Videogames based on superheroes have been going through a renaissance since Rocksteady did justice to Batman with its Arkham series.
When Sony announced the Marvel’s Spider-man at E3 2016, comic book and videogame geeks have been hoping that this would be the next great comicbook videogame.
Sony and Insomniac Games have tag-teamed for the most definitive Spiderman game yet. The folks behind the game clearly love the material. Instead of basing the story on an existing comic book arc, they chose to create an original narrative just for the game.
In the game are origin stories, but not Spider-man’s. We find Peter Parker at age 23. He’s not with the Daily Bugle anymore but rather, a genius (but broke) gadget genius.
Aunt May is now a social worker, who is on his case to get back together with Mary Jane Parker.
Exclusive to the PlayStation 4, this game is a love letter to Spider-man fans as Insomniac really nailed the web crawler’s trademark groan-inducing wisecracks, banter with other characters, and his humor right. There are throwbacks to Peter Parker’s career as your friendly neighborhood superhero scattered all throughout the game.
Spider-man’s New York City is a bustling world. There are pedestrians, traffic, and crime happening all around. While the whole city opens up early in the game, you have to go around fixing Oscorp police towers to really find things to do much like the viewpoints in Assassin’s Creed. Though the game does not have an active day-night cycle, events in the story trigger the change from day to dusk to night to dawn. Zipping through the neon lights of Times Square is a sight to behold.
Thwup-thwupping around this version of New York City is exhilarating. It’s like turning traversal into an extreme sport where your spider athlete somersaults, tumbles, and corkscrews through the air. The city below is alive and yet you don’t get to see much of it because you spend most of your time swinging up in the air from building to building.
While you can casually get around in the city, mastery of the movement system will be needed for some of the later side missions. The missions can be brutal as they need pinpoint accuracy when moving around the city.
It gets more immersive as the game has its own social media feed that tweets actual events that just happened in the story. J. Jonah Jameson, Peter Parker’s ex-boss at the Daily Bugle turned conspiracy theorist, regularly pops up with his histrionic rants.
There is just so much to do! And the optional activities reveal themselves way past the 40% mark. On the way to a story progression mission, a call may come in for crimes, what amounts to the games random encounters, or a landmark photo op, or a side mission. As with other open-world games, be prepared to sink a lot of time into this. Insomniac says that it can take about 20 hours for a complete playthrough for just the story missions alone.
Exploration for collectibles is not only encouraged, it is required as the collectibles are needed to buy new suits and upgrade gadgets. Finding Peter Parker’s old backpacks of memorabilia, fighting crime, doing chemistry and electronics experiments/mini-games are crucial to upgrading skills and equipment including alternative spider suits and mods.
Of these upgrade token collecting activities, photographing landmarks is, in my opinion, the most fun. For movie fans, you get to visit New York’s Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, the Guggenheim, among others. I haven’t compared the locations in the game to actual locations in New York City. It seems to be an accurate model with the added bonus of Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and Netflix Marvel location Easter eggs like the Avengers Tower, Jessica Jones Alias Investigations, the Embassy of Wakanda, and Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum. The Day One patch includes a photo mode which can take selfies of Spidey in front of the landmarks.
The combat system is a joy to play. It’s already obvious that you cannot get away with randomly button mashing. While not as visceral as the combat in Rocksteady’s Arkham series, the added strategic value of Spider-man’s mobility can make the sequences quite chaotic, particularly when melee, armored, and weapon carriers attack at the same time. While the combat controls are pretty easy to learn, it takes some thought into choreographing moves to clear a stage without a hit.
When done right, it’s like watching and playing a kung fu movie -- with webwork and all. There’s a Jackie Chan aspect to combat that Spidey can use mailboxes, manhole covers, bags of cement and to sling at enemies. This makes the combat really organic, and when done right, flowy and almost balletic. While you get gadgets and suits with different abilities, the difficulty does increase. The random encounters in the last act is all but impossible to get through without any equipment upgrades.
What might have made combat better is adding some intelligence to the game’s camera angles as Spidey can usually hit characters on screen. You’ll find yourself throwing things at nothing as an enemy who was onscreen a second ago just disappeared. It takes some getting used to making sure enemies are always onscreen while scooting around at full speed. It’s also very easy to unintentionally zip out of the current combat location because of Spiderman’s extreme mobility. Mastering Spidey’s movement is a must as some of the side stories and optional missions for collectibles need pinpoint accuracy when moving through the city.
What Marvel’s Spider-man brings to the open world genre is a great story. While all the superhero tropes are there, the game does tie everything into a great narrative with some truly poignant subplots.
While the constant action, and some of the most breath-taking boss battle set pieces took my breath away (or made me want to hurl my controller at the screen), some of the nicest parts of the game are when Peter Parker takes off his mask to tell his story. The human side of the hero is nicely showcased in the game’s quiet moments which are a nice break from all the explosions and combat sequences.
The game does run like an MCU movie complete with the expected cameos and the mid- and post- credit sequences that hint of a sequel to come. The “City That Never Sleeps” series of downloadable content starts with the Black Cat-centric “The Heist” that’s scheduled for release in late October.
While there are bits and pieces from other open-world games, Marvel Spider-man ties all of elements into a game uniquely its own.
If you ever dreamed of being Spider-man, or geeked out over Marvel superheroes, this game is an immersive trip into their world. Marvel’s Spider-man weaves a compelling web of intelligent button-mashing action, and a grand romp through the Spidey-verse. It will delight any player who’s into the open-world genre, but will have much more to offer for fans of the Marvel comic books, and the MCU.
Marvel’s Spider-man is now available at your favorite game retailers. The standard edition’s SRP is P2,799.