Similar to Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham games before it, Marvel’s Spider-Man serves as proof positive of what licensed games can be when the right studio is tapped for development. With regards to the webslinger’s latest video game venture, the right studio just so happened to be Insomniac Games. This studio, home to PlayStation classics such as Spyro, Ratchet and Clank, and Resistance, took the Spider-Man franchise and developed an incredible gameplay experience. Alongside controlling the Marvel hero, players are also immersed in a compelling story, one that’s both familiar and fresh to fans. Evidence of the familiar most notably comes forth with the villains that feature. However, amidst the expected story beats rests a few twists and turns, many of which probably aren’t anticipated by even the most knowledgable of Marvel or Spider-Man fanatics.
There’s plenty to love about Marvel’s Spider-Man. Insomniac gets a lot right, particularly in the gameplay and story departments. Yet, there exists a number of issues, though none are enough to distract from the game’s excellence. The list below calls attention to both the good and the bad in equal measure. This goes for narrative elements and the gameplay-centric side of what is arguably Insomniac’s greatest title to date. That said, a few things that won’t garner mention are webslinging, combat, and the gorgeous rendering of Manhattan. Of course, all of these things deserve recognition, but they’re also what everyone else has been referring to as triumphant. Here are 10 things we love about Marvel’s Spider-Man on PlayStation 4, and 10 things that could use some work.
WARNING: Major spoilers ahead!
20 LOVE: MARVEL LANDMARKS
One of the most rewarding aspects of exploring Manhattan in Marvel’s Spider-Man is stumbling across classic Marvel-centric landmarks. Sure, real world structures such as the Empire State Building are fun, too. However, nothing beats discovering Jessica Jones’ Alias Investigations for the first time or happening upon the city’s Wakandan Embassy.
Additionally, these fictional monuments are neatly integrated into a gameplay moment. When pushing up on the d-pad, Spider-Man can retrieve his camera and take a photograph of the landmarks. To this end, the Marvel structures essentially act as another collectible; photographing them awards XP and a trophy for collecting them all. That said, these collectibles are well worth the extra effort.
19 NEEDS WORK: NO DEPTH TO THE SINISTER SIX
For most of Marvel’s Spider-Man, Mister Negative is the big bad. At nearly every turn, he drives the conflict. Throughout his time in that role, we’re drip fed his past, which ultimately reveals his motivations. It’s a fascinating story arc for a lesser known Spider-Man foe. Sadly, many members of the Sinister Six don’t receive similar treatment.
Barring Doc Ock, the other members -- Scorpion, Rhino, Vulture, and Electro -- receive minimal exposition. Since there’s plenty of story to tell and only a certain amount of time to tell it, giving every villain meaningful development likely wasn’t an option. Furthermore, no one would want the rogues to distract from Peter Parker’s arc. Still, the Sinister Six’s lacking depth is pretty disappointing.
18 LOVE: J. JONAH JAMESON'S PODCAST
We never see J. Jonah Jameson, but his presence is pervasive. No longer the Daily Bugle’s Editor-in-Chief, this Jameson works as a podcaster. In Jameson’s view of himself, he represents the voice of the people. However, when his show is heard in-game, he sounds enraged, ill-informed, and obsessive. He’s perfect.
Darin De Paul, who’s lent his voice to dozens of games, brilliantly inhabits Jameson. There’s a richness to the actor’s interpretation that particularly shines when the character goes off on a rant. Additionally, the podcast’s content couldn’t be more compelling. At every turn, Jameson aims to discredit Spider-Man. When the player doesn’t respond to crimes, Jameson notes the instance on his podcast. Such detail deserves high praise.
17 NEEDS WORK: SIDE ACTIVITIES
Open-world games are hard to make. Crafting a dense world and filling it with engaging activities can’t be easy. Throw superheroes into the equation and a whole host of additional issues emerge. With regards to Marvel’s Spider-Man, the focus was primarily centered on delivering a quality narrative. That Insomniac achieved this isn’t arguable; this indeed serves as a well-told Spider-Man story. Nevertheless, the side content doesn’t measure up.
For instance, the active crimes are repetitive, which are only troublesome because there are so many. Some side missions stand out, but, given the stakes of the main plot, most feel insignificant. Then there are the gang hideouts, all of which involve Spider-Man infiltrating an area and fighting waves of enemies.
16 LOVE: WHITE SPIDER SUIT
After Insomniac’s Spider-Man game was first announced at E3 2016, one aspect of the reveal remained divisive -- the white spider. Over the years, especially since the game’s launched, fans have taken to the suit design. It’s different, unique in all the right ways. Furthermore, it maintains the vibrancy of Spider-Man’s typical suit design, while simultaneously conveying that this isn’t the Spider-Man everyone may be used to seeing.
In the game, Peter designs the suit after his classic costume is badly torn in battle. The white spider’s texture also shows it provides the suit with a thick layer of armor in places. Therefore, it’s both functional and looks good on-screen. What more could you ask for in a Spider-Man costume?
