When I played Spider-Man for the first time at San Diego Comic Con this year, I walked away with questions that made me worry about the final product. I knew that they had nailed the swinging. Mere minutes with the game assured me of that. I knew that Yuri Lowenthal had nailed the snarky quips that Spider-Man is known for. I knew that I would be able to go almost anywhere in New York that I wanted, and tackle objectives as I saw fit. But other Spider-Man games before this have accomplished these without being very fun or memorable. What I did not know was if these unknown factors would be able to complete the package and make the final product live up to what everyone was hoping for.
Would the story be engrossing and engaging? Would Miles Morales and Mary Jane share the spotlight alongside Spider-Man? Will the combat be interesting?
The answer, which I arrived at well before eagerly completing nearly every task, mission, and side mission the game has to offer was a resounding yes.
Peter Parker’s relationships with his friends are pivotal in transforming a generic New York City into one that feels like the Marvel universe. We see him struggle with changing careers with being on time to his commitments. We watch as he attempts to reconcile things with Mary Jane, and see Peter help strangers in his community. Combat may make some “feel” like Spider-Man, though I would argue that all of Peter’s relationships with the main cast make me feel like I’m “with” him throughout everything. I found my main motivation to keep playing and completing every quest the game threw at me was just to build and explore character interactions and watch Peter become a greater Spider-Man as a result.
Miles Morales and Mary Jane are not only central to the game’s story, but playable as well. Although they cannot engage in combat, they are creatively implemented to explore sequences and gameplay that really wouldn’t make a ton of sense if I was in control of Spider-Man.
Perhaps drawing inspiration from the Batman Arkham series, Spider-Man has hacked into the city’s radios, and as a result can listen in on J. Jonah Jameson’s conspiracy theory show where he talks to his listeners and brings people on so that he can trash talk Spider-Man, which changes depending on where you are in the game. This sort of touch made the world much more engrossing, and gave me an idea of how the world at large was reacting to the events around me.
NYPD captain Yuri Watanabe is in constant communication with Spider-Man and the two’s banter together quickly made their dialogue moments some of my favorite in the game and showcased just how much care went into the voice-over for the game.
A sizable rogues gallery is also on display and features some of Spidey’s most famous villains along with a new one made for the game.
Combat is something that ended up being more than my initial hands-on led me to believe. Just as the game is free roaming, so too is the combat. You are only limited by your imagination as you punch, kick, web, launch enemies into the air, dodge rocket launchers and then send them flying back at enemies. The possibilities are seemingly endless but it’s never overwhelming nor does it ever come across as unbalanced. I never felt that I was at a disadvantage for running out of ammo for a specific web gadget or if I did not have a full focus meter to activate my suit’s special power. I was only ever limited by my imagination. As cliche as that may sound, I truly believe that Insomniac created a fine tuned system that other developers can learn from.
While there are many things that Insomniac has done right, there are a few annoyances. Though Spider-Man is an action game, many sequences require a puzzle to be solved in order to progress. The puzzles themselves aren’t difficult or boring, but there are only two kinds and we see them ad nauseam . The tediousness quickly became a negative and I hope that the upcoming DLC forgoes them altogether.
Another annoyance is stealth. Spider-Man is able to use high ground and distance to dispatch foes quietly with one button press. At any time I can see if my stealth take-down is “unsafe” and will alert enemies. However, once you clear everyone out, the game automatically triggers the next wave, who are already on alert and run straight for you. It’s strange that there’s little reward outside of fewer enemies to punch, and this made enemy hideouts a huge chore to clear out.
The game clocks in at just over 20 hours depending on how many extra missions you choose to accept and how quickly you can speed through everything. Overall the game feels short, but not to a fault.
Spider-Man is a triumph by developer Insomniac Games and unsurprisingly earned the accolade of being the fastest selling PlayStation 4 title of all time. While there are occasionally small annoyances, the game is an absolute joy to play regardless of how much you enjoy superheroes movies or comic book stories. The combat and narrative alone make it among the most polished titles in the vast PlayStation library. I eagerly await the upcoming DLC missions.