Picture yourself, perched precariously on one of New York’s iconic skyscrapers. Admiring a sunset which not only demonstrates the graphical fidelity of the PS4 but whose shadow represents a looming threat, cast from a high-security prison intended only for the most dangerous of super villains. You can then imagine that gracefully leaping and diving from this perch causes a momentum shift. As you accelerate towards the ground, the speed and excitement of being a superhero catches up with you and you feel as though you actually are Spider Man. It is with this speed and excitement that ‘Marvel’s Spider-Man’ eagerly drops you into the life of Peter Parker and his web-slinging alter ego. Mechanically a masterpiece and graphically impressive, the single player, open world ‘Marvel’s Spider-Man’ is one of the best pieces of superhero media to be released in recent years.
Upon starting a new game we are introduced to an already established Spider-Man within the city of New York. The camera pans through an apartment full of trophies and newspaper clippings, demonstrating the prowess of our hero’s abilities. These items are in stark contrast to the clutter that pervades the rest of the apartment, empty food containers and overdue rent notices litter the floor, perfectly establishing the dual identities of the human being Peter Parker and the superhero that New York needs to survive.
Rounding out this character establishment is where the game really begins. Peter Parker enters frame, hurriedly eating whilst squeezing into tights after receiving a call from the police that the villain, Wilson Fisk, is being arrested. After a condensed ‘suit-up’ sequence, ‘Spider-Man’ appears and promptly leaps out of the window. Hurtling towards the ground, the camera pans around and seamlessly transitions into inviting you to ‘hold R2 to web swing’. Thus the pace of ‘Spider-Man’ PS4 is established. As mentioned in the beginning of this review, the game simply doesn’t wait to get the player involved and invites you to participate in Spider-Man’s life.
Although the broad-strokes of the story are spoiler-rich, I can say the story initially follows Spider-Man and the character of Mary Jane Watson investigating a mysterious group of criminals known as ‘Demons’, as well as their super-powered villainous leader ‘Mister Negative’. From there, the story goes on a tour of Spider-Man’s iconic allies and rogues’ gallery, including some less well known characters that are sure to excite any fanatic of New York’s webslinger. From the beginning, the game also constantly teases the appearance of the ‘Sinister Six’, an iconic collection of super-villains present in the comics of Spider-Man. Needless to say, these allusions to the group of foes leads spectacularly to one of many climaxes in the game’s storyline that will not disappoint any invested player.
Just as Spider-Man is rounded out by his villains, the story emphasises Peter Parker’s character being developed through his allies. Household names such as Mary Jane Watson, Aunt May, Otto Octavius and Miles Morales help to bounce off of Peter Parker and show us the dichotomy between his dual identities. His allies are empathetic and the feelings you develop for them as a player get you invested in their stories and ultimate fates at the hands who wish to see harm befall those who Spider-Man cares about most.
In all these ways, the story of ‘Marvel’s Spider-Man’ is not simply ‘window dressing’ to a game that is centred around action and leaping around a shockingly accurate New York City. The story rewards players for buying into the fanciful idea of being in the life of a put upon Peter Parker and a plucky wise-cracking Spider-Man, with well-developed characters and an ending that leaves room for more. If there is a down-side to the narrative, it may be that it can drag for those not interested in the character of Spider-Man. Additionally, since perhaps more interesting side-quests and gadgets are blocked behind further progress in the story those not invested may never see the best parts of the experience. However, despite this, the story is one of the best parts of the experience and only further motivates use and experimentation of the game’s robust and excellent mechanics.
The mechanics of ‘Marvel’s Spider-Man’ can probably be best split into three components that gameplay is centred around: movement/exploration, stealth and combat. Each area has specific controls and pacing that dictate how the player is encouraged to approach specific situations. The first one that we will discuss will be the movement, as it is what players will be doing most often.
The act of web-swinging around New York has been refined and perfected to a tee. In this way, ‘Marvel’s Spider-Man’ owes much to Spider-Man games that came before it and does not attempt to reinvent the wheel. By holding ‘R2’, Spider-Man begins a large pendulum-like arc, at the apex of which the player can then press ‘X’ to jump off the web, gaining height and moving further through the city. This approach to movement is as robust as it is simplistic.
You can further move horizontally by pressing ‘X’ whilst in the air to ‘dash’ forward, gaining a small amount of speed and helping to further control the less precise swinging mechanic. This ‘dash’ move also helps the player turn corners rapidly, allowing a sudden directional shift whilst keeping a constant speed. For people who have played previous ‘Spider-Man’ games they will feel right at home with this move set, being the most refined of any game featuring the titular superhero.
Spider-Man’s move set has also been updated in many ways, alongside his already iconic wall-crawling and wall-running abilities he now can ‘leap-to’ almost any ledge in the in-game environments. This enables fast and accurate movement around any location and can let the player interrupt any swing to make sure they land on an important location, for instance to start a main quest or begin one of the many challenges dotting the map. Again, the care and attention paid to create satisfying, yet accurate, movement really assists the player in taking full advantage of Spider-Man’s unique superhero powers.
The movement being satisfying only makes the visual spectacle of New York City more impressive. Having played the game on both small and large screens, it is clear ‘Marvel’s Spider-Man’ looks stunning whilst efficiently utilising the power of the PS4 with very few moments of slow-down when many assets are loading at once. This, alongside with the movement, helps the in-game world feel like a real, breathing city. Civilians and cars dot the sidewalks and roads as you swing above them, and once on the ground Spider-Man can interact with them, dishing out handshakes and high-fives that give a small xp boost.
