Sunday, September 30, 2018

Marvel's Spider-Man (PS4) Review

Here's one final review to round out the month of September, and it's a bit of a doozy. Marvel's Spider-Man is a PlayStation 4 exclusive that absolutely dominated the conversation in the gaming world in both acclaim and sales when it released earlier this month. Now, that the smoke has cleared and the dust has settled, how does Insomniac Games' take on Spider-Man fare? The [albeit non-definitive] answer awaits in my review.

The Amazing or the Spectacular Spider-Man? Why not both?

To say there hasn't been a really good Spider-Man game yet would be a bit of a falsehood. For their time, games like Neversoft's PS1 Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, and also my personal favorite, Ultimate Spider-Man, were good games that were well regarded. Heck, many Spider-Man games remain well regarded. That notwithstanding, to say there hasn't been a really good Spider-Man game in a while would have some truth to it. This is where Ratchet & Clank, Resistance, and Sunset Overdrive developer Insomniac steps in with the full backing of Sony. The end result is a masterpiece of a superhero game, though flawed in several ways, that is more than worthy of the Spider-Man name.

Insomniac has done an astonishing job at creating its own Spider-Man universe with Marvel's Spider-Man. The story is paced rather well, and it delivers one of the finest interpretations of Peter Parker and Spider-Man I've seen. The story beats kept me interested and engaged, and the story in general managed to pull me in and made me care about all of the characters involved. I pumped my fists in the air when I overcame a challenge as Spider-Man or Peter Parker, I gasped when one of the many twists of the story took place, and I even got a little emotional with the ending.

The voice acting is superb, and Yuri Lowenthal nailed his dual role of Spider-Man and alter ego Peter Parker. The raw emotion that comes from his voice in certain scenes in the game--heck, now just him, but the entire cast--is just truly mesmerizing. It all lends well to Insomniac's created universe, as does the humorous quips by Spider-Man and character interactions that I couldn't help but smile and sometimes even laugh out loud at. I'm particularly thinking of the right-wing Alex Jones-like J. Jonah Jameson personality who still has an ax to grind against Spider-Man, but it results in some excerpts from his radio show that are some of the funniest bits of dialog within the game.

Manhattan is your virtual playground, so play and swing away!
Insomniac's universe in Marvel's Spider-Man, too, shines brightly due to another character within the game. I'm not talking about a someone, but instead a something. I'm talking about the open world setting of Manhattan, and it's Spider-Man's and your playground to explore, and it's absolutely a blast to do so with all of our friendly neighborhood superhero's moves and abilities. From traditional web-slinging (well, as traditional as something called "web-slinging" can be) and running up the sides of buildings, to zipping across rooftops and above city streets with webs, Spider-Man knows how to get around the hustling and bustling island of Manhattan.

Spider-Man, Spider-Man, runs on whatever a spider can.
You will, also, as the controls are quite intuitive and easy to learn. To web-swing, it's as simple as holding down the R2 button as you move by a building or other object that a web can attach to (and can support the webhead's weight). When Spidey's swing is at its maximum height, you can jump to reach higher places, whereas if you jump while mid-swing, you'll gain a lot of distance and speed at the same time. A combination of both can have you jetting around Manhattan in no time.

Nevertheless, you will want to stop and smell the roses occasionally. I don't mean literally smelling roses here, but instead, taking part in all of the activities and side missions that slowly open up as you make progress in the game. Though, it is true that many of these seem a bit too rote and stuck in the past when it concerns open world games--such as turning on police surveillance towers as a means to reveal all of the side stuff you can do in a given Manhattan district. Others come across as busywork, like stopping crimes within town, which boils down to beating the snot out of a gang up to no good.

While all of the side activities aren't that riveting, some do shine. While it's nothing we haven't seen a hundred times in past open world games, there are collectibles sprinkled around the city. These reveal their locations to the player from the aforementioned surveillance towers so they aren't maddening to find. What makes them so special is that they delve into Spider-Man and Peter Parker's backstory, as they're items that Spidey discovers in the many backpacks placed around town. There are also landmarks throughout Manhattan that you can take pictures of as well. These backpacks and landmarks do a terrific job of further expanding upon and building the world within the game.

However, my favorite side activities would have to be the research stations left behind by Harry Osborn. These are interesting because they're the most varied. With taking out enemy bases and completing challenges from a certain villain in the game, you pretty much know what to expect gameplay-wise. With the research stations you're doing a variety of tasks, and no two are ever the same. These are Marvel's Spider-Man's side activities at their most intriguing. One has you swinging through smog clouds to collect data samples while another has you following a pipe to discover the source of a leak. They also expand upon the world and are more than the same old, same old that makes up most of Spider-Man's optional activities.

