There are three reasons why Marvel's Spider-Man feels important. First, it offers a chance at some form of redemption for Sony, after The Amazing Spider-Man movies turned out to be, well, not all that amazing. Second, since Batman: Arkham Knight brought that incredible franchise to a close, we're sorely lacking a super hero fix. Third, and most importantly, there simply hasn't been a good Spider-Man game since 2004's Spider-Man 2, and that's criminal.
So it's a good thing, then, that Marvel's Spider-Man is a spectacular return to form for our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man – in every single sense.
What will grab you immediately is just how cinematic it is. Beautifully scripted cutscenes segue seamlessly into gameplay with nary a loading screen in sight. Combine that with some of the most fluid and expressive movement and combat we've seen this generation, and it all combines to really make you feel like Spider-Man.
But first, we really should address the Rhino in the room. Yes, Marvel's Spider-Man is modelled very closely on the framework that Rocksteady established with Arkham City, and Ubisoft with Assassin's Creed. You explore a relatively small open world that's full of collectibles and side quests, gathering and brawling everything in your path to level up and unlock new gadgets and upgrades. Heck, there are even towers you have to visit to unlock more of the map, and enemy bases to destroy – it's that closely modelled.
Developer Insomniac Games fortunately had the sense to reign it in a bit though, and while there is plenty to do, it never actually feels overwhelming. That's partially down to the fact you unlock this extra content piecemeal as you beat story missions, and that the game regularly encourages you to go and do optional stuff between key missions. It also helps that it's just such a fun game to play.
The web swinging is pure bliss from the get-go, and it only gets better as you unlock upgrades. Tap and hold R2 while in the air and Spidey will shoot a web at the nearest surface and swing off it. Press X at the height of your swing and Spidey will soar through the air, gaining momentum. Settle into a nice rhythm and you'll cross the length of New York in a heartbeat, running along walls and propelling yourself off buildings.
It just feels so damn good to be Spider-Man. Really, the biggest compliment we can offer the web swinging is that despite unlocking fast travel at some point in the game, we never used it. We really didn't want to miss out on another opportunity to explore the urban sprawl of New York from Spidey's webs.
Scraps are just as fun too, with Spidey's moveset growing substantially as you progress. There are just so many options at your disposal, from simple kicks to the face to a variety of gadgets that you can fire from your web shooters. Spider-sense is used to good effect as well, warning Spider-Man when an attack is about to land and with a simple tap of circle you can dodge out of the way. Leave it to the last second and you'll web the attacker in the face, leading to a variety of different follow-ups.
While combat is undoubtedly fun, challenging, and full of options, it never quite hits the heights of the Arkham franchise – despite sharing the framework. Dodging just doesn't ever feel as satisfying as a crunchy counterattack, though we do appreciate how it opens up more combat options.
It also gets a bit messy later on, with enemies attacking you in a variety of different ways. You'll get shot at, have grenades flung at you, and have to contend with enemies using shields and various weapons. Each type of enemy requires a different approach, forcing you to prioritise on the fly to take out the most dangerous foes first. And yes, it does solve Arkham's and Assassin's Creed's problem of combat being a touch too easy, but there are times when it just feels too chaotic to keep on top of, and that's when you lose the immersion of being Spider-Man.
What does come as an enormous shock is just how great the plot is, and the individual performances of our favourite heroes and villains. Peter Parker and Spider-Man are on point, complete with all of the 20-something dramas, witty quips, and one-liners you'd expect. It feels a little weird to relate to a superhero, but at times our heart was going out to the poor guy.
The supporting cast is just as great, though we can't really say much else without venturing into spoiler territory. Suffice to say, if you're a real fan of Spider-Man, you'll be in Spidey heaven. This is the pure comic book universe, yet it still feels familiar no matter how you've encountered Spider-Man up to this point. The result is simply one of the best versions of Spider-Man seen outside of the comics. Yeah, we said it.
What's not so great, though, are the frequent stealth sections not featuring Spider-Man. Despite us railing against these irritating immersion-breaking sequences in many other games, Insomniac has deemed it a good idea to incorporate a bunch of them here. So you go from a fluid, non-stop action epic to, effectively, a stealth walking simulator in which failure results in an old-fashioned game over screen. It's as fun as it sounds.
In the developer's defence, it does help you to realise just how super-powered Spider-Man is in comparison to an ordinary citizen, but it's used far too often, and it always plays the same. There's one particular section where it really does work though, and if it had been left to just that, we wouldn't have any complaints. It would have been a special moment, rather than a regular annoyance.
While we're on the subject of criticisms, let's talk about performance. Spider-Man runs at a super consistent 30 frames per second, and it didn't deviate from that at any point in our playthrough. We put it through some very stressful situations too, from whipping through the city at an alarming pace to beating up a ton of bad guys in a maelstrom of explosions. It didn't miss a beat. Problem is, our PS4 Pro was going absolutely haywire. The fans were running so loud that it sounded like a jumbo jet taking off. This is a technical marvel though, and it does defy expectations of what a PS4 game can achieve – much like God of War did earlier this year.
Ultimately, Marvel's Spider-Man is a must-buy, because no matter how you feel about our webbed superhero, this is just an insanely fun game to play, and it's so well put together. Just like the Arkham games did for Batman, this pretty much provides the definitive version of the Spider-Man universe outside of the comics, and leaves us begging to explore more of it in the inevitable sequel. Webslinging is bliss, combat is fantastic fun, and the extra content and collectibles are varied and infrequent enough not to overwhelm. What's more, the plot and characters are an unexpected surprise, with some fantastic performances that are genuinely touching. Marvel's Spider-Man is one of the best games of 2018 so far, and every PS4 owner will feel proud to own it as part of their library.