Developer: Insomniac Games
Platform Played: PS4 Pro
Completion: Story Completed
Hours Played: 15
Review Read: ~15mins
There is an old adage that tells us to “never meet our heroes, lest we be disappointed in their being”. Although Spider-Man drives its story on this saying (and many other morals explored), it is -thankfully – very much the opposite of disappointment when you meet him.
If you’ve been following the game on its pre-release, we were known that Insomniac’s version of Spider-Man is an 8-year-superhero-veteran. Like the most of us, he’s already familiar with villains like Rhino and Vulture. In the past 8 years prior to the game, these villains were already placed in prison. That does not mean that there is no room for an origin-based superhero/supervillain plot. Spider-Man’s story weaves the origins of various other characters cleverly into its plot through believable motivations and exciting overshadowing.
The opening scene introduces us to Peter Parker. Like Insomniac’s previous game Sunset Overdrive that gathered a substantial cult following, Spider-Man takes cues on what makes Insomniacs game openings engaging. Peter Parker wakes up to an NYPD distress call, suits up, and zips out of the window with indie punk rock band Warbly Jets playing in the background. On top of the very first time we witness Peter Parker dress up as the friendly neighbourhood superhero, the punk-rock theme sets the tone in the young-adult-antics of Spider-Man we will grow to love throughout the game.
The writing for Peter Parker and his relationship with Spider-Man takes centre stage in this game. You will find Peter Parker really relatable. He struggles with rent, feeling constantly inadequate to adult, worries about his relationship with Mary Jane Watson (Who is a journalist for the Daily Bugle – yes, she works for J. Jonah Jameson), struggles with his other commitments like his job as a scientist (With Doctor Octavius), and helping out at a homeless shelter called F.E.A.S.T with Aunt May (Run by Martin Li – who, for comic book readers, know him as Mister Negative); all while being Spider-Man. “With great power comes great responsibilities” indeed.
There will be times you will be playing as Spider-Man, and times you will play as Peter Parker. The game balances these two facets really well (And, when the need arises, melds them really well too.). It makes you invested as Spider-Man when you are Spider-Man, and relate as Peter when you are Peter. This is one of the most unique characteristics of the game; you’d think being Peter Parker would be boring to play as, but when you do play as him, Peter becomes the most exciting cornerstone of Spider-Man’s character development. The game takes it up a notch as there will be times you would function as the superhero but would be so well aware that the motivations beneath the mask is of a vulnerable 24-year-old that struggles to save the people he loves.
You will also spend some time playing as different supporting characters like MJ and Miles Morales. Yes, the portions where you get to play them makes sense as part of the main story objective, but these sections feel like fillers that break up the pacing of the story instead of giving more room for these characters to develop. Hopefully, future Spider-Man games by Insomniac would give these characters more time to shine.
In the game, you would be facing The Sinister Six. The main villains of the six are enough to steal the limelight when required – In the light of the villain showcased prior to the game’s release, Martin Li is aware of the gravitas in being Mister Negative while running F.E.A.S.T; yet he still chooses to be the hero in his own story. A trailer teases the last villain of the six – This main villain also has believable motivations. Throughout the game, it sets you up to empathise with said villain. The identity of the villain is constantly teased, but if you put two-and-two together, it’s not that hard to confirm your suspicions. During the ultimatum, you can’t help but feel the same way Spider-Pete feels about the situation.
The voice acting for Peter Parker is stellar. Through his tenor timbre, Yuri Lowenthal brings out the young person in you and makes you genuinely smile at his well-executed punchline jokes as the web-swinging superhero. You will find the persona very familiar if you’ve played Sunset Overdrive – All Yuri had to do is port the persona of the protagonist in Sunset Overdrive to Peter Parker and Spider-Man. Yuri is also very synergistic with the other voice actors like Laura Bailey as MJ, and Willian Salyers as Doctor Octavius. I would like to give credit to Yuri’s synergy with William. The scenes between Peter Parker and Doctor Octavius are intimate in the most friend-mentor way.
One of the unique selling points in the gameplay is web-swinging. According to the developers, web-swinging was the first thing Insomniac strived to get right. They had to create a system where the web Spider-Man shoots out to swing would have to tangibly attach itself to any levelled surface around him. That means that if Spiderman swings into Central Park New York, the highest point he can ever swing around is the height of the trees.
Although there are countless other reviews that sing praises to the web-swinging mechanic, I find it hard to convince myself that the mechanic creates this cohesive environment that lets you feel like Spider-Man. When Spider-Man zips out of his apartment to answer the NYPD distress call, the game seamlessly transits from cutscene to gameplay while prompting you to press the R2 button to web swing. At first, learning to web swing is hard – You cannot just keep holding on to the R2 button to traverse. There is an art to learning the technique in knowing when to release the button and then pressing it again to swing from web to web. Although the mechanic is based on a physics engine, I cannot help but feel that the velocity Spider-Man is swinging in is based on some “invisible parameter bar” where if you release or press your R2 button at the right time in a “green portion of said bar”, a velocity vignette would appear at the sides of your UI and you’ll just go faster.
