Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Game played on: PS4
Release Date: September 7, 2018
Spider-Man has a long and overall fairly successful run in the video game medium. I’ve played my fair share of Spider-Man games all the way from the beat ’em up PS1 games to the widely acclaimed Spider-Man 2 for the PS2. That game was widely considered to be the best Spider-Man game ever. Until now that is, for a new challenger has emerged to claim the title.
Straight up, this is not only the best Spider-Man game, not only one of the best superhero games ever, but it’s one of the best games so far of this generation. Insomniac Games stepped up to the plate and delivered on all fronts. What the Arkham games did for Batman, this game has done for Spider-Man.
The player has never been this immersed into the life of Spider-Man before. The most important and present aspect of gameplay, web-slinging, is perfect here. There’s true momentum, it’s fast, requires good timing and genuine skill while never being too difficult, and most importantly: it’s fun. There are fast travel options in the game, but navigating the city is so fun that I usually didn’t take them. Truly skilled players will probably be able to free roam for hours without touching the ground. Combat is similarly challenging but fun. It takes clear inspiration from the Arkham games, with a mixture of stealth and brawling while also feeling like its own thing. In the Arkham games, disarming opponents with guns was a necessity to live, here you can dodge and dance around enemies on the ground and in the air, using your fists, web-shooters, and other gadgets you’ll get throughout the game. There’s also a Ubisoft open world game inspired upgrade system to improve your combat and web-slinging abilities. You can also upgrade various Spidey gadgets you’ll acquire as you play, but you’ll need more than just experience to do that. There’s a lot to experiment and have fun with. It was a little disappointing to see Insomniac added towers to the game, which reveal side activities and collectibles on the map. While thankfully climbing them is not necessary, you have to go through a tedious process of moving your joysticks into the right positions in order to get the right frequency and fix them. There was no reason to add them other than to give the player more work to do. I know some people will complain about the quick time events, but I’ll argue they work here. They never take up a majority of the gameplay, you always have ample time to complete them, and some of them won’t even penalize you with failure (the side mission ones). They also come in different styles, so tedium never becomes a problem. Their execution fits with the kinetic pace of the gameplay.
You won’t only play as Spider-Man, but also Mary Jane Watson and Miles Morales. Their gameplay segments consist entirely of stealth and hacking. Playing as them, while having flashes of entertainment, was not nearly as fun as being Spider-Man. The stealth is clumsy and too easy, due to the enemy AI being easily exploitable. Gameplay mechanics such as hacking enemy drones, distracting enemies, or tasering them are underutilized and shallow. They’re just not challenging or fun gameplay sections, except for one of them where you get to play with both Spider-Man and Mary Jane. Puzzles are included in all three character moments to break up the tedium, and will require some brainwork to solve. Due to them also giving the player extra experience and tokens for upgrading gadgets in some cases, these are welcome deviations from normal gameplay.
The game’s story is probably the best Spider-Man story in recent memory. He’s been subjected to a slew of bad writers and story arcs in the comics, becoming a shadow of his former self. Here, Insomniac actually progresses Peter Parker as a character in meaningful ways. He’s been Spider-Man for eight years in this continuity, is no longer with the Daily Bugle, and has a new list of responsibilities and problems to deal with. The events of the game test Parker physically and mentally as tries to balance his normal life with his superhero life. It has the atmosphere and pacing of a well written comic book storyline, where the stakes slowly build up to an emotional and exciting third act. Yet this is no lighthearted adventure, but one where Peter and his friends suffer from genuine tragedy. Even the villains have suffered loss, and are trying to rectify the wrongs they’ve endured. It’s a surprisingly somber affair, and it ends on an optimistic but bittersweet note. No spoilers, but the main villain of this game is now my favorite iteration of that character in any Spider-Man continuity. Their arc is extremely tragic, and I felt exactly what Peter was feeling as they were forced to bring them down.
There are a ton of side missions to do. Some involve collecting items for yourself or side characters, while others are more involved, such as tailing someone being blackmailed, or trying to find a fake Spider-Man who is fighting crimes on their own. There’s always something to do, and they’re a good way of getting experience and tokens to upgrade your gear and unlock new costumes with special powers. They just stay away from repetitiveness by giving you the chance to show off your abilities, and giving some info on Spidey and side characters’ pasts.
There are also some absolutely outstanding boss battles in this game, while others are on the okay side. The weakest one really doesn’t require anything other than reading his pattern and good reaction timing, but the best challenge every skill you have and everything you’ve learned.
The visuals and presentation are nothing short of phenomenal. Facial and body animations during gameplay and cutscenes are excellent. The transitions between the two is often seamless, never taking you out of the moment. Yuri Lowenthal sets a new benchmark for his vocal performance as Spider-Man, showing off exceptional range and reminding you why he’s one of the best voice actors in the business. The framerate is smooth and I didn’t have a single slowdown while playing. The cutscenes are as professional as scenes you’d see in a Marvel movie or high budget TV show. I did encounter one annoying bug where a character stopped speaking, forcing me to restart the level, but nothing else comes to mind.
A nice touch that many will be happy with is the ability to choose your own costume. Find the newest suit not to your liking? Just switch back to the classic one. As mentioned before, they have special abilities, but you can attach those abilities to any suit you choose. It’s just good that Insomniac lets the player have such an option.
Spider-Man is a fantastic game that anyone can enjoy. Even people who aren’t Spidey fans will find something to enjoy here. It may not be perfect, but I would absolutely jump at the chance of a sequel, which going by the end credits scenes, there will definitely be one. In the meantime, there will be DLC on the way as early as next month. Looking forward to it.