I was a huge Spider-Man fan as a kid. Whether it was the comics, animated series, or movies – I used to engage with them all. While I don’t remember each and everything at this point, nor would I consider myself some “spidey lore” buff, the memory of me loving spidey content is the one that vividly remains. And while I’ve enjoyed the different iterations of the hero over the years; obviously the Raimi one, the MCU one, and even “The Amazing Spider-Man” (keyword: enjoyed) – I never felt like anything quite captured the same classic vibe from the comics and animated show. Until I played Marvel’s Spider-Man.
Like all my reviews, I’m going to dissect the game and try to talk about each aspect individually, rate them on THIS 10 point scale and give out my final words in the end. Basically, consider a 6 as “pretty good”.
Gameplay Loop – 8
The core gameplay loop revolves around web-swinging, combat, stealth, lite puzzles, and set pieces. How these building blocks actually get contextualized and used in the game, is what really makes the difference though, doesn’t it? I’d say the 15-hour main campaign is really solid, and the runtime can be extended to around 30 with side content and exploration – and possibly a lot more through the DLCs. The main content never made me go “When is this game going to end?” ever during the playthrough, making it one of the 4-5 games I’ve felt that with over the past few years. It’s not necessarily ‘the mark of a great game’ or anything, don’t get me wrong – but it only goes to show that there aren’t that many stale moments. There are some sections where you’re put into the shoes of Peter Parker’s friends though. And while I really enjoyed 2-3 of them, since they showed the huge scale and intensity of problems the city and Spider-Man are going through while providing necessary downtime after the insane Spidey action – at least half of them could be cut out and the game would be better for it.
Apart from that, and the puzzles just being “there” and adding nothing of note to the gameplay experience outside of giving you something to do as Peter – I think the main campaign was near-flawless. The combat is engaging and has a lot of variety in it, the web-swinging is extremely fun and relaxing, and the set pieces look really cool even if a lot of them do boil down to quick time actions at the end of the day. Jumping on top of a group of enemies with a bang attack, knocking everyone down, then webbing two of them on the ground before they get up, while flinging the third up for air combat, as you swing kick him and web onto the next foe, while hurling a rocket back at its launcher never gets old. While I do think there’s a lot more that can be built upon and improved with sequels, such as mixing the web-swinging and combat even more, outside of like 2 boss fights and 1 enemy type; or making the set pieces more engaging than “press this button to let cool thing happen”
But more or less, the main improvements I’m counting on, or at least hoping to see with future games are in the side content. The only enjoyment someone would get out of the side content stems from the core mechanics of the combat and traversal being fun in my opinion, and not from the side missions themselves. It is visibly subpar compared to the main story, or side content of well done open-world games. The only memorable mission I can recall is when you encounter a copycat and have to trail him. In the second half, every side mission was just “go get the infected college kids” which were basically the same thing disguised as separate quests. I do think there was a lot that could be done with a character as charismatic as Spider-Man, and personally, I see the “Yakuza” route, with doing completely outlandish chores for random people working really well. Let’s see what the future games have in store though.
Apart from secondary missions, there’s a lot of tertiary activities. While I did enjoy the enemy bases for the opportunities to chain 100x combos, the research stations for some new twists with every mission – and I’m sort of on the fence about the taskmaster challenges which are nothing different from what we’ve seen in games like Just Cause before. I am not a huge fan of everything else though. There are backpacks strapped on random buildings, landmarks to photograph, pigeons to catch, and black cat missions. The implementation of these collectibles is the same way it was being done in open worlds 20 years before. I did find myself doing them anyway because I enjoyed the traversal so much, but that’s not to their own credit. The backpacks might provide some back story but mostly they just slow you down and make you stop and crawl around a building. The landscapes can be done on the go so I don’t mind them much. I’d been steadily doing them both just as an excuse for web-swinging, and then they introduced 2 more kinds of collectibles which was really tedious. And did I mention there are 3 towers in every district you need to synchronize with to unlock all these markers? I hope the future games don’t have such a lazy way to propel players towards exploration.
