Hey everyone it’s Holden, making a review for the first time in three years. This time it’s going to be Marvel’s Spider-Man made by Insomniac Games and published by Sony.
Before we get into the review, I want to say that I’m not really a big Spider-Man fan. I never really read any comics, I hated the Raimi films, I didn’t really watch the cartoons, and the only game I’ve played before this was a demo of Spider-Man 2 on the PC. It’s just never been my thing. As such, for a long time I didn’t care about this game at all. It wasn’t until I got chance to play it at Gamescom that it really got my attention. I ended up enjoying the game so much that I ordered it as soon as I got home.
Story, Pacing & Characters
The story starts off with Spider-Man taking down the Kingpin, which also serves as the game’s tutorial. This leaves a power vacuum within New York’s criminal underworld, which is filled by a new gang called the Demons, lead by Mr Negative. Mr Negative is the primary antagonist for the majority of the game, with the power to control other people by corrupting them, as well as enhanced strength and energy blasts. Their goal is to take down Norman Osborne, who is the current mayor of New York City. Your role is to stop the gang, and uncover exactly why Mr Negative hates Osborne so much. To aid Spider-Man throughout the story is a large cast of supporting characters, such as Yuri Watanabe, MJ, and Aunt May. Throughout the story you’ll also fight a number of Spider-Man’s most well known villains, each of whom has been given a new look with upgraded skills from an unknown benefactor.
While I enjoyed the game a lot, it isn’t without its problems. There were a number of points, especially toward the end of the second act, where it felt like the game was about to end and then it just… carries on for another 10 hours. Some aspects feel rushed, or just come out of nowhere, whereas others are given a lot more time than really felt necessary. Also there was one point, the attack on the Osbourne Rally, where I felt something really interesting could have happened but instead they play it safe which I thought was a shame, though I understand the decision. That being said it doesn’t detract from the experience too much and there was never really a time where I stopped enjoying my time with the game. The story also wrapped up really well, the ending scene in particular really resonated with me and actually made me think better of the game as a whole.
The game has your traditional open-world structure, which obviously makes sense for a Spider-Man game. While it’s clearly the correct choice, I do think it wasn’t implemented in the best way. Swinging around the New York City feels great, and really helps you get a sense of the world, but the availability of side-activities does create this feeling of being either empty or overflowing, depending on your playstyle. I tend to play these games by unlocking all the towers and then doing all the side missions first but due to how the game gates side-activities, there were quite a few times when I had nothing to do. During the first two thirds of the game the side-activities are unlocked every few missions in small chunks, which can then each be completed quite quickly. The game seems to expect you to play in a certain way, so after missions you’ll often be told to go do side-activities before the next main mission, but not once when I was told this did I actually have any side-activities to do.
When they do unlock however, it can be very overwhelming. The best example of this is the end of the second act, after which the number of side-activities basically doubles in one fell swoop, which suddenly floods the map with new things to do. From a story perspective I can understand why this was done, but as a player it felt like a bit of a slog to get through all the new content before the end of the game.
The missions usually follow the same basic structure, someone calls you on the phone, you swing over to the location, beat some people up and then have a cutscene or phone call to end. There are also some more stealth focused missions, though these usually end in combat anyway which I found kind of a shame. I wish there were more missions which focus on stealth as Spider-Man, as that’s my favourite playstyle, but I suppose it doesn’t really fit this particular interpretation.
There are also a number of pure stealth missions where you play as MJ and later on another character who I won’t name just in case you don’t already know. These missions require sneaking around places like enemy bases, solving puzzles while trying not to be seen. I still enjoyed these, though just being seen is often enough to fail a mission which can be annoying. While I’m talking about failing missions, I just wanted to mention that the mission failed screen feels super cheap, like it was an afterthought. They’re usually some sort of zoom in on a characters face, and then a black screen with text and that’s it. It’s not a big problem, but compared to the presentation of the rest of the game it definitely felt lacking.
There are only really 3 types of Puzzles in the game, though thankfully they aren’t so frequently as to get boring. The signal matching puzzles are found when unlocking the towers, and require you to rotate the sticks to change the frequency and amplitude of a wave. These are pretty simple to complete and relatively inoffensive, with the only issue being that they’re only used nine times throughout the entire game.
