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Marvel Spider-Man - title

In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • Creative story that goes in unexpected directions
  • Serious story full of heart and levity
  • Traversing open world is the primary game mechanic
  • Webs [mostly] must connect to something in environment
  • Fluid movement
  • Combat is acrobatic and challenging
  • Incoming projectiles are clearly indicated
  • Seeing Spidey from a different perspective
  • City looks vibrant, alive, and crowded with people
  • Excellent voice-acting and mo-cap

WHAT I DON'T LIKE

  • Wall-crawling is under-developed
  • Web-swinging lacks challenge
  • Stealth segments, puzzles, bosses, and QTEs are all hit-or-miss
  • Spider-sense can be hard to see against certain backgrounds
  • A little too combat heavy
  • Repetitive, time-waster open world activities
  • Sandbox design undercuts narrative tension and urgency

Overall Impression :B+
The most complete Spidey game since Spider-Man 2!

Marvel Spider-Man - cover

Developer:
Insomniac Games

Publisher:
Sony Interactive Entertainment

Platforms:
PlayStation 4 (via retail disc or PSN digital download)

MSRP: $60 USD

Original release date:
7 September 2018

Genre:
comic book open world action

ESRB Rating: T (for Teen) for:
Blood, Drug Reference, Language, Violence

Player(s):
single player

Official site:
insomniac.games/game/spider-man-ps4

I'm a pretty big Spider-Man fan in general. I watched the cartoons and the movies, and I play the video games as they come along, but I've only actually read a few dozen individual comics. I did, however, play the shit out of all my Spider-Man action figures as a kid! I do, however consider myself to be a Spider-Man game aficionado.

When I'm out in public, I often imagine myself web-swinging to get around. What would I swing from? Are those lampposts close enough that I could swing from one without face-planting on the pavement? I also often wish that I could hang upside down from the ceiling when I'm bored or waiting for something. As such, I pay very close attention to the way that Spider-Man moves in video games, and the quality of a given game is usually predominantly determined by how elegantly it handles movement.

Like a streak of light, he arrives just in time

The traversal mechanics and physics of Insomniac's Marvel's Spider-Man are fluid and work solidly. They just aren't particularly interesting or challenging, and they aren't really as expressive as I would like. It basically boils down to "hold R2 to go somewhere". It's pulled straight from Assassin's Creed's parkour system, except that holding the same button allows you to transition from rooftop parkour to web-swinging without any effort or thought. There's a few modifiers and variations that you can perform, which add a little bit of freedom and expressiveness, but it's not much. You can web-zip to perch points, hold circle to move around the corners of buildings while wall-running, and you can jump and dive to gain speed. These things help you get where you're going faster, but you could just rubber-band the R2 button and left stick, set the controller down, and you'd get to where you were going eventually anyway.

Insomniac was inspired by Assassin's Creed's "hold R2 to parkour" traversal system.

To Insomniac's credit, however, the web-swinging physics seems much more accurate than any Spidey game since the landmark Spider-Man 2 movie tie-in on the PS2 / XBox. Webs do seem to genuinely connect to objects in the environment (whether they be buildings, lampposts, trees, or so on). The only exception that I'm aware of is when you double-tap X to zip forward. I never use this move, however, because of how it cheats the physics so blatantly.

The environment is also much more detailed and populated. Buildings have more varied geometry with lots of ledges and poles and towers for you to zip to, you can parkour over cars when running in the densely-packed streets, and the map is dotted with construction sites and road work that gives you additional locomotion options and helps make the world look and feel lived-in. Spider-Man also has a lot of contextual movements in the environment that helps keep movement fluid. He'll web-zip from fire-escape platform to fire-escape platform when ascending buildings, he'll pirouette through narrow gaps, he'll swing around poles, and so forth. In general, the animations are all exceptional, and the traversal mechanics feel really good.

Spidey transitions seamlessly from web-swinging to wall-running to contextual "spider-parkour".

