Review: Marvel’s Spider-Man

My initial impression on booting up the highly-anticipated Marvel’s Spider-Man, the new game from Insomniac was pure glee. The opening moments of the game put you front and center of everything and things start out faster than I expected, and as credits rolled over a week later during my first playthrough, I kept thinking back to that opening. If you’re wondering why that is, well, it’s because Insomniac nailed what they set out to do and filled me with sheer joy as the credits rolled. I was Spider-Man for a week, and Insomniac helped me achieve that.

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Over the years we’ve had some good but mostly bad Spider-Man games, often quick cash grabs banking on a summer blockbuster release. The only games worth mentioned include Spider-Man 2 and Ultimate Spider-Man. Everything else you cannot compare to what we’re getting with Marvel’s Spider-Man because of the amount of respect and admiration the studio has for the property.

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I had moments when playing this game where I was frustrated, not at the game, but because I thought the controls felt cumbersome. Within an hour though things finally clicked, and I was zipping around New York like I’d been there for years. The legacy of Spider-Man has always been hit or miss with video games, but I feel finally, with trust put into Insomniac, things are finally coming into focus and allowing the iconic superhero to earn the respect he deserves.

What caused my frustration was how I overthought the process of web-swinging. It’s absurdly simple: holding R2 allows Spider-Man to throw a line of web out that attaches to the nearest building and from there, you use momentum just like when swinging, to release at the top of a swing. From there, you can either web-zip by pressing X to maintain momentum or using the L2 + R2 to position a web launch that allows you to zip to whatever you’re aiming the circle reticle at. Pressing L3 one puts Spider-Man into a dive from a tall building and builds speed and holding L2 slows time down to plan maneuvers Physics plays a big part of this, as where you time your swing and when you leave your swing points Spider-Man in another direction. I was a bit upset I couldn’t master this from the start but by the end of my playthrough, I was getting across the city with speed and prowess.

That’s not all Spider-Man can do, as you’re running across a building, you can either press Circle to turn the building, or if you’re running up a building to the roof, you can press X to boost momentum and leap over the building and continue swinging, the amount of work Insomniac put into getting this very important aspect right proves they are the right studio for this property. Moving around is fast, it’s fluid and most importantly it’s fun when you understand the basics. Combining all the mechanics allows for cool maneuvers across rooftops and when you get the rhythm going you’ll find yourself being brave and trying out new combinations to get where you want to go.

Playing as Spidey also means you’ll be dealing with thugs, soldiers, and super-powered baddies. Combat may take cues from Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham series, but I find vastly improves upon them and even suits Spider-Man better. Like web-swinging, the best practice is to get the rhythm of combat down and start off with simple combos before moving to the advanced combat skills you can do. When battling, Square is your main button for dealing damage, and combos start out simple. Spider-Man is acrobatic and agile, but he can’t counter when an enemy is about to strike, instead of by using Spider-sense, you can dodge out of it and if timed perfectly can web the enemy attacking, opening them up to attack and allowing you to build your combo meter up. Environmental attacks break up crowds effectively and learning to herd enemies to these spots will prove successful if you can knock the scaffolding down or pick up a sewer cover to knock enemies away.

Also, you can use a number of useful gadgets that prove useful including web bombs, electric webbing, Spider-drones, trip mines, and more. By leveling up and earning various tokens spread out throughout the city, you gain access to a multitude of gadgets by tapping the L1 button and selecting your weapon of choice.

The Focus meter builds up by successfully completing combos, as you fill the meter you can use it to either regenerate health of finish off enemies with flashy finishers.

Once you master the basics, it really is up to you to piece together the epic encounters Spider-Man is known for, by the end of the game you can chain things together in a way you didn’t know was possible and a lot of it is left to your imagination.

After learning the basics and playing around with combos, dodging and gadgets, story beats eventually lead to some fantastic boss battles. With confidence, I can say Insomniac crafted some of coolest boss encounters, each feeling different, each requiring your attention. With that in mind, these encounters prepared me for what is the best final boss battle I’ve had the pleasure of finishing in a video game. The last battle in Marvel’s Spider-Man outshines the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I never felt more like a superhero than the last hour of this game, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to get that feeling again.

By now if you’ve followed the game, you know that you aren’t only playing as Spider-Man but also Peter Parker who is a scientist in this game. Most of the time you’re spent solving puzzles to get equipment upgraded, the puzzles are like the puzzles found in BioShock, and I thoroughly enjoyed the segments where you aren’t a superhero because they allow you dive into the lore in new ways.

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Mary Jane has her moment to shine as an investigative journalist who works out of the Daily Bugle. Her sections are as exciting as playing as Peter, helping push the story forward while gaining insight on many familiar faces. There’s also one more surprise that you’ll encounter worth discovering on your own, one that put a massive smile on my face.

Insomniac Games has crafted a satisfying and loving tribute to one of the most recognizable superheroes around. From the web-swinging to the slick combat, the attention to detail is delightful, and the number of power-ups, gadgets and collectibles will keep you busy for a long time, and the number of Spider-suits to unlock will give you the perfect shot with photo mode. I kept my expectations at a reasonable level leading up to release my expectations were blown away for the better. Welcome to New York, The City That Never Sleeps.

[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes]