Did you know that Spiderman has been appearing in video games for nearly forty years? That’s right, everyone’s favourite arachnid made his first blocky appearance in 1980 on the Atari 2600; almost four decades later we have a 4K realisation with this month’s release of Marvel’s Spiderman on PS4. It’s hard not to compare Spiderman’s latest outing to Activision’s well-remembered game from 2000 or Rocksteady’s multi-award winning Batman: Arkham series. After all, both games are pretty much the benchmark that all superhero games are measured against. The big question is, well does Insomniac Games’ interpretation stack up?
Marvel’s Spiderman main story begins with the capture and arrest of Wilson Fisk – AKA The Kingpin – and the ensuing aftermath as a few insidious characters cause chaos in The City That Never Sleeps; obviously it’s up to Spiderman to defeat the villains, including a motley crew of well-known Spidey adversaries that make up the game’s version of The Sinister Six, and ultimately save the citizens of New York from a fate worse than death. This iteration is also the first to show the struggles Spidey faces as he juggles a dual life as Peter Parker and the welfare of his nearest and dearest including Aunt May and MJ Watson.
Spiderman’s opening chapter acts as the obligatory tutorial to the game’s mechanics. The opening hour or so of gameplay gives one ample opportunity to become accustomed to each, as I soon found myself zipping over, around and between Manhattan’s many skyscrapers and high rise buildings with ease. Spidey’s transitions between wall running, web-slinging and free-falling are super smooth, giving you a real sense of fluidity to his movements; more so as this is a more experienced Spiderman, one who has been New York’s guardian angel for a few years and has honed his skills during his time under the mask.
Melee combat has the same feeling of fluidity as web-slinging, with Spidey often pitted against multiple opponents; from the game’s first few encounters there’s something incredibly natural in the way Spiderman moves, with combat increasing in difficulty as the game progresses. Once I’d built up some experience I found I was able to despatch dozens of bad guys with a series of moves including mid-air combos, web-shooter and environmental attacks, each of which seamlessly blends into the action. Anyone that’s played any of the Arkham series will instantly feel at home with the control system during these fight sequences.
Aside from the main story, Manhattan is chocked full of side quests: enemy bases, street crimes and research stations (installed by Peter’s old friend Harry Osborn) to name but a few; though they can all essentially be categorised into combat, stealth and follow missions. A few more familiar faces from Spiderman’s rogues’ gallery pop up along the way, giving further missions to complete. I found that the side quests helped to bolster the main story no end and at no times do any of them feel like a chore to complete. Completing these mission yield reward points, which can be used to improve Spidey’s skill set in terms of movement, combat and web-gadgets.
One of the big worries I had prior to release was that the game would be a QTE fest, as the helicopter chase sequence seen in 2017’s E3 trailer had a s**t tonne of them. Having played through just over ninety percent of the main story I can confirm that these sequences are few and far between; in fact, I can only think of a handful of other instances of the top of my head. Also, as briefly hinted at in the PSX trailer, there are (albeit brief) sequences where the player takes control of MJ Watson and Miles Morales.
It goes without saying that Spiderman is one of the most graphically impressive games of this console generation; Manhattan looks gorgeous whether bathed in the early morning sun or illuminated by the city’s many lights during the night. The main characters and NPCs are well realised and animated for the most part. That said, there’s a noticeable difference in the animation quality in some of the cutscenes as whilst they are high quality, there’s an obvious transition back into the in-game engine; I found this a little jarring as Arkham Knight, a game that was released three years ago, was able to overcome this same issue. I also found that some of the NPCs during the side missions had a tendency to freeze or would do their best ventriloquist impression, blurting out their lines without moving their mouths.
Whilst we’re on the subject of dialogue, Spiderman’s voice acting is superb. Yuri Lowenthal’s interpretation on Spidey/Peter Parker is eerily reminiscent of the nineties cartoon, whilst veteran voiceover actor Laura Bailey gives another solid performance as MJ Watson. The rest of the main cast do equally well, including Darin De Paul’s turn as J. Jonah Jameson who pops up via a radio/podcast whilst in free-roam, who spouts his patented anti-webhead vitriol at every turn; there is an option to switch off his rants in the in-game pause menu, but I found they were well worth leaving on as his broadcasts become increasingly funny as he attempts to skew in-game events to suit his own agenda.
Despite not being directly linked to the MCU, Marvel’s Spiderman is crammed with Easter eggs from other Marvel characters as well as non-superhero franchise movies (try looking for a famous spooky firehouse) so it’s well worth checking things out at street level that might otherwise be missed if you were to spend your time web-slinging across the skyline. Even as a casual Marvel fan (and in true Steve Rogers style) I still got all of the references.
In terms of length of gameplay, you’re likely to get about twenty hours’ worth out of the main story, with another ten hours or so from all the side missions. Insomniac Games have already announced a season pass with additional story packs and a new game plus mode, so there’s plenty on the horizon if (like me) you whizz through all there is to do.
Rounding back to the question I ask at the top of the review, how does Marvel’s Spiderman fare when compared to great superhero games of the past? Well, pretty damn well – the game is everything I want from a superhero game: an engaging plot with plenty to do should you wish to take a break from the main story built, all around an incredibly intuitive control system; Marvel’s Spiderman is the genre’s new standard-bearer.