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Marvel's Spider-Man Review

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On 09/25/2018 at 09:00 AM by Casey Curran

Greetings True Believers!

Spider-Man fans won't get a game on par with the Arkham games in terms of quality or fanservice, but will come away satisfied. Those who aren't Spider-Man fans will be able to enjoy it as a sandbox game, but may find the story missions lacking.

Spider-Man is my favorite superhero, but his video game history has been a deep well of untapped potential. He’s had good games still worth playing today, yet he’s never had an entry on par with Batman’s excellent Arkham titles. Marvel’s Spider-Man is Insomniac’s attempt at elevating Spider-Man to the same level as Batman. While they do not quite reach that same quality standard, there is a solid foundation for Insomniac to build upon.

First, to get this out of the way, web swinging is a blast. 2004’s Spider-Man 2 established his web swinging as a perfect fit for sandbox traversal and while I slightly prefer it to this new take, Marvel’s Spider-Man establishes its own unique qualities to feel distinct rather than wallowing in 2’s shadow like many past Spider-Man games. It’s an evolution similar to Deus Ex’s, while the older title has a bit more depth, the modern take offers enough of what made the original work while issuing a plethora of quality of life enhancements.

Above all else, web swinging is fluid. Spider-Man games have often tried and failed to implement mid-air recoveries for when the player makes a mistake during a web swing to gain back momentum. In practice, these mechanics would stop all of Spider-Man’s momentum in exchange for regaining control of his movement. Insomniac had the same idea by allowing the player to zip onto a building ledge or top of a pole and quickly jump off there granting a boost with speed varying on how you time your jump. Boosts are also granted through timing jumps at the end of a web swing, resulting in a fast, fluid and addicting traversal method. It says a lot that in my 30+ hours playing, I only fast traveled twice and that was to watch the cutscenes of Spidey riding on the subway.

Side missions do a great job of taking advantage of the web swinging as well. These could limit how high or low the player could swing or require the player to chase and destroy drones. There are some more generic side missions as well including radio towers which reveal all the side objectives in a portion of the city, but I found myself wanting to complete all of them nonetheless, which is rare for me.

This compulsion extended to the combat missions, though these were not on the same caliber as the traversal missions. While there is a lot of inspiration from the Arkham games, Spidey is a lot more acrobatic and varied than Batman, which makes Spider-Man feel distinct. I was surprised that I actually found a reason to use all of the web abilities during combat, as each had a unique role and purpose for certain situations. Switching between them, however, requires bringing up a sub-menu hurting the flow of the combat, but this was a minor issue.

What was not a minor issue was the camera. It is way too close to Spider-Man and his enemies during combat. Rather than zooming out into a bird’s eye view it is always right next to Spider-Man, causing a significant portion of the area to be out of view. The spider sense alleviates this if you just want to make it through the main game, giving enough time to dodge, but if you want to get a high enough score for combat challenges, it is very difficult to know who to attack next and how many enemies you’re up against. The combat challenge missions could get very frustrating because of this and I would only recommend taking them on if you obtain all the combat upgrades, which are significant enough to change how you approach combat.

Another issue is, as a Spider-Man fan, I found the fanservice lacking. Compared to Arkham Knight where almost every side mission was tied to a supervillain, only Tombstone, Taskmaster, and Black Cat have their own side missions. This would not be too bad if the story missions were crammed with all different kinds of villains, yet this was lacking as well. Only Kingpin, Doc Ock, and Mr. Negative are strongly fleshed out, with every other villain feeling more like a cameo.

Taking on the Sinister Six is underwhelming because of this, as four of the villains do not appear until they team up. Also while the characterization for Mr. Negative is very well done, I wished they didn’t give him as much emphasis as they do. It might just be personal preference, but he felt out of place in the Sinister Six and his stronger emphasis over many classic Spidey staples such as Electro or Vulture made the story feel more uneven. That said, the game does turn J Jonah Jameson into a talk show host who feels a lot like Alex Jones and it is GLORIOUS!

Where the story excels, however, is through Peter’s personal life. Insomniac deftly modernizes the character; for instance, his financial woes come from massive student debts. Peter could easily pay these off with a job at Oscorp, but he insists doing lower paying philanthropic work, using science to better the world. He even will constantly invent gadgets to help him fight crime and do some detective work after grand encounters, letting the story feel a lot like the '60s and '70s era comics.

The strength of his story does come at a price, however. Many story missions can feel quite dull from a gameplay standpoint, only requiring to move from one area to another. This isn’t that bad when he’s in the tights, but when he’s just Peter Parker, it’s slow and tedious. It’s even worse when the game puts you in control of MJ or a powerless Miles Morales with stealth segments. These are as basic as stealth segments get, with one even having you play as MJ while Spidey helps you get past guards. While the other missions do have a fun blend of epic setpieces, fun combat scenarios, and clever puzzles doing detective work, the ones consisting of stealth or just walking around made up roughly 25% of the story content, making it feel like there was too much emphasis on story over gameplay.

