As a game reviewer it's sometimes easy to get caught up in the hype cycle around AAA games. There's a momentum of opinion that forms around a game based on its E3 appearances, trailers, game convention demos, and a large numbers of previews based on snippets. As a reviewer it is up to you to find the real meat of the game and determine if the hype is justified or if the PR and marketing team is just doing an amazing job.
I came into Spider-Man a bit cold. I had seen the E3 trailers online but that was my only exposure to the game. I hadn't purposely gone dark, I just didn't have the time to track it closely. That worked out well in my favor as I was blown away as soon as I fired up the game.
It's rare that a game gets its hooks into you at the difficulty screen but that's exactly what Spider-Man did. When you start you are given three options of Friendly (easy), Amazing(medium), and Spectacular (hard). This might be the most on-brand difficulty selection since Doom. It's a small touch but it's something that will immediately draw players in and it shows you how loving Insomniac is with the Spider-Man brand.
Some light spoilers ahead
This isn't the Spider-Man from the current movie franchise, so if you are looking for Tom Holland or Marisa Tomei you are going to be disappointed. Peter Parker has graduated from college and left his job at the Daily Bugle to work as a research assistant to Otto Octavius. The two are pairing up to develop next generation prosthetic limbs which will make the lives of millions better. He broke up with Mary Jane Watson about six months ago but the two still keep in touch, especially since it helps with MJ's work at the Daily Bugle.
Speaking of the Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson has left the newspaper for a radio gig where he lambastes Spider-Man at every opportunity and blames every ill of the city on the webslinger. Aunt May is working the FEAST homeless Shelter which is run by the generous and mysterious Martin Li. Finally, the Kingpin (Wilson Fisk) is running the criminal underground with an iron fist, much to the chagrin of Major Norman Osbourne.
During the early stages you capture Kingpin and put him behind bars. This is normally a good thing but this is a comic book video game and things are never easy. Mr. Negative steps into the spotlight to take advantage of the power vacuum created by the Kingpin's arrest. He and his army of Demon's seem to have a personal vendetta against Norman Osborn and will resort to any means to take him down.
If you've ever followed the Spider-Man comic books, most of these names are familiar, even if the roles aren't. As the game progresses you know how the characters evolve and who they become. There are a few surprises here and there but the game largely follows Spider-Man canon to a T.
That's OK though as the writing in the game is phenomenal. The only one-dimensional characters in the game are the thugs on the street but all of the main characters grow throughout the game. Even the villains have fleshed-out backstories and reasons for what they are doing. The writing team at Insomniac deserves a lot of kudos as they managed to take well-known characters and give them a lot of depth. The dialogue is especially well done and it's delivered by a fantastic set of voiceover actors.
One of the most impressive things is that Insomniac really nailed what it's like to be Peter Parker/Spider-Man. You not only have to balance being the neighborhood superhero but you also have to be a boyfriend, nephew, and hold down a day job at the same time. Peter Parker isn't Tony Stark—he doesn't come from money and he still has to deal with the lower tiers of Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
Getting back to the nuts and bolts of the game, the campaign took me just under 26 hours to complete on the easiest difficulty level. That's with completing two sets of side missions and sampling most of the other activities. There's easily another five to 10 hours of side quests, missions, and other activities to complete to hit 100%. My favorite activity was collecting old backpacks that Spidey had left around the city. Each backpack contained a memento of a past adventure and it really helped forge a bond with the character. Sure some of them were a little cheesy but they resonated with me.
The pacing is near perfect as the game keeps the action at a constant level and then ratchets it up as you near the end. You do get some resting and quiet moments to explore and level up your skills but it's an even flow from start to finish.
All of these activities are spread out against a near perfect reconstruction of New York City. All of the city's major landmarks have been lovingly recreated. Also present are some major landmarks from the Marvel universe so you'll have the chance to swing by the Avengers Tower as well as the Sanctum Sanctorum. You'll want to explore the world and complete activities as doing so grants you the parts to craft gadgets, unlock suits, and suit abilities.
The rest of the city is a little on the generic side as the buildings are either towers of glass or squat brick buildings. There are certainly some technology and licensing limitations at work here but it's something I did notice. I'm not an expert on the architecture as my exposure to the "City That Never Sleeps" is largely confined to a few meeting rooms and airports. But it does feel like Insomniac has recreated the city perfectly.
The biggest question you should have around a Spider-Man game is how good is the web swinging. This is another area where Insomniac hit it out of the park. Traversing the city is a joy as you can swing just by using the R2 button. Click to swing and then hold it until you hit the peak of the swing, then release, and click again to fire off another web. It's natural and the system works well. Where Insomniac dialed it up a notch was making the initial launch exciting. To get a fast launch you need to find a perch, click the L2 and R2 buttons to launch yourself at the perch and then press X to get a web launch. This catapults you into the air and from there you can start swinging right away. It's exceedingly gratifying to go from a standing stop to swinging quickly through the city with just a few button pushes.
