First, a disclaimer: I am shit at video games (also, while we are disclaiming, this review will have some incredibly minor spoilery stuff).
I enjoy them well enough, I guess, but modern games usually frustrate me to no end because there is just TOO MUCH to do, and my dexterity for the general forms of combat is super poor. Aiming guns is hard! Also, I have the old man brain, and things that are new are scary and upsetting to me. When I got my PS4 (THIRTEEN MONTHS AGO, so that should tell you something about how big of a gamer I am), I bought Fallout 4 to go with it. I got about… 5-10 hours in, and haven’t touched it since. Building settlements was tedious, and I just wasn’t feeling invested in a third trip to the Wasteland after loving Fallout 3 and New Vegas. It was new, and that is my enemy! I demand comfort!
Even the Spider-Man game I am here today to discuss did not entice me enough at first. It was not until I had a coupon and a gift certificate for Gamestop that I finally decided it was worth my time (and even then, I almost bought the TellTale Games Batman instead). I honestly couldn’t stop thinking about other Spidey games in the past (mostly Web of Shadows) that reviewed well enough, but were just too complicated and over my pay grade, or just not particularly interesting and engaging to me. I didn’t want to be let down. But ultimately, I went for it. Nothing ventured, right?
Well, I’m glad I ventured because this game was an absolute dynamo. I’m going to gush about this game at length, so let’s get the negatives out of the way:
There really aren’t many! There are a few interludes where you are forced into playing as either Mary Jane Watson, intrepid reporter, or Miles Morales, unpowered teenager. Those breaks away from Spidey are just frequent enough to be frustratingly annoying. You get so used to punching your problems to oblivion that when the game reduces you to hiding and throwing distractions at villainy, it’s almost unbearable. There is an especially difficult bit where, as Miles, you have to run from Rhino, and I died about a billion times there because I couldn’t find my way out of the maze the game sticks you in. That was less a problem with the mechanics than it was the map, I suppose, but I still would have felt better if I could have kicked things while I was lost.
A secondary problem is that there are no choices to be made in this game. Modern gaming has conditioned me to feel like I have to constantly evolve my character by making the hard decisions, and in this game, you just get one personality; you are Spider-Man, and that’s it. You don’t get to dump on your friends or cozy up to villainy. You can’t make yourself more or less noble; you are Popeye, and you am what you am. There were certainly moments where I felt like the game WANTED me to role play or choose something, but there was no availability. I wonder if that was a feature they dreamed of but didn’t have time to add.
And that’s it. Those are my only two problems with PS4’s Spider-Man. Virtually every other aspect of the game was a joy.
I’m not even sure where to start, so I’m going straight to one of the first things you notice and that really stood out to me: the web-slinging/travel of the game. A huge kiss on the lips to whoever decided “We should make an expansive open world game, but you get to be SPIDER-MAN in it” because I never got tired of swinging around Manhattan. Eventually the game opens up fast travel to you as an option, and I used it MAYBE five times ever because it was just so much more fun to whip around the skyline of New York City. And I wasn’t even good at it! There are aspects of the game that depend on your web-swinging skills, and I was hot garbage at them, but I still loved doing it. Even when you aren’t in the sky, you STILL feel like Spider-Man because you hop, flip, somersault, and just generally parkour off and around even object you see. In a sea of games like Elder Scrolls or Fallout that see you tediously trudge across a huge map, getting to zip around like the greatest hero of all time was a huge breath of fresh air. And the mechanics of it all! The swinging is realistic, based on the height and angles of what is actually around you at the time. Snazzy!
A kind-of-related tangent from there is the combat mechanics, which finally found a way to fully integrate Spider-Man’s danger sense into combat without making it O.P. or dumbing it down too much. Spidey’s early alert system allows him to dodge and counter attack if you press the Circle button in a timely fashion, and it shows you where gunfire or rockets are coming from when aimed at you. The rest of combat is as much fun as web-slinging when you volley opponents into the air, web them up and throw them at each other, or launch from target-to-target with rapid strikes. The only problem I had with fighting in this game is that you unlock SO MANY different gadgets or abilities or suit-related powers, and I used precious few of them because it was generally easier to just punch someone into the air, jump up and devastate them, then just keep pulling fools up into the air for their beating until I landed.
The story is a brand new tale that doesn’t even pretend to be the Marvel 616, as it is wildly different while maintaining enough of the comfortable aspects of Peter Parker’s life. He has a platonic relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Mary Jane Watson, a burgeoning friendship with a young Miles Morales, and loving interactions with his Aunt May. He also has a seriously wonderful apprenticeship under Otto Octavius that is handled SO WELL that even though I spent the entire game knowing Otto was going to somehow go bad, I internally rooted against it. They made Octavius a sympathetic, fun, worthwhile character in this game, and there is a raging sea of emotions that comes with all of his turns.
The story starts out with a ton of disparate elements, but weaves them all together gorgeously so that very little feels wasted. Angles featuring Norman Osborn as the mayor, Otto Octavius as a failing scientist, Martin Li as the nefarious Mr. Negative… they all gel to a fine point as the story builds to its conclusion. Again, I do wish I as the player had more impact in the decision-making of the protagonist, but the story kept me engaged throughout.
There is an ongoing gimmick throughout the game where Spidey tunes into J. Jonah Jameson’s InfoWars-esque radio show for coverage of all the game’s events, and these are a treat. Jameson’s rants and callers and head-in-the-sand attitude about everything is so much fun. It’s not important to the game at all, but it’s a delightful touch.
A last small, but welcome touch which is ABSOLUTELY nothing new in the realm of Spidey-based video games is the array of suits you unlock as you play. More than just for aesthetics, each suit comes with its own special ability you can use, though you can mix-and-match the abilities once you unlock them, so you aren’t married to a suit you may not like just because it has the ability you want. GREAT idea! My gameplay could be divided up into thirds: I spent the first third of the game in the Scarlet Spider hoodie costume because SCREW YOU, that suit is rad. At level 29, I unlocked maybe my favorite comic book outfit ever–the classic Spider-Man 2099 digs–and I wore them for a long time. And then near the end, I split time between movie costumes with the Stark suit from Homecoming and the Iron Spider outfit from Infinity War. Super conspicuous by its absence is the black/symbiote get-up, but I suppose it’s possible that will be released as part of the finale to the Turf Wars DLC.
I don’t know what else to say; by-and-large, I LOVED this game. If you enjoy Spider-Man, his powers, his supporting cast, his mythology, video games at all, or having fun, I recommend this game. It blew me away on every level, and I’m thrilled to still have the DLC to look forward to.