Spider-Man Swings into PlayStation 4
There have been few games that I’ve played over the past several years in which I’ve been compelled to actually take the time to finish. When I first heard about Insomniac Games’ then-upcoming Spider-Man title for the PlayStation 4, at first I wasn’t that interested. Don’t get me wrong, I had always had a soft spot for our intrepid webslinger since I was a pre-teen in the 1980’s. In my mid-teens, the Spider-Man cartoon series came out and I never missed an episode. (Nor did I miss an episode of X-Men, for that matter.)
But as for games– well, to be certain, my game collection is vast. I have well over 400 games on Steam (thanks, Humble Monthly!) and my PS4 title collection numbers in the low 30’s. Despite the fact that I enjoy collecting games (and certainly playing them,) I rarely have the time to actually sit down and beat a game. The last game I can recall actually playing to completion was probably Grand Theft Auto 5… for the PlayStation 3.
I can’t say what it is that sold me on actually picking up the game on release day. It might have been the video I saw showcasing the swinging and combat mechanics. It might have been the 5 minutes of gameplay footage that I watched from a random YouTuber, but something encouraged me to spend $79.99 Canadian on the title. And you know what? I don’t regret it one bit.
In the opening moments of the game, players are treated to a near-complete picture of the sort of Peter Parker we’re dealing with. As the camera pans across the room, family photos and a police scanner adorn his shelf. Newspaper clippings featuring well-known villains are pinned to his wall. Doodles and schematics of his next spider-gadget sit atop tables, and empty savings jars and take-out Chinese paint a very convincing picture of where Spider-Man is in his web-slinging career. He’s young, still, and he hasn’t quite yet found his footing.
Despite this sequence lasting only two minutes, it’s enough to know exactly where Spider-Man stands. The player is then immediately thrust into action.
Swinging and Combat Mechanics
The swinging mechanics are incredibly intuitive. It doesn’t take long to get the hang of, and perhaps best of all– it’s relaxing. At several points in the game I found solace in just swinging around, hoping to stumble across one of the random crime events that the game throws at you. While the game has a fast-travel option in which Spider-Man takes the subway (accompanied by often-humorous vignettes involving other passengers reacting to his presence), I really only made use of it to nab the Born to Ride trophy, and didn’t really spare it a second thought. As you progress through the game, you can also unlock the ability to do aerial tricks which can get you another trophy in the process.
Combat can sometimes be frustrating, particularly when the screen is filled with a dozen or more enemies all crowding into you. One of the great things about Spider-Man canon is how well it can translate into video games, particularly in the form of Spider-Sense. When an enemy is about to strike or shoot you, an indicator appears above Spidey’s head allowing you to dodge. With this mechanic, it is entirely possible to go through entire missions without being hit once– but you have to be quick about it. As the game progresses, you can upgrade the ability to shoot a web into the face of attackers, temporarily putting them out of commission and lowering their defenses.
Plenty To Do
From the get-go, Spider-Man is treated to random encounters, photography opportunities and collectibles throughout the city, and as you progress through the game’s story, these encounters and collectibles increase in number. From hacking surveillance towers to collecting old backpacks to completing challenges and putting a stop to activity from the game’s four different criminal factions, there’s plenty to do. So much so, in fact, that the completionist might find some things a bit tedious, such as the random crime encounters and base-clearing missions.
Of particular note are the Taskmaster missions. Marvel fans might recognize Taskmaster as the villain who can copy any fighting style he sees. This prompts him to get Spidey to complete several combat, stealth, speed and accuracy-based missions that are actually quite fun. (I was particularly enamoured of the stealth missions.)
Now, I’ve never been to Manhattan, so I can’t say much about how true-to-life the Manhattan of the game is. But I was immediately struck by the level of detail Insomniac Games added to the Marvel Universe’s take on Manhattan. During the game’s photography missions, Spider-Man is sent to all corners of the city to photograph landmarks ranging from the mundane Chrysler Building, to the more fantastic (and Easter-Eggy) elements of Marvel’s universe such as the Avenger’s Tower, Doctor Strange’s mansion, the Law Offices of Murdock & Nelson, Alias Investigations and more.
What makes the immersion shine, however, is the nearly-constant barrage of the J. Jonah Jameson podcast in which he constantly and consistently belittles, besmirches and bashes our web-slinger, or the phone calls from Aunt May, Mary Jane Watson and even Miles Morales throughout the course of the game.
This isn’t an already-established universe for Spider-Man. Many of the villain designs are unique, with few, if any, reference to the original comics. While through the course of the game, we’re treated to everyone from Wilson Fisk to the Sinister Six, the level of detail that the writers for Insomniac included made the villains much more real and alive than the comics ever did. In a word, the way they handled the villains: Brilliant.
And the protagonists, as well. The relationship between Peter and Aunt May, for instance, really showed the level of care that he had for his Aunt, and their interactions were everything from warm to stern, heartwarming to bittersweet. I was pleasantly surprised to see a version of Miles Morales included into the story, at a time well before he got his spider-powers. I eagerly enjoyed every mission he was part of, and revelled in the development of Miles’ story parallel to Peter’s.
I did, however, take a moment’s exception to the Mary Jane Watson of this Spider-Verse. Perhaps it’s due to my age, but the Mary Jane of my generation was a crimson-haired spitfire and sex symbol. My first thoughts were that they had mistakenly borrowed Lois Lane from the DC Universe and put her in MJ’s shoes. At several times throughout the course of the story I rolled my eyes at the duality of her getting angry at Peter for watching out for her safety while still being almost constantly in need of saving. However, I should also mention that this version of MJ felt far more fleshed out and real than previous comic book iterations of the character, and by the end, I was once against rooting for them to get together.
Spider-Man for the PlayStation 4 is easily the best Marvel-based game I have every played. I enjoyed it so much that I started to envision other Marvel franchises being treated to the same system– and general universe as the game. Would a commonly-shared Marvel Video Game Universe be out of the question, Insomniac?