Marvel’s Spider-Man released exclusively on the PlayStation 4 earlier this month, and it has been the most talked about game ever since. The game was developed by Insomniac Games with publisher Sony Interactive Entertainment. It’s been years in the making, and judging from the millions of social media posts, it was worth the wait.
The game follows a 23-year-old Peter Parker, who has been Spider-Man for 8 years, as he tries to keep New York safe from the many who wish its citizens harm. We find out that Peter and his ex-girlfriend, Daily Bugle reporter Mary Jane Watson, have been split up for a while and Aunt May isn’t too happy about that.
But there is no time for taking in the scenery when you hit that start button as you’re thrown straight into combat leading to the Kingpin himself. The maiden play serves as a trial by fire; it is not your usual tutorial mission. This is overwhelming at first, but once you beat Fisk you will be set for the rest of the game. This opening mission is like a tutorial on Hell mode, but gives players the map of combat tactics and controls.
The combat in the game is very intuitive and varies in different locations. This gives the player a multitude of different combos to choose from when taking down thugs: you can take down a thug with simple punches and kicks, or you can opt for more extravagant moves such as propelling off a surface and hitting multiple enemies at once. There are many elements to the combat from gadgets and tech to finishing moves. The gadgets and tech include spider drones to aid in the fight, electrified webbing, and the classic web grenade to ensnare many enemies at the same time. The finishing moves are one-hit KOs, to obtain a finishing move the player must first fill the focus meter. Then by hitting triangle and circle simultaneously Spidey will break out a skull shaking finisher.
The player doesn’t always have to go in fighting though; the stealth takedowns are one of the most fun things about this game’s combat system. The player can stay above the enemies and out of sight, and then the game lets you know whether it is safe to attempt a stealth take down. There are two options: by pressing triangle Spidey will web down and hit an enemy with a vicious strike; pressing square prompts Spider-Man to web the enemy into a cocoon and stick them to whatever surface you happen to be perched upon.
The web swinging is smooth and effortless. When the player is swinging around the city there are also multiple options for how to travel forward using the web shooters. The web swinging is as realistic as shooting webs to travel around New York can be. If there are no buildings close enough you will not we swing and if you travel to Central Park you will be forced to web swing low to the ground due to there only being trees in the vicinity. Players can simply and majestically swing from building to building using the game’s smooth mechanics. The other options are to press X which prompts Spidey to shoot out a web and just pull himself forward. By pressing R2 and L2 Spidey will web to a surface and perch, but if you press X before landing he will propel himself forward from this surface shooting a good distance forward.
In addition to the intuitive controls, the new photo mode has really gripped gamers. The player can snap action shots from battles, landmark shots of famous buildings, and even take selfies with Spidey. The photo mode is pretty similar to Snapchat, players can add filters, stickers, and even frames. A favorite frame option seems to be the one that puts your picture on the cover of an Amazing Spider-Man comic book. A great feature of this photo mode is that you can access it at almost any time which makes for some great in combat or cutscene photos. Twitter feeds have been full of these photo mode shots since the release of the game and players are really getting some epic pics.
The graphics are stunning and give the player the sense that they are in NYC. The buildings looks fantastic, and when crawling on a building the player can even see through some windows to the interior. (Thankfully nobody ever seems to be getting undressed!) The graphics on the main characters is as close to live action as you can get with today’s technology, and Insomniac made sure the graphics looked great on the regular New York residents. The attention to detail in these graphics is outstanding, from trees reacting realistically to the weather, to seeing your reflection in bodies of water. The change of time in the game from day to night and vice-versa gives the player beautiful sunsets and sunrises to enjoy.
The graphics are backed up by a gorgeous soundtrack that fluidly follows the game’s ambience. This is one of the small things in games that makes a huge difference. The soundtrack is one of the first thing a player senses and lets you know when the mood has shifted. The music is constantly alternating in this game to suit what is happening in real time. As Peter the music is more relaxed and less intense than it is when you’re in the suit. When heading into combat the soundtrack follows the method the player chooses whether it be stealth or head on, the soundtrack keeps up.
The story develops like a hit TV franchise—every mission like an episode, and every cutscene is a visual masterpiece. The emotions this story makes the player feel—whether happiness, worry, fear, or sadness—are intense. The character development between missions is expertly written and makes the player feel connected to each character. Advancing the story and completing side quests have added incentives for the player, enabling them to unlock various Spidey suits. The story in Marvel’s Spider-Man is…spectacular (pun intended). It feels like it came right off the page of a best-selling graphic novel. Prepare yourself for a big and extreme emotional rollercoaster.
The main story is complemented by the side missions. They do get slightly repetitive until later in the game, but unlike with other game’s repetitive missions they stay enjoyable. The side missions range from stopping crimes and saving hostages, to obtaining backpacks and completing puzzles as Peter in the lab. There is a side mission involving Black Cat that is quite rewarding when finished and also sets up for some future updates to the game.