15 NEEDS WORK: STEALTH
When the stealth works, it works wonders. The problem is that it doesn’t work often. Stealth requires delicacy; the character’s movement has to reflect as much. The lightness of Spider-Man’s movement, compared to the heftiness of Batman’s in the Arkham series, doesn’t allow for precision. Admittedly, it’s not a big deal -- Spidey’s not stealth-based. However, for sequences that necessitate sneakiness, there’s plenty to be desired.
One feature the game could benefit from is a dedicated crouch button. Sometimes, perching atop street lights and railings doesn’t offer a tactical advantage. In such instances, sneaking up behind someone on foot is ideal. Unfortunately, without a crouch button, nearby foes are likely to spot Spider-Man at inopportune times.
14 LOVE: HARRY OSBORN
Harry’s presence is mysterious. Barring a jaw-dropping post-credits scene, the character never physically appears. However, there are side activities that offer a sneak peek into the way Harry Osborn influences Insomniac’s version of Spider-Man’s world. These missions task players with finding Research Stations, set up by Harry to monitor Manhattan’s environmental issues.
Each mission is short and features narration from Harry, where he explains the purpose of his various stations. All in all, the stations are an effort to honor his mother’s legacy. It’s moving. As the game progresses and more about Harry’s situation receives exposition, the character becomes all the more compelling. His role in a potential sequel is sure to incite intrigue.
13 NEEDS WORK: PUZZLES
Generally speaking, the puzzles are fun. There exists two types: circuit board puzzles, reminiscent of BioShock’s hacking mini-game, and the spectrograph sequencing. Both provide a challenge as they’re accessible, yet difficult in some instances. Many of these puzzles are optional, but those that require completion often slow the story's pacing.
For the challenging puzzles, players may spend upwards of five minutes sorting through a sequence or bit of circuitry. In this time, the sense of urgency, depending on what Spider-Man is doing in that moment, has effectively been slowed to a halt. It’s a small thing to nitpick, an inconsequential aspect of an otherwise fantastic game.
12 LOVE: MARY JANE'S ROLE
This version of Spider-Man’s love interest depicts her as more than a love interest. She’s her own character, with goals that are intrinsically befit bettering the world around her. In MJ’s most notable cross-media ventures, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man franchise, she’s not half as well-developed. Thus, it’s good to see her in a role where she joins the action, as opposed to being a damsel.
In Marvel’s Spider-Man, MJ works as an journalist for the Daily Bugle. She uncovers a fascinating story and seeks it out at all costs. Oftentimes said cost is life threatening, which puts her and Peter at odds. Not everyone seems on board with the changes, but it’s interesting that MJ's been cast in a new light.
11 NEEDS WORK: ALTERNATE COSTUME SELECTION
Marvel’s Spider-Man features the classic suit the game opens with, Insomniac’s white spider design, and 26 suits from comics and other media. Still, with a character whose history is as rich as Spider-Man’s, the options feels lacking. Several fan favorites, such as the Superior Spider-Man and Future Foundation designs, are missing. However, there’s no way to discern why some costumes were chosen over others. Perhaps there's conflict concerning rights, or other issues beyond Insomniac’s control.
Interestingly, downloadable content could result in more of Spidey’s suits making an appearance. The developer has yet to reveal what its plans may entail. Yet, hopes are high that the additional story content, entitled “The City That Never Sleeps,” will feature new alternative costumes.
10 LOVE: THE STORY
In some ways, the narrative seems rather predicable. Of course character X eventually transforms into villain Y. Despite this, Insomniac manages to take players on a thrill ride. There are plenty of twists and turns, even amidst the expected story arcs.
What’s of particular importance is the journey. And, man, what a fascinating journey. From start to finish, the narrative excels at telling a Spider-Man story that feels as though it’s told by someone who’s written the character for years. The plot never ceases to amaze; furthermore, the few surprising moments feel jolting and earned. Marvel’s Spider-Man has it all: poignant character moments, rich scenes seeped in emotion, and high-flying action. Basically, this consists of everything anyone could want from a Spider-Man tale.
9 NEEDS WORK: NO CAMEOS FROM OTHER HEROES
Did anyone expect to see Thor or Iron Man make an appearance? No. It’s Spider-Man’s time to shine and, thankfully, this game allows the character to do that and much more. Yet, there’s admittedly a sense of disappointment in that, other than when Peter addresses iconic Marvel landmarks, none of his fellow heroes ever receive a direct mention.
At the very least, it would have been cool to get a tease of what some of the street-level heroes are up to. After all, neighborhoods such as Hell’s Kitchen and Harlem, where the likes of Jessica Jones, Daredevil, and Luke Cage reside, are featured in Marvel’s Spider-Man. Perhaps such details are on reserve for a potential sequel.
8 LOVE: TASKMASTER
Taskmaster’s presence comes as a surprise reveal. The villain, who’s often also characterized as an anti-hero in the comics, sets a number of challenges for Spider-Man to defeat throughout Manhattan. The challenges come in three categories: stealth, combat, and drones. After completing a few challenges, Taskmaster ambushes Spider-Man, forcing the player into a mini-boss battle.