Taken for just the story content, Marvel’s Spider-Man is decent at the end of the day. There’s a very strong foundation here, but the game stumbles far too often to create an experience on par with the Arkham games. It would still be a game worth playing for a Spider-Man fan, but I wouldn’t recommend it to people unfamiliar with the wall crawler. Thankfully, however, Insomniac made a sandbox game with one of the most fun traversal methods and very compelling side content. If you are in the mood for a quality sandbox game, it will not disappoint. 

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In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

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Super Step Contributing Writer

09/25/2018 at 10:15 AM

I couldn't disagree more about the side content involving drones and the bombs; those were agony. At least with the combat and stealth challenges, there's a reason to level up, gain new abilities and come back ready to nail it. The drone sections especially suffer from the same issues I had with the Gravity Rush games, where geometry gets in the way at exactly the worst moments in exactly the worst and most annoying possible ways and it's more difficult than it needs to be to course-correct. 

Otherwise, I pretty much agree with this review, except that I wished they'd hept Mr. Negative as the main villain or used someone else as the last boss instead of going so far into famiiar territory with the ending. Also, I was annoyed by the MJ and Miles stealth missions as well (except for the apartment, because it was interesting to explore from a fan service standpoint), but it didn't feel like a whole quarter of the game to me. Maybe 10-15%? Either way, I agree they weren't great, and were extremely linear. 

I thought stealth felt VERY similar to Arkham games, though harder to execute without any night vision gadgets and sometimes missions that ask you to use stealth in the open world just don't lend themselves to it. 

I thought the combat was very much unique to Spider-Man, which I didn't mind at all, and like you I found a reason to use most every gadget. 

As far as traversal, I agree with what everyone has said so far, but I'm just a bit underwhelmed compared to all the glowing reviews of it. This seriously could have been fixed for me by simply making L2 a left swing button. Everything else is pretty much perfect (also I hated those science missions where you plugged water towers, etc. ... even with slowing down, those never feel natural within the game's geometry and how traversal interacts with it). 

I actually rode the subway quite a bit ... mostly when I ran out of pictures of NY to take in an area, cause that was one of my favorite things to do. The level of detail is incredible. 

Anyway, I'd say it's a pretty good Spider-Man game with more potential, if for completely different reasons than you found to say so. I'm looking forward to the DLC. 

Nick DiMola Director

09/25/2018 at 10:32 AM

Being that Spidey is also my favorite superhero, I expect I'd really enjoy this game. Good Spider-man games are hard to come by and I, like most others, were excited to hear that Insomniac was at the helm for this. It seems like they did a solid job even if it's not perfect. The sandbox part of it is the only offputting facet, but once I'm in the mood for a sandbox game, I'll be sure to grab this.

Super Step Contributing Writer

09/25/2018 at 11:33 AM

It's surprisingly compact for a sandbox game. New York feels HUGE if you're exporing on ground level, but Spidey can swing through it pretty quickly. 

It is very Ubisoft checklist in many regards, but I had enough fun exploring I didn't mind. 


09/27/2018 at 09:43 PM

Why did they think anyone wanted to play as Mary Jane with weak sauce stealth mechanics, or a Peter Parker who doesn't use his abilities?  At least during the Bruce Wayne segments in the beginning of Arkham City, you got to kick ass and make an escape.  It was a great way to kick off that masterpiece. 

On a side note, why even bother with gameplay styles that they either have no experience or skill in implementing or are unwilling to flesh out. You can't just slap together decent stealth.  I've never come across any half assed stealth system that was any fun to play. It just results in tedium and drag the pace of the game down (remember Shadow of Rome?). 

Casey Curran Staff Writer

09/28/2018 at 11:08 AM

Fuck I actually do remember Shadow of Rome. Wish that game was better than it was. As for Spidey's stealth elements, there's actually enough elements here to make for good (not great) stealth gameplay, they're just always segmented. MJ has items to distract guards and a taser while Miles can hack into things. There's also a bizarre segment where you control MJ and have Spidey pick out guards in your way and an area at the end that feels surprsigingly nonlinear. If all these bits came together, I feel it could work. But instead I get what feels like the tutorial for a better stealth game every time there's a stealth segment.

Peter Parker's suitless bits can be justified when he does lab and detective work. The lab bits are admittedly just that pipe minigame Bioshock also ripped off, but the detective bits can have fun puzzles. Thing is there's unjustified parts where you just walk around as him for way too long, have a cutscene, then it's back to normal. They have the tools to make these weaknesses work in a sequel and while I'd be happy to see a sequel axe these, I am curious if they could make them work.

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