Spinning webs, any size

Despite the physics being generally solid, I do feel like the game occasionally cheats to make it work. Webs sometimes seem to grow in length when attached to certain objects, and the player (and therefore Spidey) can overcome the force of gravity through sheer force of will. This allows Spider-Man to swing greater distances than he should when swinging from buildings or trees that aren't considerably higher than Spider-Man is, and for him to avoid falling into the side of a building when he continuously swings from the same side of the street. All Spider-Man games have struggled with finding ways to allow him to move around in Central Park and along the coastline. These little cheats are common ones for developers to implement, and Insomniac is no exception.

Webs seem to reliably connect to something in the environment.

To that end, I'm going to say something that might get me flamed by the internet: I think I maybe actually prefer the web-swinging concept of Beenox's Amazing Spider-Man 2 movie tie-in game.

Okay, before you barbeque me, let me explain and qualify that statement. Amazing Spider-Man 2 (the game), overall, was kind of a mess (as opposed to the movie, which was a total mess). The physics and controls were a bit wonky, Spidey could be hard to handle, and the physics consistently cheated. But Amazing 2's web-swinging traversal system had some interesting nuances to it that really made me feel more connected to the Spider-Man character.

The thing that I really liked about that game's locomotion system is that Spidey's right and left web-shooters were mapped to the right and left trigger buttons respectively. This is a subtle change, but it gave more control over where Spider-Man moves at any given time. Players had to be more aware of their surroundings and thoughtful and deliberate about how they move. You had to have an eligible anchor for your web in the direction that you shoot, and had to anchor to certain buildings in order to steer.

I liked that concept a lot, even though the execution was bungled by poor physics. I think that the original intent of this was that gravity would push Spider-Man towards colliding with the buildings unless he alternated between swinging from buildings on either side of him, but Beenox just couldn't make it work (probably due to the constraints of a hard release date to coincide with the movie), so they dumbed down the physics. I wish Insomniac would have taken this concept, expanded it, and further developed it, with tighter physics that wouldn't allow Spider-Man to so easily change direction in mid-air or to counteract gravity via sheer force of will.

Early previews made me hope that the left and right web-shooters would be mapped to L2 and R2, respectively,
as in Beenox's Amazing Spider-Man 2 [RIGHT].

This would require the player to get a bit more creative when moving around, as you would have to use momentum and gravity to get to where you want to go, and swing from an appropriate anchor in order to steer. I don't know if such a feature would be well-received by most audiences. Perhaps it could have been relegated to an "advanced web-swinging" setting, while casual players could retain the "automatic" system that the game currently employs. I would have appreciated having at least an option for a more challenging and skillful web-swinging mechanic -- especially if the game is going to make me spend so much time swinging around the city looking for all the time-wasting filler content that I despise about open world games. After all, web-swinging around the city is what we spend 90% of the game doing, so it's something that should be mechanically engaging and have a high skill-ceiling.

Had this game tightened its own physics and stellar, fluid animations; combined them with the control concept of Amazing Spider-Man 2 and the aerial acrobatics of the PS2's Spider-Man 2; and extended the map to include parts of Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx (as in the Ultimate Spider-Man game), then I think we'd have the hands-down definitive web-swinging experience. It's just not quite there.

That being said, however, the web-swinging is an active enough process that it remains compelling throughout, and we have the rare open world game in which the traversal within that world is the primary game mechanic! The entire map is a playspace in Spider-Man, rather than just an over-designed mission select screen.

Map is loaded with open world filler content.

As for the busy-work content itself, there's the typical base-capture side missions, towers that reveal the map, several different collectible hunts, photo ops, collecting pigeons, and other such mindless activities. All that is on top of the ambient crimes and actual side missions that are tangential to the story. It's a bit much. Most activities are fun to play in fits and spurts because most of them engage the player with the core game mechanics, and the core mechanics are good, so these activities are generally good when you're in the mood to play them.

These activities reward you with experience points, as well as several different types of tokens that can be used to unlock new abilities and costumes. Fortunately, I never felt like I had to grind these side activities in order to advance the character or story. The game never stops and forces you to complete large chunks of side content before unlocking the next story mission, nor do you need to grind to unlock costumes, upgrades, or gadgets. I could make do without most of the gadget upgrades that require the collectible tokens, and generous amounts of experience are handed out by the main story quests that can be used to upgrade Spider-Man's core abilities.

