Does Whatever a Spider Can - Marvel's Spider-Man (REVIEW)
written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
Superheroes and videogames haven't always been a match made in heaven, in some respects it still tends to lean heavily on the more bad than good. Much of that can be chalked up to most of these games being quick cash grabs to tie in to a movie or TV show, but if the Batman Arkham series taught gaming anything, it's when a developer takes a risk to craft a brand new take on that tried and true mythology... a game property can shine. That's where Marvel's Spider-Man from Insomniac comes in to play, while the game does borrow some from the Batman Arkham series, it is far from simply a vapid clone of Rocksteady's masterwork in Superhero gaming.
When you jump in to Marvel's Spider-Man you're already a seasoned hero. Peter Parker has been Spider-Man for 8 years, a smart move from Insomniac to avoid the pitfalls of rehashing Spidey's origin. Now 23 years-old, Peter works as a research assistant but even after being New York's friendly neighborhood Spider-Man for much of his adult life, Peter still manages to have trouble balancing his life as a hero with his life as a civilian. Opening with Spidey facing off against Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin, what starts as taking down one of the city's main sources of crime ends up creating a power-vacuum in Fisk's absence. This opens up the meat-and-potatoes of the narrative when a dangerous new group called the Demons begin causing all manner of havoc in the city, led by Mister Negative and fueled with a lethal vendetta against New York's mayor Norman Osbourn. Spidey's quest to protect New York lands him in direct conflict with a good chunk of his rogues gallery; the Shocker, Electro, Vulture, Scorpion, Rhino, and the aforementioned Mister Negative all play a major role in the story with a few surprises I won't spoil for you.
Helping you along the way is your reporter ex-girlfriend Mary Jane Watson as well as a slightly reworked version of Miles Morales. Aunt May plays a key role in the story helping run FEAST, a homeless shelter that Peter sometimes helps out with. Every now and again you'll hear Spidey's number one “fan” J. Jonah Jameson broadcasting Spidey's latest “crimes” on his own personal podcast. There's so much Spider-Man in this world, from his villains, allies, and everyone in-between. If there is one aspect of Arkham Asylum and the rest of the games in the series that Marvel's Spider-Man draws from is in how well it dropped you into a lived-in world. There's a history there you can discover, something that makes for a far more compelling tale than simply another origin story.
Controls are simple to get a grasp on but are diverse enough to allow the player to experiment a bit with Spidey's repertoire. Your face buttons allow you to attack, web zip, jump, and dodge; combat can get overwhelming at times, especially when you are facing off against some of the more difficult to handle foes. Whether fighting enemies on the ground or juggling them into air combos, combat felt fast and fluid. While Spidey's combat takes a few pages out of the Arkham series, it stands apart as its own thing and with that it has to be played differently. If you approach this like you approached Arkham Knight you are gonna have a bad time. Spidey's combat system is unique, fast and quick with enough uniqueness to let it stand apart from its contemporaries.
One major bit of gameplay I absolutely loved is the inclusion of suit powers, these are special abilities unlocked when you acquire new suits. Diverse selections of suits from the striking white spider logo suit made for this game to more famous suits like Tom Holland's MCU suits make appearances. Most suits come with a unique suit power, I used Spider-Bro a lot, and contrary to being tied to a suit you can equip suit powers to different suits. These abilities are tied to a cooldown and can help turn the tide in an otherwise hairy battle.
While there's a fair amount to love here, not everything is fine tuned. The game's stealth elements end up being some of the more frustrating bits. Much of this stems from Spidey not really being the stealthy type. The Spidey I'm used to “thwips” in, tells a joke, hops around, and beats up bad guys. While I was glad that they included the option, controlling Spider-Man stealthily ended up feeling equal parts frustrating and boring. A lack of variations in how to take down guards coupled with how jarring it felt to zip in for a “silent” takedown then jump back into the rafters. I would have rather they coded that bit in and gave you the option to stay on ground-level if you say held the button down rather than tapped it. Speaking of stealth, while Spidey did have an arsenal of gear to help him out, the stealth levels where you controlled Mary Jane or Miles Morales felt like a slog, incredibly unforgiving and sit as the lowest point for me in the whole package.
The world is full of stuff to do, when you aren't working on advancing the core narrative you have New York at your fingertips. Swinging around has never felt more satisfying; everyone talks about Spider-Man 2: The Game when looking for an example in how to do the web-swinging, this game takes more than a page but damn near the whole book from that game. Holding down R2 puts you in a swing with X used to do a quick web-zip and tapping both R2 and L2 shoots both web-shooters at a point. Wall crawling is fun and all, but wall running (while holding R2) ends up being one of the most satisfying bits of swinging around. What makes this mechanic so successful is in how they manage to capture the velocity of the movement, plus how it may feel to be Spider-Man, while games have come before that let you play as Spidey, this is the first one that honestly made you feel like Spidey.
Everything is wrapped up in a gorgeous package, visually the game shines with realistic character models... none of which feeling like they were ripped from previous portrayals of these characters. Every suit is lovingly rendered, each character is unique, when looking at the villain designs they were methodical while honoring the source material. The voice over cast was stacked with notable voices; Yuri Lowenthal (Spider-Man), Laura Bailey (Mary Jane Watson), Travis Willingham (Wilson Fisk), Josh Keaton (Electro), Fred Tatasciore (Rhino), Erica Lindbeck (Black Cat), and Darin De Paul (J. Jonah Jameson) are fantastic in their roles. Despite all this, the story does suffer from uneven pacing. Questionable cuts from scene to scene, an uneven narrative, and a twist that ended up not being much of a twist at all, meaning I saw it coming from a mile away. Even the main antagonist of this whole thing fell flat, I get that you were supposed to feel somewhat emotional when you finally tangled with the final boss, but it honestly didn't pay off as much as I hoped.
Marvel's Spider-Man is a gorgeous and well crafted game with tight gameplay elements and an interesting premise. The story does unravel a bit, falling flat near the end of it. Slightly unpolished stealth mechanics on top of an overall weak narrative keep me from giving this an absolute perfect score. On the upside, simply swinging around as Spidey was so damn satisfying, sometimes that's all I needed. Well worth the play, this is an example of a game that keeps me hopeful for the future. When they get the chance to bring us the sequel, and we will get it, I'm sure it'll be one of those games people talk about for years.
4 out 5
Solid package and widely entertaining!