Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever Batman can. Well in the video game space this is the case with the new PS4 exclusive Marvel's Spider-Man which would feel right at home in the excellent Arkham series by Rocksteady Studios, if it wasn’t for the whole Marvel thing.
Spider-Man kicks in after Spidey has been around for a while and is decked out with a sweet suit. He is in light employment with Doctor Octavius as he is developing some advanced tech to help people who have lost limbs, with advanced tech limbs, and has already had his relationship with MJ, but that is in the past. Immediately this is a refreshing change, we don’t need Spidey’s back story again, and the game doesn’t waste your time with it.
Kicking in, Spidey takes down the crime boss, Fisk, who upon being captured proclaims that he kept order in the city, and they would beg for him to be back. Not long later this reasoning becomes apparent as criminals start to take over the city, and a new threat with some crazy powers comes along. This is where I won’t touch the story any more because you don’t deserve to have the excellent story spoiled. The story gets dark, and while Spidey quips, it’s not as much as generally expected. The game is split into three acts and it feels good, but a little generic for the first two acts, but act three has the whole story escalate to make for a perfect finish.
The gameplay is a combination of the perfect Spider-Man game, and the Arkham series mashed into one. Regularly you will be climbing through vents and swinging around areas stalking prey trying to stealth enemies from just above eye sight. Being seen almost always results in having to deal with a lot more enemies so it is rewarding to take your time and stealth an area, but sometimes it is fun to get in and dirty with them.
Even when you get in close it’s easy to see more similarities in style to the Arkham series. Counter attacking, and dodging is key to surviving, especially when heavy enemies are around, which is like the Arkham games, but the flare is what makes it so Spider-Many. Using your web to swing objects, and eventually opponents rockets at each other is a joy to watch, and the game emphasises how Spidey it is by rewarding clever use of your web shooters. When an opponent is near an object, hitting him with enough web shots will defeat him by trapping him against a wall.
One of the things that impressed me the most was how well the scenes without Spidey are built. Moments in the game have you take control of Miles Morales and MJ, which are generally stealth scenes. Avoiding detection, using distraction and stealth attacks will get you from A to B, and they get tense. These scenes aren’t too long, so they don’t overstay their welcome, but are used to pull the game back and ground it a little in the serious story.
On top of this is the way MJ is developed. She is equally a hero of the game, who is integral to the story. Her one demand of Spidey is that she be treated like a partner, not someone in need of saving, and she earns that right. Dialogue between the two reinforces this and challenges the norms of heroes and their less superpowered allies, as well as a gender statement in there that I’m not equipped to tackle.
Even with its excellent gameplay, amazing voice acting, and outstanding story, the game still has one major element that is crafted to a tee and that’s the games look. Ignore the gorgeous cut scenes for a moment, though they are gorgeous. The city has so much going on, from bystanders, to enemies, to flocks of birds and planes in the sky. It’s so detailed and intricate, it’s hard to not stop and stare at times. On top of this they use the city, and specifically the weather, to set the mood of each act.
If there is one flaw, that would be with some story heavy scenes which have slivers of gameplay, failing can result in a little too much repetition. This was especially prevalent in a final scene that I stuffed up a few times, where specific repeated dialogue lost its impact on the third listen, which is unfortunate because the first time it hit hard. But this is a minor flaw that will only impact people as bad at games as I am.
With all the overly excited previews and reviews, I wanted to look at this game with a fine-toothed comb, because surely it couldn’t be as good as everyone has been saying…surely. Yet 20+ hours of Spider-Man action in the gorgeously realised New York and wanting to go back to mop up the few challenges I haven’t beaten yet, I can say it is as good as they all said. So, excuse me and I’ll pop back in to New York for a bit.