Since the first 3D take on the web-head back in the 2000s, Spider-Man has been a staple in video games. While there were some excellent games before the 3D era, the third dimension really allowed players to feel like the wall-crawler. This eventually led to the seminal Spider-Man 2 back in 2004, which introduced players to an open world of web-swinging and remains one of the most beloved licensed video games ever. Since then, there have been ups and downs for Spidey games. But when Sony announced a new standalone title developed by Insomniac, the studio behind the classic Spyro the Dragon and open-world hit Sunset Overdrive (see my review here), even I knew I would need to get my hands on a PS4 sooner or later.
Not surprisingly given the pedigree of both the franchise and the developer, swinging around New York as Spider-Man feels incredible. While one might think that the aforementioned 2004 title already mastered this mechanic, they’d be wrong. The physics-based web-swinging feels fluid and natural, and Insomniac has thrown in a number of cool new tricks to help you get around quickly and in style. Point launching allows Spider-Man to vault on rooftops and other things to gain speed, and they even added an option to do tricks in the air, in the style of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. It’s a minor feature, but it shows just how much went into the game’s traversal mechanics. An open world is only as fun as the way you get around it, and this is a great example.
Combat borrows a fair bit from the Arkham Asylum series, but with a Spider-Man twist. Webs are used heavily, in more ways than one, and Spider Sense is a good excuse for those warnings to dodge that are always common in these games. Spidey is equipped with several gadgets and skills to be unlocked and upgraded along the way, and different types of enemies will require different tactics. This makes the combat varied and exciting, but I also can’t help but feel a bit overwhelmed at times. You need to keep track of what attacks work on each enemy (though the game thankfully provides real time tips), your gadgets, your skills, and your suit powers at all times if you want to really be successful. Each of those things comes with corresponding upgrades over time too, so it can be a bit difficult to keep track of all of the mechanics. That being said, there is an option for an easier difficulty level, which makes things a lot more simple. The different options and upgrades are still there; you just don’t have to pay as much attention to them.
The other side of games like this is the open world exploration, and this game is no slouch in that area. I already mentioned the web swinging, but you also need a good environment around it. Fortunately, there’s plenty to do in this recreation of New York, beyond the story missions. There are various side quests, collectibles, and challenges spread all over the map. It’s worth completing these, as they give you tokens to help unlock upgrades and alternate suits for Spidey. Different challenges and collectibles are unlocked as you progress through the story, so it isn’t as overwhelming as it sounds. Some are as simple as finding Peter’s lost backpacks around the city or photographing landmarks, while others are mini-missions in their own right. The backpacks and landmarks in particular lead to a lot of fan service, as each backpack contains an item from Peter’s past, and the landmarks include famous Marvel locations like Avengers Tower and the Sanctum Sanctorum. While it would have been nice to see a few more of those landmarks, this is the first open world Spider-Man game in quite a while to feature such locations.
But the biggest source of fan service in most Spider-Man games is unlocking alternate suits, especially as the character has worn so many different costumes over the years. Particularly cool inclusions here are all three suits from the MCU (including Infinity War’s Iron Spider) and a cell-shaded suit reminiscent of classic comics. And that doesn’t even include the game’s own brand new “Advanced Suit” (also known as the “White Spider”) which is awesome in its own right. This time, collecting suits isn’t just cosmetic; each suit you unlock also unlocks an appropriate special ability. For example, the “Stark Suit” from Spider-Man Homecoming introduces a drone that can shock your enemies, while the Spider Armor suit unlocks the ability to become bulletproof for a short time. This adds a nice touch to the hunt, and since you can mix and match the suits and powers, you can put together your own best Spidey.
Eventually you will get to the main story sections of the game, and fortunately, there’s a fair bit of variety in these too. Sometimes you’re fighting goons, other times you’re taking sneaky photos as Mary Jane Watson. I really appreciate how the story spends time with both Peter and Spidey, and the less combat-oriented stages are a welcome breather. The story itself is nothing special, but it does the job for the most part. There are a couple of twists that will be old news to comic readers, and pretty easy to predict for everyone else. But outside of one section where the plot takes a major turn based on something that’s on screen for only a second or two, the story is serviceable. The characters are great, though, with excellent voice actors and face captures to make the characters feel real.
You can only have fun swinging around and punching people for so long, so I don’t know how long the thrills will last, but this is an excellent game regardless. There’s enough gameplay variety that you won’t get bored too easily, and the story does a good job of propelling the action forward. It’ll be pretty familiar to fans of past Spider-Man games, but this iteration makes excellent use of those tools. So while Spider-Man might not be fresh and new, it’s a blast to play, and I recommend it highly.