Marvel’s Spider-Man review: The superhero game to beat
An inescapable web of fun and addiction.
You know what? Let's leap past the traditional review intro, with a bit of Peter parkour, and swing into the verdict early. This, my friend, is an amazing Spider-Man game. Hell, I'd go so far as to call it spectacular.
Marvel's Spider-Man on PlayStation 4 thwipped me into a frenzy very early on and I found myself forgoing sleep on my first run through. Clearly, it's an Insomniac game by both name and by nature. It's also one of – if not the – best open-world superhero titles I've ever played in my 30 years of gaming.
And believe you me, I've suited up for all the greats. Superhero games may be in relatively short supply nowadays, but the 80s, 90s and Noughties were chockers with them. When pulling on some parenthood-jeopardising lycra in this game I just knew I'd be subconsciously weighing it against a few genre gems from the past. Spider-Man 2, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, The Punisher and Saints Row IV ought to be spider-common-sense comparisons for any critic. Not to mention franchises like Prototype, Infamous, and the current king of the genre, Batman Arkham.
How does the spider stand up to the bat? At minimum, Marvel's Spider-Man matches the best efforts of Rocksteady Studios (which, in my humble opinion was Arkham City) and while it's extremely obvious that one has inspiration from the other they're quite different experiences in terms of tone and gameplay.
In the Arkham series, you go full DC Comics – you're the stoic, no-nonsense Batman, a martial arts exponent man-tank who can hold his ground and counter whatever attack comes his way. Conversely, Spidey has awful luck, is all about his quips, thwips and hyperactively zipping about the battlefield. If you try to hammer out combos on even ground with large mobs of the... mob you're gonna be Splatter-Man in no time.
You'll quickly learn that combat is a game of distance in this incredibly gratifying ballet of violence. What we have here is gravity-defying wire-fu where you're encouraged to send enemies flying back to isolate them for uninterrupted pummellings, or you might deftly shift them upwards with a launcher, one by one, to give yourself a second of breathing space. Like Arkham, incoming hits and bullets are telegraphed with a warning halo and can be avoided. Unlike Arkham, that's just a dodge to safety, not a counter-hit that will feed into your combo chain.
A smart, veteran Spidey player will never need to risk their chain by evading an enemy's punch
A smart, veteran Spidey player will never need to risk their chain by evading an enemy's punch. Once one isolated goon has been dealt you should have already figured out a new way to divide and conquer the remaining collective, possibly by web-yanking in a new victim (either upwards, or across the room). Or you can grapple hook zip to an outlier opponent on the fringe.
Alternatively, you can wade into the throng with one-hit execution moves after you've staggering everybody with a big ground pound, a weaponised environmental object or a hip-fired web gadget. Building up a three-tier focus meter is imperative and you'll need to make split decisions on how to spend it: should you refill a small chunk of your health or keep saving for a one-hit kill move?
Onslaughts of 86-hit combos are the norm by game's end and the lure of satisfying a list of random combat goals was an addictive risk-reward factor that got me killed more than once.
The fisticuffs constantly evolve, too, and never once got stale for me. This is because Insomniac's universe centres on a Peter Parker who has already earned his spider stripes – you'll hit the ground (and walls) running. From chapter 1 you have a very robust moveset, plus there's a large skill tree full of powerful perks, an ever-expanding cache of eight upgradable web gadgets, not to mention a suit power system that offers you great power, zero responsibility and a buttload of fan-service, too.
Most of these 20+ suits will become yours through simply playing through the main quest. It feels like each new level up and wardrobe change comes a unique new suit power and you'll probably unlock a suit perk, too (there are 23 of those total and you can equip three at a time). In terms of spider chic, Insomniac offers a decent mix of comic-inspired spandex along with some really fetching original designs.
I felt that same magical, child-like glee with Marvel's Spider-Man.
