Insomniac’s latest game is as charming as Spider-Man himself. Here’s why.
Why I Love is a new series on the website dedicated to discussing what we love about specific video games. Thanks to the support over on Patreon, we are able to bring articles like this to you. This is also the first post by Micah Hendrick, our newest addition to the site. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did! GG & Amen! – Logan, Editor
When I was 8 years old my dad introduced me to Spider-Man. I say “introduced” as if I didn’t already know quite well who Spider-Man was. Most every red-blooded American boy at least has a vague idea of who the web slinger is. They’ve seen the ads, the toys, or the cartoons. So when I say “introduced”, I mean he handed me a copy of Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man vol. 1. In this hardback collection was the very first appearance of Spider-Man: Amazing Fantasy #15. It’s safe to say that my comic reading up to this point consisted mostly of the Sunday comics in the local newspaper, so my eyes were fixed as I learned of Peter Parker’s meek beginnings, awesome transformation, and ultimately, his heart breaking loss at the end of that issue. The Amazing Spider-Man issues 1 – 9 in which Spider-Man first encounters the likes of Doc Oc, Electro, The Vulture, and The Sandman, were also housed in this collection I read. I got to see the striving and struggle, the heart ache and sacrifice that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko put Spider-Man through in those first handful of issues that paved the way for what we now know are hallmarks of a great Spider-Man story.
“From the very first time the world was introduced to Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15, Peter Parker has struggled. He’s struggled being popular. He’s struggled juggling his many obligations. He’s struggled defeat at the hands of his enemies. This common thread is at the core of every good Spider-Man story…Peter can’t win.”
I’ve had other important Spider-Man touchstones throughout the comics, 90s cartoon, and of course the Ramey films and excellent Spider-Man: Homecoming. But there has, for a long time, been a void of a truly solid AAA Spider-Man video game that has captured the spirit of the Lee/Ditko comics. Yes, there have been good, perfectly serviceable Spider-Man games of yore. Maximum Carnage on the Genesis/SNES and the 2010 release Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions were notable exceptions while most fans pointed to Spider-Man 2, the movie tie-in, as the game that flaunts the best web-slinging to date. So when Marvel and Sony approached Insomniac Games, a well-revered studio known for Ratchet & Clank, Resistance and more recently (and importantly) Sunset Overdrive, Insomniac knew they had to jump on the opportunity. After a 3 year baking cycle, they’ve delivered what is unequivocally the best Spider-Man game to date and quite possibly the best game on the Playstation 4.
Fans (and Insomniac) knew that the holy grail of a Spider-Man game is nailing the locomotion of our favorite wall-crawler. Yeah, you could craft a good story, implement innovative combat and have the prettiest graphics around, but if you don’t feel like you’re Peter Parker slinging from roof top to roof top then those great parts wouldn’t feel connected and cohesive. Thankfully what Insomniac crafted with their web-slinging mechanics is nothing short of incredible. From the very start of the game, Insomniac throws the player into the heart of Manhattan, equips you with ‘R2’ and ‘X’, then you’re off web-slinging throughout the city. For my play through, the next 15 minutes were a blur of huge smiles and childhood dreams being fulfilled. I was elated. I was Spider-Man! While simplistic and easy to pick up, the details of leaping, swinging and vaulting over the tips of New York’s tallest structures took time to master. There is nuance there and subtle growth in comfort as the game layers in new web-slinging techniques. All of these layers of traversal display an attention to detail that Insomniac poured into this game. Just make your way vertically up a fire escape as opposed to the clear wall adjacent to said escape to see what I mean. Little animation and control tweaks end up making a big difference in spicing things up as you zip from one side of the island to another. Like most open world games, Marvel’s Spider-Man includes a fast travel system, but I never wanted to use it because getting from Avengers tower to Dr. Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum was so stinkin’ fun!
“For my play through, the next 15 minutes were a blur of huge smiles and childhood dreams being fulfilled. I was elated. I was Spider-Man!”
From the very first time the world was introduced to Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15, Peter Parker has struggled. He’s struggled being popular. He’s struggled juggling his many obligations. He’s struggled defeat at the hands of his enemies. This common thread is at the core of every good Spider-Man story…Peter can’t win. Yeah, he may “win the day” but there is usually a cost. Spider-Man for PS4 absolutely nails this theme. Insomniac takes a wide cast of characters, arguably too many, and interweaves them beautifully in and out of Peter Parker’s life. I was always engaged with the story. Even though there were numerous other open world distractions calling my name, I found myself making a bee line for the next yellow map marker to further the plot…something that flies in the face of my usual pace of looking in every nook and cranny. Special attention should be drawn to the writers both at Insomniac and Marvel that helped build this story into a triumphant modern day take on a classic formula. It stands tall as one of the game’s greatest achievements next to our hero’s overall in-game locomotion.
“Insomniac knew what they were doing with Marvel’s Spider-Man. The love for the franchise bleeds through every line of dialogue and every small detail that most players will never even notice.”
Outside of the main story there is plenty to love about Marvel’s Spider-Man. The aforementioned open world distractions, such as finding Peter’s old backpacks he’s left around the city or sneaking through an enemy base, are littered with delightful nods to life-long Spidey fans. There’s plenty to do here without feeling overwhelmed with side content that is constantly pulling at you. What makes nearly any of these side missions worth completing is the fact that you’ll gain access to a new suit for Peter to don. These suits are pure, 100% fan service and come packed with their own unique abilities which can be mixed and matched between suits.
Insomniac knew what they were doing with Marvel’s Spider-Man. The love for the franchise bleeds through every line of dialogue and every small detail that most players will never even notice. Most importantly to me, they’ve captured the essence of Spider-Man which was paved in those early Lee/Ditko comics. The lighthearted banter from the wall-crawler as he takes out thugs, the relationships Peter has with his friends, family and enemies, or the fact that Peter is always just a little late and a little defeated all have major impacts on the final game. To go through decades of lifeless Spider-Man games and finally have something of this caliber is a dream come true for this Spidey fan and certainly something anyone who owns a PS4 should experience.
To see Marvel’s Spider-Man in action for yourself, check out a recent Twitch stream TRG did of the game.