Spider-Man is, quite simply, one of the most popular characters in pop culture, making the new Insomniac Games title one of the most anticipated games in recent memory. Does it live up to expectations? I'm not going to bury the lede here people, Marvel's Spider-Man is exactly what it says on the box. It is everything you've ever loved about your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. It's as close to being Spider-Man as you'll get without the spider bite. If I could get away with it, I would end this review with just three more words:
So. Much. Fun.
But if you need to hear more, there is plenty more to say.
Rather than start the story at the beginning of his career, Insomniac has chosen to pick up Marvel's Spider-Man after Peter Parker has been protecting New York for several years, six to eight years based on a few references in the game. You pick up the story as the NYPD is finally about to make a move on Wilson Fisk, The Kingpin. Initially, Spidey tries to keep his distance but he ultimately gets called on to help out and put the big guy down once and for all. However, with the Kingpin out of the picture, there's a power vacuum in New York and a new element steps in to try and take control, including a brand new menace that might be worse than the guy going to prison.
Without delving into spoilers, the story is as engaging as any Spider-Man story you've seen or read over the years. While most of it is light and fun, and many of Spider-Man's quips will make you literally laugh out loud, the story does get serious, even shockingly so at a few points. The tone changes drastically but in a way the story earns. While there will be some truly surprising moments in the game, there would have been more if the marketing hadn't given away more than it should. If you've been able to get to this point without watching too many trailers, don't start now.
As I said in the introduction, ultimately, Spider-Man is simply a fun game. From the first moments of the title where I began swinging through a bright, beautiful, and wide open Manhatten, I found myself smiling uncontrollably. The city is massive and it feels like a living breathing place. The different regions of the city feel like different places, you don't need to look at the map to tell if you're in the Financial District or Harlem, they look and feel as opposite as their locations on the map indicate. The map is big enough that fast traveling between key locations is possible, though I can't imagine why anybody what choose that method when swinging along the rooftops is an option.
From the first looks at gameplay of Marvel's Spider-Man, comparisons were made to a couple of other superhero titles, the classic PS2 era Spider-Man 2 and the more recent Batman: Arkham game franchise. I can say that both of these comparisons are absolutely justified, in all the best ways.
Spider-Man 2 was an early version of what is now traditional open-world gameplay. You swung throughout the city stopping random street crime and doing other almost mini-game sorts of events along with playing through a campaign that roughly followed the Sam Raimi directed film of the same name. Basic gameplay of Marvel's Spider-Man takes that idea and combines it with what has become standard for open world games of the modern era. Find and activate tower locations, which reveal a portion of the map, along with the locations of various side quests and collectibles, rinse, repeat. It certainly doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it also doesn't get old or boring.
Each different collectible or quest rewards you with a unique sort of token and obtaining different upgrades, gadgets or abilities requires a different combination of the various tokens, rewarding you for doing everything and rewarding you more for doing everything well.
Combat will feel very familiar to players of the Arkham games, melee attacks are mapped to a single-button, dodge when your Spider-Sense goes off, and combine your attacks with various gadgets to take down large numbers of enemies at once. Even some of the basic enemy types will feel familiar as far as their weapons and abilities. However, the addition of web shooters, as well as a very unique set of gadgets, doesn't make combat feel too familiar. Fall out of your rhythm and it's easy to get overwhelmed by bad guys, but time your attacks right and you can take down small armies by yourself and you feel like a superhero doing it. The only downside is that your ability to quickly change between gadgets during combat is limited to two of them at any one time, so if you want to use your full range of gear in a fight, you'll need to briefly pause the combat to bring up the gadget wheel and find the item you want.
There are other elements that aren't quite perfect, of course. Occasionally I found the in-game camera getting stuck in places that caused me to lose track of combat. I also noticed a couple of NPCs going rogue, with one enemy glitching inside a crashed car and a random citizen floating up off the ground before standing atop a chain link fence. These were exceptions, however, and never did these issues ever really get in the way of gameplay or the fun I was having. It also would have been nice if sidequests had a bit more weight to them. One of them has its own unique story with a solid boss battle at the end, it makes all the others feel like lost opportunities by comparison.
While it wasn't it released in time for review, a Day One patch for Marvel's Spider-Man is set to include a New Game+ mode. I mention it only by way of pointing out that once available, I will be utilizing the new feature to play through the title again. Games like this are the reason I play video games in the first place, and I quite simply haven't had this much fun with one in a very long time. I know playing it a second time in quick succession will be no less fun.
It's not a spoiler to say that between easter eggs and direct references, Insomniac opens a lot of doors to potential sequels. Here's to hoping they become a priority because this will likely become a new favorite game franchise for a lot of people.
This review was completed with a copy of the game provided by the publisher.