Review: Spider-Man (PlayStation 4)

Reviewed by Krista Noren, posted Sep 25, 2018
Sep 25, 2018
  • Publisher: Sony
  • Developer: Insomniac Games
  • Genres: Action/Super-hero
  • ESRB Rating: Teen
  • PEGI Rating: Twelve years and older
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
With great power comes great responsibility. And that means developer Insomniac Games has quite the responsibility riding on their shoulders to create an amazing Spider-Man game.
Krista Noren

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Batman, er, Spider-Man begins

When it comes to superhero games, there's not many that turn out to be anything worthwhile. Especially in the case of Spider-Man, who has had a long line of mediocre titles, starting with 1982's eponymous game on the Atari 2600, and leading up to 2014's The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Most fans tend to be in agreement that there's only been one stellar Spider-Man game, which is 2004's Spider-Man 2. This entry is what became the standard to beat, and the twelve games that followed never seemed to recapture that magic. At least, until now. Insomniac Games has taken the best elements from other attempts, refined them, and used that to lovingly create a highly enjoyable experience, and one of the best superhero games yet. 

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In this incarnation of the character, you'll be playing as a Spider-Man who's a bit older than in most adaptations, having already gotten a grip on his powers, and taken out a lot of bad guys through his years of being a superhero. This allows for players to jump right in, even without knowing the history of the character, and just have fun with a wealth of different powers. You know  who Spider-Man is--he's a guy with spider powers--there's no need to spend extra time focusing on who's the bad guy and making tutorials out of basic gameplay elements and powers; you're given exactly what you need and thrown into the world to go have fun. 

 

Many people will immediately compare this to the Batman: Arkham series, which feels incredibly similar to Marvel's Spider-Man upon first glance. Right off the bat, you'll notice that the combat is a mix of Arkham's, and of Spider-Man 2's. Whenever you're in imminent danger, a "spidey sense" will appear over your head to indicate that you should dodge the incoming attack, and you can knock enemies into the air in order to further your combos. Even if you've seen this all before, there's a level of polish that makes the game stand out above the rest. As far as web-swinging goes, that part of the gameplay has been absolutely nailed, and it doesn't get much better than this. It can almost be guaranteed that the first thing most will do once they boot the game up is start trying to get to the top of some skyscrapers in order to swing from place to place.  It's incredibly satisfying to glide through the world and do tricks while free-falling, waiting to latch onto something to propel yourself further. Another one of the best parts of the game is the combat, which gives the player a lot of freedom. There's dozens of different ways to take out your foes; you can blast them with webs and incapacitate them by sticking them to the walls, swing a mailbox into their face from across the street, fling them off rooftops, slide under them to dodge gunfire and make their buddies take the hit instead. You're given the tools and the liberty to do so much, and thanks to that, even after 15 hours of gameplay, fighting regular enemies never got stale or boring.

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Insomniac's developers make it clear that they love Spider-Man, from the references to older media, to the immense level of detail within the world. Multitudes of different costumes and power-ups, all of which are references stories in the comics, are able to be unlocked as you level up. Apprehending criminals and doing stunts while doing parkour and swinging through the city give you experience points, which you can invest into a skill tree in order to broaden your fighting abilities. It also appears that they've taken a page out of Ubisoft's book of open world game design, and crammed in towers that you need to scale, which gives you knowledge of the area. However, once you go exploring that sprawling world, it's easy to see how much padding there is, with having to climb buildings over and over to do the same minigame repeatedly, or rescue/chase missions with the same quicktime events at the end. It takes away from the breathtaking world that seems so real and full of life, and reveals that it’s slightly barren of activities, and the ones that do show up are incredibly similar and repetitive.

 

Of course, while the game does some things absolutely perfectly, there's others that drag down the rest of the adventure. Later down the line, you'll find yourself playing as MJ or Miles Morales in forced stealth sections. The first time you're put into one of these situations, it's not too terribly out of place, and the novelty of playing as one of the side cast keeps things interesting, but after that, they only serve to mess with the pacing and slow things to a jarring halt. Certain moments will also have you in control of Peter Parker, the everyday man outside of the costume, where you need to solve pipe puzzles and go through cutscenes. Each time these came up, I found myself waiting for them to be over, so I could go back to playing as Spider-Man again. It's understandable that there's a need for downtime, in order to give players a moment to breathe and take in the story, but instead, they just feel like a roadblock to the better half of the game.

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As far as graphics go, this is one of the few games to really make use of the PlayStation 4 Pro's output. This is one of the best-looking titles in this console generation thus far, with a gorgeous sprawling cityscape, and elaborately designed buildings that are not only placed perfectly to swing off of, but ones that have detailed reflections off the glass, and individual rooms that you can peer into from outside. With the inclusion of a photo mode, you can take some screenshots that really show off just how impressive everything looks. There's constant movement happening on screen, and though motion blur can occasionally damper things, the camera is almost always on point, keeping track of the player even when they're jumping around the screen at a breakneck pace. The cinematic cutscenes offer movie-like visuals, and really help sell the story and what's going on in the world. It all combines to be nothing short of stunning in terms of graphics and visual design.

 

Spider-Man continues PlayStation's trend of fantastic exclusives, joining the ranks of God of War as one of the best possible games you can get only on Sony's platform. Although Insomniac got some of the most important parts right about a Spider-Man game, there's still some elements holding it back. An over-reliance on typical open-world activities like climbing towers and stealth/tailing missions feel out of place, and take away from the better parts of the game, like the fluid combat and exhilarating acrobatics. Overall, we're looking at an enjoyable experience full of fun, but also one that tries to play things too safe. If you're a Spider-Man fan, you couldn't ask for more of a love letter to the franchise, and if you enjoy superhero games, you'll definitely get your money's worth.

Verdict
Pros
+ The web-swinging is just about perfect
+ Tons of different abilities and attacks to learn and master
Cons
- There's a lack of things to do in the world
- Tends to take a bit too much inspiration from Ubisoft games, to its detriment
- Forced stealth sections
9 Presentation
Whenever Spider-Man speaks, he has two different lines of audio recorded, one for when he's walking around or casually climbing structures, and another for when he's in the middle of fighting or doing acrobatics. There's a level of careful detail to this game, and that addition proves how solid the presentation is here, let alone with how stunning the graphics look on the PS4.
8 Gameplay
This game is entirely dependent on how good it feels to swing from skyscraper to skyscraper. You couldn't ask for a more fun way to traverse New York, as the web-swinging is an absolute blast. As for everything else, if you've played a lot of modern AAA games, you know what to expect. The combat is a refined, smoother take on that of Arkham's, and with both of those combined, it makes you truly feel like Spider-Man.
7 Lasting Appeal
While the game gives players the chance to swing through the sprawling area of the map, you'll quickly realize that there's actually not much to do within the given world. Outside of story missions, you're tasked with finding simple collectables and climbing towers to unlock your map. These quests get repetitive quickly, and once you've gotten your fill of flinging yourself through New York, there's a lack of things that will keep you coming back.
8.3
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
Insomniac's Spider-Man takes the best elements from previous Spider-Man games, and gives it a level of polish that will leave you stunned. Swinging from towering skyscrapers is an absolute thrill, and this game sets a standard for impressive visuals. However, a lack of content and the repetitive nature of the game hold it back from true greatness.


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