That finally brings me to the random events. They’re crimes like car chases, robberies, kidnapping, burglaries, etc. that you hear on the police receiver. I found them really fun in the starting, but they do tend to get repetitive as well, considering how sitting on the top of the car doing QTEs took longer than the chase a lot of times. But I do think they had the right idea with this, and I’m sure they’ll flesh them out more in the future. They have no job being “necessary” for completion though, since a random event is a random event – not some rigid activity to ticked off. Nitpicks aside, one thing the events do capture is the responsibility of being Spider-Man, as you find yourself stopping a quick crime and saving people, even making it a priority on the way to an important mission. Overall, I think the side content was something they wanted to achieve the bare minimum on, to give the player a reason to exist in the world, and I think they did. Their focus clearly was on the main content and primary mechanics this time, and they delivered. And since we already have a core system in place, I’m really interested in how they make the side content better, and the city be more alive than high-fiving a couple of people on the sidewalks. The main story was one of the best single-player campaigns I’ve played frankly, which brings me to…
Narrative – 8
As I mentioned in the title, this narrative focuses on giving Peter Parker a much more central role than Spiderman himself – and I loved that. As early as the comics, the true core of any Spider-Man story has always been about Peter and his struggles as a human brushing up with his struggles as a hero. And while I really enjoy a lot of the movies, I think this game was able to capture that charm and tussle even better than anything put on the big screen. Peter’s real life is given a decent amount of effective screen time, and so are his relationships with Mary Jane, Dr. Otto, Aunt May – and later Miles Morales. They certainly tried to make the villains’ motivations look reasonable, and capture how someone like Osborne who’s a villain for pretty much everyone else does have people and things he cares about deeply. The characters and their struggles were possibly the most important part of the story, and I think Insomniac handled those with great competence.
Coming to the humor, which I think is another important part of a good Spider-Man story and certainly one of the harder things to write in general. I liked the banter between “Spider Cop” and Yuri, they definitely had the chemistry between them that showed how long they’ve been working together. Overall, there are always misses and hits when it comes to humor, but I think they did a good job of it more times than not. JJJ was a great addition in terms of his podcasts and through all of his hilarious, over-the-top conspiracy theories – which actually had a certain truth to them, and I do think he’s necessary to make Peter think twice about his actions as well. There’s a portion in one of the research stations where you fuck up the water pressure in the city which you then have to fix, and Spidey goes “JJ’s going to pin this on me, now”. What do you mean PIN this on you, Peter?
Since we’ve established which classic Spider-Man roots the game effectively recaptures, let’s talk about what it changes. One of the biggest changes was Mary Jane being a reporter instead of a struggling actress while Aunt May being a manager in a homeless shelter. And I know a lot of people might not like those changes, but I’m absolutely on board with them. It gives both of those characters a much more active role in the world, with their own personal agencies. I do concede though that we’ve seen the “reporter girlfriend” trope in too many superhero stories like Karen Page in Daredevil or Lois Lane in Superman – but in retrospect, I don’t think this was a bad decision. I’ve never liked Mary Jane much in any iteration before, and with this one, I actually liked her character, outside of a couple of things I’ll get into.
SPOILERS begin here. Having Mary Jane land into problems and that leading into a stealth mission was one thing, and another was her being a suicidal maniac rushing into danger headfirst just to prove something to herself. I get that it’s a part of her character, and it made sense in most scenarios except the one where she sneaked into Osborne’s home/office when Spidey was available anyway. How is a girl with no ability and just some throwing blobs to distract guards more capable than a person who crawls through vents and sticks to ceilings? I know that her being there was essential for a plot point, but it could’ve been executed with slightly different circumstances. For example, Spider-Man being busy with the newly released super villains. Instead, he’s just a sitting duck 2 blocks away. It does happen a couple of times how characters behave in ways to serve the plot instead of the other way round. Like how Silver Sable goes from pretty much hating Peter, to having a complete personality and viewpoint turnaround all of a sudden. Additionally, having Peter, Mary, and Miles as central characters give us 3 earnest go-getter young adult characters with not much contrast. So yeah, there’s an undeniable lack of nuance in both the writing and the dialogue at times that I could list, but I’d say they score more goals than they miss.
