Story - 95%
Graphics - 95%
Audio - 88%
Gameplay - 88%
Replayability - 87%
A big thank you to Sony South Africa for providing an early review code of this game.
“Living on the edge; fighting crime, spinning webs; swinging from the highest ledge he can leap above our heads. Villains on the rise and the city’s victimized, looking up with no surprise, arriving in the speed of time. Making villains fall, webbing rivals to a halt, racing up and down the walls, bringing justice to us all.”
These lyrics to the ‘Spectacular Spider-Man’ nicely encapsulate a day of the life of everyone’s favourite wall crawler, and also nicely sums up some of the thrill that players can experience from controlling Spider-Man in the character’s newest video game offering. There have been no shortage of Spider-Man games over the decades, but it always felt as though there were some areas lacking from a complete overall experience in capturing some aspect of the character and his world. Insomniac Games, as published exclusively by Sony Interactive Entertainment, set out to write the ultimate love letter to Spider-Man fans (gamers and non-gamers alike) and they’re love and attention to detail have shone through here in the most robust and satisfying video game portrayal of Spidey to date.
Without a doubt, one of the major highlights is the game’s most advertised feature, the ability to web swing around a faithfully recreated Manhattan, New York, with some Marvel flavour here and there. Now while web swinging has been in every game since ‘Spider-Man’ on PS1, with mixed results each time and arguably reaching its peak in ‘Spider-Man 2’ in 2004, the team at Insomniac Games I think have outdone themselves here on their first attempt at the character and deliver and amazing and engrossing web swinging experience. Its relatively quick to get the feel of and swing around with confidence, using the R2 button to shoot out a web to a nearby building or object and from there jump out at the right moment with the X button to further increase your momentum and speed, and the same R2 button allows you to run up the side of building and parkour your way around the island. Before long you will be swinging around with the greatest of ease, running along buildings, sling around the edge of buildings like a boss, and using the L2 and R2 triggers to zipline into a nearby rooftop of object, or through water towers, etc, and bounce off for further momentum. You will likely find yourself spending considerable time, just swinging around, taking in the breathtaking New York skyline from the highest perches and even running around on street level to read Daily Bugle headlines or just randomly interact with random citizens. The level of detail found throughout the city is mind boggling and more impressive still is that it feels alive and not a desolate empty open world sandbox for you to play around in. The street are always backed with vehicles and the sidewalks with people going about their day which gives you greater satisfaction saving the day and taking it all in, and feeling like you are a part of this living city. As time goes on you’ll be able to navigate by New York subway as well if one want to cut down on some time getting from one end of Manhattan to the other. How often you use this though will depend on how much one enjoys swinging around as Spider-Man or listening to the dramatic hero that starts playing in the background as you swing off into action and past iconic New York as well as Marvel landmarks.
Combat is another area of focus, taking cues from the Arkham series combat system, mostly requiring a single button to chain a series of moves together allowing you to hit button combos and drop enemies with slow-motion finishers from a variety of positions. Unlike combat found in the Arkham games though is the further ability to mix things up with Spider-Man’s innate agility and webs, taking combat to the air if one feels like and using web attacks in a variety of ways from simply trapping enemies, sticking them to walls, swinging them, their weapons or nearby objects around as projectiles to take out multiple enemies and give you a chance to go for the kill. And while Spider-Man in the comics does not kill, the video game version is a little more liberal, sending enemies flying off rooftops, intentionally and by accident sometimes to their certain doom. While this would be a major no-no in a movie or cutscene, during the flow of combat, it does make for some satisfying action or unintentional comedy sometimes so can’t get too upset about it. There are certain sections of gameplay that will require a stealthier touch and allow you to perch on girders and objects above, picking off enemies silently to whittle down the numbers or prevent hostages from suffering. IT is very satisfying to web up unsuspecting enemies and deliver knock out blows from out of nowhere. Some sections can be completed either through stealth or straight up combat so players have plenty of choice on how you wish to play much of the time.
Another major strength of this game without a doubt is the cinematic cutscenes throughout the main missions of the game. The level of detail going the appearance (some classic and some newly tweaked) of the different characters and settings is remarkable as so many little details go a long way to selling the immersion, the world and as things develop throughout, the stakes as well. Subtle facial animations and mannerisms, to seeing individual textures in some clothing and fabrics, to the pores on character’s faces and even design of the interior and exterior locations and set pieces these characters appear in; this game is gorgeous to look at no matter if you have a regular PS4 or PS4 Pro. Spanning over 20 hours easily, you’ll want to advance to the next main story missions quickly to be treated to an epic narrative beginning with a 23 year old Peter Parker waking up and quickly rushing off to stop Wilson Fisk, aka The Kingpin, as him and his thugs have stepped out of line one time too many for police captain Yuri Watanabe and Spider-Man to let slide. However, they’ll soon realise that the power vacuum created will result in threats far more dangerous than Fisk ever was, as a new menacing gang of criminals known as the Inner demons rise up, lead by the mysterious Mister Negative. Through it all, you’ll feel the pull on Peter as he has to balance his time between saving the city as Spidey, as well as his work and personal commitments as Peter Parker. With a story taking bits and pieces from many decades and other media of Spider-Man’s history; writing duties have been handled by veteran TV and Spider-Man comic writer Christos Gage, along with consultation from Dan Slott who’s written the character in the pages of ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ for a decade, and we it’s clear to see why the story aspects of the game are in solid hands and they manage to strike and maintain the right tone.
