Spider-Man PS4 — A Superior Spider-Man?

Usually, I avoid the hype train, but I’m a sucker for a Spider-Man game. I missed out on 2018’s PS4 release of Insomniac’s take on the web-slinger for a simple reason: I didn’t have a PS4. Thankfully, this Christmas my girlfriend deemed me worthy of a PS4 Pro and Spider-Man, so it’s finally time to dig into an experience that I hope is both nostalgic and a fresh take on the series.

Hello New York!

At the end of this post, I’ve uploaded about 30 minutes of gameplay, and you should totally check it out.

I LOVED Spider-Man 2, both the movie and the game released with it. The game tied the plot of the movie into a narrative that added completely different villains, it was a fantastic open-world version of New York City and the swinging was — and still is — the best way of navigating an open world ever. Other Spider-Man games — including the game of the sequel movie — have tried and failed to recapture the magic. So how does the new game stack up? Does it reach the lofty heights that my nostalgia has pushed Spider-Man 2 up to? Is this an Amazing Spider-Man game?

The most important part of a Spider-Man game

It’s the swinging. My first Spider-Man game, back on the PS1, had a narrative McGuffin of an airborne toxin that meant you couldn’t walk, or even see, the ground of New York. The entire game’s world takes place in the top tiers of Skyscrapers where Spider-Man doesn’t swing from buildings, but instead, his webs just hang from thin air. Weird.

Spider-Man PS4 continues the innovation that Spider-Man 2 introduced, actual swinging with webs. Holding the trigger spins a web from the character’s wrist, which latches to an anchor point on a nearby building and swings the player in an arc. Controlling that movement is an absolute joy! The player quickly learns that releasing at the bottom of the arc produces more speed and at the top produces more height. Mixing the two allows complete access to all of New York City, which is beautifully rendered and feels alive as you explore it.

Insomniac have even added interiors through the windows of many buildings, giving a depth to the world that is often overlooked. You don’t actively notice it, but when you swing around the corner of Times Square and wall run along an office building, Spider-Man isn’t just running along a vertical surface, his feet are planted on an actual window.

Inside an office building.
Somebody works here! I’m pretty sure this is some kind of depth mapped texture rather than modelled, but the effect works!

All of the movement is beautiful, and the various moves tie together beautifully. Parkour running allows you to launch yourself from ledges and swiftly drop into swings. Running into a dead end? Swinging into the building seamlessly transitions into running up the building fascia. Then you can hit X at the top to launch across the roof and then web-zip across the next rooftop, hit X again to launch yourself up high, then dive and pull the trigger and swing just in time to avoid hitting the ground. It’s beautiful, and I will be returning to this New York for years to come to feel this rush again and again. No game has ever felt better.

One of my favourite things to do is drop into the middle of a large group of enemies and let loose a beautiful Web Blossom. Stunning.

The care taken for swinging has also been taken in the combat. Using gadgets, attacks and webs in combination is fantastic, and the options grow as you invest in levelling up the character. By the middle of act 2, combat is as fun as swinging, and both compliment each other. By exploring the city and collecting tokens, you can increase your skillset and the ways you can approach combat. However, the first update I used, Web Bloom, was so effective in combat that I simply used that throughout the game and didn’t try much else. So it was probably a little overpowered, then.

With Great Expectations comes Great Narrative Responsibility

I replayed Spider-Man 2 so many times I lost count. Each villain added something new to the game mechanically and narratively, creating a variety of missions that went from Mysterio-with-UFOs wacky to Doc Ock’s grounded Icarus story. It was fun each and every time I played.

Spider-Man PS4 goes for a more grounded story. In a plot that is distinct from existing comic or movie adaptations, Peter Parker has been Spider-Man for 8 years and already has a roster of rogues locked up in the Raft. Norman Osborne is mayor, Peter has moved on from his Daily Bugle roots and is a research assistant doing the manual labour and fixing things Otto Octavious is either too dumb or over-eager to fix. It sounds like a criticism, but it actually works very well and the Otto/Peter relationship is fundamental to both the plot and helps bring the player into the world.

It’s the surprises that make the story interesting and new. We meet and see characters that are familiar to anyone with a passing interesting in Spider-Man, but each is slightly recast. We have Norman Osborne, but where is Green Goblin? Will Otto get his extra arms? Miles Morales is here, will Peter die at the end and pass on the torch? In many ways, the game touches base with what we’ve seen before, but it keeps you on your toes with refreshing changes and making everyone so human.

