Spider-Man PS4 review
Licensed video games are a tricky thing, aren’t they? On the face of it, translating our favourite franchises and characters to a AAA release should be a doddle. Comic-book properties in particular should transfer from the pages to our screens perfectly; their crazy skill-set and deep lore offer more creative freedom than any developer could ever wish for. Instead, though, what we’ve had in the past is a drab selection of half-baked movie tie-ins; a desperate attempt to milk a big-name for as much dollar as humanly possible. In more recent years, however, the tides are turning. The soulless cash-grabs are being panned in favour of lovingly crafted, original stories rooted in passion for the source material – not in a business plan. I’m happy to report that Insomniac’s ode to the spandex wearing wall-crawler certainly falls into the latter category. What they’ve created isn’t just easily the best Spider-Man game to date, but quite possibly the best superhero game ever made.
*contains mild spoilers and shameless puns
We are placed in the sticky shoes of a more experienced iteration of the character. Pete has been donning the iconic outfit for eight-years, and there is mercifully no origin story barring the occasional reference to everyone’s favourite boiled rice provider. We do get insights into the heroes’ formative years, both through dialogue and the clever collectable backpack’s scattered across the city. The obscene number of rucksacks contain quirky totems from when Peter was still finding his footing as a superhero, and as a person, including a menu from his first date with MJ and his first protype web-shooter. These collectables are especially fun to find, as they offer context for the relationships we are dropped in to, years after they first blossomed.
Ever since the project was announced, developer Insomniac Games has emphasised that Peter Parker is as much the main character as the titular hero. Fans of the comics will know, its Pete himself which makes his alter-ego the charming and endearing personally he is. This new outing doubles down on this in a way we’ve never really experienced before; and its testament to the creative team that I was as captivated roaming Parker’s lab as I was soaring through downtown Manhattan. Being placed in control of both aspects of the characters life gives the whole package a nice balance and invests you in every story beat and razor-sharp quip. It’s no small feat that I still found our protagonist relatable, despite him having extraordinary spider powers and a genius level intellect – of which I have neither. So, while it certainly is the super powered antics that make the story a blast to swing through, its Pete’s struggles to pay his rent and find love that give it heart.
The supporting cast are all handled very well, with most of them refreshingly absent from the roles we have become accustomed to. For example, J. Jonah Jameson has his own podcast that he uses to slander our hero, rather than doing it passively-aggressively through his newspaper; and Norman Osbourne has blagged a position as major. Great choice New York, really. The most jarring of these little tweaks, is that Mary Jane is now an acclaimed journalist (not many of them around). While it does start to feel more natural as you go on, it did strike me as a little too similar to Lois Lane for my liking; particularly with her “anything in pursuit of the big story” attitude.
It wouldn’t be a superhero game without some nameless goons to smack about – and they’re here in spades. Although the lower-level street thugs rarely vary form the usual mix of unarmed, armed, shielded and large brute; when tacking large groups, they do a good job of making you change up your methods on the fly. The fighting is clearly reminiscent of the Batman: Arkham series, but thanks to Spider-Mans more acrobatic style, the flips and kicks have enough character to feel fresh. Whether your webbing delinquents’ to walls or hurling manhole covers at them, the combat makes you feel like a certified badass; and that’s exactly what it should do.
The actual selection of skills on offer isn’t the deepest one around, with most of the unlocks feeling like quality of life improvements; for example, being able to disarm enemies or quicker recharge times. Luckily though, there’s enough variety in the silky animations and environmental options to keep the cheesy grin stuck to my face; and the relatively straightforward controls strike a nice balance between being able to perform “spectacular” acrobatics without needing my own unique spider-sense to learn the combo list.
The real star of the show is how much fun it is getting around New-York. You’ll certainly recognise some the famous regions you can visit, although I would have liked more done to distinguish the not-so-friendly neighbourhoods from each other; even just some area-specific gangs with different rackets would give each place even more personality.
The most crucial element in any Spider-Man game is the web-swinging – and Insomniac have absolutely nailed it. After a small learning curve, you’ll soon be effortlessly tearing across the cityscape at breakneck speed. There’s a certain serenity in just taking a few minutes between missions to just swing around and Marvel at the stunning recreation of the most iconic city in the world, which has become your own personal playground. I can’t emphasise enough how perfectly they’ve nailed this aspect. You’ll also notice the Avengers-esque score, which swells at the perfect moments to maximise that sense of sheer awe. The fluidity unfortunately doesn’t apply so much when you’re in close quarters though. It can get rather frustrating when you’re trying to land on a small rooftop in pursuit of a collectable and you go flying off down the side of an apartment complex. This is especially noticeable when you are forced indoors during a mission; and you go from an elegant bird to an eight-legged bull in a china shop. The swinging mechanics just doesn’t translate that well to enclosed spaces. Thankfully we aren’t cooped up for long, so this small gripe doesn’t greatly impact an otherwise amazing (last one I promise) experience.
You can’t help but commend this game. While it is undoubtably aimed at fans of the character and the accompanying source material, the developers haven’t isolated players unfamiliar with the finer details of the lore. I truly believe that anyone, comic-book fan or not, could pick this title up and get just as much from it as the fanboys in homemade red and blue leotards. Some of the smaller nuances may be lost on you, but you can’t deny that irresistible gameplay. That being said, there is plenty of fan service for the nerdier of us to go and search for. Some of this is more blatant, such as Sanctum Santorum quietly sitting in Greenwhich or the gorgeous collection of unlockable suits from popular comic-runs and MCU movies. But there are a few which you’ll have to really look out for, such as signs for a certain law-firm in Hells Kitchen.
Spider-Man PS4 could easily be the best superhero game of all-time. In fact, I think it is purely down to personal preference between this and the Arkham games. But to keep undermining it as a ‘superhero game’ actually does it an enormous disservice. This is an incredible game, whether you’re a comic aficionado or not. Even the harshest sceptic could be won over with a quick swing across the gorgeous open-world. While there is certainly room for improvement in the inevitable sequel, this iteration gives you everything you’ve probably wanted since you were a child– it makes you feel like Spider-Man – and that feeling won’t be forgotten anytime soon.