Side content awards tokens that unlock costumes and gadget upgrades.

This is good because by the third act, a lot of the side content had started to get repetitive for me. So much of it involves simply beating up wave after wave of thugs and mercenaries. Even if you use stealth to take down the first wave, every wave after that already knows you're there, and so you're forced into brawling with them. It's blatant filler content, and it's wholly unnecessary.

Best of all, I didn't see any micro-transactions or "virtual currencies" to speak of, so any grind that may be present never feels like it's artificially inflated in order to pressure the player into buying time-savers (like in last year's Shadow of War). Every move, every upgrade, every alternate costume (and its associated ability) is unlocked by playing the game; not by spending more real-life money to skip playing the game. It really sucks that the games industry has devolved to the point that I have to highlight the lack of excessive grind as a point in a game's favor, rather than simply pointing it out as a flaw when it's present.

Good in its own right?

Maybe it's not entirely fair to compare Insomniac's Marvel's Spider-Man to the best parts of other Spider-Man games to nitpick this game's few comparative weaknesses. Doing so does injustice to the all-around exceptional quality of this game. Despite having some well-conceived individual elements, no Spider-Man game since the PSX's Spider-Man and the Spider-Man 2 movie tie-in have really delivered amazing all-around packages.

I don't care for the Ultimate comic line, so got bored with Ultimate Spider-Man.

Ultimate Spider-Man was fairly well-received, and a lot of people still hold it up as a great game, but I didn't get into it because I just don't care for the Ultimate comics storylines. Further, the game was (as I recall) overloaded with a preponderance of "swing through the glowing circle" missions and objectives that made the game quickly feel stale and repetitive. The games industry still hadn't learned its lesson from Superman 64... Ultimate was unique, however, in that its map included parts of Queens -- something that no Spider-Man games since (that I'm aware of) has tried.

Web of Shadows did some interesting things with Spider-Man's agility and introduced some neat ideas for aerial and wall combat, but suffered from a terrible story, terrible voice-acting, repetitive combat that was dominated by the web strike, and overall poor mission design.

Web of Shadows did some interesting things with aerial and wall combat.

Beenox's efforts have been all over the place, with some fantastic highs and some miserable lows. Shattered Dimensions had some great individual setpieces, such as the Sandman fight and some of the Nior levels, but was overall very uneven. Edge of Time was a pitiful mess of a game that was clearly rushed out to try to compete with Batman: Arkham City. The first Amazing Spider-Man movie tie-in had a clever story that made creative use of the source material that the shitty movie provided, but it's gameplay was stale and derivative, and it's web-swinging was completely pointless garbage that completely undercut the purpose of the open world. Its sequel had better web-swinging, and tightened up the stealth sections, but it had a terrible story and laughably pointless "dialogue trees".

Beenox's games showed promise, like Shattered Dimensions's setpieces, and Amazing 2's stealth missions.
But Beenox's games also had miserable lows, like Edge of Time and Amazing 1's crappy web-swinging.

Marvel's Spider-Man, however, has no glaring flaws. Every aspect of its design is solid -- if not exceptional. If there's any aspect of the game that really feels underdeveloped, it's the wall-crawling, which is very fidgety and imprecise, and Spidey often gets stuck or trapped on the geometry. This is something that Beenox actually executed very well with both of it's Amazing Spider-Man tie-in games, so it's disappointing that Insomniac didn't come up with a system that controlled comparably well.

Beenox's Amazing Spider-Man games had excellent wall-crawling mechanics,
including the ability to perch anywhere on a wall or ceiling to recon the area or perform takedowns.

Instead, you're almost completely dependent on web-zipping to perches and executing take-downs from those perches. Granted, the game is very liberal about where you can perch -- pretty much any ledge, pole, tower, or metal beam is eligible -- and the high detail of the environment means that I never felt constrained or without options. Because of the relative freedom of movement and the vast options for perches that are available, the lackluster wall-crawling mechanics are a mild annoyance, rather than anything approaching a deal-breaker.

