Marvel’s Spider-Man Review (PS4 2018)
Marvel’s Spider-Man feels like the ultimate fan-service game. If you are a fan of the comics or films (I count myself pretty much only in the latter camp) then everything you are after is here. A multitude of favourite villains make an appearance, the story could be ripped straight out of a comic due to its over-the-top dastardly plans and – most importantly – when you’re playing as Spider-Man the game really feels like it’s in full swing. The combat and traversal are intuitive, addictive and fully customisable as you move seamlessly between cinematic boss battles to toying with street level criminals. However, it’s the moments that you step-outside the suit that let the game down – it truly is an amazing Spider-Man game mixed with a so-so stealth and puzzle game. These moments along with some repetitive open-world clichés, drag the game back from the precipices of greatness.
That being said, for the majority of this 15 – 20-hour adventure you are playing as the webbed wonder and it feels fantastic. You literally start the game swinging, and the controls are balanced perfectly giving you the feeling of control while rarely getting frustrating. It takes about 30 seconds to get the hang of traversal, and after that it never gets old. More than once I would climb to the top of the Empire State building, launch myself off, and see how close I could get to the floor before swinging away. The fact that there is a fast travel system that I only used once (when the story forces you too) says it all. Even when needing to get to the other side of the map, I didn’t consider the subway – the journey was just as much fun as the missions that awaited me.
The controls, of course, are only a part of this. New York itself is beautifully realised, and completely open from the very beginning. Aside from the story there is tons to do; collecting backpacks, taking photos of model cats (seriously), stopping numerous crimes of varying types and completing challenges set by a masked sadist. These feel mixed and varied at first, and give you a good excuse to go exploring or try out your latest weapon on a bunch of thugs.
While you are free to explore the world as you want, the story guides you through specific areas and it is as gripping a video-game story as I’ve played in recent years. Nailing the tone, sometimes funny sometimes serious, and with a host of iconic bad guys to fight the twists and turns kept me entertained until the end. The key staples are here, including allies Aunt May, M.J. and Miles Morales. These supporting characters have their own arcs too, and sometimes cut-scenes were so entertaining and the voice acting so spot on I genuinely felt like I was watching a film. Throughout the story you play certain missions as both Miles and M.J. which give their stories more weight and help you as a player bond with the characters – as well as create a change of pace from your frantic time as Spider-Man.
However, it is with these missions that we hit upon one of the major flaws of this game. Early on their sporadic nature does feel refreshing, but as the adventure goes on they feel longer and more frequent. Combined with science-based puzzle mission of Peter Parker, which are also fun-enough in bursts, and for some of my 2-hour play sessions I was barely wearing the suit at all. Making matters worse, the M.J./Miles missions are essentially identical. They are all stealth based, and involve moving between cover and pushing things over or using distraction tools to sneak past guards. They don’t offer any real challenge (thankfully they are check-pointed generously) and become frustrating and boring quite quickly. The same can be said of Peter Parker’s science puzzles; there are a handful of types that don’t present any real challenge and get old well before the halfway point of the game.
Which is a real shame as playing as Spider-Man can be so exhilarating and rewarding, helped by just how customisable the character actually is. There are RPG-lite elements, as you progress through levels you unlock skill points which you can use to activate moves depending on your play style. Different tokens, earned through myriad side tasks, unlock and upgrade new weapons and suits which become available as you work your way through the story. These side missions start off as great practice; feel under-powered in a fight? Well go off and fight some thugs, you’ll get better at the combat controls and it will help you unlock a weapon that could help you in the main story. Equally, seeing a new suit you like the look of (and there are lots of very cool suits) is motivation to go and find all the backpacks Peter has inexplicably left hanging around New York or take on the Taskmaster in some of his challenges. However, when you have unlocked the suits you want or upgraded the weapons to your desired level, there is little motivation to carry on unless you’re a completionist (I am not). While early on side-missions are varied and fun, they quickly become repetitive due to their sheer quantity. Enemy types do evolve as story events create changes in your environment, but stopping your first mugging is so much more exciting than going through the motions during your 50th. As soon as I’d finished the story, and unlocked one late game suit I had my eye on, I had absolutely no desire to fight my way through another wave of bad guys that had become more a chore than a thrill as the hours wore on.
Looking back I enjoyed the majority of my time with this adventure, thanks largely to a combination of a gripping story, pitch-perfect traversal and tight combat controls. Solving crimes, completing story and side missions, and just having fun in the playground they have created in New York was an absolute blast. Unlocking suits and weapons, allowing me to customise Spider-Man to my play-style, provided the motivation to find backpacks and complete challenges, but when these were gone so was my desire to go back to the game. Combined with a series of dud-stealth missions and samey puzzles these hiccups stop this being the Amazing Spider-Man and more the simply-very-good Spider-Man.