The collaborative effort from Sony and Insomniac Games has led to one of the finest and most sophisticated superhero games since DC’s Batman Arkham Asylum, and it’s in the form of Marvel’s Spider-Man.
The game, exclusive to PS4, provides a twenty-hour long story mode which puts Spider-Man up against a succession of his foes; in addition to the satisfying story length, there is an abundance of side missions on offer. However, the game really comes into its own with the open world setting of Manhattan, the details and scale of the borough is absolutely superb; whether you’re racing over roof-tops as Spider-man or blending in as Peter Parker at ground level, there is so much to appreciate. The game also snatches a handful of screen grabs from the Marvel Cinematic Universe including the Avengers’ tower, the Tony Stark technology in the suits and the latest on-screen Spidey suits including the Iron Spider. So, could this be the first step towards Marvel’s gaming universe? Beware for some spoilers ahead!
The story starts with an unfamiliar time to us in Peter Parker’s life. He’s a 23-year-old research assistant, with 8 years of experience of dealing with a dual personality, and, adding further depth to Peter’s life, he and long-term love interest Mary Jane Watson have recently parted ways. Mr. Martin Li, who funds and owns homeless shelters across the city, is the primary antagonist after he too develops an alter ego, Mister Negative. Peter helps Aunt May at one of Mr. Li’s shelters and that is where the complications of the conflict begin. Mister Negative then breaks out a number of other foes from a maximum-security facility, piling on the pressure on Spider-Man to save the city. The length of the story is ideal and there is a variety of villains to fill the whole 20 hours, including Kingpin and Rhino, to name a couple. The story mode also places a lot of emphasis on the commitments of Peter Parker and it is an integral part of the game that you juggle both lifestyles of the dual personality. The need to bring balance to Peter’s life adds a great deal of depth to the character, making the game that much more absorbing as you see the hero you play in more detail than in previous games of the same ilk. But if the length of the game and the richness of the character isn’t enough for you, then the remarkable virtual construction of NYC and the open world exploration on offer should be able to captivate your intrigue. The detail truly is dazzling, with the vibrancy of the city that never sleeps captured almost to perfection. The extra sights, such as the Avengers’ tower, work as the cherry on top of the big apple-sized cake.
The movement of the character is a key feature to how Spider-Man battles his enemies and travels through the city, and the movement in the game is nothing less than spectacular. Whether you are taking on the likes of Vulture or Electro or oscillating from skyscraper to skyscraper chasing a crane being hauled by a helicopter, the movement created by Insomniac games is both delightful and majestic. One of the game’s perhaps under-appreciated perks is how easy it is to manoeuvre through the city, simply swing and jump by pressing the right trigger enabling to you cover ground with ease; furthermore, a misconnection with the trigger and Spider-man runs casually alongside a building maintaining momentum and allowing an easy stance to restart your carefree swinging. The fight sequences again illustrate the graceful nature of Spider-Man’s movement and once again serve as a commendation for the magnificent work Insomniac and Sony have done. The action is less brutish than that of Batman Arkham Asylum and Spider-Man feels less heavy than the 2009 game, reflecting the contrast on the big screen of the lighter-hearted MCU compared to the DC cinematic universe.
The side missions on offer can be for both Spider-Man and Peter Parker, diversifying the time spent as each personality. There are even some missions where you get the opportunity to play as MJ Watson, adding another dimension to the gameplay. The side missions not only permit you to venture further around the city, but they also have their own Spider-man twist bringing a greater sense of individuality to the game. Whilst playing as Spider-Man there is a wide range of suits which can be unlocked, and each with their own unique abilities which are required for certain missions. Side missions tie in with the suits as tokens earned from missions can be used to trade for upgrades. The Iron Spider suit is another welcomed feature from the MCU, likewise is the technology in most of the suits, which bears an identical resemblance to that given to Peter by Tony Stark. These little details snatched from the big screen certainly feel like Marvel are alluding towards a Marvel Gaming Universe, something that would be an immense opportunity and potentially could dominate the gaming market if executed correctly.
However, even though the game looks seamless, there are a few bugbears to note. For instance, some of the fight scenes with the main villains can feel a little too cinematic rather than letting you orchestrate the entire contest. This feels like a dilution of your own heroics, and while you can fight off relentless thugs, this loses its appeal as it is a lesser challenge and can become repetitive. Furthermore, the twists in the story feel, to some extent, predictable even for an open world. It could be that Marvel is using Spider-Man as a trial in the sense that it is a game that has been a success in the past and therefore there are fewer risks in launching it as the first in a long line of games.
Overall, there is very little criticism that can be given to Marvel’s Spider-Man, it is a game of the highest calibre and for sure is the best superhero game since Batman’s Arkham Asylum. The story is a good length and the side missions provide more opportunities to test your web-slinging skills, NYC proves a perfect setting for a swinging hero like Spidey. It’s also enjoyable playing as Peter Parker as it presents a different challenge. The game does feel like a safe bet from Marvel, but it is a job that has been done to extremely high standards and this is clear in the level of detail of Manhattan. The door may not have been left wide open for other Marvel games, but it is at least ajar if any successors want to make their mark in the Marvel Gaming Universe.
By Henry Burgess