Out of the rich roster of historic comic book characters, very few reach the same level of recognition as Spider-Man.
The iconic blue and red suit, the creative power set, and who could forget the lovable nerdy personality of the man behind the mask, Peter Parker. All of these individual elements and more add up to create a character that’s both entertaining to watch but also serves a grander purpose of teaching its audience about responsibility and the heroism within us all. It’s hard enough to nail each of these elements in a single movie or a comic, but the talented team at Insomniac has managed to spin them all together into a beautiful web in their latest open-world PlayStation 4 exclusive title, Spider-Man.
Spider-Man PS4 thrusts players into the role of an older, more mature, Peter Parker, who has been web-slinging thugs and villains for over 8 years of his life. No need for an origin story or a recap, Insomniac has finely crafted its own unique Spider-Man universe and story that both new and old fans alike can quickly understand and enjoy at their own pace. While I would love to gush and highlight every spoiler possible I believed it best to keep this review completely spoiler free, no villain reveals that haven’t already been confirmed, no plot twists to ruin your day, just critical analysis.
The easiest way to describe the pace of Insomniac’s Spider-Man story is that it plays out like a classic 90’s graphic novel. Things start out simple enough with everyone’s favourite wall-crawler taking down corporate thugs and muggers on street patrols, but the game smartly ramps up the stakes by introducing new clues, hints, and reveals to a larger threat at work in the shadows and the world around the player evolves to match it. While I loved each new discovery and how it was executed, the player can see them coming from a mile away if they have even a basic knowledge of Spider-Man’s rogue’s gallery. The story as a whole felt safe and lacked a feeling of risk or originality, which was surprising to me when I considered the studio at the helm. Despite this criticism, I still loved every moment playing through the story mode of Spider-Man.
You can call it my inner fanboy coming out, but even though certain reveals and twists were predictable what Insomniac managed to perfect in the story of Spider-Man were its characters and how well they played off each other. Over the years there have been what feels like a hundred actors who have played the role of Spider-Man and each one has its own individual quirks and personality. Whether you prefer the performance of Tom Holland, Andrew Garfeild, Neil Patrick Harris or Christopher Daniel Barnes, I believe Yuri Lowenthall now stands as not only one of the best Spider-Man’s in history, but also as one of the best Peter Parker’s.
You can hear the passion in Lowenthall’s voice as he plays the character, and because of the level of that performance, the character players take control of feels so full of life, unlike in Spider-Man 2 and Web of Shadows. Peter is quick to throw quips when he becomes anxious, turns into an awkward mess when he talks to his ex, but the quality I loved the most was the confidence and passion put on display when Peter became invested in something other than just his dual life as Spider-Man. I could go on for multiple paragraphs covering every character and their rich interactions, but what I’m trying to get across is that these characters are not just carrying the story, but are at the heart of what makes every moment feel full of entertaining drama and suspense.
Another major component Insomniac have nailed with Spider-Man is its insanely addictive gameplay. At its most basic components Insomniac have taken the beloved web swinging of Spider-Man 2 and the free flow combat of Batman: Arkham Asylum and married them together to near perfection, with some personal touches added in-between. In my previous preview for Spider-Man I described how I adored the traversal and movement of the game because of its ability to deliver a powerful sense of speed and momentum, which still holds true with the final release. It’s more than just simply web swinging from building to building, it’s how players are able to rhythmically accelerate by letting go of their web at the peak height, launch themselves off perches by web zipping, and running off the walls of buildings to turn a quick corner. It all adds up to the best movement ever in a Spider-Man title because it feels intuitive to control within minutes of playtime.
After playing Middle Earth: Shadow of War I was sure I had grown sick of the tired and dulled Arkham Combat system, but Spider-Man managed to get me excited about it again. While the basics of attacks and counters remain much the same, the addition of air combat, the focus meter, useful gadgets and very aggressive enemy ai makes the combat feel both more challenging and rewarding than previous games that have adopted a similar system. Enemies don’t wait for their individual turn to pounce on Spider-Man, instead, they all love to attack at the same time to finish the player off as quickly as possible with punches, guns and even rocket launchers.
Players need to use Spider-Man’s strength, speed and gadgets in tandem to overcome the threat. Single out enemies by launching them into the air and performing an air combo, use your webs to slow foes down or stick them to walls, or even yank away their weapon and send it right back at them. Spider-Man’s abundant arsenal of gadgets, like the web shooters, impact webs and trip mines feel like a necessity to use in combat because they are effective methods of crowd control and are great at finishing off weakened thugs. While all of this action is taking place, players are building up the focus meter, which they can use to heal in the middle of a fight or deliver instant finishers to almost every enemy type. Spider-Man succeeds at making players feel just as powerful and robust as the character from the comics.
The only real weakness to the gameplay is its mediocre stealth and puzzle segments. Whether you’re playing as Spider-Man, or as someone else in the cast, the stealth sections of the game feel boring and dull in comparison to everything else in the package. Spider-Man’s gadgets can instantly pin foes to walls and the bounty of environmental hazards make quick work of unsuspecting enemies, while the other playable characters simply distract them with thrown objects. Unlike in Arkham’s predator sections, these enemies don’t react to what the player has done, outside of checking out a fallen comrade. They never pointed their guns upward at places I might be perched, they never radioed their friends to alert them of my presence, and they were too easy to manipulate and single out with a single web shot. If Insomniac were to work on a Spider-Man sequel this is the area I believe they need to rework the most.
The last piece of the puzzle to Spider-Man is its rich digital playground, better known as New York City. The most impressive technical feat of this world is the draw distance. There was never a moment of pop-in or textures filling in, the beautiful concrete jungle was seamless to navigate and packed with vivid detail even while running on my standard PS4. When not swinging from mission to mission, players can take part in various side activities littered around the cityscape. Many of them are the standard open world fare and can feel a bit tedious, like synching up to Oscorp towers for map info, finding backpacks, or snapping photos, but the rewards are well worth it.
Each side activity gives players a different token of currency that can be exchanged to purchase one of the 28 available suits in the game or upgrade Spidey’s gadgets to make them even more powerful. While my favourite suit may be missing in action I love the overall roster and how each suit has its own individual ultimate ability that can be used to change up the combat. However, what I loved even more, was that when players switched to a different suit it would actually show up in a majority of the cutscenes to add another layer of personalization to the experience.
I firmly believe Insomniac has crafted the best Spider-Man game to date. Whether you are a just a fan of the movies or a devout reader of the comics, Spider-Man is a console exclusive everyone who own as PlayStation 4 needs to experience. Its powerful cast of characters and addictive open-world gameplay have laid the groundwork for a wealth of expansions through DLC and sequels and I could not be more excited to see what this talented studio has in store for fellow true believers.