Super serious conversation... with the cartoon Spider-Man
Super serious conversation… with the cartoon Spider-Man

The familiar pieces are on the chess board, but it looks like somebody scrambled their moveset. It’s fun, and it’s arguably a more interesting way to use the established Rogues Gallery than the Batman Arkham series did, and that itself was wonderful. Peter’s relationship with others twists and changes throughout play, and, trying to avoid spoilers, the ending is impactful and leaves a lasting impression due to how well written the characters are.

The game’s cinematics are great looking, well written and well directed. Because of how good the whole game looks, they blend in well and are a joy to watch.

Characters and mechanics are tied neatly together too. Mary Jane is now an investigative journalist, taking over some of the detective work we would have seen Peter do in previous games, and there are stealth missions where you take control of her. Usually, whenever a non-stealth game adds a stealth section, it’s frustrating and only serves to expand the play time. Stealth in Spider-Man is actually fun. Even as Spider-Man in the open world, you can stealthily take down outposts much like Batman in Arkham City.

Stealth gameplay is a lot of fun. Some missions will end if you get seen, but for the most part, it is optional.

This means that when you take over MJ or Miles, you are forced to play without combat and simply sneak around a well-designed stealth level. It not only works, but it’s also fun to play. It’s a different pace and forces a different strategy. There’s not too much of it either.

In a world of open world games, how is the open world?

Spider-Man is not a long game. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to ace challenges and collecting the collectables strewn about the city, but the main campaign flows very nicely and you can stick to it if you want to just go through the story. Venture away from the yellow minimap mark though, and there’s a wealth of things to do. You can take photos of landmarks, collect backpacks that Peter has bought, filled and dumped around the city for some reason and stop crimes that emerge as you explore. There are a handful of crime types, and each faction has some mild variations on each.

But, how the world is used is where the game is let down a little bit. It’s fine. It, much like Ubisoft open worlds before Assassin’s Creed Origins, works. There are towers to open up icons on the minimap. Visit the minimap icons to collect things. There’s a healthy number of collectables, but not too many. It’s pretty cut and dry and I’m hoping for something new in the sequel.

Sunset over Spidey New York
The game’s Photo Mode lets you make the most of the city

Visually the world is beautiful. Watching the sunset over the Hudson River and reflecting on Avengers Tower is actually spectacular. The streets are alive with people, and if you are playing this game please, PLEASE, walk the streets for a bit. Take your time, slow down and walk. People wave and talk to you, cars whizz by, you can hear the wind and watch trash blowing down the street. It is stunning but only when you take the time to see it. In gameplay, swinging high above going from point to point, you miss out on all this. The game looks best on the ground, where you never are. Try it, please.

Gotta collect ’em all

I’m a sucker for a cool collection, and I really, really want to get all of the Spidey suits in the game. Each has a unique set of requirements to unlock, and many cool ones are unlocked as you progress through the game. As you can see from the images I’ve posted here, I like to change it up quite frequently.

What I hope to see from a sequel

Considering how good this game is and the IP attached to it, I’m assuming a sequel is on the way. There are some improvements I’d like to see:

  • More side quests. This game has a small number of side quests that challenge you in some unique ways, such as giving you a photo of a location and challenging you to find it. I’d like to a big expansion to the side quest system.
  • More variety in the open world content. Each district has the same crimes to stop, and it should be more interesting.
  • Is there anything that can make the upper areas of the city more beautiful? All the cool stuff is on the ground.
  • The music is pretty dull. It hints at the soundtrack from the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies, but it seems woefully generic “action game” and doesn’t really hit the highs that swinging deserves.
  • Please give it a subtitle and not a number. It’s a pain to refer to specific Spider-Man titles. This naming issue is a problem with many modern titles (Star Wars Battlefront, God of War etc)
  • The circuitry mini-game uses a selector to move to a spot and choose an item, but the spectrometry mini-game uses a cursor. Why use a cursor? It’s terrible on a gamepad!
The circuitry mini-game.
I actually liked the mini-games. They were interesting, but not over used.

Conclusions

I am going to be playing and replaying this game so much. I’m eagerly anticipating the DLC content and I’m seriously considering doing New Game+ — something I’ve never done in any game. The issues I have are minor and take nothing away from the experience. It’s an game that really shines and feels so, so good to play.

Skill tree
I got all the skills! A lot of fun unlocking these.

It’s also a nod to the past. Looking at the trends in games, it’s an almost old-school experience. There is no multiplayer, no microtransactions, and the DLC is an expansion of the story and content. It’s not overly long with a lot of filler content, instead, it’s a core game experience and one that shouldn’t be missed. This is an Amazing Spider-Man experience.

Half an hour of gameplay from Act 3. It mostly avoids story spoilers, but New York isn’t exactly the city you play through at the beginning.


Originally published at Daryl’s Blog.