The spectrograph puzzles involve identifying unknown materials by matching the lines of known samples to that of the unknown. It sounds complicated, but it’s basically just putting lines in the correct places until they all match up.
Finally we have the circuit repair puzzles. These are basically pipe-mania, where you make a route from one terminal to another while adding and removing voltage to hit the power target. They’re generally pretty easy, though they do get a bit harder toward the end of the game. A lot of the puzzles in the game are optional, and you can skip them if you really want to, but they’re fun at best and inoffensive at worst, so I think it's worth doing them.
Outside of the main quest line there are a number of different side activities, which is arguably the largest part of any open-world game. In Spider-Man these can be split into two main types. The first are your more traditional side quests which are usually given by random citizens, the stake outs which ultimately unlock a new suit and the police scanners which function as your towers to unlock map locations. The second are the activities which give tokens used to upgrade and unlock your gadgets such as backpack hunting, landmark photography, crime fighting, base clearing, research labs and challenges. Completing these will take up the majority of your time with the game.
Backpack hunting is exactly what it sounds like, you travel the map finding backpacks to unlock backpack tokens, and also some extra backstory for Spider-Man.
Base clearing isn’t too bad either, as you fight off waves of enemies in an area to take control of it. There are also special requirements for each base, such as webbing a certain number of enemies to walls, which will give extra base tokens when completed.
Landmark photography is cool, as it requires you to travel the city taking pictures of different locations for Landmark tokens, as well as a secret version which isn’t tracked on the map but ultimately unlocks a suit. My only complaint about these is that I think it was a missed opportunity to have clearer distinction between the two sets, such as having the public locations be the tracked Landmarks, and the comic-related locations being the secret ones instead of them being a mix of both.
The research labs are a short side mission in and of themselves, requiring to undertake any number or random tasks, such as spraying pigeons to cure a bird flu, and these give research tokens as well as opening up fast travel locations. These are usually pretty enjoyable, though there are one or two, in particular the mobile tower mission, which are almost painful to play.
The Challenges revolve around a shadowy figure dropping missions around the map. Each of these challenges give challenge tokens, while also having some cool fights with the mysterious figure interspersed throughout.
Drone challenges involve following a drone around the map, copying it’s path as closely as possible as quick as possible to catch it. These are by far my least favourite of the challenges, as I feel the game tries to force you to move the way it wants you to, instead of the more free-form movement found throughout the rest of the game.
Bomb challenges require you to race around the rooftops, disarming a series of bombs. I enjoyed these more than the drone challenges for sure, but I feel they have the same core issue, forcing you to move in a particular way for the best score. That being said, if you view them more as movement puzzles they’re still quite enjoyable, as you have to figure out the quickest route between each bomb.
The combat challenges are as basic as you’d expect, kill people quick without getting hit. They’re probably the easiest, and they’re pretty enjoyable so no real complaint, but they’re nothing spectacular either.
Lastly are the Stealth challenges, where you have to clear an area of enemies without being seen as fast as possible. These provide a nice change of pace from the combat in the rest of the game and were easily my favourite challenge to complete.
The Crimes though are probably my least favourite part of the game. There are around 160 of these, split between 4 different factions, spread throughout the main game and they become infinite after the game too. The sheer amount of these is overwhelming, and they’re largely pretty similar so completing them can get rather tiresome. Another reason I dislike these is due to their random nature. While having the crimes spawn randomly adds a feeling of spontaneity to the game, as well as making it feel more realistic, it also means that when doing large amounts of crimes at once there can be long periods between crimes actually occurring.
As I said, all of the side activities give tokens which are used to buy the various suit upgrades, gadgets and abilities. There’s a great variety of suits from many different periods of spider-man comics, movies and cartoons be they noir, 2099, the Iron Spider suits or my personal favourite, the Vintage Comic Book suit which changes your shading completely to look more like a cartoon character. It really stands out with the more realistic style of the game and just looks great. My only issue with the suits is that a lot of them seem quite shiny, as if they roughness is too low on the texture. It hardly causes problems, but it did put me off quite a few of them.