As mentioned above, progressing in the story and side missions helps the player unlock new suits. This is not the only way to unlock suits though. The player gains access to some suits by leveling up. Leveling up in this game is rewarding on multiple levels. When the player grows a level the game grants them with added melee damage, more health, a skill point, and sometimes a new suit or gadget. The skill points are used to upgrade Spidey’s abilities and combat similar to the likes of Skyrim. The gadgets that can be unlocked by leveling up also have 4 tiers of upgrades to be unlocked with them. The reward system of leveling up in Spider-Man is motivating, and the player will find themselves heading straight to the suit or gadget screens as soon as they see the “Level Up’ graphic.
The characters impress the most in this game, from main characters like Peter and MJ, to the characters with just slightly less exposure like Yuri and Miles. The game does a fantastic job of taking Spider-Man characters from the comic pages and putting their own spin on them onscreen. The portrayal of beloved characters like Pete, MJ, and Aunt May is exactly what fans want when it comes to these characters.
The game brings comic book Peter to life and is very loyal to his source material. The slight changes to Mj and Aunt May go mostly under the radar because they are written so beautifully. The introduction to characters such as police captain Yuri Watanabe is well executed and Yuri and Spider-Man’s relationship quickly becomes a fan favorite. The execution and development of the many villains from their introduction to the peak of their role is perfectly portrayed as something sinister. There are many elements that made these characters extraordinary. The writing obviously played a major part in this, but the acting stole the show.
J. Jonah Jameson is a regular in this game, and we have to give huge props to Darin de Paul for his outstanding voice acting on this iconic character. Spider-Man seems to be a regular subscriber to “Just the Facts with J. Jonah Jameson.” (This can be switched off.) There is something nostalgic about hearing Jameson channeling his inner Alex Jones to spout Spidey hatred. Darin de Paul may just be the best Jameson since J. K. Simmons. He gets into character and for a while I honestly thought Darin may not like Spidey in real life.
Yuri Lowenthal and John Bubniac bring a Peter Parker to us fans that we didn’t know we were missing. Yuri’s voicing teamed with John’s face and Peter’s motions emphasize the emotions in each scene. The voicing really captures every emotion one would expect Pete or Spidey to be feeling at that moment. If Peter is talking to May you can hear the adoration and sometimes worry in his voice. If Spider-Man is beating on thugs you can hear the playful sarcasm as he delivers his quips. This is all backed up by great facial capture. John’s face acting (Is that a thing?) follows Yuri’s voice perfectly. The player can see when Pete is getting frustrated, angry, or even about to break down because John excels at capturing emotions without words.
Laura Bailey and Stephanie Tyler Jones bring the voice and the look of Mary Jane Watson to life. Their performance is so amazing that they have altered this reviewer’s feelings on MJ. The game changes MJ from a model/actress to a reporter for the Daily Bugle. Laura gives MJ an inquisitive and curious voice when she is going about her daily career. This changes to playful and almost shy or nervous when talking to Pete. Kudos have to be given for MJ’s action scenes, Bailey’s voice makes MJ confident, cautious, and slightly terrified all at once. Stephanie’s face acting is one of the best in the game, she has now become MJ for a lot of fans. The range she displays in some pivotal MJ moments is beautiful.
Nancy Linari beautifully voices Aunt May. Nancy captures the nurturing and kindness that fans expect from May Parker. Linari brings a new look to May that we would put on a timeline between Marisa Tomei and Rosemary Harris. Whenever May is on screen the player can almost feel and hear comfort and love radiating from her character. Nancy delivers her lines spectacularly, especially when giving Peter advice or even a lecture. Her voicing hits its apex in the final moments of the game in scenes that players will never forget. This masterful voicing and the writing to accompany it makes players care for May and grow a connection that is rare in games.
Perhaps the standout performance in this game is William Salyers’ Otto Octavius. He draws in the player and makes them feel for and sympathize with Dr. Octavius—which is no small feat. William became Otto for this part, his voices subtle changes throughout the story really compliments the development of Octavius’ character. His Otto is like the Uncle who was always there for you but has fallen on undeservedly difficult times.
Marvel’s Spider-Man is a blockbuster game with a friendly neighborhood feel. Insomniac and Sony captured the essence of Peter Parker and Spidey. They knocked everything out of the park from the writing to the music. The only minor pitfall is the eventually repetitive side missions (but what game doesn’t have them?).
The whole creative team deserves their props for this one, so a huge thank you to these folks:
This game should, and most likely will, go down as an all time classic. Marvel’s Spider-Man is one of the best comic book related games to ever be released on any platform. If you have not played this game you really need to stop punishing yourself. Now let’s bow our heads in silence for those poor X-Box users.
Forget Game of the Year, Marvel’s Spider-Man is the Game of a Generation