The ending, in fact, the whole third act felt like an intense nonstop climax. All the villains you know have been released, the city is in havoc, and it turns out that the mentor you’ve been worshipping and loving all game was the main baddie all along. Anyone even slightly familiar with the stories would have known that was coming to some extent, but the characterizations were done so well that you kind of don’t want it to happen. You see Otto change over the course of the story as well. See his struggles, see his ambitions, and see his philosophy towards the world. The last conversation between Peter and him really showed the main difference between them. And the ending with Aunt May was surprisingly subtextual too. About how Uncle Ben died because Peter was selfish but Aunt May did because he was selfless. We’ve seen in endless instances how Spider-Man is able to save everyone, rendering all the stakes hollow. But that did not happen here. By the end, Peter has lost both his mentor figures and you’d think he has no one left now, but that’s only because he is the mentor now. It was a coming-of-age story in more ways than one, as we see Peter Parker grow from the learner to the teacher. This is how you create a superhero story that’s self-sufficient, shows character growth, while also making room for sequels.
Visuals – 9
The presentation is really well done. The colors are vivid, just like they should be for this game. Manhattan looks incredible, and the draw distance seems as far as the human eye can see. It’s definitely impressive how they got the game running so smoothly, with such quick swinging on my PS4 slim. The facial animations were really expressive and added a lot of weight and impact to the scenes. The transitions from cutscene to gameplay were really smooth, and the visual design of the villains also felt grand. So did the set pieces and cutscenes. While I do not like QTEs at all, some of the set pieces in the game were so damn cool that it made me forget that all I was doing was, simply pressing random prompted buttons. Most of the boss fights were also elevated by how great they looked rather than how they functioned mechanically. This is obviously not an alternative to an actually well-made one, but I personally value the aesthetics and context of a boss fight almost as much as the mechanics, thus I enjoyed most of them.
The strongest suit of the visual design of the game for me, personally, though – were the suits. There’s a HUGE array of Spider-Mansuits this game gives you, each of those seems to be made out of a different fabric, rather than some lazy reskin, to the point that it shows they were going all-in on this game. You can wear the suits from any of the mainstream movies, there are some really great dark suits as well, or you can literally become the version from the animated series – it never gets old. They do unlock special abilities, but thankfully you can pick and choose your suit and ability without any strings.
Mechanics – 8
Let’s break down all the mechanics one by one here. I personally really enjoyed the web-swinging, it’s really rhythmic and cathartic. Since the comics described Peter just swinging about sometimes to blow steam off and clear his head – I think this system certainly captured that. The controller vibrations add a lot to the experience as well. Additionally, there’s wall-running, zip-to-point boosts, web dashes, etc. all of which factor in momentum. To me, this was the most defining part of the experience of being Spider-Man. They NEEDED to get the swinging right, and I think they did, for the most part. It’s some of the most fun I’ve had simply traversing through a game’s world.
But the system is far from perfect though, and I can see a lot of improvement in the next few games – especially adding a little bit into the skill ceiling. From what little I know of Miles Morales, I think they have the right idea going forward, where the trick movements look way cooler than the current game, but also make you fall smack on the ground if you don’t swing in time, unlike Marvel’s Spider-Man. This leaves the base swinging as accessible as ever while adding a layer of self-expression to the player, including a lot of different tricks you can pull off that look cool and give bonuses. Apart from that though, another thing I felt that can be improved was the wall running and crawling. Crawling is slow and feels weird, especially around corners. And while running is great in the flow, you simply CAN NOT run down a building. And this wasn’t apparent to me until I was doing those taskmaster challenges that require you to pass through some orbs.
And while Insomniac did a great job of giving the player a lot of control most of the time, I do think the mechanics begin to show cracks when it comes to traversing shorter distances. Same goes with limited options to gain altitude. Instead of webs auto-detaching, they should wrap around buildings. First of all, it would actually incentivize people to time their R2’s instead of just holding one button, and secondly, it gives a lot of control. If I want to wrap around a building, flinging myself up in the air continuously to waltz to the top, I should be able to do that. Speaking of flinging, a slingshot-style launch could fit into this system as well, since we have something that almost works like it, it could just be a slightly situational 2-handed version of the zip-to-point launch. AND speaking of ‘using both hands’ – there’s a special animation for the web dash thing that shows Spidey shooting 2 webs on both sides to hurl himself ahead. I think that should be made voluntary instead of random, maybe holding X rather than tapping makes you shoot 2 webs instead of 1, and gives a stronger boost, but only works if there are 2 buildings on both sides. It simply adds more options someone has during the swinging, just like you do during the combat.
