It’s funny how all the talk of licensed games always being terrible goes right out the window when the thing being licensed is a comic book. Take the interactive adventures of our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. While he’s had some terrible games, people mostly remember such good ones as Spider-Man: Web Of Shadows, Ultimate Spider-Man, and, of course, Spider-Man 2. Thankfully, it is the latter category that that we find Spider-Man (PlayStation 4, PS4 Collector’s Edition), the wall-crawler’s newest adventure, and first from the good people of Insomniac Games.
Set at a time when…
…Peter Parker has gotten a handle on the whole superhero thing, this third-person action game shows us a more mature Spidey than we usually see in his interactive adventures (though he’s not as old as he is in the comics). But don’t worry; you don’t spend this game working, paying your taxes, and getting a good night sleep. You’re still fighting crime, beating up costumed bad guys, and helping out the people of New York. You’re just doing with help from the police…and high fives from appreciative citizens.
All of which, naturally, takes place in an open world, one that has the usual mix of random encounters, collectibles in need of locating, and a ton of side quests that will give you a break from the main story.
In other words, Spider-Manis, well, a Spider-Man game.
But while Spider-Manrecalls Spidey’s best games — and, yeah, his worst ones — it also takes cues from Batman’s as well, most notably Batman: Arkham City and Batman: Arkham Knight. During fisticuffs, for instance, you can attack, and will be attacked, from all sides in the same acrobatic way as The Dark Knight. The animation even switches to slow-mo when you take the last guy down. Spidey also has some wonderful toys, albeit ones more befitting his choice of spirit animal.
There’s also times in Spider-Man when Spidey can be sneaky, and thin out the herd by taking guys out from above before jumping into the fray. The difference being that where Batman could do this all time, Spidey is sometimes limited by the environment. It’s hard to sneak up on someone when they’re standing on the corner of Broadway and 37th. And while there are areas built for this kind of stealth action, the sneaky parts don’t last long, since the second wave of bad guys are always alerted by their coworkers’ being all webbed up and thus immediately know that Spider-Man is lurking around.
This is not the only way…
…Spider-Man differentiates itself from Batman’s games. For starters, Spider-Man has different moves than The Dark Knight. Instead of using his cape to distract an enemy holding a shield, Spidey can slide between their legs and smack them from behind. He even takes a cue from Uncharted: The Lost Legacy and other games in that series by performing some contextual acrobatic attacks. When near a wall, for instance, Spidey will jump up onto it and push away hard, slamming into nearby bad guys.
Not all of the new things Spidey does in Spider-Man are combat related, though. For starters, his random encounters don’t just include muggings and drug deals. He also rescues people who’ve been hurt in car accidents.
Spider-Man also expands upon the customization and leveling up aspects. Not only do you have a wealth of skills, combat moves, and suit modifications to unlock and upgrade, but he has an entire wardrobe of different suits, many with their own special augmentations. All of which gives this such a role-playing game feel that I half expected my conversations with Aunt May to be like something out of Mass Effect Andromeda.
Then there’s the story. While the plot isn’t radically different from something we might’ve seen him go through before, there are some interesting differences between Spidey’s life in this game and how it’s played out in the comics. Though none, thankfully, are as needlessly out-of-character as, say, his organic webshooters in the first Tobey Maguire movie. More importantly, the story works well to set up the action and to keep players engaged.
…all of these changes would be for nothing if Spider-Man didn’t have the same kind of solid controls as his best games. Using his webs and gadgets is especially intuitive here, as is catching a speeding car, which has often been in a chore in Spidey’s previous games.
While Spider-Man is easily the wall-crawler’s strongest game in a long time, it does have some issues. For starters, during the game’s quicktime events — y’know, those “hit the right button at the right time” things — the position of the button prompt on the screen doesn’t often mirror the button’s position on the controller, rendering these moments less intuitive and immersive than they could be.
Spider-Man also has a ton of puzzles. But while they do perpetuate Peter Parker’s reputation as a smart scientist, and can sometimes be challenging and fun, they can also be tedious and grind the action to a halt. The same can be said for most of the parts when you aren’t wearing spandex. Again, these moments help move the story forward, but they also slow things down.
This even, funnily enough, has the same problem that Batman did in the Arkham games. While Spider-Man uses his Spidey-sense to identify enemies and other important objects in the world, the effect wears off after a few seconds. Which means you have to keep hitting that button over and over again when you’re looking for something or planning a sneak attack. Well, unless you use the suit modification that keeps enemies highlighted until you punch them, but this runs counter to the way Spidey’s senses work in the comics, movies, and so on.
But the most irritating issue that plagues Spider-Man is its uneven difficulty. While there are times when you feel like you have the proportional strength of a spider, there are others when you’ll feel like a fly…who’s been sick…and always skips leg day. This is especially true when fighting large muggers, who seem especially overpowered. And this disparity is present even if you play this on “Friendly” (i.e., “Easy”), which is supposed to be for — as it says in the menu — “players who want to enjoy the story without challenging combat.”
While such problems…
…don’t ruin Spider-Man, they do make this less effortlessly fun than it could’ve been. Still, this does manage to capture everything we’ve loved about Spider-Man’s best games…and Batman’s, and even some of the better open world games where you’re superpowered but not based on a comic book, such as Saints Row IV and Prototype. Which is why it’s not just one of Spidey’s best interactive adventure, and one of this year’s better games, but it’s also yet another comic book-inspired games that isn’t terrible.