Just the Facts
2018 was the year of Spider-Man, Tom Holland is acclaimed by both fans and critics alike applauding his performance in the new Avengers movie. Into the Spiderverse was a runaway success and the movie of the year for anyone who has seen it. And then there was Spider-Man for the PS4 being one of the marquee titles on PlayStation last year. With the later being quite possibly most notable for the medium that it succeeded in. Spider-Man for the PS4 had both very high and very low expectations at the same time. With fans of Insomniac games and big fans of the Spider-Man universe putting the pressure on the developer to make the game as great as possible. On the other hand, however, the recent history of Spider-Man games were lackluster to say the best with one very notable exception. I myself while not being the biggest superhero fanatic there is, can safely say that I had high hopes for what the game could be, and honestly it delivered…mostly.
The swinging mechanics in this game are perfect. Insomniac has an amazing track record of making games that are more fun to explore than to actually play, which says nothing about the actual gameplay, because that is beyond polished. Swinging around New York City in the perfectly sized environment has never been more fun or natural. The boundaries are just far enough that you always feel like you can make it there in no time with a bit of work, but it’s not too big that by the end of the game you feel over encumbered by the mechanic and opt to fast travel everywhere as the vast majority of open world games so often do. I completed the base game 100% and the trophy obtained from fast traveling across the city was one of the last ones I obtained. For 90% of the game I completely forgot that they had even included the mechanic. Movement never gets dull and the world is always bustling with new crimes that just pop up on your way and are short enough that they don’t take up too much time. Long story short, Insomniac killed it with getting the athleticism and mobility of playing as Spider-Man just right.
The fighting is extremely well polished and never feels out of your grasp. Not once was there a difficulty jump that felt unnatural or unwarranted. Some parts were tougher than others, but due to the nature of the moment and the predicament I found myself in in the story, it never lost my sense of immersion. And the game is tough as nails too, it has teeth and certain battles are tougher than others, especially if you are looking to complete the game beyond 100%. The side missions require a lot of skill to get golds in and the battles are tough enough to begin with. The battles also feel very gritty yet unrealistic in a good way that makes it feel in tough with its comic book roots. Seeing essentially multiple armies running rampant through New York in an all out turf war brings a heightened sense of realism to the game, especially when you are using the different armies against each other to help yourself out and they end up shooting each other. However it still doesn’t take itself too seriously as rockets are shot at you in the tutorial level and it only escalates from there. The ability branches bring just enough incremental change that it is subtle enough to not be necessary if you don’t choose to use it, but significant enough that if you can master the techniques, it makes for a much flashier and more powerful game. Using these different techniques in a surprisingly nuanced combat system that requires some real strategies to accomplish your objective felt very natural for the style of gameplay that should accompany a Spider-Man game.
The narrative and all the story beats are fantastic and it is a super emotional game that had me tearing up at the end, but it just felt too safe. Many of the story beats, while told well, were very predictable and what one would expect from anything in the Spider-Man universe. It might have been the right choice in hindsight because while the story can go off the rails very quick in such an ambitious project, I still wish Insomniac had taken a few more risks with either characters or plot details or just something to make this feel like its own entity much more so than it already was. While a fantastic game with an incredible story, this is probably the area that holds back the game the most, it is what separates it from being just as memorable of a game like God of War, Red Dead Redemption II, and Celeste. Those games all had tight, solid gameplay that perfected what they wanted to do, but they also told a gripping story where some took big risks, and others told stories about subjects that we don’t talk about often enough in general. While a great game, and a much, much stronger game of the year candidate in other years, the story was a superhero story, and that was about it. There are some spoilers at the end that make some interesting choices, but it isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, or anything that we haven’t seen a more exaggerated form of. The game tells a really good superhero story and sets itself up very well for future games, however it just fails to stand out like some of the bigger games in 2018.
For as critical as I am of the story, I am just as in love with the characters in the world. Every major character feels completely grounded in reality and there is something relatable in all of the cast. Dr. Octavius has a special character arc in the game that does something different with the character itself and deserves credit. He isn’t the melodramatic villain he could be, but he is grounded, and serious, and as with many of the most notable villains in the series, you are given the proper time to actually start to care for these characters even though you already know where they end up, and to do that is truly something special. However, the standout character is the one person you never see in the game, and that is J. Jonah Jameson. Darin De Paul captures the character perfectly as essentially Spider-Man’s version of Alex Jones, if Jones had any sense of reality. Much like Mimir in God of War, J. Jonah breaks the pace of the story and offers a completely different side of the story. J. Jonah Jameson is a realistic interpretation of the rational person’s opposition to Spider-Man. It may seem like wacky screaming for comic relief but once the player thinks about what he is saying, he really makes a good point. His show also provides a great look at how public perception can be swayed easily by quickly changing events. Spider-Man’s popularity is as much a roller coaster as the rest of the game because of what happens around him. When there is peace Spider-Man is essentially a god to New Yorkers, but when things are more chaotic, the airwaves are filled with doubters and people swaying in their opinion of Spidey.
Overall I love Spider-Man, I have said that it is possibly my favorite video game ever, if not it is surely in the top 3. It is because I love this game so much that I am critical of the areas that can be improved upon. I love this game and I want to see them take what they learned from this game and make it even better in the next game. They have the formula down pat, now all they need is to add a little spice and make this iteration of Peter Parker stand out more than he already does. This game is incredibly well made and insomniac is the team to make this the best game it can possibly be. The look and feel of this game is spot on and looks insane. It can and will be so much more in the future, and I’m honestly so excited to get the platinum for the next game.
Did you enjoy Spider-Man? Have you played the DLC? Let me know in the comments down below and make sure to subscribe for more Bring Your Own Games.