Better yet, these are all effectively cosmetic – your preferred power and triple mods from one suit can be applied to any other suit. You can zip through Manhattan looking like a futuristic cyber-ninja from 2099, or a shitty cosplayer wearing something from the hobo spidey spring collection. 100% completionists can also earn the chance feel the wind on their arach-nads by stripping Spidey down to his underoos. I put the work in and unlocked this on Spectacular difficulty. Totally worth it.
Speaking of tingling sensations below the equator, the traversal system in Marvel's Spider-Man – the sheer joy of movement it offers through web-slinging from point A to point B – is pretty orgasmic. I've played every Spidey game that has ever been, from Atari 2600 right up to 2014's The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and the last game that truly blew my mind in regards to web-slinging was Treyarch's Spider-Man 2 in 2004. Zipping about in that game felt authentic and resulted in free-wheeling fun. You never forgot the first time you played it. I felt that same magical, child-like glee with Marvel's Spider-Man.
It never gets old and is both easy to pick up but difficult to master. Long lazy swings and free-running up, over and across buildings can be achieved by tapping X occasionally and holding R2. Divebombing and threading the needle through blocks of taxis in traffic jams is a phenomenal feeling, as is nailing the lateral zips and hotspot vaults which are imperative to beating speed challenges. You can even hotdog with tricks and near misses to snatch a bit of extra XP. Honestly, I can't think of a sandbox game that has movement that feels more empowering or looks as stylish as this.
Speaking of looks, this is another visual triumph for the PS4. Admittedly, the playspace feels more modestly sized -- it's just the island of Manhattan, which is an area closer to the footprint of Watch Dogs 2's San Fran than the sprawling mega sandboxes of GTA V and Ghost Recon Wildlands. Try to hot foot it off one of the bridges or out of the Lincoln tunnel and you'll be turned back. You can't even swim to Lady Liberty. Kurt Russell had an easier time escaping from New York.
What it lacks for square kilometres, this open-world more than makes up for with astonishing fidelity and attention to detail. Whisk down to street level and this feels like a congested NYC street. Pedestrians either get stoked to see you or pour you a tall glass of Big Apple side-eye. Some even come up for a bunch of interactions. Amusingly, if you ignore the petty crimes that befall them your dickishness will soon become hate fuel in a contextual Jonah Jameson podcast that filters in over your comms.
On the topic of missions, I'm deliberately steering clear of any and all footage and spoilers to ensure you get the full experience. What I will say is this: I speed ran the main thread in 10ish hours (100% clear took about 14 more) and that'll take longer if you're not good at puzzles because Parker engages in a fair amount of science and/or forensic investigations. If you've ever played Pipe Dream or were good at hacking vending machines in BioShock, you'll be just fine.
Honestly, TV salesmen could run this game in-store and sell 4K TVs like hotcakes
All told, I thought the journey was great but it didn't rise to Naughty Dog levels of storytelling and performance. That said, Yuri Lowenthal puts in a solid performance as the plucky yet unlucky smart ass that is Peter Parker and he's well supported by a host of legacy spider-verse characters who have been reconfigured in really interesting ways. You'll also face no fewer than 10 iconic super-villains in very memorable and well-constructed boss battles which, sadly, are slightly marred by climaxes tied to insultingly easy quicktime events.
There were a few other iffy moments I noticed whilst playing, too – minor stuff that I'll mention here just case they don't get patched. At the time of writing this game has the odd ragdoll weirdness of enemies and objects getting trapped in geometry. Also, secondary mission givers can start their conversations as ventriloquists every once in a while (read: zero lip sync). That's blue moon stuff, though. I imagine those bugs will be squelched in the day one patch that is bringing in a photo mode, a tougher Ultimate difficulty and a New Game + option.
Will I play that? Just try and stop me. Marvel's Spider-Man is just an incredibly fun game to play and I'll take any opportunity to return to it – even though I've already pocketed the Platinum. Honestly, TV salesmen could run this game in-store and sell 4K TVs like hotcakes, the combat never, ever gets old, and it's the most fun you can have swinging this side of a spouse-swapping orgy.
We reviewed Marvel's Spider-Man on PlayStation 4 with a copy provided by the publisher.
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