Sony has two major properties on their radar that consistently and regularly make them money: the Playstation franchise and ‘Spiderman’, so it seems like no surprise that they decided to marry the two together in an exclusive title by Insomniac Games. After an enormous marketing campaign creating an unparalleled level of hype for playstation gamers, the finished product is finally here and mostly hits the mark on those Marvel fanboy expectations.
Games using the license of superheroes have a history of being largely uninspired cash grabs that put in minimum effort whilst capitalising on the brand name. That was, of course, until 2009’s ‘Batman: Arkham Asylum’, which became the gold standard for how to respectfully use an intellectual property and also making a hella fun game. It’s no surprise then, that ‘Spiderman PS4’ as I’ll be referring to it as, borrows elements from this game and its sequels ‘Arkham City’ and ‘Arkham Knight.’ Most egregious but paradoxically also most forgivable, is its snatching of the genre defining combat system. The combo centric, ‘easy to pick up, difficult to master’ style works just as well for Spidey as it did for Batman. In fact, the use of a warning feature and its lore based explanation of the spider sense arguably makes more sense here. Using combinations of various web attacks, customisable gadgets and upgrading your fighting style with each level up allow the combat to become more in depth and varied as the game progresses, keeping things interesting. The use of webbing within fights feels like a blessing as you temporarily dispose of that goon in the far right corner with a rocket launcher, though it crucially never feels cheap and the difficult spike is fair. (Note: I played on ‘amazing’ mode which is essentially the games ‘normal’ mode.)
While admittedly I haven’t yet finished it, the games story is standard Spiderman fare, with some nice nods sprinkled in and a few decisions that were clearly made to put the games own stamp on traditional Spiderman lore. For example, the inclusion of a father-son style working relationship between Peter and Dr. Octavius is something rarely examined within the comics, but rather taken directly from the popular ‘Spiderman 2’ (2004). Characterising Dr. Octavius as such a friendly, supportive figure make it all the more devastating as we lead towards the inevitable climax of him becoming a power hungry super-villain. Perhaps most notable though, is Insomniac’s treatment of Mary Jane Watson as they transform a sometimes tired and dull love story into a really likeable, organic and natural romance. (Something the movie adaptions seem to consistently struggle to do). This of course, also stems from the wonderful voice work on Peter himself, who fits the cocky web head persona perfectly here. The writers also clearly understand Spiderman, as his quips feel natural and well thought out.
The overall presentation of this game is also fantastic. New York looks stunning in HD and the open world environment with no limits is a dream come true for Spider-fans who’ve been waiting for something like this since the surprisingly excellent ‘Spiderman 2’ video game adaption way back in 04. Nods to now familiar locales courtesy of the MCU are also very welcome as we see Dr. Strange’s Sanctum Santorum and the Avengers Tower just to name two of many. The soundtrack is also sometimes subdued, but appropriate. The inventory screen has an other worldly, ambient vibe to it, ditto with the many puzzle mini games (we’ll get to those). The score soars alongside Spidey and the non-diegetic sounds are perfectly placed, as the rush of vocal crescendo is exactly what the player needs to feel invested and excited. The use of a choir in particular make it feel very similar to the Danny Elfman scores of the Sam Raimi trilogy and crucially, makes us feel like we are Spiderman, swinging through the streets. Another excellent addition is the ‘selfie mode’ which does exactly what you’d expect. I love it, see below.
About that web swinging then…its fantastic. I was at first skeptical as the webs seemed less easy to latch on to buildings than my memory of ‘Spiderman 2’ recalled. However, after about an hour of play, once I’d unlocked a few extra methods and was sporting that sweet, sweet white spider suit from the cover, I couldn’t be stopped. The wall running allows for an amazingly fluid experience as you never have to stop moving and can bounce off and parkour over, any building you swing by. The ability to stop and focus when a crime or objective appears is also made wonderfully easy to achieve with the implementation of L2 and R2 allowing you to quickly hit a pre defined marker and perch from there. Mix this in with an insanely vast upgrade system and thousands of collectibles to find and you’ve got hours upon hours of open world fun and exploration to have. My one issue comes from aforementioned mini games. They ruin the pace of either the combat or the web slinging and just feel like a relic from decades past that don’t need to be here. The use of ‘Bioshock’ esque circuit breaker puzzles and ‘God of War’ style quick time events make me roll my eyes every time. We don’t need these in games any more people!
That aside and in review, I love ‘Spiderman PS4.’ The open world exploration is just so fun, the combat and web slinging are beyond on point and the story is…good. Not great, but enjoyable and respectful to Spidey’s long history. The use of familiar mechanics from Insomniac’s own franchise, ‘Ratchet and Clank’ as well as a sprinkling of mechanics taken from the ‘Arkham’ series, make this game a perfect brew of wonderfully realised game mechanics and storytelling. It’s clear that time, love and devotion was given to this game to make it the best experience possible for the player. If the rumours are true and Marvel are indeed giving out licenses of their other superhero IPs to various developers, they wouldn’t go far wrong in taking ‘Spiderman PS4’ as a blueprint for bigger things to come.
9.5/10 – Spectacular.