Insomniac Games, the incredible talent behind the ever-popular Spyro the Dragon, and Ratchet and Clank franchises, announced back in 2016 that they will be releasing a brand new Spider-man title, exclusively for the Playstation 4. It was built utilizing a modified engine of their Xbox One cult classic, Sunset Overdrive. Spider-man games tend to vary in terms of quality, however an almost unanimous opinion that stretches to the farthest reaches of the internet is that the movie tie-in to Spider-man 2 stands as one of the most memorable and beloved games for the Wall Crawler. And for good reason; for its time, the game presented players with an impressive open world, and web swinging mechanics that essentially made players forget about the game’s less than stellar campaign, and lose countless hours just swinging about New York. Rocksteady’s Arkham series also set the bar for fast and fluid melee combat. Many clones have tried only to fall short of meeting the mark. The best way to describe Spider-man is that it’s the perfect marriage of everything fans cherished with the PS2 title, and some of the best elements that the Arkham games introduced. This is without a doubt, one of the best Spider-man games ever made.
We’re thankfully not given another origin story for Spider-man, and are instead inserted in a time where he’s been an established friendly neighbourhood hero for about eight years (though J. Jonah Jameson is as alarmist as ever with his frequent broadcasts we get to hear). The game opens up with a wonderful pan of his room, as we transition to a snapshot of a day in the life of Spidey: running late for an important meeting with Doctor Otto Octavius at school, because he’s on the trail of Wilson Fisk, and intent on putting him behind bars for good. This introductory level acts as a basic tutorial for all your essential gameplay mechanics, including web-swinging, zipping, crawling, running, web attacks, and engaging in hand-to-hand combat. The end of the mission concludes with the apprehension of Fisk, and one of the most interesting commentaries you hear from Spider-man after the arrest was the observation that crime had spiked, since the Kingpin of Crime is no longer keeping them in check. It was a small mention, but I was immediately given a philosophical depth to Peter as he
The rest of the story involves the growth of a new gang known as the “Inner Demons”, intent on overtaking the Kingpin’s former territory, and the discovery of one of the central antagonists – Mister Negative, who leads the pack. But some of the most memorable moments in the game are out of the costume and into the slower moments where we get to experience Peter and his struggles balancing his split lives, and the consequences it has on his relationships. Some moments are even shown through the perspective of memorable characters in the Spidey-verse, and the gameplay shifts to an entirely different focus. Mary Jane’s gameplay showcases her skills in investigative reporting, and they’re frequent enough to make sense in the overall campaign, but not so frequent where it feels like needless padding. That’s about the level of craftsmanship I’ve come to expect with Insomniac’s storytelling, and story progression, and they do not disappoint.
The main game should take roughly 20 hours to complete, though being the glutton for punishment that I am, I naturally opted for the hardest difficulty, so my play time was lengthened. You will also receive a fair amount of sidequests that range in type and variety. Some are truly unique, while others are essentially experience fodder. There are also a decent amount of collectibles; as it turns out, Peter is one of the most forgetful superheroes, as the entire map of New York is littered with his lost knapsacks from highschool. These contain little collectibles of memorabilia that Peter reminisces on as you highlight them. One of the more interesting ones I remember was a shard of Rhino’s horn, and Peter comments that this was necessary in determining the makeup of Rhino’s suit to learn how to exploit a weakness. Collecting all of these will reward you with a unique costume – his homemade suit you see in Spider-man: Homecoming.
Speaking of suits, there are approximately 25 suits you can unlock throughout the game, and the most impressive feature about these is that they are not merely cosmetic changes. Each suit has a different strength or benefit associated with it. Spider-man Noir, for example is completely silent, and so enemies will no longer be able to call out for help as they normally would if they hear you moving. The Spider Armor Mk. II grants Spider-man with temporary bulletproof. Each suit also has customizable perks you can unlock as you progress through the campaign, so you can tailor your perks based on what you will encounter.
Like Spider-man 2’s character progression, Insomniac’s Spider-man also gains experience to level up, awarding him points to use to unlock one of three different skill trees: Innovator, Defender, and Webslinger. Innovator tends to focus on some of the more physical feats like extending the length of your perch takedown, surprise attacks, weapon yanks, etc. Defender primarily focuses on reactionary upgrades, like granting you access to a perfect dodge, where the game enters bullet time temporarily if you time a dodge at the right moment, or delivering an instant takedown after a perfect dodge. Webslinging caters to all things incorporating your webbing, which extends to physical encounters and webswinging around New York. While every player will tend to compartmentalize their needs differently and focus on unlocking different abilities first, I would suggest that it was personally paramount to unlock “Perfect Dodge” and “Quick Zip” as soon as you can.
