedy and the just plain despicable and Spider-Man has his job cut out for him to try and keep the citizens safe from evil. From muggers in the streets to absolute lunatics that seek to spread terror using their unique abilities, evil is an ever-present force in the densely populated Big Apple. The game’s narrative weaves a story from the variety of supervillains that Spider-Man has come to know as well as some new players that burst onto the scene with their own nefarious intentions.
It’s extremely hard to talk about the story without spoiling anything since it’s all so interconnected and the surprises that arise from each story mission keep on coming throughout the game’s duration. In short, New York is under attack by various competing supervillains that want to try and further their own agenda with innocent people in the line of fire. Villains like Mr Negative who seeks revenge without worrying about any collateral damage and has his own army of corrupted maniacs ominously called “Demons” that would die for him and his mad cause. Along with other villains that are running amok, the city of New York soon becomes a war zone and it’s Spider-Man’s job to clean up after them.
You can be excused to think that the narrative elements are akin to a really good superhero movie that also has the cliches attached, but it’s the way the game frames its story that is most notable. Scene by scene, the game delivers an unending stream of quality. The way the characters interact with each other gives them an immense amount of depth to the point where you actually care about them and what happens in the game. We get to interact with a lot of Spider-Man’s friends and allies as well as some people who reluctantly work with him to keep the city safe.
Then we get to the massive set pieces that are often present in story missions. Wild scenarios play out with excitement coming from each mission you play in some form or another. It’s amazing how creative the game gets with how it wants to tell its story and it never repeats itself. Sometimes you need to investigate the villains to find out what they’re up to and sometimes you’re flying through New York chasing a helicopter that is destroying everything in its path. There was a fear that the game would heavily rely on quick time events, but you don’t need to worry about that since these events are few and far between and are used thematically in intense action scenes as a way to interact with set pieces.
The game’s story was definitely a highlight of the whole experience. There are so many mysteries to be solved, villains to meet and deal with and characters to talk to. It was also complex which is a big thing for a game in this particular genre. Characters like Spider-Man aren’t infallible and make their own mistakes. Some villains suffer a crisis of conscience and once you learn their motivations, can almost be seen as sympathetic figures. It’s easy to make a bad guy, but it’s another to make a bad guy that you feel sorry for.
I was hooked right until the credits rolled.
Spider-Man himself is an endearing character and considering you’ll be spending most of your time with him, this is really important. He loves to make witty quips about what’s happening and goad his aggressors as much as he can. I was afraid that Spider-Man’s constant witty comments would become grating, but this surprisingly wasn’t the case. Yuri Lowenthal did a great job of conveying the character with just the right balance of seriousness and Spider-Man’s almost whimsical nature. It’s a difficult balance to strike, but he managed it wonderfully.
The game’s story was a nonstop thrill ride from start to finish. It never let up and I was always excited to jump into another mission as soon as possible to experience what was going to happen next. It’s not truly groundbreaking in terms of superhero narratives but it was one of the most entertaining games I’ve played in a very long time. The writing was right on par and the pulse-pounding action was properly contrasted with quiet moments of discovery and character interaction. I was hooked right until the credits rolled.
Doing whatever a Spider-Man can
The goal of any game featuring Spider-Man is to let you become the masked hero as much as possible. This includes everything that makes the hero so unique and I genuinely think that Marvel’s Spider-Man absolutely nailed it. The most important thing we need to discuss with regards to this is Spider-Man’s movement and agility. The act of moving around is often not the prime discussion, but it’s a special case for a man that spits webs out of his wrist.
Swinging around New York is better than it has ever been. Swinging from building-to-building is momentum based which means it’s not a case of just holding a button down and going forward. You need to time when you release, where you web onto and you can go faster by getting it just right. You can also launch off any platform you can see, giving you a momentary speed boost that translates back into your swinging momentum.
The game also gives you a great degree of control and prevents you from splatting against the side of the Empire State Building. You’ll automatically be able to run against or up walls seamlessly as to not break your stride and your slinging allows you to control your trajectory and be precise in where you’re going. You can also pull yourself to any surface you want instantly. When you get used to all of this and developed a feel for how you should get around, it’s one of the most satisfying movement systems you can find in an open-world game. New York truly becomes your playground as you swing around and launch yourself off water towers.
Spider-Man’s agility also translates directly to his combat ability. His Spidey senses allow him to see incoming attacks whether it’s someone that wants to punch him or shoot at him with a rocket launcher. His powers also allow him to make a mockery out of the thugs that foolishly want to go against him. He can web sling right to an enemy’s face and deliver a beatdown and if they try and get cute with swords, shields and guns, he can just slip under their legs and uppercut them into the sky to receive a further beatdown.
You’re given an immense wealth of options in combat from your basic attacks to being able to swing enemies around and slam them into their friends. Peter Parker is also a technological genius which means he can craft clever gadgets that he can use when fighting. These include things like a web bomb that covers a horde of enemies in sticky webs, a spider drone that flies around and shoots enemies for you, electric webs that incapacitate enemies and even a gadget that suspends enemies in the air.
You also get access to suit abilities that are basically these ultimate abilities that you can get by crafting various suits. You can interchange these powers with your preferred suit so you can keep the look you want and have the desired power. These have a massive range on them and are totally dependant on your playstyle. One is a massive flurry of webs that can cover every surface in webs and the other can make you disappear for an extended amount of time. It’s all up to you which power you want to use and you’re given a ton of options.
This isn’t just punching dudes in the face, it’s a ballet with webs flying all over the place and you dancing around bullets.
