Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can.
That’s why Marvel’s Spider-Man, developed by Insomniac Games, features a ten-minute cutscene of Stan Lee screaming as Peter Parker’s eggs hatch in his hair and thousands of tiny Spider-Men crawl down his face.
Okay, that’s not technically true, but as the titular webslinger, there’s very little that this superhero outing won’t let you get up to. The game’s context sensitive controls, coupled with an almost supernatural ability to read your intent, means that swinging, sneaking and punching your way across New York becomes a wonderfully fluid ballet.
Swing when you’re winning
With just a few button presses you can punch a villain into the air, web him against a wall and tackle another thug, lending combat a pleasingly cinematic feel. And while fans of Treyarch’s Spider-Man 2 from 2004 might miss the ability to double web-swing, traversing the New York skyline is equally intuitive. Soaring from rooftop to roadside and back again is an utter joy. So much so, in fact, that you’ll be reluctant to engage with the game’s plot for fear of losing out on valuable web-slinging time.
You could, in theory, spend the whole of the game skimming the top of pedestrians’ heads with your spider-feet, but it’s well worth taking the plunge and delving into Spider-Man‘s story. Insomniac has, prior to the game’s release, explained that game was going to take place in its own world. And while some balked at this decision, it’s really paid off.
You don’t have to be a fan of Marvel’s arachnid superhero to appreciate the tale Spider-Man weaves, but even if you are, the game – which isn’t an origin story – throws you enough narrative curve-balls to keep you off balance. Peter Parker is Spider-Man and J. Jonah Jameson is a grumpy, outspoken pundit, but other than that, everything else is up for grabs. The tale does falter a little in the middle and sometimes feels as if it’s two stories stitched together, but it’s not enough to drag the game down.
As the web-wielding wonder, you’re tasked with tackling several indoor missions, and while they’re a tad more restrictive you still have the freedom to approach them as you see fit. I chose to lurk in the rafters, webbing hoodlums up since Spider-Man‘s foes apparently lack the ability to look up. Your enemies are typically well-armed henchmen rather than members of Spider-Man’s rogue’s gallery; they’re at least smart enough to notice that one of their friends has gone missing, and if they see you dragging someone into the air they’ll quickly wise up.
While webbing enemies to ceiling beams had me grinning like an idiot, leaping down and pummelling your enemies is an equally valid strategy. It’s one with a higher risk, though. Even with the upgrades you acquire through crime-battling busy work, enemies are more than capable of putting Spidey down. But when it all goes smoothly, no matter how you decide to dispose of your foes, combat in Spider-Man is a real rush.
What does chip away at the game’s appeal, though, is its insistence on periodically subjecting you to stealth sections. Typically playing as Mary Jane Watson, Spider-Man’s on-off-on girlfriend, you’ll be tasked to sneak past enemies, usually to gather some information. Her levels are rather bland affairs; you have little freedom to explore and the path you’re meant to take is insultingly clear. I suspect Insomniac intended these levels to be a palate cleanser, but instead they’re more of an imposition, dragging you away from the spider-swinging action.
This is doubly frustrating because while Insomniac hasn’t changed up Peter Parker, keeping his trademark humour, the game’s portrayal of Mary Jane Watson is one of the most interesting takes on the character. At times, she’s been depicted as mere eye-candy; little more than leverage against Spider-Man. Yet here she’s smart, determined and willing to get to the truth, even without Peter’s help, and she rarely needs rescuing. As an undercover reporter, having her engage in some actual detective work would have been more appropriate – but she’s just wasted on small and annoying stealth missions.
Suits you, Spidey
Stealth sections aside, Marvel’s Spider-Man does sport a few other little irritations. I found myself getting frustrated that I was unable to climb down from a rooftop but instead had to leap off then swing back onto the building. The game’s busywork can be trying but it’s at least more varied than in previous Spider-Man games – and it does let you unlock some of the game’s rather snazzy Spider-suits, along with their unique abilities. It had me questioning whether getting Spider-Man to hurl an explosive device into the air complies with bomb-disposal guidance. Though, on the other hand, I was able to use Spider-Man‘s absolutely wonderful photo mode to snap a selfie next to a rapidly counting-down bomb.
Marvel’s Spider-Man has clearly been a labour of love for Insomniac, and each time you play you’ll pick up on the sheer attention to detail they’ve paid to the game. Like the way that if you web a villain to an object you can still then throw that object, with the miscreant still attached. Or that that there’s two sets of dialogue, one for when Spider-Man’s resting and one for when he’s exerting himself.
It’s not perfect, but Marvel’s Spider-Man is the best that a Spider-Man game has ever been, knocking even the long-lauded Spider-Man 2 off its perch. Fast, fluid and webtastically fun, Spider-Man will appeal to Spider-fans and newcomers alike.
Marvel’s Spider-Man is available on PS4.