The default dodge you are given actually took me aback; it was clumsy, and at times unresponsive, resulting in some early deaths (I was on the hardest difficulty, so health depletes a lot faster). Unlocking Perfect Dodge greatly improved the response time and seemed to totally alleviate the issues I had prior to unlocking it. You will notice the benefits immediately as you perfectly time a dodge – akin to the Arkham games – which will grant you a temporary bullet-time and allow you to refocus your next attack or movement. Upgrading “Quick Zip” allows you an additional web-zip without sacrificing altitude or speed. This just helps for a more fluid movement about the city. Like Spider-man 2, eventually you can unlock all these abilities and upgrade Spider-man to this unstoppable powerhouse that swiftly navigates through the cluttered streets as agile as possible.
For any Spider-man game, I am probably most critical of its web-swinging mechanics and physics. Games of the past gave us a couple of different ways of going about the city: your web fluid either “shoots to the moon” as was commonly described, where there’s no actual specific point of contact on the game’s map that influenced your swing, and then there were games that actually interacted with the architecture of the game’s buildings and structures, which influenced where you went and how high your swing arc would be. For Spider-man on the PS4, we’re thankfully given the latter of these options, but it has been elevated to degree I hadn’t experienced before. There’s a physics incorporated to every web swing where the arc and angle of your descent impacts your release of the swing. Altitude and speed play an important role as well; you can press L3 to move into a tensing Halo Drop position where the camera sweeps behind Spider-man’s shoulders as he quickly plummets. This increase in speed plays into the following web swing, where he then swiftly swings and vaults much higher than normal swings.
Not only that but where you plant a web has to matter in the context of what direction you need to get to. For example, a web landing on the rightmost side of a building will result in a more clumsily swing around the left side, than if you were to swing from the leftmost side. Not only that, but you can now seamless transition between wall-running and webswining, insofar that Spider-man can run horizontally and wrap a corner of a building or vault off into fluid swing, or swing and graze a building which can transition into you running. This serves as an excellent way to either continue a fluid motion of travel, or reposition yourself if need be. Web zipping is also an important feature. You can press L2 and R2 to zip to a static point, in which Spider-man will perch on that destination and scan for another route. Pressing those while running up a building will actually have you scale them much faster. While swinging, you can maintain altitude by pressing X to zip in midair. This helps if you’ve swung into a more open area where it’s trickier to swing, and so zipping may be a faster means of travel (the parks are probably the best example of this). Spider-man’s body motion reacts to every bit of motion you present him with. Different arcs and different speeds will swing and contort his body accordingly, and there are quite a bit in terms of variety, so it doesn’t ever really seem like it’s cycling through preset reactions. They all look and feel quite natural.
Sunset Overdrive was certainly a colourful visual treat on the Xbox One, and had a decently sized open world to play around in. Building on its engine for Spider-man makes complete sense, and we are given what is probably the largest open world Insomniac has ever created. Granted, it’s not a 1:1 replication of Manhattan, as locals will note some of the wonderfully detailed recreations of certain landmarks may seem slightly out of place. But for a virtual playground, it’s one of the most remarkable we’ve been given for a superhero title. The lightning is phenomenal, as you swing about and see the overpowering Sun envelop you and naturally reflect off the building windows, and the nightlife is bustling with bright lights and signage. As you swing closer to the ground level, you’ll notice the busy streets of people walking about, or cheering you as you swing past them.
The rest of the visual presentation is nothing short of amazing. Spider-man and his array of suits are incredible detailed, as are the supporting cast and Rogues Gallery you encounter. The visual flare you get in the finishing moves feel like they’re taken straight out of a panel. The framerate never dropped from my experience however it is locked at 30 frames, even on the PS4 Pro.
Spider-man on the Playstation 4 is one of the best exclusives the console has to date, and easily serves as a visual benchmark. It transcends most typical Super-hero titles in delivering a well-written story and offers incredibly tight gameplay. I’ve lost myself for hours just swinging about senselessly in New York, enjoying the sights and tinkering around with Spidey’s swinging, and I don’t see myself stopping any time soon. Insomniac also announced “Spider-man: The City That Never Sleeps” which is a trio of downloadable expansions to the game. Beginning on October 23, players can start with “The Heist” which is an expansion centred around Felicia Hardy/The Black Cat.Spider-man PS4 was reviewed using a PS4 Digital Copy provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
|The largest open world Spider-man has played around in yet.|
|Engaging story with an terrific ensemble of characters.|
|Incredibly fluid gameplay and web swinging that can all be upgraded as you progress and level up.|
|A large assortment of suits, each with their own unique abilities encourages players to try, find, unlock and test them all.|