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Spider-Man has had a place in gaming since the Atari days, with the web-slinger starring in dozens of titles ranging from classics to, well, pretty terrible. Marvel’s Spider-Man, a PlayStation 4 exclusive from Insomniac Games (the longtime makers of Ratchet & Clank), gives us our latest take on virtual Spidey.
On the surface, this new Spider-Man game is following a familiar formula. You swing around an open-world New York City while stopping crimes and fighting bad guys. It’s not all that different from 2004’s Spider-Man 2 game, which many fans of gaming and comics still regard as one of the best superhero outings ever made. I agree with them. Even after all these years, it remains the best Spider-Man game.
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At least it did until now. Insomniac’s take on Spider-Man now reigns as the web-head’s best game.
What you’ll like
Using webs to swing around the city is the main Spider-Man fantasy, and this game does a fantastic job capturing it. Swinging is easy, as you just push the R2 button to latch onto nearby grapple points. You can latch onto any building, tree, or pole, so you’ll almost always have something to web onto (you’ll only be out of luck if you swing higher than the nearby buildings or go over open water). You then release the button when you want to stop swinging.
But you can do so much more than just press the same button again and again. You can jump out of a swing for extra height and then press the X button to shot out a new web and use it to yank yourself forward. You can also swing up against walls, automatically making you run along them as long as you keep that R2 button held down. You can also dive while in midair, giving you a big speed boost for your next swing.
It’s exhilarating, and it’s easy to do. Swinging also looks fantastic. The animations blend well together to make Spider-Man look acrobatic and agile. You spend a lot of time swinging through the city, and it never gets old.
New York, New York
New York City is your playground swinging playground, and Spider-Man’s take on the Big Apple is huge and full of details. You can go to the landmarks like Madison Square Garden, the Empire State Building, Times Square, and Central Park. It also has locations based on the Marvel universe, like Avenger’s Tower and the Wakanda Embassy.
Exploring the city is a blast for anyone who’s a fan of New York or Marvel. Insomniac has added so many unique structures to make its New York feel authentic, and those details make it stand out as one of the more impressive open worlds in video games.
We’ve had other Spider-Man games with cool open worlds and fun swinging mechanics, but the fighting elevates Marvel’s Spider-Man to new heights. So many superhero games copy the combat from the Batman Arkham series since that franchise started in 2009, which revolves around timing counters to enemy attacks so you can instantly knock them out. It was novel until every other third-person action game started using the same exact system (including some previous Spider-Man games).
Thankfully, Insomniac went for something that focuses on Spider-Man’s agility and web-based abilities. Enemies don’t fall into the usual video game trope of waiting their turn to attack you. They’re active combatants, so you need to do your best to isolate foes. This means that you’ll want to knock enemies into the air, where you can fight them with less fear of being hit by someone else.
You have your Spider Sense, which flashes above Spider-Man’s head when he’s about to get hit. But this is about giving you an opportunity to dodge an upcoming attack rather than countering one. Sure, later you’ll earn an ability that automatically shoots web at a person’s face if you dodge their attack right before they’re about to strike, but that just incapacitates them for a bit.
Since Insomniac’s combat has you focusing more on dodging rather than countering, you feel much more like Spider-Man. You quickly go from enemy to enemy, moving across the entire battlefield as you dodge attacks and look for openings. This also encourages you to use your web abilities, which can stun or incapacitate distant enemies so that you can focus on closer threats.
The battle system has a lot of depth. As you perform combos, you build up a focus meter. If you fill this up, you can knock out an enemy with a flashy attack (seriously, these look awesome … and painful). But you also use this focus meter to heal. So you have to choose between health and instant knockouts. You can also get quick knock-outs if you focus on a stealth approach, attacking foes from above and disappearing before anyone else sees you.
Combat’s focus on speed, agility, and gadgets makes you feel like Spider-Man. Web-swinging is always the sexy part of a Spider-Man game, but the impressive fighting mechanics do just as much to make this game exciting.
The full Spider experience
Spider-Man is so much more than a crime-fighter. He’s a scientist, a photographer, and all-around nice guy. The game captures all of these aspects of the character. Minigames have you connecting circuits, matching wave lengths, and even working with spectrographs. You can earn experience points and help unlock new abilities and costumes by taking pictures of landmarks around New York City. Swinging through the air, busting out my camera, and taking a picture of Federal Hall without touching the ground was the most Spider-Man feeling thing I’ve ever done in a video game.
It also captures the heart of Spider-Man and his alter ego, Peter Parker. Little moments, like his encouraging conversations with homeless friends at a shelter, remind me why this character is so likable. It also shows us the classic Spider-Man struggle, with his desire to do good interfering in his personal and professional life. You also have appearances from most of the famous Spider-Man cast, including M.J. and Aunt May. J. Jonah Jameson also finds a perfect role as the host of a talk radio show that spends most its time trashing Spider-Man as a menace.
If you love Spider-Man, this is the most complete Spidey experience you’ll find in a game.
What you won’t like
Most side actives offer original content, and each district spawns random crime activities. At first, these seem to come in a lot of variety. You’ll have to stop a break-in, free drivers from a car wreck, or even stop a getaway vehicle. But you’ll begin to do repeat a lot of these. Even Spider-Man’s usually endearing quips become repetitive after the seventh time you’ve stopped a mugging.
Thankfully, these crime activities aren’t the extent of side missions in the game. You’ll also be taking pictures of landmarks, protecting scientific research stations, and even capturing pigeons. And the way these crimes pop out at seemingly random times does feel organic and helps give you the feeling of a crime-fighter having to stop everything and attend to a nearby crisis. They just get a little old toward the later part of the game.
Marvel’s Spider-Man is the best superhero game since Batman: Arkham Asylum. The swinging, combat, and New York City itself come together to create a Spider-Man experience that is exciting and faithful to the character. If you’ve ever been a fan of Spidey, you need to check out his newest digital adventure.
This is now the best Spider-Man game, taking the crown from Spider-Man 2. It is also one of the PlayStation 4’s best exclusives and one of the best super hero games ever.
Marvel’s Spider-Man comes out on September 7 for PlayStation 4. The publisher sent us a code for this review.
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