For many years, we have had Spider-Man games that have been very by the numbers, with nothing amazing since Spider-Man 2, based off the movie of the same name, but does this latest entry save the day?
For Spider-Man it is clear that the teams at Insomniac and Marvel wanted to do something different, so rather than experiencing a story where we watch Peter evolve into the hero, we join him as he has already been settled into the role for 8 years. In that time, he has lost jobs and gained them, had the girl and lost her and experienced a heck of a lot more of life. Peter is now working with Dr Otto Octavius, while still trying to be a friendly neighbourhood Spidey and something has to fall through the cracks and at the start it is his apartment, but soon he discovers what else he missed. Aunt May is working at a shelter, helping out those less fortunate and her boss is Martin Li, a man who has dedicated his life to helping people, but when a band of masked men, called Demons, each with strange powers appear, he loses that good guy appeal, quite quickly.
While all that happens, Spider-Man is still trying to do his thing, saving people and helping out where he can, but when he partners up with a honest cop on tracking down some illegal weapons, events begin to spiral, revealing Li as Mr Negative, leader of the Demons, but this is where the story faltered for the first time, as someone tells Peter that Li is the boss and he instantly accepts it, he does not question that the man he has known for 5 years, that his Aunt works for, might be mislabelled or challenged, it is instant belief. The other villains you encounter, are however more like fans will expect, Rhino is large and loud, Vulture is fast and a pain to hit, but is the creation of Doctor Octopus where things get interesting. As you spend a lot of the game with Doc Ock, prior to his turn, you get to know the man under the mask, so to speak, and because of that Peter has a hard time accepting all that Ock has done.
While the story has a number of high points, the gameplay is where things get even better and within minutes of playing, you will see why, not only can Spider-Man move like you expect him to, he can also quip and fight with the best of them. When you take to the air, Spidey moves as fluid as you would expect, though earlier attempts may see you struggle, once you have the controls down pat, the moves will look like you have been playing for years. Swinging is done by holding down the R2 button, but when you bang into a building, which you may do a lot, the game notices the difference between a simple bang and you trying to run up the building, the game will adjust, letting Spidey run along the building, before launching off and continuing the swing. You can also pull yourself along by pressing Triangle, which can zip you into enemies, but it is when you unlock the power jump move, that you can really get around.
Combat is the other part of the game that feels really good, but there are a few issues, if you have played the Batman Arkham games, you will have an understanding of what to expect. Attacks are assigned to a button, dodge to another and specials are a combination of buttons, while it takes very little to pick up the combat system, it can take all game to master it, with the final boss fights proving to be a challenge at times still. As you take on enemies, crimes and missions, you will earn xp, which you can use to unlock new moves to use in combat, the most useful is the aerial grab enemies and pull them up to his level. Some enemies, like the brutes, are immune to that, but for those guys who like to stand off to the side and shoot at you, it is very handy, sadly there are a few issues with the combat. Whenever Spider-Man is on the ground, he becomes almost useless in a fight, yes you can fight still, use your gadgets and such, but for the most part he becomes a giant target, especially in a crowd. Trying to escape from the crowds, without the use of a gadget is almost impossible and was the most common reason for my deaths, there were also a number of times where Spidey got caught on walls or cars, while in fights, which left me open to attacks.
The other major part of the game is making Spider-Man yours, through the various upgrades that you can unlock and enjoy. Some upgrades are given when the story calls for it, gadgets mostly, others like suits and powers require you to scour the city and beat challenges to earn tokens, which in turn are redeemed in the games menu. Each gadget upgrade or suit purchase, requires a specific series of tokens and sometimes collecting them can be fun, other times not so much, especially when you have to fight waves of enemies or track down lost pigeons. The lost backpacks or photo ops are the easiest to achieve and can earn some really cool suits as a reward, but the ones that will really test your skills are the Taskmaster challenges, requiring you to defuse a series of bombs, within a set time, to pass, the Science ones, also prove to be a challenging at times.
Outside of the times as Spider-Man, the game also lets you take on the role of Mary-Jane Watson, or MJ as she is known, Peters former girlfriend, as she begins to investigate Wilson Fisk, Martin Li and more. When you take control of MJ, the game drops the action and becomes more of a stealth game, where MJ sneaks around the hideouts of biker gangs, military compounds and more. Most of the time these sequences are highly controlled, with indicators on screen letting you know where you need to go, however sometimes, the game did not load the icon, so when I was left to my own, I was usually spotted quite quickly. The one time I was not spotted was when I managed to get to the door, only to find myself stuck at an invisible wall, which soon resulted being spotted, a quick respawn had the icon appear and I was able to move on. The problem with these sections is that if you happen to catch the eye of some guard, you are usually spotted right away and it does not even have to be a clear line of sight, just the general direction can be enough.
On aspect I did not enjoy about the game was the towers, yes as its an open world game, it has towers, something no open world game seems capable of avoiding, but here they are really confusing. Littered throughout the boroughs of New York are towers that help the police track crime, a solid idea, but for some reason they all went down at once, so it is up to Spider-Man to restore them. Once you have hacked into them and restored them, parts of the map fills in and then adds all the icons to the map, for the various challenges and such, located in that area, also a good thing, however; why does it fill in the map, in what world where Spider-Man has been active for 8 years, does he not have a map of New York on his phone, or in his head, or wherever.
Perhaps the area that sold the game from the first piece of footage we all saw, was the visuals, the game looks incredible, across the board it is an incredible game. Not only does Spider-Man look great, Peter Parker also does, where as usually he looks like he was hit with a truck. The level of detail in both the character model and the animations is pretty insane, which when combined, results in something truly spectacular. The other characters, MJ, Aunt May, Osborn, Octavius and the assorted villains, all look incredible as well, the only downer is that the regular citizens and prisoners have bland faces, which only really stand out, if you do a side mission. The city of New York is also incredible and yes, shops are the generic names open world cities are known for these days, but this has to be one of the most incredible and authentic digital recreations of a city in year. Sadly, there are a few imperfections to be found, some textures would not load up to their normal resolution for sometime, which catches the eye, but the worst is in the games menu. Randomly, when I would pause the game, it would not show me the map, but a pulsating blur of colour, it happened a few times when a character was telling me about something, I would have to quit out of the menu, go back in and hope all was good this time.
While the game is visually amazing, it is the audial part of the presentation that is the better part of the two, not only does Yuri Lowenthal deliver a great performance as Spider-Man, he also does it perfect as Peter Parker and while I would have liked to have seen someone other than Laura Bailey as MJ, as she current plays the character in the Spider-Man cartoon on Disney, she delivers a portrayal of the character that sets her apart from the countless other versions we have seen before. All of the villains are perfect as well, the addition of Josh Keaton as Electro was a great bit of casting as Keaton has played Spider-Man in The Spectacular Spider-Man tv series for years and currently voices Norman Osborn in the same show Bailey is in. Without a doubt though, it is Stephen Oyoung and William Salyers as Li and Octavius respectively that steal the show, not only do both show their human sides, or nice guy sides, we get incredible performances as broken men, who are willing to do anything for their revenge.
Spider-Man may not add anything to different from some other Spider-Man games, but the entire game offers up everything on a whole other level, characters are worthy of your investment in them, the city begs to be explored and the story is one that is filled with more heart than anything I have played in years. What few issues are present can be included as minor blemishes and they in no way remove the shine that the game is well entitled too, plus with some subtle and not-so subtle hints at what might come in a sequel, it is one of the best games of the generation.
Review copy provided by PlayStation