Spider-man games have been published for years and years, in fact, one of my first Game Boy games was “The Amazing Spider-Man”, a game that 6-year old me loved, but didn’t really progress through very far.
Since then, I’ve played plenty of Spider-Man games across different consoles. Movie tie-ins, stand-alone titles, the lot.
I always remember having fun with these games. I mean, Spider-Man is an all-time great in the super hero world, right? Fulfilling the fantasy of being the webslinger, in an open-world is a sure-fire way for me to have a good time.
The new generation
So here we are. Current generation consoles are capable of so much more than we’ve ever had the power to do previously. This PS4 exclusive is the perfect opportunity to elevate Spider-Man to the next level, in the gaming world.
Let’s cut to the chase. It absolutely does.
Open-world games with a protagonist that has abilities or powers are one of my favourite types of game. Crackdown, InFamous, Prototype, you name it, I’ve played it and loved it.
It does mean, though, that I know the genre pretty well, and the potential to fall into generic side-missions and standard open-world is so often an easy trap to fall into. Not so much here, though.
On top of that, Spider-Man looks wonderful. Those sunsets as you’re swinging around New York, those face models, the motion capture. If this is the future of the open-world action game, you can count me in.
Tales don’t tell themselves
The best part about getting started in Spider-Man is that fact that we’re not having to re-hash the incredibly well-known origin story. We’re Peter Parker, 8 years into being the friendly neighbourhood hero.
Jumping straight in without being forced to learn about Spider-Man all over again is excellent. Character introduction is minimal, and it’s all the better for it. The story can move at a decent clip and nobody is lost.
I don’t want to go into detail or give anything away, but you’re put in Peters’ shoes and you’re essentially seeing through a window into his ordinary life. He’s just one of us when you remove the tight spidey suit, and seeing that makes the game all the better.
Texts from Mary Jane about their relationship, being kicked out of his apartment, wanting to maintain responsibilities to his friends and family, whilst being torn away with “work”. This is one of the most personally relatable games I’ve ever played. Damn, those texts are just too real!
It’s an odd thing to say that I truly felt like I could relate, but this isn’t a game or a story about being a superhero, it’s about being a person.
Take away all the personal drama and you’d just be left with some sweet action and well-known villains. It’d still be a great game, but the writing, the acting and the sincerity are what elevates Spider-Man from most modern releases, to be honest.
Playing a game like this, a sandbox world in which to express yourself as Spider-Man. You have certain expectations.
Can I swing around? Will I be able to fight armed goons and feel like a super-hero? Will there be a lot of things to see and do? Most importantly, is the excitement going to fade quickly?
We’ve all played games that start really strongly, but the shine quickly wears off, and suddenly you’re stuck in a world with loads of icons on a map and not much motivation to mop them up.
That doesn’t happen here, and truth be told, I don’t really know why. I can’t put my finger on the specific thing that makes Spider-Man such a pleasure to play, but I’ve hit 83% completion and I genuinely feel like I’ll be dipping back in to finish things off and get to 100%.
Every aspect of this game is finely tuned and polished, so if you’re just messing about, you’re having fun. If there’s stealth or fights to be had, the mechanics and the execution is sublime. No matter what you’re doing, or how you’re approaching it, you have the tools.
Spider-Man looks wonderful, that’s already been said. One thing that really helps it set itself apart, though is the execution of the storytelling.
Cutscenes are action packed, the actors have delivered excellent performances and the dialogue tows the line between comic book worthy and AAA movie scripting.
Beyond that, the facial animations are incredible. Really adding weight to the delivery of key characters. Peter, May and MJ mostly.
Boss fights are massive, but end up being mostly QTE sessions, and a little samey. The flip-side of that though is that you get movie-worthy scenes and you’re taking part in them. I didn’t mind the almost repetitive fights because they weren’t prolonged or dragged-out. Snappy, high-action with some flair at the end.
Beyond that, you’re sucked-in. Sure, the pacing of the story around the middle is a bit steady, but it’s like watching a Spider-Man movie. The second act is just setting the third one up, and it kicks off in style.
I’m pretty sure I could watch a playthrough of someone else playing it and really enjoy it story-wise.
