Despite what would appear to be an incredible wealth of material to draw from, superhero video games have generally been very hit-or-miss over the years. There’s been a handful of successes – such as Injustice and the Batman: Arkham series of games – but it’s seemed that for every winner there’s an equal or greater amount of losers (looking at you, Superman 64). Thankfully for comic and gaming fans everywhere, Insomniac Games has finally figured out the formula for success with the arrival of Marvel’s Spider-Man for the PlayStation 4.
The game follows Peter Parker as he traverses New York City, trying to find out who is responsible for recent terrorist attacks carried out by aggressive men who all wear demonic masks. Spidey soon discovers that Martin Li – otherwise known as the kindly proprietor of the F.E.A.S.T. Shelter where his Aunt May volunteers – has a terrible other side to himself known as Mister Negative. It’s up to Spidey to hunt down Mister Negative and uncover why he has such a grudge against Norman Osborn. Meanwhile, Peter continues in his day job, assisting his boss, Doctor Octavius, in creating prosthetic limbs that can surpass what a human can normally do… for better or for worse.
Basically everything about the game is good. The story feels like it’s lifted right from the comics without actually being a direct adaptation of any storyline (though it clearly takes a lot of notes from Brand New Day). It benefits a lot by one big thing – it’s not an origin story. You come into Peter’s life after many years of already being Spider-Man, with him having graduated from college and recently having broken up with Mary Jane Watson. He’s already been long familiar with many of his classic foes – some of whom show up throughout the course of the story. There’s really no need to introduce anyone to Spidey; it’s assumed that players already know his origin, so the game drops you right into the action, and it’s better for doing so.
Gameplay-wise, it’s a fairly straightforward open-world action game. Spider-Man takes on various enemies throughout NYC, with newer and more difficult variations on them being introduced throughout the course of the story. Occasionally you’ll have to fight a boss character of some sort – oftentimes a villain straight out of Spidey’s rogues gallery, such as Kingpin or Shocker.
The main questline is always there, but the side stuff is also a lot of fun. I particularly enjoy the various “research tasks” that can be found throughout – these are little rooftop labs left behind by Harry Osborn before he left for an extended study in Europe, and he hopes Peter can keep them all running. They provide a breath of fresh air to what is otherwise some pretty repetitive combat gameplay. The research tasks, as well as the various Taskmaster challenges that show up later on, help to keep things interesting.
The element that Spider-Man really nails better than anything else, though, is web-swinging through Manhattan. Everything about it feels really good and it’s fun to do just sort of on its own; it’s easy to lose a ton of time just zipping between buildings and figuring out new ways to move about. It is endlessly fun to launch yourself as high as possible and just flip about.
There’s a reason why Marvel’s Spider-Man is now the fastest-selling PlayStation 4 title of all time: the folks at Insomniac just got it absolutely right. The story, the characters, the gameplay, the music… everything about this game is pure fun. This is not just a game for comic fans, but a game that anyone with even a passing interest in Spider-Man should be able to pick up and enjoy. I can’t possibly recommend it enough.