Swinging through the skyscrapers of New York as Spider-Man feels as amazing as ever.
Developer: Insomniac Games
Release date: Sept. 2018
Platforms: PlayStation 4
In almost every way, Marvel’s Spider-Man feels like a standard formulaic Ubisoft game. There are a plentiful amount of icons on the map to check off and main missions to advance the story. There are also a few side-missions where Spider-Man helps out the citizens of New York thrown in for good measure. Where Spider-Man differentiates itself, is through how good it feels to just get around from place to place.
Being Spider-Man, he can move through the bustling city of New York with ease by attaching webs and swinging from building to building. It turns out that the simple act of swinging is enough to keep me playing, even though I have a growing backlog of games with more engaging stories and gameplay.
Combine the ease of swinging with the ability to zip to a point on roofs and launch off of it to gain extra speed, and there’s really no barrier to prevent the player from moving through the city however they want. Spider-Man can also run up or use webs to scale buildings. Epic music, in the literal sense, begins playing when Spider-Man starts swinging too. Every movement tool in Spider-Man’s kit makes racing to the next icon a blast.
It also helps that Marvel’s Spider-Man is the first game that I haven’t immediately noticed was running at only 30 frames per second. The primary reason for that being how rock solid the frame rate is. Not once did I notice the frame rate drop at all. The reason that’s so significant is that literally every other open-world-style PlayStation 4 game I’ve played has had frame rate drops. They usually occur when a lot of action or visual effects are happening on the screen, but not in my experience with Marvel’s Spider-Man. Maybe that’s because there aren’t a ton of visual effects happening on the screen, but it’s worth pointing out regardless.
Most of those icons are just collectibles, such as backpacks with lore tidbits, or photographing famous landmarks, but there are also combat-focused activities like crimes or gang hideouts. All activities reward tokens which can be used to craft unlocks or upgrades such as new suits or gadgets.
Crimes are a bit more dynamic. A robbery in progress or drug deal are fairly common, but there are also car chases where Spider-Man must catch up and stop a speeding car. After successfully completing a quick-time event, these chases always end with Spider-Man pushing against the car to stop it in its tracks.
I’ve spent the past few paragraphs describing everything but the main missions for good reason, they just haven’t connected with me. By no means am I a Spider-Man fan. Sure, I’ll watch a Spider-Man movie, but it’s because it’s a big-budget Marvel movie, not because I especially like the character.
For some, I suspect it’ll be a relief to hear that playing Marvel’s Spider-Man is like watching one of any number of Spider-Man movies that have come out in the past 20 years. To its credit, Marvel’s Spider-Man skips the origin story and dives deep into his career, having imprisoned several villains already. In this timeline, Peter Parker works for Dr. Octavius, helping advance his research into prosthetic limbs. I’ve barely started the story, but I can already see miles ahead. Maybe there are surprises ahead, but the story being set up so far is very predictable.
Another significant plot point is Parker’s relationship with freelance journalist Mary Jane Watson. It seems that the couple broke up several months earlier. That’s basically all I know at this point, but I suspect it’ll develop into a will-they-won’t-they situation.
Throughout all this, Spider-Man still maintains his usual wise-cracking demeanor, but that casual upbeat tone creates a major tonal shift whenever he is working with the police. In order to reveal more of the map, Spider-Man must repair police surveillance antennas. That’s right, Spider-Man is actively perpetuating mass surveillance of the city and people he claims to love so much. The degree to which Spider-Man admires the police of New York and seemingly wants to be one is also pretty gross considering the numerous instances of police violence perpetrated against Black Americans, including the recent police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin in front of his children, which left him paralyzed.
Combat in Marvel’s Spider-Man is the familiar button-mashing style popularized by the Batman Arkham games. Essentially, it boils down to pushing the square button to attack and circle to dodge. The player can also use one of several gadgets such as the web shooter to ensnare enemies. I don’t have much to say about the combat aside from how oddly difficult I’ve found it to be.
Attacks from enemies with guns can be dodged, but if the player slips up just once, they’ll find a quarter of their health bar missing. I’ve heavily relied on one of the numerous suit powers, Web Blossom, to neutralize multiple enemies at once as a result.
Speaking of suits, there are a ton of them to unlock. They range in tone, from comical to referential. For example, the Spider-Punk suit gives Spide-Man a Mohawk and denim jacket, while the Iron-Spider suit has a metallic look. Unlocking a new suit also comes with a new suit power. Thankfully, instead of being forced to wear a specific suit for its power, the player can mix and match.
Marvel’s Spider-Man is a perfectly fine open-world cluttered with trivial side activities. The main story is very concerned with Spider-Man’s work-life balance which could be especially resonant now that we seem to live at work now.