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Marvel's Spider-Man

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Action
Publisher: SCEE (EU), SCEA (US)
Developer: Insomniac Games
Release Date: Sept. 7, 2018


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PS4 Review - 'Marvel's Spider-Man'

by Redmond Carolipio on Sept. 4, 2018 @ 7:00 a.m. PDT

Marvel's Spider-Man features the web-slinger's acrobatic abilities, improvisation and web-slinging, while also introducing elements such as traversing with parkour, distinct environmental interactions, new combat, and cinematic blockbuster set pieces.

Buy Marvel's Spider-Man

My favorite games have moments where one can feel truly alive within the skin of a character, where it's possible to take a step back in your mind and say, "Yep, that's me," for a split-second. For some people, it's when Kratos from the God of War series takes down a massive creature. For many others, it's when Batman beats down 20 guys in Arkham Asylum and they're all lying there at his feet or scattered around the room. I think I actually mentally whispered, "I'm Batman," the first time it happened.

But the Arkham series wasn't the first time I felt like that in a superhero game. That honor belongs to Spider-Man, and the first time I got to swing through Manhattan (Spider-Man 2: The Game, for those scoring at home). Sure, there were plenty of games featuring the webslinger before that. Many of them were varying degrees of fun. But this time, I got to swing through and around the city and actually feel like the local hero.

That's what makes Marvel's Spider-Man from Insomniac Games special. It manages to seize that feeling from about 14 years ago and spread it around, web-like, over a massive, bountiful and irresistible realization of the Spider-Man universe.

It starts with the camera's wide-open look at Manhattan, with Spidey usually at or near the center of the screen, swinging from building to building and through the streets with the speed and agility one would expect from someone bitten by a radioactive spider. This is a viewpoint that's been around for a long time, and it remains, to me, the definitive way to look at a Spider-Man game.

Spider-Man's Manhattan is definitely worth viewing. Every polished, detailed district jumps off the screen with its own visual life and vibrancy during day, midday and night cycles. You'll do your share of skyline viewing (naturally, Spidey has a built-in camera so he can take pictures), but some of the fun is closer to the ground, where you can get a taste of the game's friendly neighborhood charm. People duck out of the way if Spidey swings a little low, or they cheer him on or call him a jerk (it's NYC, after all). There were a few times when I actually eschewed the web and walked among the people, exchanging the occasional random high-five while others drew out their phones and pointed them at me. The presence of these people gives Spidey (and as you, the player) an innate sense of connectivity. The city is not conveniently abandoned, with the worst of the worst being the only people you interact with. These are people with lives, and their lives in Manhattan involve being under the watch of a homegrown superhero.

The game has charm for days. There's also an unshakable sense of frenetic energy, movement and life. Sometimes, it's in the storytelling, where you get caught up in the crisp voice acting and motion-captured cinematic sequences that dance between the action-wrought life of Spider-Man and the human journey of Peter Parker and the people who enter in and out of his circle. Branching off of the main story are a lot of wide-ranging side missions, where in one instance you'll find yourself zooming across Manhattan to find someone's lost roommate and in another you'll be tracking down a Spidey impersonator who is probably  punching above his weight class. While you're swinging around, you'll also occasionally hear the angry, ranting podcast of one J. Jonah Jameson, now retired from the Daily Bugle and firmly entrenched as the purveyor of anti-Spidey takes that can be Alex Jones-ian in their ridiculousness. Speaking of sound, there's a brilliant moment of musical subtlety: The orchestral, Avengers-ey score stops when Spidey is standing still, but the moment he jumps off a building and starts swinging around the city, it picks back up. That kind of nuance helps keep you attached to the experience.

Dope web-slinging mechanics also keep you stuck in the experience, and this game would fall apart if they were a degree less fine than they are now. Like Batman's grappling hook, Superman's combo of flight and power (Injustice), Wolverine's claws, and chicken adobo at a Filipino restaurant, Spider-Man's ability to shoot webs out of his wrists and swing around is the one thing you must get right. Insomniac has crafted a web-slinging system that not only makes sure the webs actually attach to things, but also factors in cornering, speed, altitude, and even some fun bits of aerialism. You jump and hold down the right trigger to start swinging, but you can also speed up by timing your release (letting go of the right trigger) or by pressing X to "zip," which makes Spidey shoot webs at surfaces in front of him and slingshot forward. You can also hold your swing so Spidey can swing higher, and you can also zoom to targeted points in a way reminiscent of Batman's Arkham grappling hook, though instead of just hanging statues and vents, Spidey can zip and stick to anything, along with perching on ledges, tops of narrow structures, etc. As you progress through the game, fast travel becomes available, but I barely used it. I enjoyed swinging around the city and finding trouble too much.

