Developed by: Insomniac Games
Release Date: 9/11/2018
MSRP: $59.99 USD
Written by Rick Warren / gfn21
With his most recent appearance in the gaming world being the second of two weak movie tie-ins, it’s been far too long since Marvel’s most iconic character has been featured in a great game. From the moment Insomniac’s take on the web-slinger was revealed, however, it was clear that their mission was to change that. Every interview and every piece of information release made it clear that the studio knows what makes Spidey special, and that that they’re fans themselves. It’s no surprise, then, that a game made by fans for fans turned out to be so phenomenal. Insomniac’s Spider-Man nails every key feature, from the combat to the traversal to the characters. It’s visually stunning, a blast to play, and nails both the serious and comedic story moments. Whether you’re a hardcore Spidey fan, or someone just looking for a great game to play, Spider-Man is something you absolutely need to pick up.
For a full, spoiler-free review, read on.
Amazing Combat and Traversal
Insomniac wastes no time giving players control of the webhead, as a great opening cutscene perfectly transitions into the game’s phenomenal web-swinging. Without a doubt one of the best features of the game, every single movement the player can chain together looks exactly like something Spidey would do. More importantly, though, every web zip and wallrun feels like something Spidey would do.
Though players will be doing it constantly, swinging through the city never gets old, a true testament to how tight the mechanics are. Spidey can turn corners instantly with a simple, well-timed button press, a smart feature that allows players to keep the intoxicating level of speed going. There are even mechanics that don’t serve much of a purpose, like wall-climbing and slowly moving down webs, that are basically there for fan service. Insomniac didn’t need to give players access to every little trick in Spider-Man’s repertoire, but they did so anyway. Thankfully, that same level of love went into the game’s combat, as it’s just as deep as the game’s movement.
There’s a noticeable Arkham influence in the game’s fight mechanics, which is far from a bad thing. Dodging enemies and building combos is just as satisfying as it is in that series, and the animations are just as impressive. Perch and vent takedowns make stealth feel similar as well. Yet even though it borrows so much from Arkham, Spider-Man’s combat still feels unique due to the hero’s speed and skills. You can zip to enemies and close the distance quickly, and air combat makes for a fun change of pace. Webbing enemies to walls is always plenty of fun, something that becomes a common occurrence when using the numerous gadgets at your disposal.
The gadgets are a huge part of what makes Spider-Man’s combat stand out. While the Arkham series features a fair number of tools that add to the fight mechanics, they’re often used in only one way. In this game, though, it’s possible to get far more creative with Spidey’s gear. The trip mine is a great example of this. Using it in normal ways, like stealth takedowns and luring enemies into the mine during a fight, is certainly viable. However, sticking it to an enemy when he’s standing by a buddy and watching them get stuck together is infinitely more satisfying. With web bombs, drones, electric webs and more, combat can become as deep as players want it too.
In addition to Spidey’s tech and a basic upgrade tree, the game introduces suit abilities. Spider-Man features 28 unlockable suits spanning the character’s storied history, and Insomniac makes them more than just awesome cosmetic unlocks. Nearly every suit comes with a unique ability that players can mix and match whenever they see fit, and some of them are insanely cool. Spider-Man 2099’s suit lowers gravity, allowing him to glide like in the comics. Scarlet Spider makes digital copies of himself to trick enemies, and the Iron Spider suit features the iconic extra arms. There are boosts to damage, temporary invulnerability buffs, and an epic move called Web Blossom where Spidey will web up everything and everyone around him. Experimenting with all these tricks is what makes fighting in Spider-Man special, and it’s arguably the most refined combat system in a superhero game so far.
Next up, there’s the boss fights. The first half of the battles are spread evenly between the open world activities and the game’s opening and middle acts, while the rest are all seen in the story’s final chapters. Thankfully, the wait is worth it. All four of the fights in the last act are memorable and wildly different from the last, with the final battle being particularly stunning. That said, if these fights have one downside, it’s how easily they can be completed. Outside of the bosses, combat is often challenging and well-balanced. However, in the fights with Spidey’s main adversaries, it’s rare to feel threatened. The bosses simply don’t pack as much of a punch as they should, and in turn the danger level is far lower than it should be. The great design of each encounter keeps this from being a major issue, but it is still a bit disappointing how easy it is to take down the members of the Sinister Six.
It was easy to come into this game expecting stronger storytelling than the previous Spider-Man games, but the level of quality in this area completely exceeds expectations.
The game’s writing is stellar, perfectly capturing the lead hero and his supporting cast. Yuri Lowenthal’s performance as Spider-Man has set a new standard for how the character should sound and act, as he perfectly delivers comedic, emotional and even intimidating dialogue. William Salyers plays the game’s main villain, and he’s just as outstanding in his role as Yuri is as Spidey. Their clash is assisted by some perfect music from the game’s soundtrack, and with the same level of polish seen in the rest of the game, the final half hour of Spider-Man contains one of the strongest endings this generation.
