Peter Parker is no stranger to video games. Having starred or appeared in dozens of titles throughout history, most of them have been terrible, as he’s largely been tied to sub-par games made as side products in support of something else. But if there were any character that was most deserving of the Arkham treatment, it’s the web crawler. We’ve seen glimpses of how good he can be through games that fell a bit short of greatness, but the potential has always been there due to the character’s inherent design and the lore around him. Finally, thanks to the good folks at Insomniac Games, Spider-Man was given the time and love needed to fulfill the promise of what a Spidey-centric game could be. The results are fantastic.
Taking place many years after the events of the Spider-Man: Homecoming movie, Peter Parker is all grown up. He’s already moved past his career at the Daily Bugle and is just ramping up at a new dream job as a scientist. Mary Jane Watson remains as a key figure in his life, though things are complicated at the moment.
The game is set in the open world of New York City. Simply traversing it is a thrill, as the game is designed in such a way that swinging is easy to learn, but hard to master. Key to keeping your forward momentum is understanding where Spidey sticks his webs when he swings. New York City is rife with buildings, but he needs to be within range of one in order to create a rope. If he’s gliding above the buildings or roaming through Central Park, he’s not going to have anything to swing form. In that instance, he has another move that allows him to zip to a specific point before vaulting off of it. This is a great move for creating forward momentum, especially in scenarios where you’re out of reach of a building to swing from. I started out as a bumbling buffoon, smacking into buildings every few seconds. With practice, I developed a feel for it, making the experience that much smoother and satisfying.
His adventure rockets out of the gate with a wild opening sequence. Raiding The Kingpin’s compound, the game’s cinematic combat and bombastic set pieces make quite the first impression. From there, the game settles into a groove, gradually building on a tale that primarily centres around Mr. Negative; a villain I’d never heard of until he appeared in this game.
I had my concerns going into it due to the B-list choice for a primary antagonist. However, this choice actually highlights the game’s biggest strength: its story. Sure, the free-flowing combat makes combat a blast, and it’s always a pleasure to traverse around the city thanks to the game’s swinging mechanics, but what kept me coming back was the way in which the plot unfolds. Unlike the Arkham series, where the entire plot is all bad news and condensed to take place over one night, the story of Spider-Man unfolds in a much more natural way. Taking place over a longer stretch of time, the story has the opportunity to gradually build while having moments of levity in between. The scenes where Peter Parker is the focal point really punch home the humanity behind the mask, giving this game an edge that’s true to the hero’s comic book origins.
It also gives the game time to build Mr. Negative up as a worthy adversary, whether its through his actions in cutscenes, or the action you’re in direct control of. Without delving too deep into spoiler territory, the story does eventually pull in other characters from Spider-Man’s rogue gallery. However, their presence by the end of the game feels more like the icing on the cake thanks to how much heavy lifting the game is able to achieve with Mr. Negative.
Beyond the web-swinging and face-punching, Spider-Man goes to great lengths to mix things up. Tasteful (and optional) quick time events accentuate the most bombastic sequences. There are a ton of side activities that range from collecting items strewn about to a plethora of side-missions to take on at your leisure. I really enjoy the spontaneous crimes that would spawn throughout the world, as they were easy to start and it makes sense within the lore of the character that he would take on these small crimes along the way.
A few of these activities were not my cup of tea. There are a number stealth sequences in the game, which the game goes to great lengths to set up. These sequences in the grand scheme of things aren’t particularly difficult, but I did struggle with them because I have no patience for stealth in any game. The biggest reach are the moments where you have to act as scientist Peter Parker by playing a handful of puzzle games. I skipped many of them (which I’m glad is an option), but I think the game could have been fine had they removed these entirely. That said, I applaud Insomniac for making a conscious effort to keep players on their toes with different things to do throughout.
Spider-Man brings the comic book hero to life in a way that his past games haven’t. Propped up with the Arkham combat system, great web-swinging, lots of variety, and a well-crafted story that moves at an excellent pace while showing everything that the hero and the man behind the mask has to offer, this easily takes the crown as the best Spider-Man game to-date. Better yet, it will also stand tall as one of the overall best games of 2018.
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