Speaking of, the combat is seamless, improvisational, and satisfying. I’d heard some people call it a “rip-off” from Arkham games, and I’d call that statement reductive at the very least. There’s undeniably a lot of inspiration lifted from that system, but there are some very clear changes that made it much better for me personally, as much as I love Arkham‘s feel for what it does as well. First of all, the healing is solely done through building up combos, thus making aggression the only way to get out of a tough situation. Doom-style. The enemies are much more aggressive as well, and will even attack you in the middle of swinging animations, whirls, etc. Secondly, you don’t home into enemies like a heat-seeking missile – instead, you need to press Triangle to web towards an enemy you aim towards, or hold it to pull someone in the air with you. Thirdly, the counter has been replaced by ‘perfect dodge’, meaning that you don’t damage the enemy in return, just web their face for a couple seconds. And given the huge groups of enemies one fights, that provides the player an opportunity for either singling that enemy out to dispatch them or just go with the flow. The biggest aspect of the combat for me was the webbing. An enemy that might have taken over a dozen punches to go down can be instantly dealt with if they are webbed to a wall or the floor. This requires some positioning or creating situations that would allow that. One way to get into situations like those is fighting enemies airborne, which also branches off into a plethora of different options. You may pull another enemy up in the air, or end with a jump on the enemy’s body, or throw them down into the ground, or do a web kick, transition into a web swing instead, web back into an enemy on the ground, or use any of the other gadgets.
Speaking of the gadgets, I found most of them relate to the core web mechanic in some way, which is a great thing. But by the 2nd half, later gadgets did start feeling like more of the same. You gain gadget ammo randomly during the combat, and I think they should have done away with that option. Because you never run out of the gadgets you’re comfortable with, there is no incentive to try anything else. There were 2 ways this could have been dealt with. Either they could have given an option to replenish all gadget ammo using 1 or 2 focus bars. That means refilling gadgets would come at the cost of an instakill finisher or a heal. That adds a layer of decision-making into using “Focus”. Or they could’ve simply recharged all gadgets to full after all enemies were defeated. Another thing I would have liked is to assign “favorite” gadgets especially for things like the basic web shooter and toggle to them quickly using the left/right d-pad buttons which remain unused throughout the game. Leaving 2 buttons unused on the controller is certainly a missed opportunity, and I hope they factor this or something else in the future games.
We’re done with traversal and combat – the strong parts of the mechanics. Now let’s get to the puzzles. There’s 3 styles of puzzles: – Bioshock-style connect the pipe puzzles, add 2-3 line blocks to create the final one, and rotate wavelengths to synchronize towers basically. And while I appreciate them for trying to implement some kind of gameplay as Peter Parker – all I want to say about the puzzles is, that there’s an option to skip them. They were aware this was the weakest portion of their game. I remember sort of enjoying Bioshock hacking years back, and I didn’t even mind these ones personally, but they require little to no skill or thinking. Witcher 3 has shown us that you can include a side game with a lot of nuances which is actually fun to play, acts as a foil to the core gameplay loop, while also giving you a breather every now and then. So, while they had the right idea, the mini-games themselves were an afterthought in design.
Now to the stealth. *Sigh* Okay, I don’t hate it. As I said above, I actually think some of the Mary/Miles stealth segments were actually well done and provide a grounding sense of scale. But then there’s like 5 more of them. Those missions are insta-restart, and so very linear that you pretty much have the path laid out in front of you. Either they should have fleshed the sections out more or took an axe to at least half of them. At least it isn’t hard to abuse the bad AI. Speaking of the “AI”, I think this is one area I’m actually expecting a lot of improvements. While it’s fine during combat, outside of the occasional clueless enemy standing in the middle of nowhere or getting stuck in surfaces – the stealth AI certainly needs a lot of work. Whether it’s during the Spider-Man sections or the stealth-only segments, enemies follow a hive-mind system a lot of the time and lose visibility together as well. You can’t even stealth through the enemy bases, as Wave 2 is aware of your location beforehand for some reason. Since they’ve decided on making stealth a part of their core loop as well, I’m hoping it only gets better with the future games.
