REVIEW – Peter Parker, alias Spider-Man comes alive again in this latest iteration of the adventures of the web-slinger superhero. While the open world action-adventure of Insomniac takes many cues from other similar games, like the Batman Arkham titles, it’s still the best Spider-Man game ever made – and there were 35 of them so far. We’ll explain, why…
At a time when video games increasingly go towards the concept of the game as a service, and a time when it seems inexcusable that any release of Triple-A character does not have multiplayer; some major publishers such as Sony or Bethesda remain as bastions of individual experiences. The Japanese manufacturer, also, is doing exceptionally well in this regard. This same year he has already launched the essential God of War, a courageous radical change in the formula of the adventures of Kratos, and also the outstanding Detroit: Become Human, a very personal work by David Cage that drastically distances itself from what can often be found in the market. Where is Marvel’s Spider-Man in the phenomenal conglomerate of internal studio productions of PlayStation 4? Precisely at the core.
A game made with love for the work of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, and with enormous respect for Peter Parker and the legacy. Not only his but also that of all the characters that surround him and that end up composing the true Spider-Man universe. Because if anything has been characterized at all times the title during its promotional phase is to demonstrate that they were doing things right. And that the fan could feel embraced by his proposal, while the neophyte could immerse himself in a world knowing that nobody is going to let go of his inexperience with this superhero.
The adventures of the fictional super-hero created by Stan Lee in 1962 may be perhaps the most difficult to adapt – if you want to do it right that is. Sure, there were a lot of linear 2D platformers or TPS around, but only a handful of games, where you could swing around, and they were severely limited graphics, gameplay and storywise. The Insomniac team, responsible for the excellent Ratchet&Clank games took the best ideas and gameplay mechanics of the genre and the subject and put it in one amazing game.
One of the most difficult task for a superhero game such as Spider-Man is to make both the “civil” and superhero part compelling and fun. Spider-Man may be a web-slinger, masked dude, with extraordinary capabilities, but he’s also Peter Parker, a 26 years old young man, with his own personality, relationships and problems. One of the most impressive feat by Insomniac is to make you root for both for the main character as Peter Parker and his alter-ego Spider-Man.
What’s the secret? There are many things in the Spiderman narrative that demonstrate courage on the part of Insomniac Games. What the company has done is to take the whole universe created by Stan Lee around Peter Parker and make it his own, adding, eliminating or modifying everything they have thought convenient to feel comfortable. It is as if we used basic Greek or Egyptian mythology with its characters and common places, and we twisted everything to create a new story. Of course, the essential names continue to respect their nomenclature and iconography, but sometimes they change their roles slightly. Still, do not wait for revolutions, okay? There are changes, but the set is relatively conservative.
Of course, Peter Parker is still the hero and is escorted by Mary Jane and Aunt May, among the others. Moreover, there is still a majestic Manhattan as a backdrop for all our adventures, but also as an eye that sees everything in the form of passers-by who populate its streets and who record and photograph everything so that history does not close its eyes to the century XXI in which we live. However, what the superhero himself devotes his efforts to when he does not wear the suit, and how he deals with the problems that arise in his daily life has something of his own on the part of the studio writers.
What I can tell you is that the adventure is gaining in interest as it deepens into it. The boot is fine, set the bases and presents the characters. However, as in a good television series, when we begin to see where destiny, or their actions, directs them all, the thing is gaining packaging. The third act is a turbulent outcome of several hours in which we live some of the most spectacular combats and without a doubt the tensest situations. The adventure can be overcome in about 16-18 hours if we go to the point, much more if we are completists and enter the game of its almost infinite collectables.
Even a hero needs friends and love
As I have already told you, the launch starts deliberately slow regarding his script, but as soon as we start to find our nemesis, the thing is focused and advanced like a real shot. There is a good selection of these, although the battles against them could have been much better. They are often based on a recognition of somewhat simple patterns on their part to react to them, and only at some specific time require a test of the skills and maximum agility of Spider-Man.
Peter also evolves along the way, of course, and it’s great to see what he really looks like. That mask of a prankster, pimp and scoundrel that so many times have been used in some of his series to mask the problems of his interior is a resource that is also used here, and brilliantly. The narrative of the imperfect hero’s works very well. Peter is not particularly good at his job, makes some wrong decisions throughout the adventure, often neglects his aunt May, and his relationship with Mary Jane is stormy and one of his biggest headaches. In fact, of all the secondary ones that go through history, the most interesting is precisely her. With a constant intention to claim that it feels good to adventure, not content to be a guest of stone and often make decisions that take the protagonist crazy and help to boost the ties between them.
Not everything works equally well, of course, but they are nuances of a certain ingenuity that can be overlooked. To give you an example, there is one of the secondary characters who is mainly focused on research (I will not tell you which one to restrain from spoilers). The thing is that it has some facility to sneak into facilities, laboratories or even offices of supervillains. In those places we will discover that these are true geniuses of evil to devise evil plans with which to threaten Manhattan but, at the same time, are so clueless as to leave on the table maps or documents that explain them in great detail. There are occasional touches of candor and innocence when formulating solutions to some of the critical moments of the adventure, such as those cases that I have just described.
