Review: Marvel's Spider-Man
Superhero games have come a long way. I remember the first superhero game I played was X-Men: The Official Game, which came out around in 2006 and was meant to serve as a bridge between the stories of the movies X2: X-Men United and X-Men: The Last Stand. That game was forgettable. Another similarly bad superhero game was the Iron Man game that was released alongside the movie in 2008. I only played the demo of that one, but it certainly didn't convince me to buy the full game. It wasn't until the next year, when Rocksteady released Batman: Arkham Asylum, that we were shown that superhero games don't have to be terrible. Few developers have been able to replicate Rocksteady's success, but in 2018, Insomniac Games was able to adapt the Rocksteady formula to everybody's favorite web-slinger. As part of my first foray into PS-Now, Playstation's games on demand subscription, I decided to see what Marvel's Spider-Man was all about. Here is my review.
Marvel's Spider-Man is an open-world action game set in a miniaturized New York City in which you play as the famous Peter Parker, AKA Spider-Man. The Spider-Man you play as in this game is a slightly older superhero, just a bit past his rookie days. You get to play as Spider-Man / Peter Parker as he tries to track down a new threat that has appeared in NYC. Additionally, you occasionally get to play some short segments as Mary-Jane Watson and Miles Morales, a couple of Peter's friends.
Game play in Spider-Man consists of swinging around NYC as you move between story missions and side-quests, and then usually engaging in hand-to-hand superpowered combat. Spider-Man's combat is greatly inspired by Rocksteady's Batman Arkham series. There is a punch button that you can hit consecutively to perform combos, a dodge / counter button, a gadget button, and a button that allows you to quickly zip to a nearby enemy. When you are about to be attacked, a graphic shows up above Spider-Man's head to let you know when to dodge. If you dodge in the correct window of time, Spider-Man will also perform a counter-attack in which he shoots a bit of web in the attacker's face, which usually renders them defenseless for a short amount of time. If you find yourself out of punching range, you can either use Triangle to zip to a nearby enemy and initiate a combo, or use a ranged gadget attack to stun an enemy. Lastly, if you really find yourself in a pinch, you can use a special move that usually stuns a large amount of enemies, or powers you up for a short amount of time. You unlock different special abilities as you unlock different suits.
Speaking of unlockables, there are huge number of different suits (each with its own special ability), combat and traversal abilities, and gadgets for you to unlock. To do so, you spend tokens that you acquire by completing story missions or side-quests. Additionally, there are extra challenge objectives to complete during side-quests that reward you with bonus tokens. Finally, there are also abilities that you can unlock as you level up, which is done by gaining experience points from completing story missions and side-quests. You can find some of these side-quests marked on the map, but there are also random crime encounters that happen as you are traversing NYC. These helped a bit with making the massive city feel lived in. Overall, there are a ton of things to keep you motivated to continue playing more missions and earning more rewards.
With all of the unlockable abilities, gadgets, and combos, I found the combat to be very fun and engaging. Once you unlock a few of the combat abilities that focus on mobility, you can really fly around your enemies and become almost untouchable. I feel like this is the greatest strength of Rocksteady's superhero combat system that many games are trying to incorporate in their own unique ways. Because the core of the combat is very simple, as you get better and better at reading your enemies' tells and movements, you are able to enter a flow state with your character. This simple to learn, but in-depth combat really captures the feeling of being a nearly unstoppable superhero once you have mastered the combat.
Unfortunately, you don't spend all of your time playing as Spider-Man. There are a few missions where you play as MJ or Miles Morales in order to get a bit of background on some of the events in the game. These sections are focused on stealth, since neither of these characters have any superpowers. This wouldn't be a huge problem if the stealth game play was as compelling as the normal Spider-Man game play, but sadly it is very barebones and uninteresting. Both MJ and Miles have their own special tricks to help themselves get around enemies, but all you're really doing is distracting the enemies to get around them. I found these sections boring at best, and a bit annoying at worst, especially since getting detected by an enemy leads to an instant game over and sends you back to the last checkpoint. Thankfully, these sections are few and far between.
