pop culture | no politics
For a long time, gamers had to live with the fact that licensed titles featuring their favorite superheros were going to be awful. The production of these video games was often rushed to coincide with film releases, which resulted in a half-baked experience that was poorly thought out and executed. But 2009's Arkham Asylum, a Batman title created by developer Rocksteady, challenged that mindset and proved that with a little planning and attention to detail it was possible to create a superhero game that was not only fun to play, but one that enriches comic books rather than simply borrowing from them.
The Arkham games' fingerprints are all over Marvel's Spider-Man, a PlayStation exclusive developed by Insomniac Games. It's the first console video game featuring Spidey since 2014's The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which was based on the ill-fated movie reboot featuring Andrew Garfield in the lead role. That game was fine, as was its predecessor, but every single element in this latest title exceeds anything that came before it.
Marvel's Spider-Man lives in an open world version of New York City, and Insomniac has done an outstanding job of making the metropolis feel alive. Rendering large cities in video games is always a tricky thing, it's difficult to properly capture the scale while also making it possible to quickly navigate through such a large environment. Luckily for both gamers and the developer, Spider-Man's superpowers make it easy to get around New York in a quick manner as the webslinger quickly swings through the various boroughs that make up the city. It's one of the most-satisfying ways I've ever traveled in a video game, delivering a speed that quickly gets you to your destination. While the swinging mechanic takes a while to understand, once you figure it out it reveals itself to be one of the most satisfying ways to travel in a video game. The game does a great job of mixing in enough special moves that swinging never gets old, as a number of button shortcuts can be utilize to keep travel from ever becoming boring. Each of the eight sections of the game's map has a distinct feel to it, you'll never confuse the Financial District with the Upper West Side, which keeps the map feeling fresh even after spending twenty hours swinging through its skyscrapers and apartment buildings.
A big part of what makes Spider-Man such a great superhero is that he is not only an agile acrobat, he can also hold his own in a fistfight. Marvel's Spider-Man boasts excellent combat mechanics, and is the element of the game that makes me recall the Arkham games the most. Like the Batman games, fighting in Spider-Man is all about anticipating danger coming from your opponents, and pressing the right button to deliver a devastating counter attack. No Spidey experience would be complete without some of Peter Parker's technological innovations, and the game offers a handful of gadgets to aid in taking down bad guys. Spider-Man will almost always be outnumbered in combat, but through careful management of your resources you'll never find yourself on the short end of the odds. The game utilizes a focus meter that when filled allows you to execute a finishing move that will instantly take down all but the strongest of enemies, and is also used to restore Spider-Man's health.
No open world game is complete without collectibles and side quests, and Spider-Man delivers some of the most creative extracurricular activities I've ever seen in a video game. There's dozens of Peter's old backpacks littered throughout the map, each one containing a piece of nostalgia from the character's storied history in both comics and films. Parker's career as a photographer for the Daily Bugle also comes into play as you're offered the chance to snap pictures of New York City's most famous landmarks, some being real like Madison Square Garden while others only existing within the pages of Marvel comics. There's four different types of challenges that demand the best of the player's skill in stealth, combat, and ability to get around the map as fast as possible. The best part of game's side activities is that they're not just bonus things to do, investing the time into them will yield tokens that can be used to upgrade your gadgets or purchase one of the twenty nine costumes featured in the game.
Spider-Man's various suits offer much more than just cosmetic changes as each one you unlock comes with a new suit power. These come into play during combat and are your most powerful move, delivering either a ton of damage to your opponents or as a defensive measure for yourself. These powers feature a standard cool down timer, and they'll often be the difference between surviving an encounter or dying on the rooftops of New York City. One of the game's biggest highlights is that you can use any suit power once you unlock it, so you're not forced to stare at an ugly costume just because you find the power associated with it to be useful.
Marvel's Spider-Man delivers a strong story, even if some of the shocking revelations are telegraphed early on in the game. You can expect to see most of the classic Spider-Man characters make an appearance, along with a handful of new ones. There's even a few moments when you'll find yourself playing as a character other than Spider-Man, and while these are among the weakest moments in the game they didn't soil the experience. The pacing is great and I never grew tired of the narrative, I was engrossed enough in the main quest that I found it difficult to take a break in order to work on the side activities.
There's only two negative things I can say about Marvel's Spider-Man, the first being the somewhat-clunky stealth sequences. There's a half dozen of these littered throughout the main quest, and while none of them are particularly long they all feature a pretty sensitive detection mechanic. You'll find yourself getting caught by the bad guys often as these moments boil down to little more than pattern recognition learned through trial and error. Get by three bad guys, get caught by the fourth, learn from the mistake, repeat until you succeed. Stealth in any game tends to have this hiccup, but in a game where I'd rather be swinging through the streets it was particularly annoying to suffer through these moments in Spider-Man.
The other problem was far more obnoxious, but also partially my own fault. Each district in the game has a handful of street crimes you must deal with in order to completely finish the game. I left almost all of these until I had wrapped-up the main story, which forced me to tackle them all back to back which quickly left them feeling repetitive. While there was a little variety in the kind of crimes that randomly pop up, ultimately all of them boil down to beating up bad guys before they can finish you off. If I could do it over again I would've chipped away at these street crimes during the campaign so it wouldn't end up being such a chore.
Marvel's Spider-Man was first announced at the 2016 e3 conference, and faced huge expectations before arriving on shelves this September. But it not only lives up to the hype but manages to exceed it, and is the best superhero video game since 2011's inFAMOUS 2 and Arkham City. It's a must-play game for PlayStation 4 owners, and is the kind of title that you buy a console for if you don't already own one. It not only succeeds as a stand alone game, but will hopefully serve as a foundation for another successful video game franchise. Marvel's Spider-Man instantly becomes a Game of the Year contender, and shouldn't fall outside the top five in what has proven to be one of the best years for video games.
• Amazing graphics and sound
• Rewarding side quests
• Satisfying gameplay
• Entertaining story
• Great costumes
• Crime missions are repetitive
• Stealth sequences are weak