With great hype comes great responsibility.
And no Spider-Man video game has ever come with the hype of Marvel’s Spider-Man, the PlayStation 4-exclusive that opens with the iconic Marvel montage from Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. Unlike other Spider-Man games, this one wasn’t developed for one console, and it was developed by a publisher with a history of excellence in Insomniac Games. It arrives a year after “Spider-Man: Homecoming” rocked in theaters, in an era when the Batman: Arkham franchise has proven that comic book video games can indeed work.
Good thing this version of Peter Parker is up to the task. Marvel’s Spider-Man is the most complete, most enjoyable Spidey video game to date, and it’s the game that comes closest to capturing all the fun and excitement of actually being Spider-Man.
You traverse a solidly recreated version of New York City. The areas — Morningside, Hell’s Kitchen — will sound familiar, and you’ll pass (and if you’re smart, grab pictures of) a few recognizable landmarks.
The city is fairly well-populated too, although most of it’s window-dressing; you’ll interact with few in the world if they don’t have to do directly with whatever mission you’re on. You’ll explore much of this city, too, chasing down Peter’s old backpacks on rooftops, unlocking towers, and handling quests for an old frenemy. There’s plenty to do in this Manhattan, and the entire thing is open from the get-go, not barred by pointless gating. The lone disappointment is that you can’t go into more buildings frivolously; the game could have used a few more regular hangouts.
It’s a good-looking city, part of a good-looking game. Spidey animates fluidly, and plenty of time went into making his main outfit (and his many unlockable outfits) look good. Other iconic characters also look good, and the cutscenes play out so naturally (and with such solid dialogue) that you’ll happily sit back and watch, enjoying the story.
That story has seen plenty of time and effort and, by and large, it’s a strong one. You’ll see plenty of familiar figures in here, from the Kingpin to Aunt May to Mary Jane Watson, and each will feel recognizable yet not be boring. Even the villains are pretty well fleshed-out, never binary bad, often with more interesting motivations.
Marvel’s Spider-Man takes its cues from a wealth of Spidey source material (including, it seems, the brilliant cartoon from the 1990s and the classic Tobey Maguire films), but it doesn’t just tread on old stories. It has its own take on Aunt May. And this Mary Jane is distinct. Drawing from the Ultimate Spider-Man comic franchise, she’s fiercely independent and resourceful, perhaps a little too much like Lois Lane, but very much an enjoyable character with solid chemistry with this version of Peter Parker.
Solid mechanics sit beneath it all. Controlling Spidey is a joy, and web-slinging is easy and intuitive. You’ll make your way through the city largely by pressing the R2 button, and some easy parkour mechanic allow you to always keep moving forward, never needing to stand still. A slow-motion effect kicks in if you want to web to a certain location, too, giving you a bevy of ways to traverse the city.
Combat is equally enjoyable, thanks to a bevy of options. Most battles force you to be fast-paced in your approach, keeping the action frenetic at all times — exactly what you’d expect from Spidey. Spidey has all the tools he needs to survive these battles, though: He can sling things at enemies, shoot webbing at their guns or web them up, and swing around and kick them. On low difficulty, the game can be somewhat played as a button-masher, but in general, you need smarts and quick thinking to succeed.
Battling feels Arkham-inspired, although Spidey gets a “FOCUS” meter, too; fill it up with enough combos, and the web-slinger can unleash some more potent attacks or, in a smart move, he can also heal himself, buying you a little more survival in the toughest battles. There’s a little bit of QuickTime here and there, enough to occasionally annoy you, but, by and large, you’re having too much fun to be too terrifically bothered.
All that battling evolves as you play, because Spider-Man has plenty of abilities to unlock, and plenty of alternate costumes to try. One of the best parts of the game is hunting down and unlocking all Peter’s many costumes; they all have their roots in something interesting and fun from the comics. You’ll have to put in work to get to them (earn those backpack tokens!) but it’s worth it whenever you see Spidey slinging about in a new outfit. Insomniac loaded plenty of fan service into this game, and it’ll keep you busy even after you’ve crashed through the main story.
When it’s all over, Marvel’s Spider-Man winds up being the Spider-Man game we’ve always wanted — and a game that lives up to its hype.