Should you buy…Marvel's Spider-Man?
When it comes to superhero movies, Marvel rules the universe.
But that is far from the case in the world of video games.
DC’s Batman is the current champion of superhero adventures thanks to the Arkham series of games which perfectly combined the detective work, stealth and brute force of the Dark Knight to spellbound players between 2009 and 2015.
Now, Insomniac Games is looking to do the same with one of Marvel’s best loved heroes – New York’s own web slinger, Spider-Man.
But are Spidey’s building-jumping, joke-cracking antics enough to merit your attention?
Insomniac has clearly gone to great lengths to recreate not only a geographically accurate representation of Manhattan Island, but also fill it and tweak it to suit the Marvel universe.
That means posters for Oscorp and the Daily Bugle, but also a setting teeming with life just like in reality.
The developers are clearly proud of this too, throwing in side missions that see Spider-Man taking photos of landmarks for in-game tokens and jumping onto roofs and diving into back alleys in search of quests, thugs and Easter eggs.
This New York is crying out to be explored.
Spider-Man, or Peter Parker, is also well developed in the game – it begins with Parker eight years into his life as the hero, and means players are handed a powerful superhero from the first moments of the game.
Having such ability at your fingertips, in such a rich concrete playground is a wonderful experience: swinging between Manhattan’s main districts in search of people to save and puzzles to solve beyond the main missions is something players can lose hours to.
As already touched on, Marvel’s Spider-Man centres around a hero at the peak of his powers.
Early exchanges with enemies just reinforce that, as players are quickly shown how to take down handfuls of bad guys at once using simple button combinations to dodge and counter, as well as tie up enemies in various web-related ways.
However this is a little two-dimensional and even as time passes the combat never really evolves, but players can add more nuances to these fights in their own way.
Some settings require stealth, and so taking down enemies out of sight of others – usually by creating distractions to isolate one thug at a time – also becomes a key weapon in the Spider-Man arsenal.
Understanding how to deal with enemies of different strength and fire power is important too – low level opponents can be taken out head-on but others need to dodged and flanked and ultimately out-thought to be beaten.
Where this system does fall down however is the repetition which nags away at you.
After a while it’s noticeable that the same battle is just being fought over and over but against slightly more, and slightly better tooled up, opponents.
Spider-Man himself keeps up with this by earning tokens and skill points from missions that can be used to upgrade suits and skills in his tool kit.
But ultimately, these fights seems to always descend into a button-mashing fest. Fun, but not constantly compelling.
The boss battles too take some time to really peak, and are often chaotic and messy, with the signature enemies – of which Spider-Man has some of the best in the superhero world – never really getting the time to shine.
The main mechanic outside of combat is of course Spider-Man’s dynamic movement through and above the streets of New York. Here, Insomniac deserve credit for boiling down a complicated process into a single, repeated button press relying on timing.
Fire out your next web before reaching the end of your current one and you’ll keep up Spidey’s momentum.
Peter Parker has his part to play too – he has his own puzzles to solve as part of mini-quests that keep the gamer’s mind sharp, but they are relatively few and far between and fail to really break up the action.
What is clear however is that Marvel’s Spider-Man is a game that has been made with love.
Throughout the story there are nods to a wide range of characters and stories from within the wide Spider-Man lore and universe.
The side missions offer the chance to see more of this well-made virtual New York as well – sometimes leading to more worthwhile Easter eggs.
The game’s many set pieces are stunning, as Spider-Man pulls people and objects back from the brink of disaster, all the while cracking brilliantly bad jokes.
After taking the mask off, Peter Parker brings depth to this experience too, as characters such as his and those of his friends and family develop around him. Parker’s struggle to maintain a real life while also constantly saving the city is a subplot well managed here, and provides surprisingly emotional moments away from the major action sequences of the game.
The soundtrack too is worth a mention – often not necessarily a deciding factor in the success of a video game, the score in Marvel’s Spider-Man excellently rises and falls with Spidey’s souring between the buildings.
In the canon of superhero video games, Marvel’s Spider-Man makes a strong case to take the top prize because of its visuals and rich universe, well-harnessed by the game’s makers.
But it is lacking in true variation when it comes to combat and ways to show off the full scale of Spider-Man’s powers.
Ultimately, a flurry of button combos will defeat most enemies, and though these vary in number and strength, the motions generally stay the same, even if the setting changes.
This version of Spider-Man is the best ever seen in a video game, but he’s trapped in a world that, while stunning to look at and move around, still isn’t quite big enough for him.