Insomniac's Spidey can't do "perch takedowns" while wall-crawling.
You can only "web strike", which exposes you to danger.

The "science" puzzles are also pretty lackluster -- so much so, that the developers made them optional. The bosses are also hit-or-miss. Many of them are just variations of the brutes, which you defeat by webbing them up from a distance, then punching them while they're tied up. Others require you to just swing around until the boss gets exhausted and stops to recharge, then you go in for some free hits. Yet others are quicktime bosses, which are implemented fairly well for QTEs, in that they use the regular game controls to perform related contextual actions, they aren't instant-kills, and they are generally clearly telegraphed or initiated by the player. The best boss fights are probably the chase ones, since they utilize the city map and the game's web-swinging mechanics.

The circuit and spectrograph puzzles are pretty lackluster, and can be skipped entirely.

On the other end of the spectrum, the one area where this game truly stands out from the pack is its visuals and production design. The game looks great! New York is lush and vibrant and full of details. The streets are jammed with cars and the sidewalks crowded with pedestrians, which makes the setting feel more like a living city rather than the empty concrete sandbox of all the earlier Spidey games. There's even little 3-D dioramas on the insides of building windows that add depth; though, there's never anybody inside those buildings. Animations across the board are fluid. Cutscenes look good, having well-rendered characters with expressive faces and body language.

Marvel's Spider-Man depicts a New York that is immaculately detailed, vibrant, and crowded with people.

I'm not one to gush about a game's graphics because I think that gameplay is the most import thing. But this game looks damned good, and I have to give Insomniac credit.

The game looks and sounds incredible.

The writing an dialogue is also generally top-notch, and are highlighted by some exemplary voice performances. There is nuance and texture to every character, even relatively minor characters that are present in just a few cutscenes in one mission. Peter himself (and the voice-actor) is charming, and this game perfectly captures the friendly, empathetic nature of Peter Parker / Spider-Man (something that Andrew Garfield and the writers utterly failed at in the Amazing movies).

While the writing is generally on-point, the open world nature of the game does result in some hiccups in the writing. For example, there's one brilliantly-animated instance in the second half of the game in which Peter and Mary Jane have a disagreement (via text message) over the nature of their relationship. MJ says she needs time to think about things, and that she'll call Peter tomorrow ... maybe ...

Peter's body language and reactions expertly capture the sense of anxiety over interpreting and responding to such a text message, so kudos to the animators and motion capture actors here. The implication here is that Peter might have screwed up, and he and MJ are no longer going to be on speaking terms. However, this happens at a point where a major conflict in the narrative has been resolved, and the story slows down. You don't have any active objectives, and the game tells you to just go have fun doing some side content (Peter wanting to keep himself busy to avoid dwelling on the situation with MJ -- also a perfectly human reaction). So I went to do some of the optional gang hideout missions, and as part of those missions, Peter calls up Mary Jane to get intel about what the bad guys are doing in the base, as if nothing is wrong between the two of them.

Story and dialogue are very well-written, but does suffer from some typical open world dissonance.

This completely deflates the tension of the earlier (brilliantly executed) breakup scene because it basically signals to the player that Peter and MJ will be back on speaking terms again, and it creates a dissonance between the game's story and the player-driven events in the open world sandbox.

This is a problem that plagues every open world sandbox game, so I can't really hold it against Insomniac too much. I just wanted to point it out because these sorts of problems with open world sandbox designs are one of my personal soapbox crusades.

Spider-senses tingling

The combat mechanics are very derivative of the punch-and-counter system that Rocksteady developed for Batman: Arkham Asylum. It's a very appropriate system for Spider-Man (perhaps even more appropriate for Spidey than for Batman) with all of the jumping around and bouncing from enemy to enemy. Beenox had employed a similar system for its Amazing Spider-Man movie tie-ins (and even Spider-Man 2 had used a similar concept back in 2004 -- long before Arkham Asylum), and Insomniac's system feels like an evolution of those games.

