“Spider-Man” was nominated for best action game and won best PlayStation4 at 2018’s Gamescom. (Photo courtesy of Sony Interactive Entertainment)
From clunky abominations like 1999’s “Superman” for the Nintendo 64 to near-perfect glimpses into the world of comic books like the “Batman: Arkham” franchise, the world of gaming has long sought to perfectly balance the immense power, teeth-clenching grit and unparalleled emotional weight of being a superhero and place it in the hands of gamers.
In that marketplace, “Spider-Man” strikes an ideal balance, perfecting the formula of the superhero gaming experience. Insomniac Games’ pristine creation has only one major flaw: playing it is a joy afforded only to owners of the PlayStation 4.
From the moment they are first given the opportunity to swing over the streets of New York City as the world-famous “web-head” all the way through to the end credits, complete with Marvel’s end-credit scenes, players are treated to an emotional ride through a gorgeous and fluid open-world.
The game brings the world of Marvel Comics to life, perhaps even more so than the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
For the entire 20-plus hour experience, an expansive cast of characters and a living New York City is fleshed out before the audience as they are thrown into one of the most impactful original Spider-Man storylines of all time.
In fact, the player isn’t just thrown into the adventure. The player is made to connect deeply with Peter Parker and allowed to truly feel like they are Spider-Man. This is where the game truly shines.
This feeling of being more than just an observer in the action is thanks in large part to the mechanics. The gameplay provides the most streamlined gaming experience in recent memory.
From the in-combat combo system to new suits with different capabilities to Spider-Man’s lengthy list of gadgets, every part of the game’s combat has unforgettable depth. Whether the player chooses to stealthily dispatch each enemy in an area or jump headlong into things and fight the hordes of mobsters and supervillains head-on, the combat system will cater to them. It is fluid yet challenging, which makes fighting the game’s fairly repetitive enemy types feel like less of a grind as the game progresses.
The same fluidity can also be felt, if not more so, in the game’s movement system. Travelling around the map, often the most dragging part of large open-world games, is made to be slick and exhilarating. Web-zipping through the streets, climbing buildings and just moving from point A to point B is another of the game’s many treats.
So much so that when fast travel is opened up to the player, they will be unlikely to even use it. It is just more interesting and rewarding to explore the game’s living, breathing rendering of the Big Apple, and such exploration is rewarded in no small way.
From halting petty crimes to searching for collectibles and doing side-missions to help out people Peter cares about, the world is fleshed out. The collection system rewards the player with bits and pieces of fun Spider-Man lore, while stopping petty crimes, taking pictures of famous landmarks and doing right by those in Spidey’s life through the sideline goals not only will the player feel more invested in the life of Peter Parker, but also be rewarded with lots of experience points and further access to the aforementioned skill tree and gadget systems.
This absolutely enthralling gameplay would make “Spider-Man” a joy to play even if it were coupled with a disastrous story or mere rehash of oft-told classic Spidey storylines. Which is not to say that the storyline is either of those things, because it is quite the contrary.
“Spider-Man” tells the captivating story of a more mature Peter Parker. Eight years into the vigilante crime-fighting business, the audience sees Parker after his college years, separated from typical love interest Mary Jane Watson and impassioned with a career in biomedical sciences.
This is not the kid superhero origin story or tale of Peter Parker discovering that, “With great power comes great responsibility.” “Spider-Man” is the story of a Peter Parker who is ready to settle into a meaningful career, only to be thrust back into his superhero duties when a mass gang-war and criminal conspiracy threatens the people and city he so desperately loves, complete with a shocking conclusion that pulls no punches.
In short, it is an impactful story sacrifice that will change Parker’s life forever.
Fleshed out with numerous appearances from important characters and villains from Spider-Man lore without feeling like a hodge-podge of messy fan service, the story is woven in a masterful way. That stunning and new Spider-Man story coupled with gameplay to keep casual and longtime fans and gamers alike coming back for more, makes Insomniac’s “Spider-Man” a force to be reckoned with when Game of the Year Award season rolls around.
Final Grade: A+