Despite my criticisms of all these mechanics though, and the room for improvement in pretty much every area – I’m still hugely impressed by everything they actually accomplished, especially when it comes to the core combat and swinging. This is a solid foundation and I’m really excited about how they build upon this system.
Challenge – 7
On the hardest difficulty, the combat gets to a decent challenge level by the end of the game. I would recommend anyone to start on this difficulty, and tone it done gradually to what works best. It’s really engaging to juggle different moves, trying to dispatch enemies swiftly by being as creative as possible, and seeing the combo meter going up with repeated perfect dodges. The combat certainly has a sense of flow once you know what you’re doing, and have the first few gadgets at your disposal. The most central aspect of the combat for me was trying to maintain high combos while dispatching enemies in the quickest and coolest ways possible. Straight up punching and countering is not enough in this game, you rather need to find juggle them in the air, web up enemies on the floor or a wall that completely trivializes their health bars, or use gadgets that make them vulnerable. While not being anything unlike we’ve ever seen, there is a good amount of depth to be explored if one gets into the combat.
The web-swinging has a pretty low skill ceiling. I don’t mind it being accessible, but that’s defined by the skill floor, which I’m glad was kept low so people could effortlessly go around web slinging. I mean, nobody goes on to complain that the driving or horse riding in another game is too easy, right? This is a far more engaging traversal mechanism if you look at it that way. However, as I described above, they can certainly add a certain bit of skill ceiling in here as well. For now, once you figure out how to time the zip to point boosts, you can move about the world really quickly, and that’s the extent of it. Having a lower threshold to simply navigate, but a higher requirement for looking cool and going faster is the direction they should go in, in my opinion.
I don’t want to harp on again about the puzzles and set pieces since you already have the idea. It’s extremely hard to have a difficult time with those. Going to the bosses now. I’ve already said I enjoyed them all on a visual level. Mechanically though, I think there was a lot of potential that could have been explored. While there aren’t any terrible bosses per say, and I get that making boss fights for a crowd-based combat system can be hard, I do wish there were more avenues explored than simply “stun a boss enough to get a triangle prompt which allows you a couple of punches”. Overall, I still enjoyed them during the experience, despite the undemanding mechanics. The duo boss fights were certainly cool, and the final boss was fun to fight as well. They certainly put in the work, and it shows.
Variety – 8
In terms of the variety within main story missions – there is everything ranging from exciting set-pieces to sections where you play as MJ or Miles, or do the hacking mini-game. While those do add variety, they aren’t necessarily the “good” kind of variety, outside of maybe 1-2 sections of MJ/Miles each. Outside of those, I think the main campaign never really got stale and maintained crisp pacing throughout. The side content does get repetitive and is the reason I’m not rating any higher in this category. As I’ve already described, the collectibles are more or less, just copy-pastes of each other and scattered randomly throughout the map. While some come with a little bit of backstory, a much more interesting execution could have been done.
Apart from that though, I found the variety in gadgets and enemy types to be pretty solid. There are enemies that reward a certain way to be dealt with, which keeps the combat from feeling samey as the game goes on. There was a good amount of agency factored in during the web-swinging as well, as there are special animations for swinging through pipes, or running up fire escapes. And despite the criticisms I’ve made about the side content, this is one of the few games I’ve played in the last few years that never made me think “when will this end?”
Mapping – 8
Manhattan is really well realized and combined with the web-swinging, might be my favorite game city to simply traverse through. The landmarks are really vividly brought to life. The screens all across Times Square, with the bustling crowds, really seem like they jumped inside the game as it is. The inside of building windows show actual 3D spaces which were probably done using procedural generation of some sort, which is impressive. It is not without its cracks though, as sometimes you can see a completely different picture when you turn the corner of a certain room. Understandably, there is almost no interaction with the indoors themselves. The same goes for the NPCs outside of maybe a couple of high fives here and there. I can really see them taking this foundation and making it a much more alive and bustling city. In fact, I’m counting on it since Spider-Man is always going to stay in New York. So adding much more depth to the existing city seems to be the most natural course of action.