With great power comes great playability
I’ve spoken before that certain degree of courage that Insomniac Games has had in everything narrative to try to give its touch to the story, albeit modest. However it is something that has not been translated into identical bravery in playable terms. There Spider-Man is a much more conservative title. One that does not want to take risks and that, also, looks at almost any imaginable reference of open worlds or superhero titles that we have seen in recent times. Have you played any game in the Assassin’s Creed series, from the Far Cry series or the Batman: Arkham from Rocksteady? Surely you will find many recognizable elements of all of them in this formula. In fact, almost everything that Insomniac Games used, you have seen it elsewhere. They have tried to give their own touch, yes, but still, a certain injection of genuine character on their part would have come fantastic to the whole.
Combat, for example, is the best part of the game. It is a fighting mechanic that is among the best I’ve seen in an action title and adventures in recent years, and that unfailingly drinks from the aforementioned Batman games, and his successor in those terms like Middle Earth : Shadow of Mordor for example. The maximum agility of the protagonist and his ability to fight multiple enemies at the same time cause that the frenetism and the need to have acceptable reflexes take over the action scenes. Bruce Wayne’s blockades are replaced here by agile dodging manoeuvres, and Talion’s moves are here replaced by an incredible selection of punches and kicks.
The cadence of the movements, the chained of combos of stratospheric numbers and the general sensation is identical to that of the references. However, there is also a slight touch of the Californian company when it comes to making the formula its own, and it is derived directly from the cobwebs. We already use them as a point of impact to stun or knock down enemies, as a wave to spin and launch an infinity of objects that we find on stage or to grab hold and gain an advantage or abandon a combat, is the identity element of the protagonist and what multiplies the fun to incredible extremes.
I have invested more than 20 hours playing Spider-Man and what has made me stick to the screen and return again and again after finishing the story has been the fight. There are many possibilities, whether we are fighting in the middle of the street or in a closed place. It is the strong point of the game, and Insomniac Games have realized to the point of making it the capital stone of the title, and erect it as what we are going to do the most.
The theme of swinging and navigating the city is also really good . In the past, we faced different releases of Spider-Man that have not always solved well the particular way of moving the superhero, but this time is stuck. Using some concepts that, undoubtedly, learned their responsible for a game as dynamic in the displacement as it was Sunset Overdrive, a simple scheme has been achieved in appearance, but it hides some points that give it a certain depth. There are barely three or four buttons to do everything we can do, including acrobatics that rewards us with experience points, but the combinations of these and knowing exactly when we have to press them (for example at the highest point of the oscillation for catch height or fall to gain speed). The bases, as I say, are simple; but once we want to improve our skills to, for example, meet the aerobatic challenges, it requires a lot more skill on our part.
The other important point of Spider-Man works, not so well, and it’s stealth. In some missions, we are forced to try to go unnoticed under pain of someone dying and forced to repeat it, but it is always an alternative that is there when we approach a group of enemies. The game puts many elements at our service to try to make us feel comfortable and have many options, and it is an approach that directly reproduces what is seen in Batman: Arkham Asylum and its aftermath. We can grab most of the elements of the stage to master the situation from the heights and draw a plan and the stickers of the hero in the hands and feet allow you to climb any surface or hang from the ceiling.
From there, there are direct executions, never lethal, of course, to render our enemies unconscious; although the rival AI is so loose and so clueless that it is not too satisfying. The good thing, as I say, is that it is almost never mandatory to have to resort to stealth, and we can always end up solving everything with kicks and kicks. Unfortunately, the other characters that we handle at specific moments do have an obligation to be discreet and avoid other people’s looks, so their sections are much more limited regarding interest and fun. Luckily they represent a very small percentage of the adventure.
I am a Spider-Man in New York
At this point, you know very well that this Insomniac Spider-Man is an open-world video game, so it is divided into main and secondary missions. The former help to advance the narrative, as always in these cases, and are the most worked regarding cinematics and history. The second ones are somewhat more discreet in all the senses, as it usually happens in this type of productions, and allow us to obtain more experience points to level up and improve our character. However, the progression of the video game is a complex mechanism and divided into several branches, so it is not the only way to evolve to our hero. It is a bit complicated to explain, but I am sure that if I go by parts, it will be easier to understand.
Everything we do in Spider-Man gives us experience points. A few things, for example, flying acrobatics through the streets of Manhattan; and many others, how to fulfil a mission. With them, we are gaining levels and improving the character based on unlocking points that we invest in an attractive skill tree loaded with surprises and spectacular things to open and, ultimately, make our way of fighting the protagonist. On the other hand, each certain amount of ranks that we gain unlock the possibility of buying different costumes, and these are not only really spectacular from the visual point of view, but also offer different improvements for the hero and, also, each of them has a unique special ability. From, for example, calling arachnid drones to shoot enemies, releasing energy waves or recharging our gadgets more quickly.
