Like other ’80s kids, I grew up with Spider-man everywhere I looked. 1967’s Spider-man TV series still played on TV when I was a kid. 1994’s rebooted series of the same name blew my young teenage mind. Between Spider-man and Batman the Animated Series, the mid-90s was a good time.
When the first Sam Raimi film came out in 2002, I had to see it. I drove with my best friend to the not-so-nearby SilverCity three towns over where they had bigger screens, better seats, and popcorn that wasn’t several months past its best-before date. I would later buy the special edition DVD of the Spider-man film. And I stood in line to see the next two in theatres as they came out. Confession time: I wasn’t nearly as disappointed in Spider-man 3 as everyone else was.
Spider-man Video Games
I haven’t played many of the Spider-man video games. I’d rented that cool red cartridge, Spider-man & Venom: Maximum Carnage, but it didn’t leave a lasting impression. I skipped the movie tie-in game in 2002 because I’d realized that movie tie-ins were almost always bad. Spider-man 2 was the first tie-in that I actually bought instead of rented. And although I enjoyed it, I never bought another Spider-man game. Until 2018.
Spider-man 2 is widely viewed as the definitive Spider-man experience in video games, even today. While there have been a few well-reviewed games since, nothing has quite stacked up to the mechanics Spider-man 2 introduced.
I don’t envy Insomniac Games. With a large chunk of your fanbase holding onto the idea of a 16-year-old game being the crown jewel of the franchise, you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. Insomniac had to take the best of Spider-man 2 and introduce fresh new ideas, and that’s not even mentioning the extra scrutiny players will have because of the game’s PlayStation exclusivity. But has Insomniac delivered on its 29 minute guarantee? Whoops, wrong reference.
Graphics & Presentation
I play on a BenQ RL2460HT at 1080p using a PS4 Pro. I have both Boost and Supersampling modes turned off, and I left the graphics options in Spider-man at default.
The challenge in a game like Spider-man, that doesn’t exist in other high-profile exclusives like God of War, is the character’s speed. Spider-man spends much of the game web swinging to the next destination, but the city’s details really shine. You might not notice the traffic, pedestrians, or that random mugging as you swing by, but it’s all there, and it’s keeping up with you. Even zipping along building tops is impressive. Each building has its own style and design, as well as variable heights that keep traversal interesting. It gets a bit repetitive, like when running up a tall building and all you see are rows and rows of identical windows. But the experience is still pleasant.
Combat animations capture the acrobatic nature of Spider-man, especially when fighting a whip or sword enemy for the first time. As these harder enemies begin to mix in with other types, combat becomes quite flashy, with effects coming from every direction. As cool as Negative sword slashes and whips look, for some reason explosions are toned way down and not impressive at all. When enemies throw grenades that explode at your feet, it disorients you for a few moments. But when you dodge or throw it back, the resulting explosion is anticlimactic.
Characters have great detail with super expressive faces. Well, mostly. Sometimes a character tries to show emotion but it falls flat of the rest of the presentation, like Otto Octavius’s angry face and Peter Parker trying to be compassionate. What really shines, though, are the minute details of each character’s appearance. Especially those characters in costumes. Using the game’s Photo Mode, you can make out the intricate details in Vulture’s harness or Electro’s suit. It’s kind of unfortunate, then, that many of the main characters lack any special suits or effects. Mister Negative’s costume is literally a color-inverted white suit.
Sound & Music
I must admit I’m not blown away by the sound or the music. Except for the voices, everything else is forgettable. Every game with fists has the sound of punching guys. Arkham series, Mad Max, even Skylanders. I’m not impressed by punches anymore. The famous *thwip* sound is still here, of course, but again it hasn’t changed in any meaningful way. But if Insomniac made any major changes, I’m sure people would be up in arms—is this where I say “puddles?” Still, it’s hard to appreciate a sound that hasn’t changed in 20 years. Like the Wilhelm Scream.
Ambient sounds should help with immersion, but Spider-man falls short again here. Ambient noise is nonexistent most of the time, only noticeable when walking down the street. I’ve found that while swinging, not only is there little to no ambient sound, the game offers an endless barrage of radio chatter as you pass by the crimes at street level. I’ve lived in apartment buildings anywhere from 3 to 20 floors up. You can still hear street noise on the 20th floor. In Spider-man, except for a few sirens, there’s nothing. The lack of ambient sound never lets me forget I’m playing a video game. It’s my biggest sound-related complaint: no immersion—except during dialogue.
I think the dialogue is the one thing here that saves the sound and music category, because it’s spectacular. And who decided not to muffle Spider-man’s voice behind his mask? I’d like to buy that person a coffee. I can’t think of a single character whose voice sounds out of place, and in some areas I think Insomniac casted the best voice actors for particular roles across the entire history of the Spider-man franchise. Here’s looking at you, Mac Gargan. I understand this isn’t Jason Spisak’s first run as Scorpion, but since I haven’t heard him in other Spider-man media, this was my first time to hear his take on one of my favourite villains.
Gameplay & Mechanics
A Spider-man game needs to get this right. If you can’t feel like
Batman Spider-man, what’s the point?
Trasversal in Spider-man is mechanically perfect. It defies the laws of physics enough to be fun, but not so much that I rolled my eyes. The web does a pretty good job of always sticking to something, though I’m suspicious that once or twice I saw it stick in an area I knew didn’t have a building, but it was over a park and I was chasing a pigeon so I was happy not to lose the damn bird. Some of the “special” swing animations play a little too much, like the spinning one you saw in every trailer for the game before release, but I’ve now adopted a low-and-fast method of traversal so there’s very little animation to bother me anyway. I love that I can choose to swing dangerously close to traffic and move quickly, or move up a bit and make huge sprawling swings that look impressive to my make-believe friends, or move further up again and bounce between rooftops using web zip and well-timed jumps. The game features a fast travel system, but you miss out on contextual dialogue. I stopped using fast travel as soon as I got the trophy. And the trophy still took me until the end of the game.
