For many comic book superheroes, the thought of having a high-quality video game adaptation is sadly a distant dream for fans. For, Spider-Man, that's not nearly the case. Unlike countless other masked crusaders, the webslinger has had not just one but several great games made about him spanning several decades. That's what makes the simply titled Spider-Man so special. In an illustrious history of good to great Spider-Man video games, 2018's new beginning stands as the hero's finest achievement.
With a name as plain as Spider-Man, you'd be forgiven for expecting yet another retelling of Peter Parker's origin story as he moves from genius student to genius student who can climb walls and shoot webs from his wrists, but Insomniac thankfully spares us all yet another radioactive spider bite and joins the hero several years into his role as the mostly beloved protector of New York City. As the promos were keen to point out, his takedown of Kingpin in the initial moments of the game sets in motion a chain of events that reveals a darker and more unpredictable enemy. Over the course of 30-40 hours, players will don the iconic costume of the amazing Spider-Man, unraveling a mystery worthy of the comics while tackling countless peripheral missions and objectives worthy of a Ubisoft game.
It's hard to summarize exactly what is Spider-Man's best attribute, because the game gets so much right. Although the entire experience owes a great debt to the Arkham series for designing the blueprint of a great superhero game — and it's one to which Spider-Man adheres quite closely — that doesn't nearly mean Spider-Man just repaints Rocksteady's epic in red and blue and calls it a day. On the contrary, the foundation laid by Arkham is just that, something to build on, and the developer mostly does so wonderfully.
Combat mechanics will be familiar in the early hours, with active counters and combination finishers highlighting most of your move set, but it doesn't take long before layers upon layers come to make the fighting system one of the best things to happen in gaming this year. It's a joy to stealthily web up an enemy to the rafters before zipping into a group of goons, unleashing a spider-drone, firing off a web bomb, and going to town on the enemies with aerial and ground attacks that really nail the grace, style, and deceptive power that Peter Parker packs in a punch. With each new move comes new enemies that require different approaches, and the crowd control can feel a bit daunting but never unfair.
No Spider-Man game is worth a look if the actual webslinging isn't up to par, and Insomniac gets this exactly right. Where previous games based on the hero may have nailed the momentum of swinging and releasing at the right time to pick up maximum velocity, this time there are so many ways to move and look good while you do it. An intuitive control scheme allows for it all to mostly happen on two buttons, but with the additions of a few more, you can really open up options far beyond stringing building to building.
Side-stepping along buildings laterally a la Insomniac's anti-heroes of Sunset Overdrive, leaping up and over the roofs, dashing off light poles, and dive-bombing to pick up massive speed boosts all supplement the perfect feeling that comes with the foundational swing mechanics. With the full offering of his abilities, Spider-Man always feels like he can complete any move he wants to make, provided he's got the speed and timing down, and why shouldn't he feel that way? He's Spider-Man. So much of the experience hinges on this one aspect and there's really no caveats to report. It's exceptional, top to bottom.
The story takes you out of the suit often and into the everyman shoes of Peter Parker. Getting evicted from his apartment, managing the life-work balance, and making time for romance all return as "real-life" obstacles in the hero's path, much like faithful readers have seen in comics for decades now. The gameplay segments accompanying the playable Peter sections aren't so great; they mostly consist of puzzles in the lab where he works, but the story beats keep things interesting thanks to strong interactions with his close circle of familiar faces, like Mary Jane Watson and his rock solid Aunt May. If you aren't into the puzzling and just want to get back to webbing up criminals, most of the puzzles can be outright skipped, which is a nice touch for those looking to avoid these brainteasers.
There's one glaring problem for Spider-Man, and it comes in the very rote layout of its open world. When you're not chasing down main story missions, several one-off side quests, repeated format missions, and collectible hunts fill out the map of New York City in a way identical to nearly every other open-world video game of the past decade. For that reason, maybe the Ubisoftian approach won't irk some players who are merely getting what they expected from another sandbox, but someday a game will break this mold in an interesting way. Spider-Man is not that game.
Some mission types remain fun, at least, although several overstay their welcome. Collectively, they bring with them that signature feeling of overwhelming players via map congestion. Few of these side missions directly involve other Big Bads from the Spiderverse, which for a game that cribs so much else from Arkham, it's weird they didn't take that great element too. Perhaps they're saving them for the inevitable sequel. Still, because the traversal and combat feel unceasingly fun, a lot of the fatigue that may set in is still offset by just getting to look so stylish when you do it all.
While so much else in Spider-Man is a nod and a polite thank-you to Rocksteady for setting the table, there is one area where this game really outclasses its Dark Knight counterpart. The city is alive, brimming with activity, certainly at least while you have street crimes still to solve, but even continuing past that in some cool ways. If you aren't chasing icons across the map, the city can still be a lot of fun to explore thanks to a great number of Marvel easter eggs, both obvious, like Avengers Tower, and more off the beaten path, like the Embassy of Wakanda, or a statue that alludes to a certain Captain of the team.
The city is full of all the real-life landmarks you'd expect too, and overall Insomniac has done a great job of bringing the city to life. Streets are busy with pedestrians and traffic, and they all go about their days convincingly enough as you zoom past them like the projectile you are. Many will thank you for your service, a few J.J. Jameson acolytes will actually bad-mouth you thanks to his propagandizing podcast you'll hear throughout the game, and sometimes you'll even have to contend with assassins sent to take you down courtesy of the many villains you've locked up in The Raft or Rikers. New York couldn't be the setting without feeling so full, and thankfully the developer delivers with a technically impressive display of the big city.
The trophy list is a fairly easy one and seems not to offer any that are missable. Main story beats will regularly dish out bronze trophies, while you'll also need to complete the skill tree, collect each of the awesome alternate costumes, do all side missions, and get 100% in-game completion, which isn't actually so hard thanks to reliable and easy-to-use menus in the game. I completed the main story at 90% overall game completion and with 80% of the trophies. If you mop up the many icons on the map, either as they appear or after the story is over, you'll quite easily get the platinum.
SummaryDespite contending with a storied video game history for the spectacular superhero, 2018's Spider-Man still shines as the webslinger's finest hour. Unceasingly fun combat and traversal keep the core of the game exciting, even as you'll sometimes grind through a few side mission templates that overstay their welcome. With a story worthy of the comics and a world brimming with activity and Marvel easter eggs galore, it's hard to believe this game won't be worthwhile for pretty much anyone. There's no superhero better suited for video games than Spider-Man, and no one has even brought him and his world to life more impressively than Insomniac.
- Deep combat system builds on familiar mechanics to truly bring the hero to life
- Webslinging is an unending joy that feels so right
- A story worthy of the comics which mixes new and old
- A city full of Marvel easter eggs
- Falls into the usual open-world traps, leading to some fatigue
The reviewer spent 30 hours in the tights of Spider-Man, beating up baddies, saving the environment, and looking so cool through it all. He gathered 45 of 51 trophies. The PlayStation 4 review was completed using a personal copy of the game.
Get the biggest PlayStation news delivered straight to your inbox every week.