Screenshot from Marvel's Spiderman

Review: Marvel’s Spiderman

I think it’s safe to say that many gamers will have fond memories of Spiderman 2 on PS2, Xbox and Gamecube. It was the first game for many people that really made them feel like they were in a large living, breathing city: and the game is highly regarded for how it deals with Spiderman’s Web-slinging, the quality of which games have failed to replicate ever since. But now we have a new contender for it, in Insomniac’s adaption of our friendly neighborhood Spiderman, Marvel’s Spiderman on PS4.

The story is brilliant- as per the rest of Sony’s exclusives- so lets start with that. With minimum spoilers, the basic premise is that we play an adult Peter Parker. He’s been Spiderman for a few years and has already fought some of his most iconic villains. However, a new gang known as The Demons turn up using weapons channeling some sort of supernatural energy, and begin wreaking havoc in New York City. Of course, it’s up to Spiderman to find out what they’re after and who the leader behind them is. Along the way you’ll meet familiar villains and side characters, interweaving with the main plot here and there. But do not be fooled:

The narrative in this game is well written, Peter has instant charm and charisma on his side, and his chemistry with MJ and Aunt May is superb. The facial animation on the characters is detailed, but suffers from a similar problem that Injustice 2 had- the characters all have that slight look to them that prevents them from crossing over that uncanny valley. Although, unlike Injustice 2, you don’t notice it too often. There are scenes with genuine impact and pathos here, some will hold surprises and curve-balls that will make you dance in your seat, whereas others will make you want to hug a pillow and reach for tissues through tears. There are a couple of reveals you do see coming, as the game will heavily hint toward them, to the point where it sometimes feels like it might as well just be blaring it through a megaphine in front of your face. That said it is still a genuinely well made and executed story and very enjoyable.

The gameplay is satisfying, but the combat borrows heavily from the Batman Arkham series. It follows the system of having both a punch and dodge system. Instead of blue/yellow/red lighting above Batman’s head, you’ll see a white semicircle “spider-sense” above Spider man’s head whenever you need to dodge out of the way of something. Thankfully, they have put their own spin on it. Instead of the dodge button being an easy counter, you are still required to choose which direction you dodge in. If you’re not careful about this, that you can be still hit by certain attacks. You can also press Triangle to grapple yourself to enemies with your web-shooters. Later on you can even get an upgrade that allows you to throw them at other goons when you uppercut them into the air. Enemy types are incredibly varied, the obligatory melee and heavy enemies, some goons with guns, rocket-launchers, but also swords, whips, jet-packs and super-natural powers make an appearance.

Web-slinging, dodging and attacking also charge up whats called your “Focus Meter”, This allows you to use special finishers on enemies, or drain it to heal yourself when in a bind. Spiderman’s suits also carry with them special mods that affect damage you inflict, or give you certain bonuses, in addition to super moves that you can trigger after a cool-down period. One generates your focus meter for a short period of time, another stops enemies for calling for backup, and one other one can deal a bunch of damage with a large energy blast to surrounding enemies.

Stealth is again inspired by the Batman Arkham games. You perch on the edge of buildings, structural supports or lamp-posts, and begin cocooning them in web, dangling them from the aforementioned ledge. The differences are that you can grapple yourself to enemies, sometimes knocking them out in one hit. You can also use a myriad of gadgets to create distractions, stealthily attack enemies, or aid you in combat. In addition to this, You can also use crawling on the walls and ceilings to your advantage, although the game does a bad job of teaching you how to climb walls.

It teaches you that walking up to walls when standing up normally will make Spiderman stick to it, but it doesn’t tell you you can aim and fire at the wall to slingshot yourself onto it like you can in order to stick to the ceiling. As a result, I spent the majority of the game awkwardly trying to web-swing into a wall to be near the top, without having to crawl ridiculously slow up all the way (or running so fast I’d over-shoot it and launch off the top) to where I wanted to be. No matter what though, when crawling and not running up walls, Spiderman will sometimes get caught on the slightest slabs of wall. The only way to get past them is to either run, or jump off the wall, which usually makes you just bounce off of the wall and lose altitude.