Combat is another story, and it’s one that I’ve formed a love/hate relationship with over the 15 hours I’ve spent beating the main game. At the start, combat is limited in options, enemy variation, and difficulty. Before long, though, the difficulty ramps up, but not due to enemies learning or adjusting. The game increases difficulty by introducing more guns. Even with skills like instant downs after perfect dodges, many of the shooting enemies are out of range of a web zip so I don’t get the free kill. Some of the snipers can take half of your health in a single hit. And I’m playing on the game’s Amazing (Normal) difficulty. The game doesn’t reward you for using a variety of moves, and instead encourages you to use the same knock-up, air combo, pull next enemy up, air combo, repeat combo to fill your Focus bar.
It’s quite reasonable to compare the combat to that of the Arkham games, especially since they share so many similarities. Punch, evade/counter, gadgets, and Square plus Triangle to perform finishers. But while Batman had the ability to leap in any direction towards an enemy, Spider-man can’t. Well, that’s not fair. He can, but with limitations. The game lacks a range indicator for web zip, and you need to know exactly where the enemy is to aim towards them. This is even harder if you use finishers, because they rotate the camera and leave you in a different orientation than you were before. And that orientation seems to be random based on which finisher you performed. The game makes sure to punish you for using finishers, as well, since most side missions and challenges reward you for combo count, special takedowns (stealth, knocking off building, etc), and finishers reduce the number of combo hits and special takedowns you can perform. There are a few missions that ask you to perform finishers to satisfy extra requirements, but the vast majority punish you for it.
Still, once you get the hang of how combat is different than Arkham games and accept Spider-man for who he is, it can be quite rewarding to dodge a sniper shot, throw a rocket back, then kick a guy off the building and perform a hurricanrana on the closest enemy to you. It’s easy to criticize the combat for everything about it that makes it “Not Arkham,” but there’s still a lot to love about beating guys to death with their own weapons and stringing them all up 100 metres in the air.
The game does a pretty good job with boss fights, though. Except for a couple of tedious fights, the bosses work well, even if they were a little easy. I still died once or twice on a couple of bosses, but once I had the mechanics nailed down the fights became trivial. I could play by pattern rather than reacting to spider-sense or enemy movement.
Playing as Secondary Characters
I’m trying to avoid spoilers throughout this review, but this is something I need to talk about. Playing as Mary-Jane and Miles Morales sucks. Playing as Peter Parker was fine, though only because his segments were short. But some of the MJ and Miles segments lasted way too long, especially as the game went on. Any time an MJ or Miles segment started, I decided that was a good time for a break.
How kid friendly is it?
My kids love to watch me play Spider-man, but they’ve had limited success playing it on their own. The eight-year-old made it past Wilson Fisk without any help. The four-year-old needed me to take the controller a few times up to the fight with Fisk, and he was unable to finish the fight. It doesn’t help that the little one can’t read on-screen help prompts. This was on the easiest difficulty, too.
But outside of the boss fights, the kids both had an awesome time with it. Swinging, fighting random thugs, and searching for backpacks were all things they could do. But even when watching me play, the previously mentioned secondary characters segments caused me to lose my sidekicks in favour of LEGOs and Captain Underpants books.
This is a game much more suited for letting your kids play your save file in the open city. There’s nothing they can do to break your save file, so I never felt uncomfortable letting them swing around. Unfortunately, unless you’re sitting with them, this could cause you to miss out on phone dialogue and JJJ Podcasts. In some cases, those phone calls convey important emotional milestones for characters.
The best way to let kids enjoy Spider-man would be to let them play between missions. Roam the streets, approach the next mission, find backpacks. When we start talking like this, though, it’s hard for me to recommend playing Spider-man when you could play any number of great multiplayer games instead. Spider-man is a game best enjoyed alone, without the kids’ involvement.
I’m not a fan of numerical scores on reviews. Since this is my first full game review it’s important that I set a standard now that I can adhere to in the future. I’m a huge fan of ACG’s “Buy, Wait for Sale, Rent, Never Touch?” system, but I don’t want to lift someone else’s style. I’ve always valued personal game purchases on a two-part scale: the cost of the game and the number of hours I’ll play. So if I spend $80 on Spider-man and I enjoy twenty hours, I’m getting a value of $4/hour. Using this system I can also add value to a purchase based on game sharing with my kids’ PS4. If it’s a game they play and enjoy, I can add their hours to the total value of the purchase. This system has its flaws, I won’t deny that, but it works well for the conclusion I’m trying to convey. After calculating the dollar per hour ratio, I will answer a simple question: would I buy it again? And with that out of the way..
Spider-man’s base game, not including the forthcoming DLC, cost me $80. It took me close to 15 hours to complete the main campaign and a collection of side content. I will play it for another 5 hours to finish some side content, then shelf it until the DLC comes out. The kids will not play the game for any meaningful amount of time.
Would I buy it again? Yes. Spider-man has its flaws, but the game was absolutely worth playing. Insomniac created a believable cast of characters and tied them together in a meaningful way, with nobody feeling left out at the end of the story. When people write lists of games that defined the PlayStation 4 experience. Spider-man will be on every one. In 2043, when Sony releases the PlayStation 4 Classic, Spider-man will be one of its included games.