Ever since his friendly neighbourhood debut in Amazing Fantasy #15, Spider-Man quickly became one of the most iconic characters in comics. That popularity continues to this day in all forms of media from TV shows to books and even movies.
Yet, the Web Crawler hasn’t seemed to hit his stride in video games. While 2000’s Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, were fantastic games for their time, there were always aspects of these games that didn’t gel with me as a player. That all changed during my brief time with Insomniac’s soon to be released PlayStation 4 exclusive, Spider-Man.
Right from the beginning, the E3 2018 demo of Spider-Man perfectly set the tone for players by immediately throwing them into a web-swinging segment, introducing us to the smoothness and speed of the movement mechanics. I could get to wherever I needed to go just by casually swinging around from building to building, but the true joy that I experienced while exploring the concrete jungle of Marvel’s fictional New York was how I was able to build up momentum by jumping off at the end of the swing, web zipping at just the right time to turn a hard corner, and launching myself off the perches of rooftops. Compared to Spider-Man 2, Insomniac’s version of the open-world movement is much faster and has a unique rhythm to it, but it’s elevated even further when you feast your eyes on how Spider-Man smoothly reacts to each piece of the environment with a rich variety of acrobatic animations.
While it’s becoming increasingly more common for melee-oriented action titles to adopt the Batman: Arkham Asylum style of combat, Spider-Man adds its own spin on the formula to make it a more refreshing gameplay experience. At its most basic level, players will be able to defeat waves of goons by simply punching their way to victory and instinctually dodging away whenever the visual prompt for spider-sense appears. The next layer to the combat is Spider-Man’s variety of webs. Instantly zip to an enemy to continue a combo, web up a gun-wielding enemy until he’s immobile, or even introduce some faces to the welcome embrace of hard concrete by using a trip wire to knock them out. All the while, players can interact with the environmental hazards around them to get the drop on unsuspecting foes. The last piece of the pie is the focus meter. By building up combos and using gadgets in tandem, players build up the focus meter and can use it in a variety of ways, including instant takedowns, a special attack unique to each suit in the game, or when you’re in a pinch, even heal yourself mid-combat.
The final trial of the demo was to defeat everyone’s favourite punching bag, Shocker. Encased in an electric field, players had to combine both elements of movement and combat together to overcome the threat. Swing out of the way when spider-sense prompts his attack, aim his blasts toward the pillars to drop debris, and finally launch that debris at him before punching his tender mug black and blue. It was a simple boss battle, but an effective one that brought the two core gameplay systems together in an enjoyable way with plenty of cinematic segments in-between.
Insomniac is crafting the definitive web-slinging experience in their studio for every fan of Spider-Man to enjoy and this playable demo really sold me on their creative vision for the gameplay. Despite its mere 15-minute playtime, I made sure to work out my on-floor schedule to play the Spider-Man demo another two times after. I was just that obsessed with getting more hands-on time. Alas, even after a new seven-minute gameplay segment was showcased at Sony’s “artistic” presser, I’m still hungry for more story details and how Peter Parker’s latest journey will play out when it releases exclusively on PlayStation 4 on September 7.