Spider-Man enters us into the life of an experienced version of the superhero. Unlike his modern MCU counterpart, this Spider-Man has a couple of years of service under his belt. The story starts with a confrontation with Kingpin, one of Spider-Man’s most notable villains. His subsequent capture opens up the streets of New York City to a gaggle of new villains. Tons of popular Spider-Man villains get their time in the spotlight, and it’s all woven into an interesting if retreaded plot. The story takes you to some fun places, and often serves as a fan letter to fans of the web-slinger. Through its side content and main story, Spider-Man feels like a celebration of the character more than anything else.
It’s a good thing then, that Insomniac nailed the classic witty and one-liner style of our beloved neighborhood spider. The core of his character feels true to the source material; Peter Parker is just a young man trying to find his way through life. He’s vulnerable without his suit, but in a very human way. The game glorifies the character of Spider-Man, but it also respects and invests in the character of Peter Parker as well.
The greatest thing about Spider-Man and its movement mechanics are how intuitive and familiar they feel. Although there are modern features, the control scheme fits your instinct like a glove. The introductory sequence throws you head first into the action, and before the tutorial popped up, I was effortlessly swinging through the streets. I knew how to gain momentum, turn corners, and pick my paths without any guidance. If you’ve played Spider-Man games before, this is the kind of control you’ve been hoping for. There are some games where the controller just becomes an extension of your hand, barely processing the clicks and clacks of the sticks. This is one of those games.
Skyscraper Skating and Saving New York
Spider-Man takes place within a fictionalized version of New York City. The entire map is entirely accessible from the start of the game, but only becomes populated with activities as you progress through the main story. The map is also shrouded in a fog, which you can clear up by activating data towers on rooftops. For the most part, you’ll swing around the city and explore the handful of districts, uncovering the map and engaging in various missions. There’s always a main objective to follow, which leads you through the game’s critical narrative path. As you encounter new gameplay mechanics in the story, correlating side activities will populate the map. Most side activities are tied into the main narrative well. Several of them focus on specific villains and secondary characters, containing a small story of their own. The rewards for completing side missions are often well worth it, so you will definitely have compelled towards 100% completion.
Thankfully, these activities are always incredibly easy to locate among the many buildings of the city. By pressing in the right stick, you send out a wave of spider sense, which will display icons around you pointing out available missions and collectibles. These icons are brightly colored and distinguishable, making them easy to identify. There’s no need to stop swinging and check your map all the time, as this small mechanic works great. In many ways, it’s little touches like this that make Spider-Man so fun to play.
Fight Like a Spider Can
When Peter dons the spidey suit, he becomes a quick talking, witty jokester with a lot of strength. During combat, he’ll often spout off genuinely funny one-liners. These quips don’t feel too canned either; they’re appropriate to the situation and flow smoothly with the action. When engaging in combat in a game like Batman: Arkham City, you feel the power of the superhero, but not the emotion. Spider-Man delivers a similar combat style but with a definite sense of character. The controls and general combat mechanics feel directly inspired by Batman: Arkham City, but with a faster pace and flashier look.
Like Batman, Spider-Man has a ton of really cool gadgets to use. These include your standard webshooters and web grenades, but even neater stuff like Spider drones and trip mines. There’s a decent focus on stealth from time to time, but the game always let’s you succeed in the way you want. Whether through excessive use of gadgets and webs, your raw fists, or sneaky stealth, Spider-Man gives you plenty of combat options. This, combined with the eccentric and entertaining quips from Spider-Man make for a rewarding time. You feel cool pulling off awesome flips in the air and beating thugs senseless. It helps that Peter is underneath the mask the entire time, rooting along with you.
With Great Power Comes Great Upgrades
All of Spider-Man‘s content is wrapped into a very satisfying progression system that is one of the best I’ve seen. That’s not because it’s incredibly groundbreaking or intuitive. Its because it’s constantly rewards the player for trying new things and exploring the map. As Spider-Man completes missions and activities, he gains experience towards an overall level. Each new level earned gives you a point to use. You can spend these points in an easy to understand skill tree, split into three categories. This earns you passive bonuses, new moves, and generally makes Spider-Man more powerful. You can also upgrade gadgets you find by spending various tokens, which you earn by completing side activities. Some activities grant you more tokens depending on your performance, which adds some challenge.
The best progression system by far are the suits. As you reach new points in the story, complete full sets of side activities, and wrap up side mission, new suits become available to unlock. The suits are unlocked by spending the same tokens you spend on gadget upgrades. Each suit has its own associated super move, but you don’t have to wear the suit to equip it. There are a few dozen suits to unlock, and each one is absolutely fantastic. The available suits call to other Spider-Man universes (MCU, 2099, etc), while others are more obscure suits seen only in the comics. Each one has a decidedly unique personality, like the mohawk wearing rocker outfit “Spider-Punk”, to the silly sweater/sweatpants/bareknuckle getup “Wrestler Suit”. These suits are revealed and unlocked at a great pace, making it hard to decide which one you want to wear at a given time.
Some Tears in the Web
My main gripe with Spider-Man is its forced stealth sections. At least four or five sequences in the main story force you to play as different characters with no stealth combat options. With no way to eliminate guards (until much later), these sections barely qualify as quality. I’m not a huge fan of stealth, but when it is done properly, I can get behind it. Spider-Man‘s stealth missions feel contradictory to the rest of the experience. Spider-Man is a powerful, fast moving hero with plenty of stealth combat options. The overall gameplay feels quick and satisfying; the opposite rings true for the stealth missions. By removing your combat abilities and tossing you into these slow-moving sequences, the game essentially loses its momentum. Furthermore, only a few of these missions are truly necessary to the story. More often than not, these missions feel like filler that should have been cut.
The Bottom Line on Spider-Man
Overall, Spider-Man is a surprisingly fleshed out and emotional story, jam packed with great side content to further expand its world. The gameplay itself is satisfying and quick, and the addictive progression system is expertly tied into all facets of gameplay. Unlocking new suits, completing side missions, and generally exploring New York City hasn’t felt this good in years. Insomniac Games have not only created a great game, but have proven that licensed games can and should be great. There are only a few missteps along the way, but beyond my few gripes, Spider-Man is an excellent package. If you own a Playstation 4, I highly recommend you pick this one up. Regardless of your level of Spider-Man fandom, this game does a great job making the story easy to follow and impactful as well.