Almost all of the suits also come with a suit power, which can then be swapped out afterward. These abilities will give many different powers when activated, such as making you harder to detect, refilling your focus faster or giving you extra arms. The best of these though is clearly web blossom, which shoots webbing out around you hitting all enemies in the area. This will be one of the first suit powers you unlock, and is so strong as to almost be overpowered. Some missions can be cleared almost immediately using this power, so maybe avoid it if you want a bit more of a challenge, but I never took it off to be honest.
In addition to the suit powers, there are also suit mods which you can use to modify your stats. Three of these can be equipped at once and provide a variety of different benefits, such as increased damage, increased stealth or increased defence. These make more of a difference than you’d expect, so swapping them out often is a good idea, especially for the challenge missions. Appropriately set mods can easily make the difference between a Spectacular and Ultimate ranking.
There are 8 different gadgets to use throughout the game, and are either unlocked during a mission or are purchased with tokens. Once you own them, they can then be upgraded used to help you throughout the rest of the game. Most of these are purely combat based though some can have other uses too, such as the electric-webs which are also used for puzzles. To be honestly I rarely used any of these in my playthrough except when I was forced to.
The only ones I made frequent use of were the trip-mines, which would trap an enemy when triggered and were very useful during the stealth missions. Outside of this, I never felt comfortable using them as they have a limited number of uses. I’ve since been told that they refill pretty frequently, but I’m one of those people who stockpiles potions in RPGs so any perceived limit on their usage made them feel too precious for me to use. Having said that, I didn’t really feel at any point like I was losing out by not using them, or when I did use them I didn’t feel that they trivialised the game at all. If you want to use them they provide some nice variety to the gameplay, but you don’t have to rely on them to progress either.
Completing pretty much any action in the game will also give you XP which you use to level up. With each level you’ll gain a skill point, which can then be spent to buy a new skill. These skills are split into three types Innovator which unlocks moves for use in combat, Defender which gives you defencive maneuvers like dodges and Webslinger which is for aerial moves and webbing. One nice thing is that before buying any upgrade you can watch a short video detailing its use. Each skill is useful in some way, and by the end of the game you’ll have unlocked them all, but there are definitely a few skills which you should aim for first.
Wrecking Ball, in the Innovator section, allows you to throw the brute enemies when webbed which is a great quick way of taking them down, especially if you throw them into walls. From the Defender section I’d aim to get the Chain Finisher as soon as possible, as it basically doubles every finisher allowing you to finish combat encounters even faster. The Webslinger section has the most things to grab as far as I’m concerned though. You definitely need to get the Quick Zip and Point Launch boost as they’ll massively increase your swinging speed, and the Quick Recovery is quite nice too. On top of those, you should pick up Blast Off, which causes an aoe when you launch an enemy, and Air Marshall to boost your aerial damage.
The movement is super fun, swinging around the city feels great and really helps you get a sense of where everything is in the world. You can also wall-run up and across buildings, to gain height rapidly, and then swing over the top to speed up quickly. If you tap X in the air you’ll pull yourself forward which allows you to gain speed while maintaining your height, or you can press L2 and R2 to zip to a ledge or point, and then tap X to boost off it. The faster you go, the better the movement feels. There are lots of different movement options which are all satisfying to use, though the system definitely isn’t perfect.
There were a number of times where I’d stick to walls when I didn’t want to or I’d zip to the wrong place, which at best is frustrating, but in the movement challenges would basically require a restart immediately. The other issue I have with the movement is that it is so quick that I think it makes the fast travel system almost pointless. There was rarely, if ever, a time when I used the fast travel, as swinging is both fun and fast which meant that you could often get places quicker by swinging than by sitting through the loading screen. I suppose it’s a good problem to have, but it still felt odd to me.