Standing on the same level as Spider-Man and the game’s main antagonist, Mary Jane Watson has never been better. Laura Bailey shows her acting range with her portrayal or MJ, as she sounds nothing like her normal self but still nails the role. Every moment she shares with Peter is relatable and realistic, and Laura helps to make those quiet moments some of the highlights of the game. MJ’s playable sections are great as well, with the puzzle solving and stealth being just deep enough to be interesting without being overbearing. Seeing MJ make this kind of impact is a great change of pace from her usual role in Spidey’s world, and it’s going to be exciting to see more of her.
While these three characters may be the standouts, the entirety of the cast deserves attention. Yuri’s relationship with Spider-Man is great, with the running joke of Spider-Cop always bringing laughs. Though Miles is mainly used as setup for a sequel, that setup is well-written, and he sounds just like he should. Aunt May is as sweet and smart as can be, and Norman Osborn acts just as shady as you’d expect him to. From Silver Sable to Mr. Negative, the villains are all well-designed and their motivations are explained clearly. Every character does exactly what they need to do to make the story work, never overstaying their welcome or feeling underused.
Yet, as great as the main narrative is, perhaps the greatest achievement of Spider-Man’s storytelling is the attention to detail. Every line of open world dialogue was recorded twice, one version for when Spidey is standing still and another for when he’s moving. J. Jonah Jameson’s podcast comes on air often, critiquing Spidey’s activities in the world or in the story. Citizens will approach Spidey on the street for a high five or another type of interaction. The list goes on and on, but at the end of the day, it comes down to one thing: this game was a passion project for Insomniac, and that shows every time you start up the game.
Spectacular Side Activities
The gameplay and story are great, but what about the side activities? A crucial element to any Spider-Man game and making up half of the content, Insomniac had to get this part right. Like with everything else in the game, they did just that.
Whether it’s a hideout for the Inner Demons or for Wilson Fisk’s crew, the Base takedown missions are plenty of fun. Spidey’s goal is to survive against six waves of enemies, effectively clearing out the stronghold. While they’re standard open world fare like Outposts in Farcry or Bandit Camps in Horizon, it’s nice to have large enemy encounters like these to really test your skill. Another activity comes in the form of R&D stations where Peter spends some time helping Harry keep New York’s environment stable. There’s no combat to be found in these activities, with all the objectives being traversal-based instead.
The next non-combat activity is one that just had to be included: photography. Peter Parker may no longer work for the Daily Bugle, but that doesn’t stop him from taking pictures of all the awesome landmarks in the city. Surprisingly, this simple activity was a standout due to the ability to stop, take a picture mid-air, and continue swinging. Getting pictures of all the landmarks took no time at all, making it a lot more fun than the usual collectable. The other collectables, a set of 55 backpacks scattered throughout the city, were even better. Each told a story about Peter’s past and teased the existence of other characters in the game’s universe, a great way to let players in on the 8 years of Spider-Man’s life they haven’t seen.
There are also challenges to complete, an activity that works as both a side activity and a side mission. As players complete races and combat trials, Taskmaster will track their progress and eventually intervene for a fight. This happens a few times, and it’s a great reward for a completing the trials. There are other side missions as well, such as tracking Black Cat and helping one of Peter’s friends find his lost pigeons (which is another activity that is way more fun than it sounds). Some side missions are better than others, but they’re all enjoyable to an extent.
If there were one activity that could use some refinement, it’s the random crimes. Like in other open world games, stopping robberies and rescuing people from car crashes is fun... for a while. However, it doesn’t escape the trap of becoming repetitive, even if Insomniac is on the right track with combining some of the random crimes into one longer event. In a sequel, more variety would be nice to see, such as delivering injured people to the hospital or rescuing people from fires. The random crimes aren’t bad, but they’re plentiful enough to become the weak link in a great collection of open world distractions.
Finally, there’s Spider-Man’s unforgettable photo mode. Packed with filters, emotes, stickers and other goodies, there’s a tremendous amount of freedom for artistic players. It’s undoubtedly the best photo mode yet, not just because it’s filled with great features, but because it fits the game’s star character. Spider-Man taking selfies or posing on top of Avengers Tower makes sense, and picture-worthy moments never stop presenting themselves.
Insomniac’s Spider-Man is nearly flawless, and the game’s very minor shortcomings are negligible when looking at all its major strengths. Boss fights might be a tad bit easy, but the combat and traversal are so incredible that they’re still fun. Random crimes could use some more variety, but the other activities completely make up for that. The story is fantastic, with every character being perfectly designed, written and acted. The soundtrack is strong, and there’s no better photo mode on the market. There are over two dozen gorgeous suits to choose from, and they’re more than just fancy cosmetics. All of this comes together in a heavily detailed game world, and the result is one of the best iterations of Spider-Man ever created.
No other Spider-Man game even comes close to this one, and it’s arguably the biggest reason to own a PlayStation 4.
Fluid, Fun Combat and Awesome Suits +2.5
A Perfect Movement System +2
A Terrific Story +2
Solid Side Activities +1
A Great Soundtrack +1
The Ultimate Photo Mode +1
Cool Boss Battles... +.5
...that could be harder -.25
Random Crimes could use a bit more variety -.25
FINAL SCORE: 9.5