Marvel's Spider-Man Review: Simply Amazing
There's a well-worn cliche that shows up in most reviews of superhero video games: it claims that a certain game really "makes you feel like a superhero".
It's a crutch used to simplify the process of explaining how the physics, controls, camera angles, and atmosphere blend together to give the player a sense of power, speed, or control.
The issue is that nobody actually knows what it feels like to be Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, or any other superhero, so we as players don't have anything to compare that feeling to. Marvel's Spider-Man for the PS4 doesn't actually make you feel like Spider-Man.
Here's a list of things that Spider-Man for the PS4 does feel like:
- Jumping in an upward-bound elevator right as it's about to stop
- The moment on a roller-coaster where you crest a hill and are weightless before hurtling downwards
- Watching a new Marvel movie
- Trying not to wake your roommate up at 3:00 a.m. as you steal handfuls of the shredded cheese they were saving for breakfast quesadillas
- Playing a fighting game in practice mode
- A really good high five
The first question in a review of any Spider-Man game is this: does the swinging feel good?
In Spider-Man for the PS4, the answer is a resounding YES. The designers at Insomniac did a great job not just with the physics of web-slinging, but with the design as well. The wind whips past your ears differently based on whether you're zipping along rooftops, hurtling toward the ground, or running up a wall.
The visual effects change too, with the camera assuming a cinematic, high-action angle right behind Spidey's head during high-speed dives, complete with some of the best motion blur I've ever seen in a video game.
What this means is that even if the game had a sub-par story and combat, flying around Spider-Man's faithful depiction of New York City would be a joy in its own right. Since web-swinging is different based on the specific buildings and surfaces that you're swinging from, Manhattan becomes a playground, allowing you to breezily scale skyscrapers and skim across the lush landscape of Central Park without missing a beat. Each of the areas in the game offers distinct movement options, and it's all exhilarating.
The combat takes a bit of getting used to, but once you get to grips with it, it's insanely satisfying. You're not likely to find a lot of challenge here if you just want to cheese your way through the game, but for the more creative-minded players, the feeling of uppercutting a baddie into mid-air, webbing them up, swing-kicking them into a wall so hard they stick there, and then hurricanrana-ing a second baddie into the pavement is more than worth the added difficulty spike that comes from refusing to just mash square and triangle.
So, yes, Spider-Man's combat isn't technically all that deep since there's no real reason to dig into it that much, but the game's combat mechanics stack in a way that bears mentioning.
The game says "yes" to you at every turn with the combat. Want to stick a web trap to somebody, then lure another person over in order to stick them together before electrocuting them all? Go for it! Perhaps you're more comfortable sneaking around, hanging goons up light posts like horrifying pinatas? Why not?
As you level up, you'll also unlock abilities that further encourage experimentation, from increasing the potency of your web shooters, to impact webs that hurl enemies back, to the ability to swing huge enemies around like a wrecking ball. Again, none of this is necessary, but you're really missing out on a lot of the fun of the game if you don't take advantage of these tools.
The only drawback here is that the side missions don't really take advantage of the game's flawless design.
Race type missions aren't unlocked until you're most of the way through the game, and even then, they're not races so much as they are chases.
Combat missions don't really reward you for getting creative with your fighting, either. It's a bit perplexing since it really seems like the game is working against itself. Maybe this problem will be fixed with some DLC down the line, but for now, it is what it is.
Another baffling gameplay choice is the fact that, for whatever reason, Insomniac really wanted half the story missions to be stealth-focused. When news broke that the player would step into the roles of Mary Jane Watson as an investigative reporter and Miles Morales before he got his powers, I doubt most people thought that their segments of the game would simply be dollar-store Metal Gear Solid knockoff lure-the-guard-away-and-run-forward missions.
It's really disappointing, especially since it would have been an absolute slam dunk had Insomniac broken up the rhythm of the game with a few L.A. Noire-styled investigative missions starring Mary Jane.
It just seems like a huge missed opportunity, especially when you're giving these fan-favorite characters the spotlight.
Spider-Man won't win any awards for its story, and you'll likely see all of the twists and turns coming a mile away.
The bigger issue with the story, however, is that it seems somehow unstuck in time. The game tries to draw parallels between the New York Spider-Man calls home and our own, quipping about a "fascist" para-military force while at the same time spin-kicking drug dealers off of a building because the police tell him to.
It's just a bit... dissonant to have a rebellious vigilante like Spider-Man pretty much acting like a cop the whole game. Kinda ruins the fantasy.
Other than that, you'll get pretty much everything you want to out of the story. The big bads don't show up until very late in the game, but that can be forgiven since the first 80% is meticulously designed for you to kind of mess around in the city finding collectibles and completing challenges.
This odd pacing may be a dealbreaker for some, but personally, I had so much fun blasting around Manhattan that I didn't mind.
The one aspect that brings everything together in Spider-Man is the visual and auditory design. If you've seen any of the Avengers movies, you'll be blown away by how reminiscent this game is of them, from the camera angles, to the gratuitous use of slow motion, to the orchestral score that swells and ebbs with the on-screen action.
The game doesn't skimp on collectibles either. From backpacks that each carry easter eggs that will be familiar to fans of the comic books, to secret graffiti featuring Spider-Man characters, to literal pigeons you have to chase down, scouring the map for all of these little goodies is a whole lot of fun.
Oh, and speaking of graffiti, the street art in this game really does bear mentioning. There are hundreds of murals in Spider-Man's Manhattan, with varying art styles and subjects. It seems like such a small detail, but the fact that the street art is vibrant and not just a slapdash copy and paste job really makes the city feel so much more alive and lived in.
These are the factors that suck you into a game, that cause you to put down the controller, look at the clock, and realize that you were supposed to meet your best friend for dinner three hours ago... yesterday.
All told, this game really is a masterpiece, one of the few games you'll want to complete 100% even if that's the kind of thing you hate doing.
It's the best Spider-Man game ever made (yes, it's better than Spider-Man 2), and despite some head-scratching flaws, possibly the best superhero game ever made.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have three more pigeons to catch, four more Taskmaster challenges to complete, four more landmarks to photograph, and 11 more backpacks to find.