Insomniac Games’ collaboration with Sony Entertainment, and of course Marvel Studios, has translated the latter company’s silver screen success into glorious gaming goodness. Playing as a more mature and experienced Peter Parker than we’ve seen in the MCU, we face-off against an impressive roster of familiar foes, over the course of an emotional original storyline.
The game incorporates all of the themes you’d expect from the friendly neighbourhood Spiderman experience: a chaotic balance between personal life and public responsibility; a fraught relationship with love-interest, MJ; and web-slinging on an epic scale.
Much like an arachnid’s web, Spiderman’s narrative is structurally very impressive; deftly weaving several strands together to form a cohesive whole. Beginning as Otto Octavius’ lab assistant, the plot centres around Peter’s attempts to save his mentor from fiscal and physiological ruin, whilst battling the demonic threat literally plaguing the City.
In-game collectibles, in the form of Peter’s old backpacks (which he has rather negligently left strewn around New York City), are expertly utilised as a means of showing players the stage Spidey’s career is at. Each one contains a memento from his past, whether it be a dog-eared piece of fan art, or the remnants of an old gadget prototype.
Combat is strongly reminiscent of Rocksteady’s Batman, and involves players artfully dodging around the screen, building their combo meters to achieve climactic takedowns, and utilising state of the art gadgets to gain an edge. The similarities spill over into the list of enemies, too: with stun-baton and shield-wielding foes needing to be disarmed, or tackled differently than run-of-the-mill goons. The fact that it’s all very derivative doesn’t make it any less fun, though.
In terms of upgrades, a fairly simplistic skill tree is supplemented by gadgets aplenty and a wardrobe chock full of suits to unlock (each with a unique special ability). By way of currency, the game uses tokens which are accumulated through participating in challenges and research assignments across the City, or through tackling crimes as and when they arise.
When it comes to getting from Point A to Point B, the traversal mechanics on show here are second to none. Insomniac is the studio responsible for Sunset Overdrive, and so a certain finesse was assumed going in, but Peter Parker’s Parkour raises the bar. The Batman comparison rears its head again in this domain – given wor Bruce’s love for the ol’ grappling hook – but the mechanics feel all the more satisfying here, perhaps because we’re flitting through a vibrant metropolis, rather than the somewhat dingy Gotham.
Visually, Spiderman is absolutely fantastic on all accounts (though you’ve probably seen the horrors that are the ‘boat people‘ doing the rounds); from the painstaking attention to detail within New York City, to the exquisitely designed character models – particularly the super villains – and the ludicrously crisp UI, Spiderman is a sight for sore eyes.
The voice acting is suberb, too – not only does Spidey make his characteristic quips whilst he’s slapping the bad guys silly, he sporadically takes on the persona of that lovable rogue ‘Spidercop’, much to the disgust of Captain Watanabe – his confidant within the NYPD (essentially Jim Gordon’s opposite number). The product of stellar writing, these skits add levity and warmth to an otherwise harrowing story, which is something that has always been done well in the MCU.
Equally amusing, though notably less warm, are the dulcet tones of J. Jonah Jameson which will, from time to time, interrupt your web-slinging. In the games’ re-imagining of Jameson, he’s the host of his own podcast / talk show, which he uses as a platform to spew his vitriolic opinions of Spiderman, and to lambaste those who dare to defend his honour. It’s one of many subtle ways in which core themes from the Spideyverse have been woven into the game to add extra dimensions.
While we’re on about vocals, it would be rude not to talk about the soundtrack. As if the whopping great Avengers Tower weren’t enough, the triumphant musical scores here will leave you in no doubt that you’re in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. One of the best things about the game is the way it employs all of the best Marvel staples – there’s even a Stan Lee cameo, and after-credits scenes!
It’s hard to pick faults with Spiderman, but in a game this polished one has to try. The most obvious criticism is that elements of the gameplay is very derivative: there’s an eclectic range of suits in Spidey’s closet, and given his fighting style, his penchant for gadgets, and his forays into stealthy-sleuthdom, you’d be forgiven for expecting to find a Batsuit in there. We don’t feel that the striking mechanical similarities really detract from Spiderman, as all all of the other elements are so well executed that it all fits Spiderman perfectly.
The Mary Jane sequences were some of our least favourite, and felt a little contrived at times, but by and large they did add to the plot. The fraught relationship theme – that old ‘will they, won’t they’ trope – chugged along throughout, and was more than a little wearing at times. We’d certainly have preferred more Miles segments in place of this – though we suspect we’ll be seeing a whole lot more of him in future.
A final quibble lies with the facial animations during some of the cutscenes. As we’ve said above, the game is visually fantastic, and it’s therefore very hard to put a finger on the precise problem here, but it did feel like there was something off at times. Whilst the character models always looked outstanding, from time to time they seemed a little wooden and lifeless – though, given that they are essentially lines of code dancing across a screen, this is perhaps forgivable.
One of Spiderman’s greatest strengths is that it is just so easy to play – in the sense that you can just pick up the controller, start swinging, and pick up objectives along the way. You never have to think ‘what was I supposed to be doing again?’, because transitions between the storyline, free-roaming gameplay, and narrative-enhancing challenges are seamless. Spiderman is up there with the best of them, and – certainly in the realm of Superhero games – comes as a shining example of how the genre should be handled.
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