To emphasis a feeling of partnership, some story related missions allow you play as Peter’s on-again off-again girlfriend Mary Jane Watson. A Daily Bugle reporter in this version of the character, you will be able to sneak around certain areas and take photographs, collecting some crucial evidence and later on, having a few other abilities as well. These missions do help add some further elements of diversity to the gameplay and can be very effective in increasing tensions and suspense, especially as MJ starts going around places she shouldn’t be. Not to be left out, players can take control of Peter Parker as well at certain points and make use of Peter’s other strengths, his scientific genius (a major area of focus during the Dan Slott run of comics) and good heart; whether completing scientific project mini-games like researching compounds or fixing complex circuits or walking around the F.E.A.S.T. shelter and talking to Aunt May or the New York homeless, this game makes good use of integrating many of the defining characteristics and elements of both of Peter Parker’s regular and superhero life.
Not to sound like a boring game, this is anything but with an engrossing story that quickly picks up steam and very entertaining boss battles with some longtime and fairly recent Spider-Man villains. Many of these make use of the standard game mechanics, but are presented in such a way that make each one feel fresh, along with certain quicktime button events thrown in for good measure. The only gripe about boss battles is that there appears to be no option to replay them once you have advanced, aside from maybe replaying the story all over again.
In addition to the main story mission, there are numerous side missions that become available throughout the game that range from tracking down a copy-cat Spider-Man, spying on thugs in Central Park and following leads on the live-streaming Screwball. Things don’t stop there as there are additional side quests that continue to appear as you progress such as collecting backpacks around the city with different Spidey easter egg’s that flesh out some of the character’s past prior to the events of the game, racing and catching pigeons, looking out for the Manhattan environment at different research centres around town, taking photos of different Marvel New York landmarks, stopping petty crimes and much more. While some of these, most notably the different varieties of street crimes have been done in past Spider-Man videogames, there’s an extra level of polish here; although as fun as these can be, some at times can start to feel a little monotonous and repetitive after a few dozen crimes, especially if you’re a completist who wants to finish everything the game has to offer. The scope of the creativity of the ideas for some of the side quests was rather refreshing and made me feel more like Spider-Man tackling some of the mundane goings on around the friendly neighbourhood in addition to the bigger stakes of the main story.
The game builds in opportunities throughout to stop and swing around the boroughs and seek out some these activities. Not only as brief palette cleansers between the story chapters but also by completing the different side missions, quests (as well as main story missions) you will earn a variety of tokens that can be used to craft and unlock around 25 new suits for Spider-Man to wear (easily accessible from the map menu) and switch at any point in your gameplay. Even better is that these suits come with their own powers and abilities that can later be mixed and matched as you prefer between any of the available suits, some of these suit powers will prove invaluable at different points, especially when surrounded by waves of armed enemies at once. The earned tokens also help to craft gadgets like impact webbing, electrical webbing, web bombs, a spider drone and more that once can easily integrate into combat and stealth situations.
From the care taken with the story (which may one of the best and most impactful ever outside of the comics, and some of the movies) the pacing, characters, most of the voice acting, gameplay mechanics, presentation, shout-outs and easter eggs, it’s very obvious to see the love that Insomniac Games has for Spider-Man and his history and delivering a game that justice to a character with such a long history and legacy. What the Arkham series of games did for Batman, this game has clearly done for Spider-Man and delivers the overall best gameplay experience of being both Spider-Man and Peter Parker to date. The hype was clearly real and will not disappoint fans of any interest level of the character and even regular gamers as well. With a story good enough to play through many times over and an added photo mode on the day of release, as well as many collectibles and side goals to complete, one could very easily spend upwards of 40 hours and more with this game and still be satisfied, which I’m sure will only further continue with the release of future DLC. This is definitely not one to be missed.
Reviewed on: PS4
Available on: PS4
Genre: Superhero, Action
Age Rating: Pegi 16
Publisher/Developer: Sony Interactive Entertainment / Insomniac Games
Estimated RRP: R889
Release Date: 7 September 2018
- Gameplay makes you feel agile and powerful as Spider-Man
- Great story with the right tone and mix of humour, drama and stakes
- Repetitive nature of certain street crimes.
- No apparent way to replay certain missions or boss battles once completed.