As you progress through the game, you would have the ability to web zip and point launch. While you’re mid-air, you can press the X button to web zip and maintain traversing velocity. To point launch, the AI of the game would help you select certain points while you’re traversing and all you need to do is press the L2 and R2 button together before pressing X. Spider-Man would zip to that point and launch himself forward, increasing velocity. Adding these additional mechanics creates room for your brain to operate while you traverse. It is only when these mechanics are brought to you that you would feel web swinging to be more therapeutic. You would start with the normal R2 swinging and then get into the rhythm of mixing up the web zipping and point launching to get to where you need to.
One shortcoming of web swinging is how Spider-Man zips through tight spaces. There is a sub-mechanic that allows Spider-Man to zip and squeeze through the fire escapes of the buildings in New York and signboards. However, I find them to be quite a hit or miss. You will need to access these tight spaces at a certain angle and a certain height while you’re web swinging. There are times where I would be engaged in time-sensitive missions and the sub-mechanic fails on me, leading me to restart the portion. Thankfully, checkpoints are generous in this game.
Character progression for Spider-Man is light. There is a level system that grants you skill points as your level up. Levelling up is easy – Main missions and side missions are generous in their experience giving. You would level up on average once per every mission you finish. By the time you reach the end of the game, you would have completed the vast majority of the three skill trees provided for you.
What I appreciate in the character progression of Spider-Man is the change of unlockable suits. You will not have access to these suits until you reach certain points in the game. Each suit grants a different ability. The game’s default suit allows you to fill up your focus meter so that you can execute power moves and restore a portion of Spider-Man’s health bar. There’s a Spider-Punk suit that allows Spider-Man to play a chord in his electric guitar to stun enemies around him.
The changing of these suits allowed me to create my own micro-narratives of Spider-Man as he progresses through the story. At the start, I would stick to the original suit; and when it’s time for me to face the Sinister Six, I would dress him up as the Iron Spider from the Marvel Cinematic Universe; after facing them, I would change into a damaged suit, signifying “battle scars” of some sort. Doing this adds value into how I enjoyed the game.
Spider-Man also has different tools that can be upgraded and be used. These tools can range from web mines and electric webbings. I find myself hardly ever using them during combat – As far as I can remember, they are only important during boss fights. During the times I’m engaging enemies for combat, I find myself mashing the square and circle button a lot. If not, picking enemies one by one through stealth elements.
Another thing that I would like to compliment in terms of gameplay is the game’s photo mode. The game melds the photo mode mechanic really well with game progression. In order to attain one of the Playstation trophies, you will need to take photos of different landmarks in New York. Taking all the photos of landmarks will land you a unique suit and the “Sightseeing” Playstation trophy. Doing that encourages gamers to play around with Spider-Man’s photo mode. You can even take selfies.
Speaking of trophies, even though I have not completed a 100% of the game, I realised achieving the platinum trophy is convenient. At the end of the game, the platinum trophy achievement is laid out before you in the whole game map. All you need to do is do everything on the map and you’d have your Spiderman bragging rights.
Glitches are hard to come by – That means the game is quite polished. I only remember one time where I was absorbed into a wall of a building while free roam and had to restart. Nevertheless, the game may not be spared from glitches. You can find loads of them on YouTube; but I can tell you, generally, the game is quite polished.
The graphics are state-of-the-art. The contrast of the blue, red, and white of Spider-mans suit pops out in 4K. The motion capture and facial expressions are human enough that it can trick your brain into thinking these characters are real – You can liken the graphics and facial programming to be like the ones in Uncharted 4. The life-like facial expressions add value to the storytelling as sometimes just looking at Peter Parker’s face is enough to receive his thoughts communicated through the screen.
The lighting is well balanced in dark places. Never at one time I would complain that there are things in the game that are hard to see because one spot is too dark or too bright.
Of course, there are discoveries of flaws in the graphics (Namely, when someone found out the faces of people in boats around the waters of New York leave much to be desired.). But still, the graphics are not a far cry away from what was so astonishingly featured in the E3 trailers.
Through great voice acting, relatable writing, and believable superhero/supervillain motivations, the story of Spider-Man is compelling enough for anyone who is thinking of picking up a game that makes you stick to your couch and play through a good 15 hours. The web swinging, although quasi-impressive, leave much to be desired, but is still engaging enough for you to play though. Nevertheless, character foreshadowing gives a bright lamp to future Spider-Man games. In fact, as of today, the first DLC has launched – a review of it will be coming up soon.