A good game is nothing without good sound design. Spider-man is no exception.
Fortunately, the orchestral score as you’re soaring between buildings is wonderful. The score itself is really quite special, lush and apt whenever it kicks in.
Beyond that, you have the sound design. Those gunshots, the kicks and punches, the iconic “web” sounds. The delivery of the script from main characters to NPC’s is excellent.
Peter and his classic spidey “quips” are there in full-form. Never taking too much away form a scenario, always adding a little levity.
The delivery as a whole is top-notch.
Bits on the side
Spider-man is made up of plenty of main story quests. Seeing the ins and outs of being a person and a super hero. The highs and the lows. Great stuff.
Sometimes though, the side-action is more alluring. No massive set-pieces, no huge scripted sequences, just low-stakes fun.
Between the XP gained for everything you do, you’re always earning some kind of token. Crime tokens, base tokens, research tokens etc. It sounds tedious and dull. In reality, you’re not actively trying to earn them, they just happen upon you when you’re having a good time doing everything the games has to offer.
Tokens are needed to purchase the plethora of Spider-man suits that are available.
Each suit comes with a new ability, allowing you new way to get out of sticky situations. Whether you’re suddenly so strong that you can attack right through armoured or shielded enemies, or you’re setting off an EMP, electrocuting enemies and disabling weapons.
In a clever move, Insomniac have only tied these abilities to the unlocking of the suits, not to use. So you can chop and change all abilities with any suit (Scarlet Spider for life!!).
To be honest, this is a pretty petty section, but I had a couple of gripes that are worth mentioning.
The combat is slick and fast-paced. Similar to the Arkham games, with Spidey-sense being far more appropriate for the dodging mechanic. it’s a sharp learning curve, but you get there eventually.
Movement is fluid and the motion-capture is wonderful. Swinging is again a little bit of a learning curve. Starting out, you don’t understand the importance of height and picking up speed on the way down, before webbing again. It’s poetry in motion once you get it though.
Between the combat and the motion, you’re definitely Spider-Man!
Problem is though, the PS4 controller is just a disappointment. It’s not properly advanced over several console generations and it shows. Uncomfortable, squishy and a little squashed. I’ve never encountered such an uncomfortable few initial hours on any game, it’s really odd.
The controls were mostly intuitive, but I couldn’t stop myself from pressing triangle every time I wanted to counter/dodge. Circle was an odd choice for the standard settings.
The only other issue I had, is that the difficulty settings were pointless…….Usually, a game gives you difficulty to make it more of a challenge (Spider-Man was rough at the start on the hardest setting, but adequately challenging at the end), and then you’re rewarded for making that extra effort.
Spider-man gives you no incentive to do things on a more difficult setting. no suits, no powers, not even a poxy trophy. It’s odd because it would really add to the re-playability, give 100% chasers a bit more of a challenge. Instead it doesn’t make any difference at all, and it’s a really odd decision.
One minor, but evidently major tool that comes with Spider-Man is the photo mode, and damn is it fun!
When a game looks this good, and you’re traversing New York in slick spidey-style, you want to capture it as much as possible. That sick twist at the apex of your swing, when the sun-set floods golden sunlight between buildings? Get it snapped!
Standard tool in terms of PS4 photo modes, but with some comic-book flare. Nice frames, stickers and filters. I added hours to the game by just trying to get the perfect snap.
Every man and their dog that has played this game, has been posting like crazy. Myself included.
What a great little addition that just elevates the whole experience.
All in all….
That’s a lot of words above, for some minor gripes.
Truth is, the only bad things I could find about it were petty and redundant. Spider-Man for PS4 is the peak in terms of Spider-Man games, and in terms of the 3rd-person sandbox genre.
Insomniac have created a gem of a game with polish that most AAA games seem to find unattainable.
A sense of freedom, fun and fluidity makes Spider-Man an absolute joy to play.
Irreverent, sincere and everything in between.
This game is absolutely worthy of the Ninja Refinery “exceptional” rating.
I’ll be playing this for months to come, just mopping up the loose-ends, and playing the pending DLC, too.
Being Spider-Man has never been so much fun.