The combat is totally serviceable, but I found that one core combo (launcher into three hits in the air, zip to the next enemy, dodge once, repeat) pretty much carried the entire game. It kinda ends up feeling a bit stale after a while, seeing the same throwing animation for 40 hours can get a bit tiring. It’s not particularly hard though, generally the enemies didn’t cause too much trouble, though the flying enemies later in the game were kinda hard to deal with. Usually I would stockpile finishers until I could take them down all in one go.
Finishers are governed by your focus gauge, which is also your main method of healing, and is filled by attacking enemies and dodging hits, and fills faster the higher the combo. Having both of these tied to the same system encourages you to get better at the combat while not punishing you too harshly. In the early game you’ll probably use it to heal more often than not, but by the end of the game you’ll be able to complete long chains of finishers without taking a hit and it’s super satisfying. My only issue with the system is that I wish the gauge healed a bit more in general, though it’s not a big problem.
The audio of the game is great, with the music picking up in time with your swinging, though at times it can get a bit repetitive hearing the same theme every time you move, especially if you’re stopping and starting a lot. The combat sounds solid with the hits making a clear connection, and with the traditional bass at the end of an encounter. The voice acting is also consistently brilliant throughout, with Yuri Lowenthal being particularly good as Spider-Man. Also, there’s one research station mission in particular which you need to try to listen to on a surround sound system, where you swing around New York during a thunderstorm and it sounds amazing. The best audio however, clearly goes to J Jonah Jameson’s podcast.
While swinging around the city episodes of J Jonah Jameson’s podcast will play with him commenting on things that have occured during the story, taking phone calls from his listeners, or spouting random anti-spider-man conspiracies. These tend to be pretty amusing throughout, but toward the end of the game they become much more emotional and really work to show how much Jameson cares about the city. It was a great way to make him seem more relatable, and was one of my favourite parts of the game. This all being said, if you really want to you can turn the podcasts off, but I don’t think you should. My only complaint is that if you miss a podcast or want to listen again, you have to do it from within the pause menu. I wish there was some way of playing them while swinging around the world.
In terms of visuals I think the Game looks great, with New York being represented in super high detail, it was pretty fun swinging around and seeing places I’ve been to. Peter himself looks like a mix between all the previous spider-man actors, though I personally think he looks a lot like if you took Andrew Garfield stretched his face. It’s not photorealistic, but it strikes a good balance between realism and a more stylistic approach. I’m also a big fan of the loading screen which displays when the game changes from day to night, it’s just a big picture of New York but it looks great.
I think the accessibility options in the game are super nice, though there are a few places where I wish it had gone a bit further. There are options for most types of colorblindness which doesn’t affect me, so I can’t comment on their efficacy, but their inclusion is obviously important. The QTEs in the more cinematic scenes can be turned off, which I’m sure people are happy about, though even if you keep them on they are quite forgiving. The option I was happiest to see was the ability to hold buttons instead of mashing. It’s very useful for more people than just those with clear motor disabilities.
That being said, in other situations holding the button could be a problem in and of itself. Swinging requires you to repeatedly hold and let go of the R2 button throughout play, and is the main method for traversal. For some people, myself included, holding a button for a long time can cause fatigue in the hands, and is actually one of the main reasons I had trouble playing this game in long sessions. Now I have no idea how they would have changed it which is why I’m not going to harp on about it too much, but it’s definitely something I wish they would consider for the future.
There weren’t too many bugs in the game that I ran into, but there were a few which caused me to restart missions which was quite annoying. For example, during one mission you have to follow a character around the map while they ride the subway. During this, I managed to swing down just as the subway car entered a tunnel which clipped me into the world while also giving me great speed, which caused me to end up on the inside of a building, thus failing the mission. Overall though, the game seemed pretty bug free for me which is always impressive for an open world game.
I can’t say I fully agree with all the super high scores people have been giving Spider-Man. There are some clear issues with repetition especially within the combat, the pacing is weird and the open world feels simultaneously overwhelming and totally empty. That being said, I did very much enjoy my time with the game, and the movement alone almost makes the game worth picking up. If you like Spider-Man, cool movement mechanics, open worlds or video games as a whole, there’s something in this game you’ll probably enjoy. The best thing I can say is that Spider-Man on the PS4 really makes you feel like a person playing a Spider-Man game.