Combined with Spidey’s agility, the tons of combo options and the gadgets at your disposal, combat always remains interesting. It’s not a cakewalk either, if you’re not on your toes and aware of what’s going on, you can be slammed down pretty quick especially if there are a lot of enemies around with guns and power weapons. There’s a tremendous breadth of enemy variety too. From shield-wielding enemies and huge brutes to guys with whips that counter most of your moves, they like to make it a challenge for Spidey to take them down.
I did a lot of combat throughout the game’s extensive duration and it never got boring. There were always new combos to try out, new gadgets that got unlocked and more fearsome enemies being introduced as the game went on. The boss fights were particularly exciting with you having to use your powers in creative ways to take the big bad guys down. As well as the set pieces that were thrown into the mix, these boss fights, as well as random enemy encounters on the streets, were a blast.
Spidey can also stealthily take out enemies and rushing headlong into a crowd of psychos isn’t always an option. Spider-Man’s agility comes into play here once again. He can perch upon any surface above the battlefield and hunt down anyone that dares come in his path. The battlefield is still his playground even when he has to be quiet and it’s all up to you how you want to take everyone down. You can also be risky by doing direct takedowns that are quicker but can make you much easier to spot. Once you get the movement system down as well as your stealth options, you’ll be zipping around and hanging bad guys from the ceiling until everyone is tucked into a comfortable web cocoon.
The combat rivals something like the Arkham games that introduced us to this style of fighting by embracing Spider-Man’s abilities and strengths. This isn’t just punching dudes in the face, it’s a ballet with webs flying all over the place and you dancing around bullets. Throwing rockets back at enemies, jumping over shield guys and swinging a brute around into all his friends. It all flows so beautifully and it all just works so flawlessly. I honestly can’t think of another way they could have done combat in this game and any improvements would be extremely difficult to come up with.
The city that never sleeps
New York is obviously the centrepiece of the whole experience and the game knows this very well. The open-world is a painstaking recreation of the beautiful city complete with all its landmarks and various boroughs. The important thing to note here as well is that it’s not an empty world. People go about their lives and the city is always bustling with activity. When you’re not swinging from the buildings and decide to come down to street level, you’ll see all sorts of life happening. People bustling about whatever event happened in the city, people greeting Spider-Man and taking pictures of him and even some that give him some lip.
It’s a bustling metropolis and not just a staging ground for what happens. It feels alive and it responds to your actions in the most creative ways. You’ll also be able to help out the city in the various activities that the game has. At first one would groan at a big map filled with activities, but this was not the case in this game because of how well it was all done. You have your usual crimes that happen on the street from the various factions that you can swing in to stop and all these events are varied in what you have to do. You can just be beating up some drug dealers or frantically swinging around to disarm bombs around the city and you can even be involved in some high-speed car chases.
There are also research stations scattered across the map that have you fix the city’s infrastructure or take care of issues such as pollution. That may sound boring, but each of these stations integrates Spider-Man’s powers in some creative way and they’re all different from each other. You also have collectables scattered around the map such as backpacks that contain memorabilia from Spider-Man’s past and is a great way to flesh out the character’s history. Landmarks that you can take pictures of as you swing around to show you the diversity of New York City. There are also challenges that you can complete such as seeing how quickly you can disarm bombs or chasing a drone all over the city that drops spy cameras that you need to pick up. Finally, you also have enemy strongholds that you can clear out where your foes come in waves to try and take you out.
Each of these activities gives you various tokens that you use to upgrade gadgets, as well as craft suits and suit mods so it’s all nicely integrated into the gameplay experience. It’s a nice populated open-world with a bunch of activities, but it’s made fun because of what I consider this game’s biggest strength. The flow.
When I saw collectables pop up on the map, I was slightly disappointed by them using such a cliche open-world mechanic. But as I was swinging around the city doing missions, side-quests and challenges, I didn’t even notice that I nearly collected everything naturally. The game flows so well into each of its different aspects. When you’re just leisurely swinging around the city, you’ll be stopping some crime on the street and notice you’re in front of the Empire State Building that you take a picture of and a backpack isn’t very far away so you go ahead and collect that to see the interesting tidbit in it. Then you move on to an exciting story mission and put the great combat system through its paces. Before you even realise it, you’re hooked.
It’s all there and working like a well-oiled machine.
I haven’t had this much fun playing a game in a long time. The hours would fall away as I partake in New York’s activities and progress through the wonderfully written story. It was torture to pull myself away from the controller and when I was away, I kept wanting to jump back in. This game is dangerously addictive and to demonstrate that, I’ve gotten the game’s Platinum trophy during my time reviewing it which took a good 50 hours to do by itself. I’ve seen all that New York and Spider-Man have to offer and this wasn’t because I had to, it’s because I wanted to. I can’t give much higher praise than that.
It’s the combination of everything the game is composed of. Each individual aspect is fleshed out and there’s an incredible amount of detail in everything you do or see. The excellent story, the frantic combat, the extremely likeable characters, the side-activities, the clever little puzzles that require your Spidey powers or Peter’s intelligence, swinging around New York as fast as you can, it’s all there and working like a well-oiled machine.
Marvel’s Spider-Man is the definitive Spider-Man experience and I say that without any hesitation. It’s the game that fans have been wanting and waited for to finally give the hero the justice that he deserves. I struggled to find much to critique the game on outside of some side-activities becoming monotonous after a while and the narrative lacking some true punch, but the result we have here is a superhero game that can stand against the other colossus in the genre with its head held high.
Marvel’s Spider-Man is a grand display of how to do a superhero game correctly. No rushed deadlines because the movie is releasing or just doing the bare minimum. This is a labour of love that respects its hero and also respects the player by making it one of the most fun experiences you can have. There’s no doubt in my mind that you should pick this up. Even if you don’t really like the character, this is still an incredible game in its own right. Now I’m excited to see what will happen next for the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.