The night/day cycle was great, and the rain was as well. What I found really cool, was how the city changes during the later third of the game, really showing the toll the circumstances have taken, and the cost the people have had to pay. Visually, I think the mapping was really well done. But in terms of interactivity, there’s a lot of room that can be explored. Whether it’s in terms of better random events and side quests, or just organic interactions within the game city. This city is a solid foundation that can really be built into something both technically and artistically impressive.
Sound – 8
The voice acting was top class. Yuri Lowenthal gave me a Spidey voice that makes it seem as if THAT was the voice of Peter Parker in my head all along. I didn’t even realize Laura Bailey was playing MJ until I looked it up, and she was just as impressive as ever. The guy who voices JJJ did an incredible job, and to be frank, so did pretty much all of the cast. The main theme is very “Spider-Man” and can come off as too safe, like a lot of other decisions in the game, but it gets the epic results it wants to. The web-swinging music also has the same effect, but they play it as soon as you start swinging, pretty much every single time, which certainly diminishes it. Not every web-swinging session is an epic escapade, guys! I see this done in a lot of games, and sometimes I wish they would use their best music just a tad bit more conservatively.
Apart from the main theme and swinging music, almost every other track was extremely generic though, in my opinion. So while voice acting and sound design of the fights, swinging etc. were amazing – I think the music department lacked in personality outside of the one or two good tracks. Consider it a solid 3/5 in music, with a 5/5 in everything else from me personally.
Interface – 9
There’s a decent amount of accessibility options, remappable controls, good subtitles – the basics are all there. The photo mode is phenomenal and really fun, with the addition of the selfie-style. I like that the game is entirely playable without the minimap too since I personally find those to be really outdated in this day and age. The minimal HUD is great, with the option to temporarily make points of interest visible through the press of a button. You get it, the QOL is really well done for the most part.
I do have a couple of gripes though. There is a menu where you can go back and listen to audio logs and JJJ’s podcast. But from what I found, there was no way to play those while swinging. As soon as you press circle, the audio stops. So if you want to catch up on any of the stuff you missed, you need to consciously sit down and listen while being in a menu. I think this was an oversight. Another thing I’d like to point out is that 2 buttons on the dpad are never used. This would have been the perfect opportunity to give the player “quick slots” to choose their favorite gadgets and be able to switch to them instantly on the fly, without having to open the wheel every time. I certainly would have used this to get the shooters back, as they’re the most used gadget anyway.
Pricing & Performance – 9
I’d say this is a 4 on Pricing and 5 on Performance. Get it for a cheap deal if you can, but after all these years, I’d say this game is worth getting for the retail price itself. I had a really smooth experience performance-wise, so I got no complaints there. The one or two instances of slight frame drops were too trivial to mean much to me.
Replay Value – 8
This replay value is going to vary a lot from player to player, especially for this game. Since it’s a cinematic, linear, story-driven game – you’ve pretty much seen all it has to show in the first run. Thus it all depends on how much someone enjoyed the core mechanics; and I, for one, found them to be the best part of the game. Thus, I can see myself booting up the game just to swing around for a couple of minutes, or do an enemy base just to get a taste of that combat if I feel like it. I think they should have made collectible progress carry over into NG+ instead of resetting those again. Someone might do them once in the initial rush of exploring the world, but once they restart, it’s just for playing on a harder difficulty or revisiting the story, not pick up the same collectibles again. I was able to max all my skill trees somewhere during the third act, so there’s really nothing much to unlock in a continued playthrough either. You just get to use everything from the very start. I was conflicted between a 7 and 8 here, but well, it’s just a number at the end of the day. My thoughts on it will still remain the same, there is replay value for you if you enjoyed the core mechanics.
Final Rating: 8.2
I ended up enjoying Marvel’s Spider-Man much more than I was expecting to. The combat is surprisingly complex and allows for dispatching even the biggest enemies with relentless ease once you have it figured out. The swinging is easy, yet makes for extremely satisfying traversal. The side content is sub-par, to say the least, but the main campaign more than makes for it – through great core mechanics, interesting missions, exciting set pieces, and one of the best Spider-Man stories in a long time. While I do think the game played it safe in pretty much every department, I think it lays the groundwork for something really solid – and I can’t wait to see them experiment more with it, in the coming years. For the time being, in my eyes, this is the definitive Spider-Man experience.