NPCs hand out side missions like candy, but these aren't as sweet of experiences as they could be.
Well, I say "optional", but by completing crimes, research stations, taking out enemy bases, collecting backpacks, and so on, you earn tokens that are required to spend on new gadgets, upgrades for said gadgets, and new Spider suits. It's really to your benefit to try to collect as many tokens as possible by doing as much side content as possible. After all, most tokens types are only available in specific varieties of side missions, and outfitting Spidey with one of over 30 different Spider suits, each with their own special ability, is too cool and enticing of a deal to pass on.

That's all just one piece of Marvel's Spider-Man. There's a whole other piece to it, and that comes in the form of combat. Combat in Spider-Man is most similar to Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham line of games. It's combo-based, but Spidey has many more options available to him due to his mobility, agility, and webbing prowess. You can start beating down a group of goons, traveling between each enemy by web, and effortlessly dispatch a group of foes quickly. Of course, like games are wont to do, the challenge ramps up when different enemy types are introduced. Some hold shields that you must punch and then slide between the carrier's legs to perform an attack to their exposed back. Others don't have much pugilistic pride, opting to use firearms of the pistol, machine gun, and rocket launcher variety. It becomes a bit of a juggling act, but thankfully, the webhead has his good ol' Spider Sense that emits white lines around his head as an indicator that it's time for the player to dodge an attack.

"I'd tell your boss The Kingpin that no amount of money is worth getting your butt kicked by Spider-Man."
The amount of possibilities in combat is really amazing, and this is helped in part due to new gadget unlocks that open up as the game progresses. There's the standard web shooter that needs to be shot multiple times to ensnare an enemy, but at the same time, its supply regenerates rather quickly. Then, there's the trip wire webbing that when an enemy crosses its path, the wire grabs onto them and webs them up against whatever the wire was attached to. Spidey is indeed one crafty inventor, having everything else from drones to electrical webbing that can turn on power in dark areas as well as shock enemies temporarily. Using a mix of Spider-Man's pure physicality, webbing, and gadgets makes for some truly emergent gameplay. 

Here's webbing in your eye!
Spider-Man himself gains focus energy as he successfully attacks enemies and builds up a combo. The higher of a combo he gains, the faster his focus gauge increases. When it fills, Spider-Man can perform a devastating finisher that immediately takes out any enemy it connects with. Tougher enemies than your standard foes, such as brutes, require two filled gauges to use a finisher on. Apart from using focus energy to unleash creative and visually fascinating finishers on foes, you can also use focus energy to recover Spidey's health mid-battle. This can be a literal lifesaver in particularly challenging encounters where Spider-Man's fighting off ten or more enemies at once who all want to get his number. ...And I don't mean to take him out on a date--merely because they want to take him OUT.

Unlike this baddie on the right, most enemies won't just stand there while you beat up on their buddies.
That notwithstanding, brawn and brute force won't always be what the situation calls for. Sometimes Spider-Man will have to use some stealth to take out an area or roomful of enemies without being detected. Thankfully, Spidey is perfectly suited for such scenarios. When playing as Spidey, you can take out foes silently through a multitude of means, such as take-downs from the air or from the ground. Of course, you don't want to let yourself get spotted by a foe whose pal you just wrapped up in webbing and is now hanging upside down from a ledge.

Spider-Man--in one of many of the available, special unlockable
suits--surveys the area before picking off each foe one by one.
Clicking in the right stick brings up another Batman: Arkham series-inspired game mechanic, Detective Mode. Here, you can see through Spidey's eyes and determine if taking out a foe is either safe or dangerous. If it's the latter, you're going to get caught if you try taking the foe in question out. This Detective-style mode also has many uses outside of stealth sections, offering views on points of interest and enemy weaknesses.

Didn't see that one coming, did you? That said, Spidey definitely saw you going.
Marvel's Spider-Man is a gorgeous game in all aspects. The way the windows of buildings shimmer when the sun shines directly on them, the way tree branches sway to and fro in the wind, and the immense draw distance available to players, particularly while Spider-Man is perched on the highest building in Manhattan are all spectacular sights. The amazing detail each character possesses is also something I can't help but gush about. Sure, some faces approach "uncanny valley" levels, but overall they look expressive, animate well, and are just impressive beyond words... save for the ones I just wrote.

Despite some side missions and optional activities being less than inspired, as well as stealth sections that mess with the pacing of the game a little bit, Marvel's Spider-Man is without question the best Spider-Man game I've had the pleasure and joy to play. Without delving too much into exaggeration, it might also be the best superhero game I've ever encountered. Never before have I felt more enamored with a superhero video game and felt more like Spider-Man thanks to his myriad tools, abilities, and ways to interact with the world--no matter if I was dispatching a gang of the Kingpin's men or just web-swinging through Times Square. Insomniac's vision of the Spider-Man as a series, the world, characters, and mythos shines brightly and is a testament to the original thought that the property was in good hands when it was given to the developer to create a Spider-Man game. It's a game that both casual and veteran fans will enjoy--as well as anyone else who just loves an amazing and spectacular video game.

[SPC Says: A-]

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