It’s not often that I can say that a game pushes me to buy a console. To be honest, I don’t have that kind of discretionary income. As a father and sole income in my home, my wife advised a few years ago that if I “upgraded” my video-gaming to the current-gen, I should only plan on having one console. I decided then to go the Xbox One route, as it allowed me more bang for my buck with my sizable digital library of backward-compatible games. The enticements of exclusives for PlayStation 4, I decided, could only be that and not experiences I would actually be able to have. If I were ever able, I contemplated, there was a definite purchase I had in mind: Marvel’s Spider-Man. Built from the ground up for Sony’s premier console, it was always on my radar due to it focusing on one of my favorite characters, but after the game’s release in early September 2018, I was drawn to the title by the stellar reviews and glimpses of the overall gameplay and storytelling. I contemplated ways to borrow a console from a friend to make it all happen, but alas, I surmised that playing it wasn’t going to be an option. During a week of planning on watching a Let’s Play play-through, I was gifted the exact amount needed to buy a system and game to take the plunge, so undoubtedly, I did so, and oh boy, am I glad I did so!
As a writer and reader of reviews, I know that hyperbole can be common, but I can’t understate just how well done the overall experience of playing this game was for me on a personal level. Experience is the appropriate descriptor, as well, as the entire thing is a synthesis of all we’ve wanted from a Spidey game since forever. While there are a couple things worth addressing, the entirety of it all is so incredibly polished and impressive for any casual or hardcore gamer. The controls are smooth, the animations are fluid, the graphical touches are spot-on, and the story is involving and compelling throughout. While I’ll attempt to look at various aspects in detail, the sum of all these parts was just amazing…spectacular even!
With this game, we follow Peter Parker several years into being a hero. With high-school behind him, Parker is in the working world and dealing with life and its difficulties. He’s no longer dating Mary Jane Watson, now a reporter for the Daily Bugle, but they keep in touch. Peter himself is no longer working with the Bugle, as he is pursuing a calling in scientific endeavors with his mentor, Dr. Otto Octavius. With an apartment of his own, Parker is also no longer at home with Aunt May, even though he regularly checks on her and her work at the F.E.A.S.T. homeless shelter. Just in recounting these few details, any longtime Spider-Man fan knows that liberties have been taken here, but the great news is that they all work. Martin Li, the director of the F.E.A.S.T., plays an important part in the story, and he provides an interesting parallel to the Peter Parker we know and love, as their circumstances and stories have connections. All in all, the story makes up one of the best realizations of Spider-Man I’ve experienced. It has a firm grasp on the larger goings-on that no single Spider-Man film has been able to successfully do to this degree. We encounter so many villains and ties to the larger Marvel universe that I was smiling the entire time from it all. The entire experience is fun, funny, and, yet, it also contains moments of sadness that are profound. “Games making us cry” has been a long-term (often unrealized) goal for developers, but here, we get some incredible impact from moments on multiple occasions. Successfully realized relationships in entertainment create audience attachment, and because of this, this game is filled with great moments, heightened by the gorgeously realized performances and voice acting.
Building on this, the most impressive thing about the entire game is how it absolutely nails the appeal of both Spider-Man and Peter Parker. While most of Parker’s missions outside the suit are story-heavy and consist of leading him to do science tasks, it’s the bits throughout that illustrate the enduring power of the character: he has real-world problems like us. He has to be able to afford rent, go to work, juggle relationships, and eat and take care of himself, and when he doesn’t give the various areas of his life the attention they need, it becomes a problem. Why such things have never become more commonplace among comic-book heroes is beyond me, but Parker is a person in this game, and all of the various ways that is expressed just won me over. Alongside allowing us to play as Parker outside the suit, we have opportunities to play as other characters in his world. These become stealth portions for the most part, but they are competently made and fun on their own. They make a welcome change of pace to the other goings-on of the game, and on several occasions, these characters make some of the best moments possible.
The importance of successful web-swinging and fight mechanics can’t be stressed enough. A smooth feel was going to be needed, as both systems make up the bulk of the game. If you want to jump in the fray and just pummel everybody or dispatch opponents with a more tactical approach, the systems allow it all. What’s really great is how each are furthered with upgrades that only make it all better. Over the course of the game, you’ll swing higher and faster, dispatch enemies in different ways, and increase your gadget-arsenal to allow for an intuitive mix of tactics in taking down the larger and fiercer group of enemies.
Couple all of that with an impressive mix of unlockable suits, gadget-upgrades, tiered challenges, and hidden collectibles, and it’s no wonder so many players felt compelled to achieve the Platinum trophy (myself, included). While the impeccably realized open-world of a “Marvelized” New York City could have been stuffed more with things to do beyond sights to see, it is high praise to acknowledge that never once did I tire of the swinging mechanics for getting around. While I often “fast-travel” in open-world games, that wasn’t the case here at all. With the orchestral swell of the hero theme lifting as Spidey flies forward, I can’t think of a single thing in the way of improving how it all makes you feel playing it. My main critiques, while minimal, involve some small graphical touches that were unnatural. The main characters get a lot of attention, but background characters don’t always look as good. Hair, especially Peter’s hair, just doesn’t work, especially after seeing it done so well in other PlayStation 4-exclusives. Many of the random crimes in the city wind up not having as much variety as they should, but all of these seem like nitpicks.
The base game includes a ton of content in its own right, but the game’s Season Pass entitled “The City That Never Sleeps” offers a furthering of plot-lines hinted at in various missions and conversations. As of writing this review, I have completed the first of three DLCs included in the pass, “The Heist”, and while being brief, it focused on Black Cat and continued the experience while adding a new enemy type and some mild variety in handling enemies and tactically completing objectives. It felt like an extended episode of TV, as opposed to an entirely new storyline, which shouldn’t be far off from what we should expect from a $10 offering. I expect similar things from the soon-to-be-released “Turf Wars” and “Silver Lining”, with each only adding incrementally to what is established by the main game.
From a content perspective, the game does deal with some matters that aren’t entirely “kid-friendly”. This is especially true of “The Heist”. Language factors throughout the game, but it never ventures beyond PG-13 territory. Violence is part of the experience, as you will engage in fisticuffs with goons and super-villains galore. That said, it is a neat touch that when kicking someone off of a roof, Spider-Man shoots a web to stick them to a nearby building. Heroes minimize casualties, so it’s good to see that thought here. The game has some incredible sequences, with themes like loss, grief, pride, lust for power, and vengeance upon our suppressors making a big impact. By game’s end, there is plenty of stuff to talk about with others who have played.
All-in-all, the game makes an incredible impression. I hope to play games continuing this series for years to come. The gameplay is satisfying, the storytelling is superb, and the immersion in it all kept me playing for hours on end. There were small critiques, as most games have, but they are eclipsed by all the game does right. I plan on playing the game through all DLC additions, and I may even give it a New-Game-Plus run-through as well. For a guy with limited free-time, it speaks of just how good this game is that I don’t want to let it end. If you can give it a play, don’t hesitate in the slightest!
For an additional view on the quality of this game,
don’t miss out on Lucas Miller’s review on Geeks Under Grace.