Updated: Jan 20, 2019
Written by Charlie Jin
For one of the most influential and popular superheroes at all time, it’s been disheartening to see the lack of respect that the character has been able to attract in the gaming world, especially given the long number of mediocre titles that attempted to do a justified portrayal of the iconic Web-slinger. However, thanks to the marvelous, thoughtful, and polished efforts from Ratchet and Clank developer Insomniac Games, this latest video game incarnation is anything but mediocre. Featuring a riveting tale that has a star-studded cast of voice actors and a hearty amount of emotional moments, Marvel’s Spider-Man defies many of the expectations set by the industry, especially within the open-world genre. Its gameplay is smooth, allowing players to truly become the dreamed of-superhero. The game may not innovate or deviate, opting for a more refined experience than a boldly new one, but it has a tone and atmosphere that is refreshing enough to excuse it. As a cohesive whole and after dozens of hours within the game, Marvel’s Spider-Man is a flamboyant, stunning portrayal of the iconic superhero that may have blemishes across its ambitious scope, but is still a spectacular experience that rivals as one of the best superhero games of all time.
When immediately starting the game and after an impressive opening cinematic, it becomes clear that the main story is a targeted priority from Insomniac Games, an act similar to other PlayStation exclusive God of War. Insomniac places heavy focus on the dynamic between the lives of both Peter Parker and Spider-Man, portraying both with a finesse that is rarely seen, even in comics. The overlapping in the lives of both is thrilling to explore and voice actor Yuri Lowenthal captures it masterfully, bringing to life a character that is both charming and grounded.
In addition, another stand-out character is undoubtedly Mary Jane Watson or MJ. Avoiding the deviant tropes of Rami’s incarnation of the character, Insomniac Games smartly focuses their attention on the actual character herself, rather than portraying her as another “damsel in distress.” It’s certainly a refreshing take on the character, one that is exemplified by Uncharted voice actor Laura Bailey. As expected, both Mary Jane and Peter Parker share some excellent moments of pure chemistry, moments that are impressively brought to life by both Lowenthal and Bailey. Each moment they share feels impressively raw, from an awkward dinner to scenes where Peter is fussing over a misinterpretation of one of his texts. These moments help provide a longevity to the story, making it feel much more grounded, in face of all the impressive moments of action.
As many comic book fans will be able to note, a hero is only as impressive as his villain and Marvel’s Spider-Man has a wide variety of villains to choose from. However, similar to how Rocksteady handled their large roster of villains in Batman: Arkham City, many of the villains take a backseat, while characters like Mr. Negative take the forefront, allowing their characters to be fully fleshed out and developed. Indeed, it still remains jarring to see the impressive roster of villains collide in a few, hard-earned moments, but immediately fade out of sight in the rest of the game. While the decision is ultimately justified by attempting to showcase a more grounded and realized experience, it’s still disappointing and rather pointless that so many other villains are introduced but most of them have no lasting impact.
For the actual storytelling itself, it unfortunately takes the traditional route that most recent open-world titles have ventured down. With such an experimental approach laid out before them by 2018’s God of War, an experience that never cut to black, even in face of its open-world gameplay, it was disappointing to see that Insomniac opted for a mission-style of storytelling, breaking up the story and cut scenes into disparate parts.
While the story may serve up some impressive moments that can stand proudly with the best film incarnations of the character, it’s still ultimately the gameplay that makes this experience a worthy one. Like the story, it may not have complete originality, but it has such a distinct lack of polish, almost completely making the lack of originality forgivable. The traversal in the game feels brimming with freedom. Each movement available is richly incorporated, making each instance of traversal throughout the densely constructed New York City feel lively and rich with rhythm-based gameplay. The combat is also on a similar level, boasting a personalized version of the Batman Arkham combat that feels fitting for the character. Each available movement feels fluid and punctuated, emphasizing the agility of the character. As Spider-Man flies across the screen, using a wide array of flashy animations, it’s almost impossible to not get sucked into the fantastic in-game world. However, it can be noted often that there are simply too many moves available for Peter to use, in both traversal and combat, leading to me completely ignoring over eighty percent of what was offered. In addition, when traversing the city, I noticed some minor frame rate drops that occurred when playing on a base PlayStation 4. These technical hiccups were eliminated when playing on a PlayStation 4 Pro, but they are still notable nitpicks in what is otherwise an uncompromised gameplay experience.
In terms of additional content, Marvel’s Spider-Man has a wide variety available for different types of players, other than the standard casual player. The completionist will find themselves climbing closer and closer to the Platinum trophy, thanks to a dizzying amount of side missions that vary in terms of quality. A collector will have a blast exploring the many suits that are available for Peter to use, some of them being iconic fan favorites while others are completely new designs such as the Velocity Suit, which was part of the pre-order bonus for the game.
As a cohesive whole, Marvel’s Spider-Man is ambitious and brimming with passion from its Ratchet and Clank developer Insomniac Games. Each available story mission is chockful of fan service and polished storytelling, with a resonant plot that may not offer new attributes to longtime fans, but is satisfying nonetheless. Swinging around and exploring Manhattan is a joyous time and one of the best gameplay experiences that I have encountered in recent memory. When compared to other games of the genre, Marvel’s Spider-Man may not offer anything new to the table, but is still a polished, brimming, and overall delightful video game incarnation of the iconic Web-Slinger.
Score: 9.0 out of 10