It is almost impossible to miss a Marvel superhero property in the mass media anymore.
From film to television to video games, the Marvel pantheon of heroes and villains is a proven money maker for parent company Disney and no wonder: As some of the most iconic characters ever created, there is not only an Avenger that everyone can relate to but also there’s enough of a rapport that some people even dream of being an iconic character.
That’s where PlayStation 4 exclusive Marvel’s Spider-Man comes into play: If you’ve wanted a Spider-Man simulation you’re not going to do much better than this game.
In fact, we’d go so far as to say that it is one of the most powerful exclusives currently in Sony’s arsenal of triple-A titles. The only people that will be disappointed with Marvel’s Spider-Man are those that expect perfection and, while as close as a superhero game can get, it is not without some faults that hamper an otherwise stellar experience.
Developed by the legendary Insomniac Games and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment, from the start Marvel’s Spider-Man promises a blockbuster experience – and it delivers.
Insomniac’s first ever licensed property, Marvel’s Spider-Man does not take its plot from any existing comic book storyline but instead features its own bespoke narrative that uses elements from the vast Spider-Man universe with loving attention to detail and nearly flawless execution. Nothing seems out of place in Spider-Man’s New York City but, at the same time, it feels incredibly unique all the same.
And Spider-Man games are not without heritage and pedigree. Laden with expectations established by other titles that also proved to be critical and commercial darlings, Marvel’s Spider-Man does not flinch from doing its own thing and the same thing but better. While open-world gaming was largely in its formative stages when the other titles were released, this style of gaming is now not only commonplace but prevalent enough to come with its own set of expectations. Needless to say, Spider-Man’s version of open-world Manhattan island is not only an awesome experience in itself but also a testament to the seemingly immeasurable potential for video games to bring simulations to life and blend genres in equal measure to achieve that aim.
A single-player action adventure game itself, Marvel’s Spider-Man doesn’t hesitate to combine role playing game elements and even beat ‘em up style gameplay into the picture. The principal action of the game – swinging through New York City as Spider-Man – is occasionally interrupted by switch offs to other characters such as Mary Jane but largely the action stays focused on Peter Parker. Towards this end the designers lovingly studied the personality of everyone’s favorite wisecracking webslinger and the video game version feels like a loving nod to the Marvel Cinematic Universe but also exhibits an awareness of being its own thing all the same. That said, while you venture through the game beating up baddies and conquering foes using a bevy of attacks based on Spider-Man’s iconic powers, you will not have all of these talents available to you in the beginning. Employing a skill-tree system like that seen in RPGs or even isometric action games like Diablo, Marvel’s Spider-Man keeps a lot of the best stuff locked behind skill limit doors that incentivizes not only thoroughly learning the in-game mechanics but also adds motivation to complete side quests and other things outside of the main story.
Compelling and narrative driven, Marvel’s Spider-Man almost feels like a throwback in many ways because the game is focused exclusively on the single-player experience and it is unparalleled in its excellence in this realm. We mentioned the MCU and its presence is pretty heavy in this game. The action is not only fun and addictive but takes on a cinematic quality at times that makes for some truly awesome in-game set pieces. Some people might decry the quick time event-like application of these sequences but we couldn’t help but feel cool while playing the game and beating the hell out of someone from every angle. Small touches, such as Spider-Man safely attaching falling baddies to the side of a building rather than letting them fall to a certain death not only show that Insomniac cares about the Spider-Man property but also that they’ve consulted with the larger Marvel canon about “what would Spider-Man do if?”
Towards that end a lot of the fun in Marvel’s Spider-Man comes from just existing as the titular hero. Swinging through New York City is not only natural but imparts an awesome feeling of actually being Spider-Man. The game does such a good job of making you look good that you are sometimes willing to overlook some of the cut-and-paste elements used as filler to make the city that much more dense. This, unfortunately, brings us to the issue of graphics.
Marvel’s Spider-Man is a beautiful game but it has its moments when it just loses the path completely and goes off road. In addition to the aforementioned filler material there can be moments of Vaseline-like gloss applied to everything that reminds you that, yes, you are playing a video game. The photo realism is only briefly interrupted by these elements but it is a jarring reminder that we are still in that twilight between truly photo-real graphics and the almost-there sense we have now. This is probably why there isn’t a first-person mode in Marvel’s Spider-Man. Sure, it would be jarring, but this hasn’t stopped a lot of the ports that devs have made to the PS VR unit, making the lack of that in Marvel’s Spider-Man curious but not a deal breaker. Personally, it would be a roller coaster from hell but there are undoubtedly gamers out there that want that experience.
Where Marvel’s Spider-Man shines and excels is in its unabashed embrace of its origins as a superhero property and IP. There aren’t any overly gritty moments or times of forced intensity. Everything feels natural and the characters everyone expects to be here are here. That said, one element that is nagging and reminiscent of the Arkham series is the sudden “break out” of every single archenemy as a plot device. Perhaps just having everyone exist in the game at the start and chaos havoc on their own terms would work better but there was certainly a deja vu moment at that revelation. But, if you’re gonna copy, might as well copy the class leader, right? Undoubtedly Marvel’s Spider-Man ranks right up there with the Batman Arkham titles in the league of greatest superhero video games ever made.
Though not part of this review but certainly applicable to the game in general is Insomniac’s impressive plans to extend the experience through DLC. With three planned downloadable content packets on the way Marvel’s Spider-Man looks set to be an experience that keeps players in its world for some time to come. Given the success of the game and the anticipated success of the DLC, we could easily see Marvel’s Spider-Man being a game that continues to pump out new content on a regular basis a la Final Fantasy XV. As the industry moves more towards a games-as-a-service model, using Marvel’s Spider-Man as a platform in this way would not be that surprising and, in many ways, the game seems primed for that kind of treatment.
Scored by John Paesano and directed by a team of Insomniac hotshots like Brian Horton, Bryan Intihar, Marcus Smith, and Ryan Smith, Marvel’s Spider-Man is everything you would want out of a superhero game, exhibiting a level of polish and finish that is characteristic and requisite of the triple-A title that it is. Aside from the lack of online, multiplayer everything, Marvel’s Spider-Man is a thoroughly modern game and takes elements of the best games out there in a composed experience that is as fun and addictive as the best games on offer currently for Sony’s PS4.
There are two audiences for this game: Those that love Spider-Man and those that love video games. Casting such a broad net, the recommendation of this article is basically this: Marvel’s Spider-Man is must-play, must-own material. Too often in gaming these days we bemoan the lack of the single-player experience and wonder why everything is Fortnite this and microtransaction that. The advent of Marvel’s Spider-Man on PlayStation 4 not only shows us that single-player experiences are as powerful as ever but even more necessary than before.
As gaming moves into increasingly niche territory it is heartening to see titles like Marvel’s Spider-Man succeed at what they set out to do and not only pull it off but thrive in the sum. PlayStation 4 owners, already the industry’s go-to place for hot video game exclusives, truly benefit from Marvel’s Spider-Man and should take advantage of the experience on offer. In terms of what this means for the rest of us we can be certain that the commercial success of Marvel’s Spider-Man probably entails the release of even more titles from the MCU in the future.