There's nothing like hitting the top of a in a swing and then falling towards the street and flicking out a web at the last minute and watching Spider-Man swing through traffic. It took me some time to really master the system and when to let go and launch, but once I did the satisfaction of moving through the city was amazing.
You do need to be cognizant of your surroundings, though, as swinging requires you to have something to swing from. Swinging through the city is much easier than swinging through Central Park as you can leverage the height of the buildings to build speed vs. having to attach to the much shorter trees in the park. Also if there isn't anything nearby to attach to you are either going to have to run or hop from point to point. The game does have a fast travel system if you want to skip the swinging, but I only used it a handful of times during my playthrough and only when I had to get all the way from one side of the city to the other.
The combat system is also impressive and puts you firmly into the webslinger's shoes. In addition to your fists and feet you have access to gadgets that you can use in combat. These range from your standard webshooters to electrified webs and even spider drones. The gadgets are well balanced and purpose built. If you are going against a mob of thugs you might want to use a web bomb to web them all up and then take them out individually.
Insomniac uses every button on the PS4 controller for combat so be prepared for some frustration until you get the hang of it. It took me a few hours to learn how to do everything but once you get the controls down combat becomes a lot more fun as you can pull off some amazing movies that really make you feel like the iconic hero.
As you progress you will level up and gain access to other Spider suits and suit powers. The suit designs are great and you get options like the Iron Spider suit from Avengers: Infinity War to the Noir Suit from the comic books. Unlocking a suit also unlocks a suit power but you can mix and match suits and powers once they are unlocked. All of the 31 suits in the game are unique and look great.
You will spend most of your time controlling Spider-Man, but there are portions where you control other members of the cast. I can't say much about these but they are mostly stealth missions. As someone who normally hates stealth missions I was pleasantly surprised at how well they were done. The failure loops were thankfully short. When you screwed up you're quickly put back to a safe place so you can try again. This is another aspect where Spider-Man shines as Insomniac was very forgiving at failing in any point. You won't lose large amounts of time.
This is good news, as even on easy mode there were areas I had to do over repeatedly until I got it right. This was mostly due to me being rusty with this genre of game, and the other part of it was not realizing exactly what I was supposed to do to get past an area.
Graphically the game is a stunner. I played on a PS4 Pro and it looked great. The game seemed to be pushing the PS4 Pro to its limits as the fans on the PS4 Pro could be heard during the heavier action. As I mentioned earlier, some of the buildings are a bit on the generic side but it's incredible to sit on the top of the Osborn Tower, have a view of the entire city, and then be able to get there without a single loading screen.
The photo mode will be available soon after this review will run but I was able to create some stunning pictures using the native sharing capability of the PS4. The game is going to generate some fantastic screens as all of the classic Spidey poses are in the game and it is a ton of fun to have him posing on the top of buildings with the city laid out behind him.
The score is great and well-suited to the action. There's a bit of music for when you are swinging around the city that just perfectly nails the mood. The rest of the score adds to the action on the screen and never seems to get in the way. As I mentioned earlier, the voice acting is great and they really nailed the voices, especially Peter Parker and Miles Morales.
I occasionally fought the camera but not nearly as much as I have in other third-person action games. There were also a few times where I felt like the video game stuff got in the way of the storytelling. Some of this was the use of quick time events in some sequences, and there were others where the reuse of some sequences pulled you out of the experience a bit. For example, when you intervene in a car chase you are going to go through the same set of QTEs and combat again and again. I almost feel that this is one area where you might have some addition by subtraction but it's a relatively minor gripe.
The game is also linear and there are no alternative paths or choices to make. Insomniac stays very true to the Spider-Man brand which means you know that he is always going to be the good guy and will always make the "right" decision. It may hurt him in the long run but Peter Parker always looks out for others. It's also important to know going in that this appears to be the foundation of a new franchise for Insomniac so not all of the loose ends will be tied up by the time the credits roll.
Spider-Man is one of the few games that lives up to the tremendous amount of hype around it. I was pulled in at the start and was engaged throughout. This is one of the best-written games I've played as Insomniac has managed to nail all of the big and small details of a Spider-Man game.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Hi, my name is Charles Husemann and I've been gaming for longer than I care to admit. For me it's always been about competing and a burning off stress. It started off simply enough with Choplifter and Lode Runner on the Apple //e, then it was the curse of Tank and Yars Revenge on the 2600. The addiction subsided somewhat until I went to college where dramatic decreases in my GPA could be traced to the release of X:Com and Doom. I was a Microsoft Xbox MVP from 2009 to 2014. I currently own stock in Microsoft, AMD, and nVidia.