Guest post by Tom Franklin
In 2004, Spider-Man 2 was released for the Xbox, PS2 and Gamecube. Based on the Sam Raimi film of the same year, it has for over a decade been held up as the shining example of games based around everyone’s favourite wallcrawler. Finally, it has been surpassed by Insomniac Games’ Marvel’s Spider-Man.
Now, I will admit that I did not come into the game entirely unbiased. Spider-Man is by far my favourite hero, and I could write a much, much longer article on the significance and importance of him as a character within the canon of comic books and Marvel as a company. But since 2004, Spider-Man’s gaming outings have been… less than impressive, with games such as Ultimate Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man attempting to re-create Spider-Man 2’s experience (and coming up short) and Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions providing a workmanlike adequacy. Marvel’s Spider-Man, however, reverses this trend, providing not only an incredibly fun game that successfully builds on the foundation of the 2004 game, but also puts a fresh spin on the Spider-Man mythos.
The plot of the game starts on a strong note. Rather than starting with an inexperienced highschooler coming into his powers, the game’s Peter Parker has been at the webslinging game for eight years, with the intro showing the police-assisted takedown of Wilson Fisk, AKA The Kingpin. The banter between the two illustrates that this is a Spider-Man with a history, comfortably quipping with his foe about their previous encounters. Once Fisk is defeated and arrested, the game begins in full, with the story exploring what happens to the power vacuum left by his absence, as well as how being Spider-Man interacts with Peter’s personal life.
The game itself is gorgeous, with Manhattan being fully represented (albeit in a slightly condensed form) within the game, including most (if not all) of the region’s landmarks, from real ones like the New York Stock Exchange and the Empire State Building, to fictional ones such as the Wakandan Embassy and the Avengers Tower. The setting presents itself as a blend of the various Marvel interpretations, with elements such as the clearly-MCU-inspired Avengers Tower mixed with facets that are more clearly drawn from the comics and the Netflix series such as Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Once again, little touches like a reference to King T’Challa and Matt Murdock give depth to the version of Spider-Man that we are seeing, allowing for delicate storytelling without having to interrupt the story to incorporate other heroes who would distract from the main event.
Getting around Manhattan is aided by the controls, which very quickly become reflexive. Swinging through the skyscrapers of the Upper East Side and Midtown is swift, fluid and incredibly fun, capturing the exhilaration of zipping through the air at lightning speeds. Combat is intuitive as well, borrowing somewhat from the Batman: Arkham style whilst putting an identifiably Spidey touch on it by including and incentivising aerial moves and use of web-based gadgets. There are few things quite as satisfying as hitting someone with your webs, punching them into the air, and then kicking them into the side of a building so they are stuck five feet off the floor, wriggling in vain until the police arrive.
There are a thousand and one little things that I haven’t mentioned here, and do not want to. Not because they are not worth talking about, but because every person reading this who has a PS4 should buy this game. It says a lot about a game when I have literally only two complaints: firstly that the non-combat ground movement can be a bit awkward at times (which is never an actual problem because if I’m not fighting, I’m swinging), and that the game doesn’t go on literally for ever, because I never want to stop playing it. As a side note, Insomniac has also gone out of its way to make sure that everyone can play the game to its fullest extent by including a full range of accessibility options, complete with giving options to disable Quick-Time Events and add in an option for skipping the rather enjoyable puzzle minigames.
Marvel’s Spider-Man is an absolute gem of a game. If you’re not well versed in the adventures of your Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man, it stands on its own as a fun, well made and well written action game. If you are a true believer, you will not only get a great game but also a love letter to the franchise and most importantly, to Spider-Man himself.
P.S. there’s a button just for quips. It’s the best thing in the world.