Review

Review: Spider-Man (PS4)

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Is the latest Spider-Man game amazing?

At a Glance – 9.5/10

Spider-Man is one of the biggest superheroes out there right now, and it isn’t hard to see the appeal. Insomniac capitalizes on that with an experience that perfectly captures the essence of the web-slinger, by developing an intuitive, deep, and satisfying web-slinging and combat syste. The narrative is also a really good Spider-Man tale–up there with some of the best–and they use the expectations of the series to both reward and surprise long-time fans. There are minor missteps with insta-fail missions using Mary Jane and Miles Morales along the way, but even these stealth missions are relatively fun to play and never outstay their welcome.

If you love the titular hero then you already own this game, however, if you are on the fence know that this is not just the best Spider-Man game ever made, but perhaps the best superhero game ever made. If you love games, you owe it to yourself to play this one. You won’t be disappointed.

In a word? Yes.

You want more than just one word? Alright, I suppose I shall endeavor to write a few more.

Spider-Man is my favorite superhero. When I was younger I went through that phase where I thought the far more edgy Wolverine was the best, but that was mostly perpetuated by my angsty teenage and early adult years. Once I grew beyond that though, I realized that the agile webslinger, with his clever fighting banter, was easily my favorite.

When you go to make a Spider-Man game there is a unique challenge you have to succeed at: swinging through New York like it is your very own friendly neighborhood. Succeed at this task and you pretty much instantly have a good game, because that experience alone encapsulates so much about what makes the hero cool. Fail at it, however, and you have a game that becomes nearly un-redeemable instantly. It is a tightrope to walk with little room for error, and the risk and reward are equally great.

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The good news true believers is that this is the best version of web slinging you’ve ever seen, and it is remarkably intuitive to boot. Holding down your R2 button is really all you need to master at first, and Spidey will shoot webs out that attach to the nearest structure available. If you never wanted to go deeper than that you could likely make it through a good portion of the game simply doing the necessary swinging to get from place to place. The traversal becomes sheer joy though when you start adding in jumps at the apex of your swing, slinging yourself across three streets of traffic at a time. With another button press you can hurtle towards the ground a dizzying speeds, only to web sling at the last instant which throws you higher into the air. Another set of buttons zips you to another location, and it is always abundantly clear where that location is; upon reaching it you can press the jump button again to rocket yourself off that point and speed on your way.

All of this is done so seamlessly it is a true joy to watch, and even more fun to play; they’ve even figured out how to make Spider-Man look cool when you’ve managed to collide with a building, as holding the R2 button will have you running along the outside of the building, while just hitting it will allow you stick to it instantly.

It is at once incredibly intuitive, but also deep and satisfying to play with. As the game goes on you’ll find yourself swinging ever faster, and doing amazing tricks and moves in between. By the end of the game I found it nearly effortless to make myself look as cool or cooler than Spidey looks in cutscenes, and it makes you absolutely feel like the web slinger himself.

This same sort of simplicity and depth extends to the fighting system as well, with a combat system that takes what works from most third person combat games, while making you always feel the incredible agility of your hero at every step. Depending on your difficulty level you can always just mash the square button and occasionally dodge, and you will get through most fights just fine. There is so much at your disposal though that you’ll find yourself constantly taking advantage of new ways of fighting, zipping between bad guys, slinging webs, or tossing people into the air to combo them into oblivion. Spidey Sense is in full effect as well, and dodging perfectly looks and feels incredible.

All of this was remarkable, but with the agility of Spider-Man and how quickly battles moved I felt like it would get too hectic, and the camera would have a hard time keeping up. I never felt this to be an issue though–even while inside building—which has long been an issue with previous games featuring everyone’s friendly neighborhood hero.

The combat is even further enhanced by the fact that your Spider-Man might never fight the way mine does, and vice versa, because of the many ways you can upgrade and equip your hero. Are you going to specialize in using gadgets to dispense justice? Maybe you’ll be a high flying hero who barely touches the ground? Do you want to set your Spidey up for maximum damage, or perhaps turn him into the Batman of the skies?

