Insomniac has created some really great experiences in the past, and when word spread that they would be the developer behind a new Spider-Man game exclusive to the PS4, fans were pretty excited about the prospects. Developers of the fantastic – although perhaps under appreciated Sunset Overdrive – took a lot of what made that game fantastic, and brought it over to the Marvel version of New York city. Does the same magic exist yet again, this time in exclusivity for another console? Let’s dive in!
Origin Story Again?
Off all the Marvel characters that have come to live on screen, Spider-Man could possibly be the most disappointing. Ownership rights hinging on use of the asset has resulted in reboot after reboot after reboot of the famed character, with new actors each and every time, and brand new origin stories. The worst possible thing Insomniac could have done for this release was create yet another origins story for Spider-Man, and thankfully, they opted not to do this.
Instead, we are introduced to 20 something Spider-Man, living in his own apartment, struggling to get the bills paid while working alongside the brilliant Doctor Octavius. Between beating back crime as Spider-Man, working with the doctor, and trying to balance numerous other relationships – such as the tricky one involving Mary Jane – Spider-Man in this universe is a busy, stressed out, young man, and it works so well.
The main story in Spider-Man is delivered exceptionally well, full of franchise favourite characters like Mary Jane, Aunt May, and a host of your favourite villains like the Vulture, Shocker, Mister Negative, and much more. These characters are folded into the story at just the right time, to stop the game from feeling like boss fight after boss fight, and instead rolling great minor missions that advance the story in between major fights.
The balance between the lives of Spider-Man and Peter Park is brilliantly handled, and those jumping into this experience will get two stories, rather than one. The lives of Peter and Spider-Man are on different projections throughout the campaign, but ultimately end at the same place. Experiencing the story from both sides was pretty unique, and incredibly enjoyable.
And the fights have never been so satisfying. Getting hte hang of the games mechanics is a piece of cake, and before you know it, you’ll be swinging around baddies using R2, pulling yourself towards enemies using Triangle, and sliding and dodging weapons and punches using Circle. The fluid motions makes the combat feel real and satisfying, and except in very tight areas – especially when fighting someone in a doorway – there is little in the way of shoddy camera work to keep you from dispatching a group of baddies in a reasonable amount of time.
Gadgets and suit upgrades also aid in battle, as well as other areas of the game. These gadgets can be unlocked via the story, and upgraded by completing a number of side quests. Suits can be unlocked as you go as well, and upgrades will come with each suit upgrade. Like a specific suit over others? Insomniac thought of that as well, allowing you to mix and match the benefits of suits to create the one suit that is right for you. With more than a dozen suits to unlock, and three abilities to link to each, there are hundreds of combinations.
Where Things Drag…
The unfortunate reality of Spider-Man is that getting the resources necessary to upgrade gadgets and craft new suites requires players to play a few lackluster mini games, or complete side quests that quickly become repetitive.
Mini Games – range from circuit puzzle challenges that require players to accurately place pieces to complete a circuit on a board, to matching lines in sequences to create or research different scientific compounds. The first few times these feel alright, but after time they become a chore you need to work through, rather than something you really want to do.
Side Quests – are not as exciting either. Again, the first time you engage in these side activities, there is a bit of fun and intrigue. But after a few similar tasks, things quickly become stale. Side Quests will often involve stopping speeding cars, taking down burgalers, stopping drug deals and muggings, or throwing aside the growing number of baddies coming after you personally. Getting police scanner notifications as you swing through the city becomes tedious after a while, and I often avoided these to continue the games main story, only ever completing them when trying to obtain tokens to upgrade my equipment or craft new suits.
A few side activities are actually fun to complete. Finding backpacks and black cats is nothing exciting, but doing the research centres that Harry Osborne set up around the city was actually quite fun. These activities ranged from finding leaks in pipes, to spreading cures for diseases and smog, to other, humanitarian efforts; these were all done to honour the memory of Harry’s late mother, and do add a bit to the backstory of Peter Parker and Harry.
Insomniac did almost everything right when putting this Spider-Man package together, and I do think fans are going to have a great time jumping into this fantastic world. The web-slinging through New York City couldn’t feel much better, and all the great New York landmarks – both real like Madison Square Gardens and fictional like Avengers Tower – look spectacular. Hunting them all down is worth it, just to see the fantastic renderings of these very real locations.
But not everything is presented so well. No, I’m not talking about the rumoured downgrading of the games visuals – because on the PS4 Pro, it looks absolutely stunning. Instead, I’m talking about the NPC within the game, or perhaps, the lack of them. Sure, for the most part you will be swinging high above the streets, and the pedestrians walking along them. But when you do choose to walk through sections of New York City, you’ll begin to see the same NPC assets over and over and over again. This goes for the gangsters, drug dealers, and robbers you will encounter as well. There just isn’t enough variety to create a unique, realistic feeling New York City.
The word I’ve used to describe this lack of NPC diversity is laziness, but when you look at this issue in the grander scheme of the game as a whole, it really is a minute problem that really doesn’t affect the main story you will experience. For as much went into the rest of the game, a few similar looking NPC figures really should be the least of my worries.
And that is ultimately what matters here. The story. With so many Spider-Man stories already available in modern entertainment, it’s hard to think of what Insomniac could do to create a unique Spider-Man story that is true to the characters roots and history. But yet, they do this again and again and again. Sure, I wasn’t enticed by the games many side missions and collectibles, but that only meant I got to focus on the games best aspect, the story.
And ultimately, in a game that is really driven by narrative, relationships, and the everyday struggles of a man in his 20s, Spider-Man delivers in spades. Do yourself a favour: make sure Spider-Man is on your list of games to play when it launches on September 6th.
A copy of Spider-Man was provided to us by PlayStation Canada for the purpose of this review.