Encountering trouble means combat, and Marvel's Spider-Man delivers a Spidey that can cover ground in a fight faster than anyone without being able to teleport or fly. There's also an encyclopedic array of combat options that can honestly feel like too much to take in at first, but start feeling much more intuitive once you get in more reps. Spidey is outnumbered in nearly every confrontation, so it helps when you can press the Triangle button to engage a "web strike," which consists of Spidey firing a webline at an enemy and zipping to them for a swift attack. It's a way to navigate the pocket of battle while closing the distance against enemies using everything from guns to rocket launchers and jetpacks. You'll also make heavy use of the Circle button, which triggers your ability to dodge things when you see the aura of Spidey Sense light up around your head. There are combos that involve tossing guys into the air, webbing them up and slamming them back down. Or you can just fire web balls at your foes to render them immobile for a time — or permanently, if they are next to a wall.  On top of that are a variety of web-based gadgets and weapons — mini-drones, web mines, web bombs, electric webs, "impact" web that sends people flying, just to name a few. All of these, once you get them, can be accessed through a weapon wheel activated by the left shoulder button.

Then there's the focus bar and "suit powers," which add more layers of dynamism to the fights against mobs of enemies. The focus bar fills up with every attack and cool move you pull off, and if you fill it, you can trigger a finishing, instant takedown move. Or, if you're in a health jam, you can push down on the directional pad for a quick healing boost, which saps your focus bar. Suit powers are special abilities or moves than can be unleashed once you fill up a circular meter on the upper right on the screen. Each power is loosely tied to unlockable suits that Spidey can access as he progresses through the game, many of them reference the various looks that Spidey has had over the years. In a very friendly design gesture, you can mix and match acquired suits and powers to get your favorite combination, so you're not "forced" to wear a particular suit just for the ability to be temporarily invincible for a few seconds. You can also mix and match a variety of suit modifications to fit how you play. A lot of the above fit into a user-friendly, merit-based upgrade economy that gives you different kinds of themed "tokens" based on what side task or side mission you accomplish. The more tokens you pick up, the more you can upgrade your weapons, suit modifications, and the more suits and powers you can craft.

This is an exhausting number of things to keep track of in the life of Spidey, but Insomniac keeps things fresh with a welcome diversity of action that features brawling, stealth, quick-time action sequences, pursuit and even some nifty puzzle work that focuses on Peter's day job as a budding genius scientist. You'll also step into the shoes of other characters who have their own ways of doing things, and at their own pace. One mission has someone disarming a bomb by trying to find the right wire to pull. From a first-person viewpoint, it's on you to use the thumbsticks to rotate the bomb and see where the wires go before the timer goes off. Thankfully, the game has pretty forgiving checkpoints.

The story does an excellent job of not only balancing the different perspectives of characters — it adds a wholesome human element to the game that travels among cheerful, humorous, tragic, heartbreaking and shocking. The timeline witnesses a more experienced Spidey/Peter Parker, accepted enough to have more than 15 million fans on social media, well out of college, a fledgling man of science and a volunteer at a homeless shelter. Mary Jane's a reporter for the Bugle and seemingly not Peter's girlfriend anymore, Norman Osborn is the mayor, and Miles Morales is still finding his way. Yuri Watanabe, an NYPD police captain, is Spidey's most consistent crime-fighting partner in terms of who he hears from the most. I thought the writing for them was well done, and I found myself invested in each of them.

You're not going to find Witcher or Skyrim-level depth in the side missions if that's what you're expecting. This experience moves the needle a little closer to Horizon: Zero Dawn, where the things you do away from the main story are more like elaborate, fun distractions while you wait for the inevitable heavier DLC that's coming down the road. As I noted before, the game throws a lot of stuff at you at the start, so it might — might — be a little overwhelming for some. The same goes for combat, which can swing from Arkham-like to more like contemporary Ninja Gaiden group-fighting difficulty if you're not careful.

Marvel's Spider-Man does what a lot of good art does, which is examine techniques and concepts that work well, and then blend and refine them to create something unique to itself and possibly greater. I've made this point before: Art and artists have built on and inspired each other since the beginning of time. So yes, I've heard and seen the Spidey/Arkham hot takes, and I ended up not caring at all because at no point did I forget I was playing a Spider-Man experience. I was too busy swinging around in Manhattan, with buildings whipping by as I tailed a police pursuit, thinking about how right it all felt.

Score: 9.3/10

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