Spidey's movements in combat (as in all areas of the game) are fluid and elegant, and Insomniac added some really nice animations of Spidey dodging onto walls and then jumping off to counter attack enemies. It all looks very slick and is almost as entertaining to watch as it is to play. You also have a lot of options. I prefer to avoid a lot of the fancier special suit powers and gadgets, as I feel like electrified punches and similar abilities are out of place for Spider-Man, or overpowered within the game (I'm looking at you, "web blossom"!).

Spidey controls well in combat, which is fast and fluid once you get the hang of it.

Even without those particular abilities, there's still a lot of offensive and defensive options, and there's a nice improvisational flow to combat as you move from enemy to enemy. Enemies are surprisingly aggressive, and mobs will space themselves out and try to pick you off from range with guns or rocket launchers while brawlers distract you in melee. You have to keep on your toes, as Spidey's health is very limited, and you have to spend precious focus energy in order to restore health. You need to keep moving in order to stay alive, and this mirrors the fighting style of Spider-Man nearly perfectly. It isn't just that this style of combat is more appropriate to Spider-Man as a character (as opposed to Batman), but it's also implemented better than the Arkham games, in that it's more challenging and demanding of the player.

If there's any flaw with this system, it's that the Spider-sense indicator can be a bit difficult to read at times. It's depicted as a white flash around Spidey's head, and so it can easily blend into many white or gray backgrounds or the reflective glass surfaces of buildings, which are very common in the concrete jungle of New York. Perhaps Insomniac should have gone with bright red or purple or something like that, or put in a more distinct audio cue (since humans react more quickly to sound than to sight). As a result, I sometimes miss the indicator (or am late at pushing the button) and take a lot of cheap hits. I had to lower the difficulty from "Spectacular" (hard) to "Amazing" (normal) because of this. This created a slightly high barrier of entry, but after unlocking the "perfect dodge" (which causes the spider-sense to flash blue at the optimal moment to dodge), the flash of color really helped to make the indicator pop.

Spider-sense indicator can be difficult to read, but at least off-screen projectiles are clearly indicated.

I also had a little bit of difficulty micro-managing the camera. There's no target lock that I could find, so it can be hard to keep certain enemies in-frame when Spidey starts jumping around or throwing enemies all over the arena. Fortunately, projectile attacks are clearly indicated with a glowing line pointing to the source of the projectile.

I would have liked more indoor stealth encounters.

I also wish that more of the game took place indoors. I really enjoyed the little "hideout" missions of Amazing Spider-Man 2, and I still have fond memories of the bank robbery mission in the original PSX Spider-Man game. In Marvel's Spider-Man, most crimes happen out in the streets or alley ways, which forces Spidey to fight mobs of criminals out in the open. I would have preferred some more stealth segments in which I could systematically take down bank robbers one at a time while skulking in the shadows on the walls and ceilings. Some of the enemy base missions have some opportunities for similar stealth approaches, but they are limited, and always degrade to brawling waves of enemies anyway.

I do like some of the robbery crimes, in which criminals try to rob a small store. Spidey can enter the store, and the camera pans down to street-level pointing into the store, as Spidey bounces off the walls beating up the crooks. It is, admittedly, like a bull in a china shop and is probably a bit out of character for Spider-Man, but it does look nice.

The camera pans down to give a view of Spidey foiling store robberies.

I just wish I had more opportunities to swoop in, string some criminals up to lampposts, and then swoop out. Perhaps in the sequel?

Turf war

This is especially true considering that the story is about a gang war between Mr. Negative's gang filling the power vacuum left by the arrest of the Kingpin. You spend a surprising majority of the game fighting thugs and gangsters rather than super villains. While some may complain about this, I actually love the idea of a more down-to-earth Spidey experience, and the early hours of this game excel in that department.

The canon of this game is also an interesting puzzle to piece together. It doesn't take place in the comic book continuity, or in the continuity of any movie or TV series. Instead, it's a wholly original continuity created by Insomniac, in which Peter Parker is in his 20's, he's been fighting crime as Spider-Man for a handful of years (I think the game says it's been 8 years), and a lot of the status quo that you might expect from a Spider-Man story is changed around in interesting ways.