A couple last things to mention about the game play are some minor annoyances that, with some digging around in the game options, are actually optional. First, there are quick-time events during some actions and cutscenes that in my opinion, add nothing meaningful to the game play. I gain no extra satisfaction from mashing Square to open a door, or stop a train. Second, there are some mini-games that are only vaguely related to being Spider-Man. In these mini-games you are either tasked with hacking a very abstracted electrical diagram or trying to identify an unknown chemical substance in a sort of matching game. These games really only serve to pad out the play time, and really put the brakes on an otherwise action-oriented experience. Thankfully, you can turn off the quick-time events and add a skip button to the mini-games in the game's accessibility options, so I'll call this one a draw. I don't think quick-time events should exist, and the hacking / compound identification games are uninteresting, but I'm glad the game doesn't force you to participate.
I was very impressed with this game's graphics. I really feel like it squeezed every last bit of power out of my PS4 Pro. Not only was the game very visually polished, it ran at a very stable, high frame rate, even during intense fights. Usually you end up sacrificing visual quality for frame rate, or vice-versa, but not in this game. This is even more impressive when you consider the fact that the massive open-world of NYC has no loading screens and is very highly detailed with tons of NPCs and vehicles out and about. As I was zooming around with Spider-Man's web shooters, the game had no problem loading in the environment and scenery.
As far as the game's aesthetic, I feel like it was very visually consistent. The UI and menus have a sort of transparent, blue color to them and are meant to seem high-tech and lightweight, as if Peter Parker designed them himself. Additionally, the UI is mostly unobtrusive, staying out of the way so you can focus on web-slinging and combat. Lastly, I felt that the suit designs were pretty awesome and (while I'm not really familiar with comics) really drew inspiration from Spider-Man's long comic-book history.
I don't really have much to say here. I feel like I didn't really notice the music, so I guess that could be a good or bad thing depending on who you ask. I guess I would describe the music as standard big-budget video game music, or something you'd see in the blockbuster movies this game is based off of.
I could almost say the same about the story as I said about the music. It's Spider-Man. There's Aunt May and the late Uncle Ben, MJ, and evil villains attacking NYC. You don't go to Spider-Man for a deep story, but that's ok. You go to Spider-Man for the geeky, quirky quips of a young superhero trying to figure out how to balance his early-adult life and saving the city.
I will say that the writing really nails the relationships between the different main characters. You really get the sense for how much Peter cares for his Aunt May, and MJ's struggles with being in love with an undercover hero. Additionally, the actors' performances were actually pretty good and really sold the writing.
As far as the heros and villans you fight, you get to see some classics as well as some lesser known characters. I felt that they chose a good variety of villains for you to fight. Each has unique abilities that add something different to their boss fights.
Marvel's Spider-Man was a welcome surprise. After playing Rocksteady's Batman games and then seeing how other games tried to lazily copy the success of Batman's combat system, it was nice to play a game that was able to take the foundations laid by Rocksteady and make them into a system that works within Spider-Man's universe. I felt that I had an ample amount of gadgets and abilities at my disposal, which helped sell the experience of playing as a superhero. However, there are a few things this game could have done without, like the quick-time events, the hacking mini-games, and the MJ and Miles segments. I was grateful that you could at least skip the mini-games and quick-time events though. While the story and music were barebones, not all games have to have amazing soundtracks or in-depth stories. Sometimes you just want a game that is fun to play and easy to get lost in. Spider-Man more or less scratches that itch for me, and looks amazing doing so.
The last thing I'll say is that I mostly decided to play this game because I was able to do so "for free" with my PS Now subscription which only costs $60 / year. I wasn't planning on paying full price for Spider-Man because I usually wait until games come down in price a bit. I'd have to say I'm glad I didn't pay full price for it, but I don't think it was a waste of time. I had plenty of fun with Spider-Man, and I'm glad I got to enjoy it risk-free.