These small moments of interaction were not necessary, but it only shows that the people of New York admire Spider-Man and gives little moments of personality to NPCs who, in other games, would be empty shells of basic movement. Because the movement is so constant in ‘Marvel’s Spider-Man’ these features help the game world come alive and result in a flawless gameplay experience as the beloved masked web-slinger.
The influences for ‘Marvel’s Spider-Man’ are perhaps most evident from its stealth and combat mechanics. For any fans of the ‘Arkham’ franchise of Batman games, a few minutes with Spider-Man’s stealth sections will draw eerie, almost copyright infringing parallels to the way Batman silently dispatches foes. ‘Silent’ and ‘ledge’ takedowns can be done with the press of a button, so long as those surrounding the defeated villain are not directly looking at him.
The stealth sections of the game also demonstrate a part of Spider-Man’s arsenal that we have not yet touched upon: his gadgets. There are eight in total, including the basic web shooters, but in the stealth sections I have found only two to be relevant. First is the ‘Impact Web’ which has as much use in stealth as in combat. This high-powered web plants enemies against walls, almost always instantly incapacitating them, depending on the size of the enemy. There are also ‘Trip Mines’ that can web unsuspecting enemies against any surface. To add to this variation, Spider-Man can also use environmental structures, such as scaffolding, to crush the various gangsters scattered around New York. All of these options lead to varied and interesting stealth gameplay.
However, the stealth sections of the game are perhaps the most underdeveloped and are only really used in campaign and side missions. Although some optional ‘hideouts’ can be partially beaten with stealth, they always eventually result in an all-out brawl. In addition, although there is some variation in how to approach the stealth sections it pales in comparison to the rest of the combat that is far more engaging.
As with stealth, fans of the ‘Arkham’ series of Batman games will again see stark similarities between the combat systems of both games. Combos of hits result in more damage being dealt and ‘special moves’ are activated with the press of two buttons simultaneously, instantly knocking out enemies. Similarly, Spider-Man gets warning before an enemy punch lands, and with the press of a button he can dodge these attacks.
The similarities only continue as Spider-Man’s arsenal of gadgets can help him take down foes in a similar vein to Batman’s typical array of paraphernalia. However the selection becomes much more varied as the game progresses, and new challenging, even at times ridiculous, foes require equally ridiculous gadgets to dispatch them. Adding to this delightfully eccentric array of gadgets is Spider-Man’s extensive selection of high-tech suits that each come with their own unique powerful ability that can easily knock even the largest groups of villains asunder. Extensive combat sequences lead to a meter being built up that can be used to heal the player but can also, when the meter is full, activate these extremely powerful ‘suit powers’. Some highlights of this include: a suit that causes all enemies to get knocked-down in one punch, (the catch being that Spider-Man too will be defeated in one punch), and there is even a suit that does nothing to help combat apart from causing Spider-Man to launch a stinging ‘quip’ at his foes.
Players will therefore receive a variety of methods to dispatch their enemies, and timed appropriately to the increasing level of challenge that the game presents. This challenge not only means the standard street-level thugs become more difficult, but also the game’s boss fights come to test your new-found spidey skills. As teased earlier, the ‘Sinister Six’ come to plague Spider-Man’s escapades and the boss fights involved in rounding them up will require the player to master movement, stealth and combat. The variety of approaches is what continues to make the boss fights in ‘Marvel’s Spider-Man’ exciting. Although all the fights require more or less the same strategy within them, each fight will test a different aspect of the game’s mechanics in a visually and mechanically spectacular way. A personal highlight was the boss fight with the nefarious villain ‘Vulture’ where Spider-Man must use his unique movement abilities to navigate a web of electrical wires over a disused factory to dodge and ultimately take down Vulture.
Combat is what players will probably mostly be doing when they play ‘Marvel’s Spider-Man’ and alongside movement, the game does not disappoint whilst borrowing existing ideas and bringing enough new ones to the table that it never feels stale.
For anyone even remotely interested in superheroes in general or Spider-Man specifically, this game is an immediate must-buy. The mechanics and story of ‘Marvel’s Spider-Man’ coalesce into an experience that would disappoint very few and would satisfy many more. Additionally, with the twists and turns the story takes, it is hardly surprising to see already that Sony have announced more entries into what is most likely going to be a series of ‘Spider-Man’ titles with ‘Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales’.
Yet, as with most everything, there are downsides that have to be acknowledged. As stated previously, this game is not going to change anyone dead-set against enjoying superhero media and rather than attempting to convert those people, ‘Marvel’s Spider-Man’ instead indulges in those tropes, giving the impression of a real love of the source material. Reviewing the game, I found this to be a worthwhile decision but that is something to consider before purchasing. Moreover, the stealth sections of the game leave wanting, and once the campaign is finished there was little that I stuck around for to 100% complete the game. In addition the lack of any multi-player may turn some players off from picking the game up. To make clear however, those twenty to thirty hours I spent completing the campaign made the purchase all worthwhile.
Despite its rather few downsides I would still highly recommend ‘Marvel’s Spider-Man’ both as one of the best games on the PS4 as well as one of the finest examples of superhero media. Moreover, for a character such as Spider-Man who has had a long and mixed relationship with superhero games, it is exciting to see a version of the character that kept me coming back for more. As written at the start of this review, this game encourages the player to become a part of Spider-Man’s life, and you can not help but get wrapped up in the spectacle of traversing a beautiful New York City skyline.
As stated previously, there are a few drawbacks that may make some think twice about purchasing but they would be missing out on what was, and continues to be, one of the best gaming experiences on the PS4.