Spider-Man PS4 – or Marvel’s Spider-Man to give it its official title – is exactly what you’re expecting it to be. Insomniac Games is not trying to reinvent the open world wheel with this hotly anticipated PlayStation 4 affair – rather it’s merely set out to refine it with web-slinging precision. Having played through the full first two hours of the title, we can confirm that it lives up to every superlative associated with Peter Parker’s alter-ego – Amazing! Spectacular! Superior! – but there’s a strong chance you’ll already know whether it’s for you.
There have been some solid Spider-Man games over the years: Activision’s uber-popular Spider-Man 2 on the PlayStation 2 is the one that’s perhaps most tightly webbed up in most people’s spider-memories, but the simply named Spider-Man on the PSone was also a decent romp. This author has particularly fond memories of The Amazing Spider-Man vs The Kingpin on the SEGA CD, but mostly because of its cock rock soundtrack and unintentionally funny FMV cut-scenes.
We’re confident saying this Sony published attempt is already the best yet. The game opens with a slow panning shot across Peter Parker’s bedroom, filled with the kind of Easter eggs that will have comic book fans salivating within seconds. The lead character, despite being a bit older than usual, is irreverent and awkward in a light-hearted way; his wise-cracking will irk some, but it’s true to the character and enjoyable enough.
Less grating is the gameplay, which is spot on. The title’s opening mission, which runs for about 45 minutes and introduces all of the mechanics, sees you bringing down big-boned baddie Wilson Fisk – a major player in this particular storyline. It’s a masterfully designed stretch of gameplay, gradually layering on all of the systems and getting you up to speed with the controls. It ends with the aforementioned baldy in custody, which is only the beginning of course.
There’s a lot going on here, from traversal to combat and everything in between. The swinging – undoubtedly the most important aspect of any Spider-Man game – feels slick and satisfying; you can get about on a basic level with the R2 button, but leaping out at the apex of each swing and adding in little momentum boosting zip dashes is the secret to getting real speed. It’s rhythmic in a really entertaining way, and there’s clearly a skill-based element to it even though it’s very accessible.
The fisticuffs require less of an introduction because they’re essentially Batman: Arkham Asylum – albeit with a slightly more acrobatic spin. Spidey can punch bad guys until they collapse, but his spider-sense will tingle aplenty, forcing you to dodge out of the way of incoming attacks. You can zip towards enemies in order to close distances, and even launch foes up into the air Devil May Cry-style; environmental items add contextual spontaneity to the action, while different enemy types require unique approaches.
It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but the way Insomniac iterates in the opening hours holds plenty of promise for the full campaign. There are gadgets to unlock – we only got to try one, a kind of supercharged web – and new suits to collect, all of which add unique abilities and perks to the mix. The cool thing is that you can pair the cosmetics of a particular suit with the capabilities of another, meaning that you can play pretty much exactly how you want to.
Everything in the open world has a purpose, even if it is effectively cookie cutter stuff. There are radio towers to locate – stop us if you’ve heard this one before – which show areas of interest on the map when synchronised. Peter’s old backpacks can be collected from around New York City, each containing a collectible which expands upon Spider-Man’s journey thus far. There are also landmarks to photograph, earning tokens which can then be invested into evolving the hero’s arsenal.
But this isn’t a game about web-slinging alone: Peter Parker also plays a pivotal role. Working as a scientist (MJ Watson is the investigative journalist in this universe), the 23-year-old University graduate will go to work, where all manner of mini-games await. The main one in the opening couple of hours sees you connecting circuits in a Pipe Mania-esque manner, but we get the impression there’ll be much more variety over the course of the full campaign.
It’s a total change of pace gameplay-wise, but it makes sense: this is still very much a story-driven experience, and as the developer itself says, the series is at its best when Spider-Man and Peter Parker’s worlds collide. It may be pulpy rather than borderline pretentious, but you can feel the PlayStation blueprint at play here: characters are motion-captured and the cut-scene direction is great.
It looks and runs lovely, too. We played on the PS4 Pro, and while a sun-drenched demo room prevented us from admiring the finer details, it’s clearly an extremely handsome game. The scale of New York City is particularly impressive, not just in terms of landmass but also verticality: sky-scrapers pierce the sky, and the whole location feels “alive” with everyday people going about their business – many of which will stop to admire the web-slinger or give him a piece of their mind.
The bottom line is that, even this early, we’re confident in saying that Insomniac's made the best ever Spider-Man game here. It may well subscribe to every open world trope under the web-spinning sun, but when the end-product is this polished and consistent then that’s not such a bad thing. Frankly, you’ll already know whether you want this game, but we’re more than happy to confirm that it meets expectations with aplomb.
Are you sold on Marvel's Spider-Man yet? Is this the superhero game you've been dreaming of? Check out our interview with creative director Bryan Intihar through here, and swing into the comments section below.