To break up the punch ups, you’ll also play through mandatory stealth missions as both MJ and Miles Morales. MJ’s sections I adored, but I detested Miles’ gameplay by the end. MJ has these really intriguing stealth sections in which she’ll do her own digging into the Demons or for other bits of information to aid Peter. There’s a nice drip feed of mechanics as the sections go on, beginning with really basic cover-based stealth, until you have distractions you can make by pushing or turning on objects, by throwing a gadget that attracts enemies, environmental items that generate noise like glass, as well as a taser at the very end to quietly take out enemies. She will often have puzzles to solve involving clues and items around her, but most of all, her sections always serve some purpose to the story, and are fun to play. There’s only one section where I feel it wasn’t needed; At one point in a mission, you order around Spiderman on the ground, indicating distractions to make and enemies to take out. But I think it would have made more sense -and would be more fun-, to play as Spiderman himself, before switching back to MJ for an important story-related puzzle.

Miles on the other hand, I hated- despised- outright DETESTED his sections. He only has three missions, one of which is a very basic stealth section that ends very quickly. He only has one mechanic, which is to hack tech nearby, but none of it is satisfying. You don’t have to find some way to sneak to it, you just aim and hold down a button, then move to the next area, that’s it. In the end, his sections were just dull and tedious. He’s a great character in the story, but his gameplay felt like they had been given the least amount of thought.

The open world feels large and is densely packed with collectibles to find. Backpacks webbed to the walls of buildings with items from Peter Parker’s past as Spiderman, landmarks to take photos of, Black Cat stakeouts, as well as optional side missions. Some side missions can be randomly generated police alerts, with robberies, car chases, kidnappings, shootouts, or even car accidents with people to save. There are gang bases to take down, some challenges to complete that entail taking care of a collection of bombs, scientific components and compounds to make at Peter’s work, and Oscorp research stations to monitor pollution. You also have normal stand-alone side missions. By doing these side missions, you’ll earn various types of tokens, which go into crafting new gadgets, upgrades and suits. Speaking of the suits, many of them will please die-hard Spiderman fans, some being taken out of the comics, and a handful out of the recent MCU films. Some are more wacky than others though. They will require you however to complete certain sections of the story, get an entire set of collectibles or reach a certain level, before they’re even available to craft. Talk about a long checklist for completionists.

The difficulty also really fluctuates throughout. None of the boss battles were particularly challenging, and they didn’t have many unique weaknesses. The majority of them either ask you to use your webs and gadgets to stun them or have you throw things at them. Only one boss fight has you having to time dropping things from above on an enemy as they charge at you, and it’s really the one of the only unique boss fights, but even then it was still easy. I only died maybe a couple times in total in these boss fights. Sometimes however, there’d be one section here or there where I would die countless times, often because they put so many enemies of varying types and attack patterns, that no matter where you dodge, you’ll just put yourself in the way of someone else’s attack. Another problem with dodging is that sometimes, between the lighting, color scheme of the location, and having so many other things to look at, you often don’t see the spider-sense alert in time to do anything about it. This is helped somewhat when two upgrades allow time to be sometimes slowed down, or make the spider-sense go blue after a bit, but even these didn’t seem to help that much. The slow-mo doesn’t trigger for every instance, and the blue color change can still blend in with a lot of locations in the story missions.

There aren’t many bugs, but they are noticable.  At one point, a major villain that was looking for me as Miles glitched out, and just continuously walked along a wall, allowing me to run past him with no consequence, but didn’t throw something he was supposed to, that would have let me progress into the next area. This was fixed with a checkpoint reload, but it was still annoying and jarring. Once, a police officer in a side mission, who was supposed to be having his stomach kicked by a gang in a cut scene, didn’t actually appear until gameplay had started. Another time, train tracks that were supposed to be lifted to move a train out of tunnel didn’t lift- At least I assume it was supposed to be the train tracks, the web just moved up above it, but were clearly meant to be attached to something other than thin air.

Marvel’s Spiderman is not a bad game and I do not regret my time with it, I want to make that very clear. It’s a fun and enjoyable game that finally gives Spidey a game to rival Spiderman 2, but it’s not quite as good as it could have been.

 

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