Throughout the studio's 24-year history, Insomniac Games has managed to earn a prestigious reputation by creating some of the most polished, charming, and visually impressive titles ever to land on home consoles. The developer's eye for what makes a game fun, to say nothing of its ability to weave action and humor together into family-friendly experiences, is likely the reason why it was chosen to develop a game based around Marvel's iconic web-slinger Spider-Man. This was a big score for Insomniac, and the resulting marriage between the developer and Marvel's classic IP has resulted not only in one of the most ambitious video games Insomniac has ever created, but arguably the best Spider-Man video game ever made.
Go get 'em, Tiger
The basic pitch for Marvel's Spider-Man touches on all the usual high points of Insomniac-developed games: a third-person action-adventure stuffed with collectibles, unlockables, and an array of upgradeable gadgets and goodies. The biggest shift this time around, at least when compared to previous Insomniac releases, is the new title's open-world styling: unlike many of the games in Insomniac's library, Marvel's Spider-Man takes place within a single densely populated city.
Shortly after dropping into the game's sprawling recreation of Manhattan, players will be introduced to the web-slinger's arsenal of traversal and combat abilities. In typical Insomniac fashion, the controls and mechanics are easy to grasp: holding R2 allows Spider-Man to swing between buildings, run up walls, and engage parkour mode to quickly run and jump over ground-based obstacles. The L2 button corresponds to specific aiming, either for precise deployment of gadgets or for zipping to specific points. The X button is used to jump, Circle dodges, and Square triggers standard attacks while Triangle is used for web-based attacks.
Beyond traversal and combat abilities, Spider-Man also has access to several suits, suit mods, and gadgets that can sometimes drastically change the approach to any given mission. The default suit power allows Spider-Man to quickly gain Focus, which is used either to heal the hero or for instant-knockout hits, but later suit powers allow him to cover an area in webbing, increase his stealth capabilities, or even temporarily lower gravity in order to cover more ground or juggle foes with mid-air attacks. Even better, players can mix and match suits, suit powers, and suit mods to best work toward their preferred play style.
As a result, the game allows for a remarkable degree of freedom when it comes to tackling different challenges. It's entirely possible to use a strict stealth approach in some missions, picking off combatants from a nearby perch or sneaking up behind them for a one-hit knockout. It's also possible to go in guns blazing, so to speak, by dropping a Web Bomb or two into a crowd of enemies before unleashing powerful area-of-effect attacks.
Does whatever a spider can
Naturally, Marvel's Spider-Man offers way more to do than simply slinging around town or punching ne'er-do-wells in the face. The game is absolutely packed with miscellaneous objectives, side quests, challenges, and more. Even better, and in typical Insomniac fashion, many of the additional activities see Spider-Man relying more on his brains than his brawn. Research stations in particular give Spidey the chance to help clean up the city by tracking down or identifying toxic chemicals, to give one example, and players can seek out hidden Backpacks spread across Manhattan to discover little goodies that provide insight into the hero's life and history.
These challenges also provide Spider-Man with Tokens, the likes of which are used to buy or upgrade various pieces of equipment. Early upgrades generally require Backpack Tokens or Crime Tokens, which are earned by stopping low-level criminal activities, while later upgrades require Challenge Tokens or Base Tokens, which require the player to complete more difficult objectives or clear out enemy camps swarming with bad guys.
Players will be happy to note that Marvel's Spider-Man gets around the overwhelming sense of freedom inherent to many sandbox-style games by clearly marking nearby objectives on the in-game map. Once players are able to activate each district's tower, they'll be able to see all of the quests and challenges in that area — assuming they've progressed far enough into the story to unlock them, of course. In this way the player can focus on whatever activity sounds the most appealing to them without ever having to wonder what they should be doing next.
The idea of using Tokens for upgrades also helps mantain a steady progression: sometimes after a mission, Spider-Man will remark that he needs to check back in on the city, and the next main quest marker won't appear until he's stopped a crime, completed a challenge, conquered a base, and so on. By following this pattern, players will not only get to know the city better, they'll also come out better equipped for the challenges yet to come.
With great power...
While Marvel's Spider-Man is overtly an action-based game with plenty of exploration and collectibles, it's also a game that is very much dominated by its story and setting. It wouldn't be right for me to spoil any of the story in this review, but I will say that the tale Insomniac has crafted weaves together some of the biggest characters and events in the Spider-Man canon.
It's clear that the folks at Insomniac have stepped away from the more lighthearted tone used in series like Ratchet & Clank and gone for something distinctly more dramatic — this is a game that plays out like a blockbuster film, complete with triumphant highs and devastating lows. That's not to say that it's always serious — Spider-Man's usual wit is thankfully intact — but rather that the scope of the tale may come as a surprise to some players. At the start of the adventure, Spider-Man has been active for years, and players can get a sense of that history through dialog with other characters. It's not long before things start to get complicated, and the ensuing action pulls together not only the hero's usual allies and enemies, but also the city itself.
Sometimes the effect is minor — for instance, stopping a carjacking might result in a quick post made to the game's social media feed, or a random citizen on the street might remark that they saw Spider-Man chasing a stolen car. On the flip side, events that occur around the game's second and third acts have distinct and often drastic effects on the city. Not only does the story help keep players engaged in the plot, it drives home the idea of the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man — a masked hero doing everything he can for the city he loves, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
Marvel's Spider-Man is at once a fantastic action game, a dramatic story-driven adventure, and a love letter to fans of Marvel's ever-endearing wall-crawler. It's also one of the strongest titles in Insomniac Games' catalog, and will no doubt be counted not only among the best games of 2018, but also among the best PlayStation 4 exclusives ever released.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 download code provided by the publisher. Marvel's Spider-Man will be available in retail and digital stores on September 7 for $59.99. The game has been rated T for Teen by the ESRB.
- Excellent graphics
- Addictive combat and world traversal
- Engaging dialog and storyline
- Upgrades, unlockables, and collectibles galore
- Pleasing variety of side quests, puzzles, and challenges
- Not particularly challenging
Kevin Tucker posted a new article, Marvel's Spider-Man Review: Simply Spectacular