Some other characters are playable during brief hit-or-miss stealth segments.

Peter and Mary Jane have broken up, J.J. Jameson has retired from the Daily Bugle and turned into a rabid internet conspiracy-theorist scapegoating Spider-Man for everything, Peter is working at a lab operated by Otto Octavius, and Norman Osborne is the mayor. A handful of villains, such as Shocker, Rhino, Electro, Vulture, and Scorpion are already established to be behind bars. Other villains are referenced by the game, but not actually present, such as Mysterio, the Lizard, and the Chameleon. Obviously, Doctor Octopus and the Green Goblin are not part of the backstory here, and other villains such as Kraven, Morbius, Venom, and Carnage are not referenced at all (and are possibly being held back for potential sequels). Many of the collectibles will reveal little bits of background about Peter's history and the encounters that he's had with supervillains -- almost like the item descriptions in Dark Souls.

Gwen Stacy is also completely absent from this game's backstory (as far as I could find). Skipping over Peter's early relationships (especially with Gwen) and going straight into a relationship with Mary Jane is always one of my pet peeves with adaptations of Spider-Man. That being said, every adaptation of Spider-Man that has tried to include Gwen Stacy has run into serious problems dealing with how to handle writing her out (except, of course, for the Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon, which ended prematurely, and never fully resolved the Gwen storyline). It's a tough situation, and I don't blame Insomniac for avoiding it entirely, especially considering the approach that they took with Norman Osborne and the Green Goblin.

The best -- but not quite definitive -- Spidey game

If you want to say Marvel's Spider-Man is the hands-down best Spidey video game to hit the market so far, I'd agree with you, but with one small caveat. It takes most of the best ideas from the last 15 years of Spider-Man games, combines them together, and executes them all about as well as any other game has done. It does not, however, do anything particularly innovative, and so it doesn't really transcend the previous efforts in the way that the classic Spider-Man 2 movie tie-in, or Batman: Arkham Asylum did.

As much as I like Insomniac's Marvel's Spider-Man (maybe even love it), I can't help but look back at older games like Amazing Spider-Man 2, Ultimate Spider-Man, and even Web of Shadows and wish that some of those games' mechanics and concepts had been included here. Nevertheless, Marvel's Spider-Man is a much more polished and cohesive product than any of those former games. Nothing in this game feels lazy, thoughtless, or patched-together to meet a hard deadline. Insomniac took the time, effort, and care to polish up everything into a shiny, well-presented package that is the first Spider-Man game in over 10 years that I can whole-heartedly recommend.

Insomniac's Marvel's Spider-Man is the most complete and polished
Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man experience available in gaming.

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Total War: Shogun 2Total War: Shogun 2Total War: Shogun 2: Fall of the SamuraiTotal War: Shogun 2: Fall of the Samurai
TrineTrineTropico 5Tropico 5
Ultimate General: Civil WarUltimate General: Civil WarUncharted 3: Drake's DeceptionUncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Until DawnUntil DawnWhat Remains of Edith FinchWhat Remains of Edith Finch

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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Announcing a new Patreon campaign!Announcing a new Patreon campaign!08/01/2018 Since starting this blog all the way back in 2011, I've avoided asking for donations or monetizing the site with ads. I hate obtrusive internet ads, and I want my readers to have a pleasant experience that isn't bogged down by ads. I also want for them to hopefully come away with the understanding that I share my genuine opinions...

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"X-Men: First Class" is like J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" reboot: it's a fun one-night stand, but not faithful enough for a long-term relationship"X-Men: First Class" is like J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" reboot: it's a fun one-night stand, but not faithful enough for a long-term relationship06/26/2011 Comic book fans have had a lot to be excited about these last ten years or so. After decades of mediocre-at-best comic book movies, and the one exceptional Tim Burton Batman movie, the onslaught of surprisingly good comic book movies in the early 2000’s has been a pleasant surprise. Excellent films such as Spider-Man 2, X-2:...

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