The mini-boss fight occurs on two separate occasions, both of which are fun, yet somewhat grueling. Because Taskmaster has the ability to duplicate the movement and fighting style of those he studies, battling him encourages players to approach combat differently. Taskmaster's objectives count as some of the most intriguing the game offers.
7 NEEDS WORK: NO INFORMATION DATABASE
In many respects, the world-building on display in Marvel’s Spider-Man is superb. Since it takes place eight years into Peter’s run as a hero, there exists an endless number of blanks to fill in. The game accomplishes this with subtext during dialogue and collectibles. For example, backpacks scattered across Manhattan include brief anecdotes about Peter’s time in school or villains he’s previously battled.
One feature is sorely missing, though -- a database for character bios and world-related details. For those not familiar with Marvel’s lesser known characters, context as to who they are feels lacking. Even character bios based on their comic counterparts, akin to those in the Arkham series, would suffice.
6 LOVE: HOW PETER AND MILES MEET
One of the best missions consists of Spider-Man infiltrating a shipyard to find intel, alongside Officer Jefferson Davis. When their investigation takes a bad turn, Davis goes above and beyond, acting in a heroic manner that sees him honored by Mayor Osborn. Akin to the comics, Davis is eventually revealed as Miles Morales’ father. Unfortunately, Davis is killed during an attack on the Mayor, which segues into Miles' and Peter's meeting at the officer’s funeral.
It’s a heartbreaking way for these two iconic characters to come together. However, the emotional depth ensures their union works. Miles gains mentor figure in the man that he doesn’t realize is his idol. Meanwhile, Peter takes on this new responsibility, which simultaneously aids in his own growth.
5 NEEDS WORK: SOME BOSS FIGHTS FEEL REPETITIVE
Make no mistake, generally speaking, each boss fight brings something unique to the table. However, this is by virtue of all the villains being inherently different. Of course, going toe-to-toe with Mister Negative offers a completely disparate experience to battling Doc Ock or Rhino. Yet, each boss battle has something in common -- the moment-to-moment gameplay loop is identical.
In most boss fights, the gameplay loop includes the following: evade, launch web attacks, throw objects, and press ‘Triangle’ to enter a new phase of the fight. This pattern repeats in every instance. That doesn’t make the game or its boss battles any less exciting. But the redundancy becomes noticeable early on.
4 LOVE: PETER PARKER
Yuri Lowenthal, the actor who provides the voice and motion capture for Peter Parker/Spider-Man, deserves endless praise. His Peter Parker encapsulates everything fans have come to love about the character over the course of his nearly 60-year history. He’s compassionate, jovial, but serious when a moment necessitates such a turn. Lowenthal’s Peter, whether he’s donning the suit or not, is often laugh out loud funny, as well.
Insomniac deserves kudos, too. The character’s arc feels earned by story’s end. Peter’s relationships are meaningful, his commitment to the citizens of Manhattan feels real, and his constant need to do what’s right ensures his heroism shines through. Quite frankly, this version of the character couldn’t have been better depicted.
3 NEEDS WORK: PLAYING AS MILES AND MJ
This is tough, simply because these sequences bolster the character development of these characters. Playing Miles when he discovers his father’s lifeless body harbors a dramatic weight that may not have otherwise been achieved during a cutscene. This is especially true since, at this point in the game’s plot, we’d seen very little of Miles. The same can be said of Mary Jane, as her heroics resonate courtesy of her being playable.
Yet, these sequences, as consequential as they are, feel out of place from a gameplay perspective. They slow the pace to a crawl. Interestingly, there are a few that provide ample action and a bit of creativity thanks to puzzle solving and traversal. However, these outliers are few and far between.
2 LOVE: DOCTOR OCTAVIUS
Doctor Octavius excels beyond great characterization. Throughout the course of Marvel’s Spider-Man, he goes from Peter Parker’s mentor and idol to a man whose behavior renders him unrecognizable. The best part? Each phase of his development feels earned. He evolves organically; in fact, Peter, unknowingly, contributes to it.
By story’s end, Octavius’ transformation into Doc Ock is devastating, for Peter and the player. When Peter breaks down at having to give up on a friend, it’s hard not to feel similarly betrayed. All of this holds true despite most people being fully aware of the doctor’s inevitable turn to villainy. Hats off to Insomniac for employing a fresh but familiar approach, and making it something remarkably special.
1 NEEDS WORK: SILVER SABLE IS UNDERSERVED
Silver Sable and her private security agency debuts roughly around the game’s midpoint. Norman Osborn hires her force as both his personal security team and to help police Manhattan. In most interactions between Silver and Spider-Man, of which there are too few, she’s antagonistic towards the hero. Her treatment of him is understandable, warranted even. From her perspective, she has a job to do and he too often intervenes. However, there must be more to her than the job.
In interviews, Creative Director Bryan Intihar has stated Insomniac had plans to expand on Silver Sable’s role. Wanting to ensure the story never became too padded and that Peter remained the primary focus meant those plans were axed. This, too, is understandable, yet still unfortunate.