In fact, we can also enhance all our accessories and tools. Electric charges, cobweb bombs or the drones themselves are some of the options we have at our disposal with just pressing the L1 button, and these can also be improved with points. The thing is that to increase all our objects or even to buy those suits that we have previously unlocked we need tokens, and there are many types. For example, we can get chips if we detect crime in the streets of New York and we interrupt it, or also to complete a specific challenge, to find a hidden collectable or to free a base of enemies of Wilson Fisk, to take the case. The thing is getting complicated, right? Well, keep paying attention because there is still a little more, but this is the last thing, I promise. I have also left the best for last.
A Manhattan of Dream
When a videogame of an exclusive nature of the calibre that concerns us is launched for a video game console, it is always expected that it will turn upside down the visual standards of a machine like PS4. With referents such as God of War, released this year, the thing is difficult, mainly when it was a video game with a certain element of freedom but eminently linear, and with Spider-Man recreating a complete and gigantic city without longer loading times than those that penalize us for dying or those that segment the city between interiors and exteriors. Well, the work done by Insomniac Games is excellent at all levels, making us feel as close to being a superhero as the current hardware allows.
The thing is that the game does not want you to do things to make them, and wants you to give the maximum of yourself, so all the distractions that you can find in Manhattan value you and score depending on how you did it. So, crushing all the opponents of a Kingpin fortress will give you a base card, but if you do it with style and fulfil a series of additional goals you can get more like an extra. It is an excellent idea and, also, everything is very well resolved. A speed challenge get more chips as soon as you arrive, which makes sense, but in one battle will achieve succulent bonus if chained very high combos or solve the struggle with electric shocks, attacks from above, stealth or many other variables that are random and that are changing. Great, right?
We are accustomed to open-world video games splashing their mappings of many things to do, but not always succeed with the rewards that encourage us to be interested in them. Marvel’s Spider-Man hits the nail on the head. Not only because the costumes as an unlockable item and all the collectibles that we are going to find are incredible winks that the most fan will know how to value, but also because even the most novice in the universe of Stan Lee will value very highly the colourful outfits we can get and the useful powers that they bring with them. There are a lot and a lot to do in your beautiful recreation of New York, and that is always good news for those who want to spend many hours shopping.
The dizzying sensation of flying through the skies of the city is captivating, but when we make a low pass using our nets and touch the asphalt, cars and passers-by, the epic of the heights is replaced by a sense of speed also fantastically achieved. It is a tremendously versatile game in the visual, and right at the time of representing visually and in a very faithful way all that is the life of Spider-Man in the Big Apple. However, the launch is also capable of becoming more intimate and attentive to detail when it needs it.
Moreover, is that the contrast of the majestic swing of Spider-Man with the most minimalist moments is formidable, and so much to see the red and blue suit furrowing the skies between skyscrapers as a conversation between Peter Parker and Mary Jane in a cafeteria. Sony and its internal studies have specialized with outstanding success in telling very personal stories in recent times, and for that, you need portraits of faces of a quality good enough to be able to transmit. In its style closest to the comic, nothing has to envy the looks of the characters of this title with other exclusive PS4 of recent years as God of War or Detroit: Become Human. Moreover, those are big words.
The same goes for the combats , loaded with imposing effects and with the extra incentive of being set in scenarios full of objects with which we can interact and with many destructible parts. In some of them, and under certain conditions such as the use of some very specific power, I have experienced some very slow slowdown, barely perceptible in PS4 Pro and a little clearer in the standard version. However, otherwise, the operation of the game is very rocky in both video consoles, with the usual differences of greater clarity for the most powerful version of PlayStation 4.
What both have in common are load times that are sometimes significant, although as we have said we only see them when they die or when starting some missions, and also some other bug. Nothing serious, of course, and all within the logic of the complexity of creating an open world of these characteristics. For example, the odd pedestrian positioned in inappropriate places (on a wall or on a car), an almost invisible failure of textures in the eyes of a character during a cinematic or a fight against Kingpin that I had to restart because it was left static on the other side of an impossible access wall. As I say, very isolated things almost always cosmetic and, when they were not, they were solved as easily as restarting the last control point.
Equally outstanding is everything related to audio. A fantastic soundtrack and with the usual epic of works related to the Marvel universe, some great sound effects and excellent voice actor work.
Marvel’s Spider-Man is a success in many ways. The Marvel license of this hero of the well-known superhero factory has become an exclusive PS4 exclusive before even going on sale and now, with the game over, I can tell you that it is outstanding. Some element could have been improved a little here and there, but with cusps as outrageous as their brutal combat or care swinging through the streets of Manhattan we have much and very good to do within its formula.
+ As a Spider-Man simulator, it is unparalleled
+ The combat is amazing: agile, addictive, versatile and tremendously spectacular
+ Visually gorgeous!
– Some things like stealth pale in comparison to combat
– Little innovative. It is easy to see things here and there of great references of the genre
– Somewhat long load times
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Insomniac Games
Genre: Action-adventure/open world
Release date: September 7, 2018