Any of these is immediately achievable, both through leveling as well as suit setup. Unlike previous games this new Spider-Man leans heavy on some RPG elements, and it makes the game deeper than some of its predecessors. You have access to a variety of suits over the course of the game, and each of these have a power that can swap out once you unlock it to any other suit in the game. In addition you can build three modifications to equip as you like, and these do everything from allowing you more XP as you level to decreasing the time your gadgets take to refill. This allows you to craft the look, feel, and abilities of your hero to match your play style and approach every battle differently.

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Even more impressive is the way the crafting of the suits and modifications is tied to all of the side-quests and activities of the open world map. In this regard the game is an absolute triumph, as it is likely the best balance of these tasks I’ve seen in a traditional open world game ever.  There is just the right amount of them to make the world feel full, but not so many that it feels overwhelming to grab them all. For completionists out there this is a god send, as it is entirely feasible to 100% this game within 30 hours of so. That is quite the break from these open world games that require a hundred hours or better if you wish to snag everything in the game, and what is more is all of these tie back into your progression in a meaningful way.

Each type of activity rewards you with a token of that type, and these are redeemable towards building your mods or suits. What this does is to insure that every time you tackle some small task it matters to you more than it does in a lot of open world games. The tasks themselves are pretty varied and most are interesting, and the ones that aren’t are over quickly enough.

This allows for a game that never feels too cluttered, and no task really ever overstays its welcome. Sometimes it was irritating as I swung to a new story mission to see a crime alert go off, but I also was choosing to obsessively tackle them. It is entirely possible to just swing on by, but expect Jonah to take you to task on his completely appropriate podcast later on.

After seeing how thoroughly the developers nailed the feeling of being Spider-Man I would have almost have been content without a story mode to speak of, I was so happy just feeling like I was playing an incarnation of the hero. Embarking on the narrative almost made me nervous, because I was just kind of waiting for the story to drag down an otherwise spectacular game. I’m happy to report that my fears were mostly unfounded, as I found a truly great Spider-Man tale waiting for me, even if some of the pacing of that story felt off.

The best decision that the team could have made was not to make this an origin story, which is how so many other games start. Instead we have a Spider-Man who has already been doing this for nearly a decade, and all of some of his best villains he has already squared off with in the past. Better yet, for the most part they don’t bury you in exposition about these people, because they know that their audience likely already knows who all of these people are. We don’t need to learn how Uncle Ben died to teach Peter that with power comes great responsibility, because the developers know their audience already knows that. Sure, these versions are a slightly unique version from the comics, but if you know the basics then you already know how this shook out.

In addition the main story is there for those who just want to follow it and beat up super powered baddies, but for anyone who wants to dig a little deeper there are tons of documents to find, and story beats just off the beaten path that flesh out this version of New York. The greatest accomplishment is in their choosing of a main villain, with some of the trailers we’ve seen thus far being clever decoys in a lot of ways about the truth. The way they build on upon this villain by giving cool nods to fans that see it coming a mile away, it is a wonderfully slow burn that strengthens the story tremendously.

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Likely the only weak point in the game in most opinions will be the moments where you take a break from Spidey to play as Mary Jane, or the young Miles Morales. These are all stealth missions, of the insta-fail variety, and those types of missions are pretty reviled in the gaming community. Personally, I really enjoy stealth games, so they didn’t bother me much and I felt they were a great way to flesh out the narrative and these characters further. I’d be lying though if there weren’t a few times I groaned as a M.J. mission started, because I just wanted to swing around and beat guys up.

Ultimately though that is a pretty minor misstep for an otherwise wonderfully put together game. The developers managed to perfectly recreate the Spider-Man experience and it turns out to be the best Spider-Man game ever made, and very possibly the best superhero game as well. After Horizon Zero Dawn, God of War, and now Spider-Man, I’m beginning to think that Sony’s First Party games are simply spun gold.

You just can’t go wrong with this game, and I foresee myself leaving it installed even after I Platinum it,  just so I can swing around New York as everyone’s favorite friendly neighborhood Spider-Man now and again.

 

Final Score – 9.5 out of 10

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