There is no greater character in fiction than Spider-Man. A bold claim though it may be, there’s no denying the success the hero has had since his 1962 debut. The myriad comics, movies, animated series, and video games are a testament to the timelessness of the character. He has transcended generations and shaped many young minds. It’s often cited that this success is due to his “everyman” relatability. A shame, then, that it took video games over 35 years to figure that out.
Dual Lives Collide
The heart of any great Spider-Man story is Peter Parker. Finally, with Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man, video games have welcomed the character. On display here is a storytelling mastery rarely seen from the studio. As funny as Sunset Overdrive was, it was never going to make you weep. Resistance showed Insomniac could tell a great story, but it wasn’t until now that story ever came first.
Back to Peter Parker. He’s the real focus of this game. Whereas every Spider-Man game before has felt like a boss rush, Insomniac has instead slowed the story down. You get to see those “everyman” struggles for which the character is famous. Relationship woes with a very different Mary Jane pop up, bills are overdue, and Peter’s boss is constantly wondering about his incessant tardiness. This is what Spidey fans have been clamoring for; a video game story to slow down and show all the aspects of the webhead.
And the slowdown on Peter has conferred numerous benefits elsewhere. The main villain of the game, Mister Negative, is given more time to shine. We see his origins clearly, and learn his motivations. More than a guy with a really cool look, Mister Negative is a flawed human. The attention paid to him, along with other major characters from Spider-Man lore, is the highlight of the game. Characters are given the time and attention that only a video game can provide.
The cast breathes such life into these characters. Yuri Lowenthal as Peter Parker/Spider-Man displays some of his best acting to date, particularly near the end of the game as things get more dramatic. Laura Bailey, shocking nobody, kills it as Mary Jane. Tara Platt’s Yuri Watanabe shows a loving disdain for the wallcrawler that manages to make you laugh throughout the whole game. I’d love to call everyone else out, but really the whole cast just nails it.
Does Whatever a Parker Can
The reason these characters can shine is the writing. I hinted at it above, but these writers clearly get it. For the first time in video game history, Spider-Man and Peter Parker are written differently. They’re actually pretty unique from each other in the history of the comics, and that shows through here. This is a Peter allowed to show an entire range of emotions, and it was finally the character I loved in the medium I adore.
I know what everyone’s really wondering about, though. Ever since 2004’s revolutionary Spider-Man 2, the big question for every Spidey game has been the webswinging. You can rest your fears easily, folks. Spider-Man absolutely nails it. There’s a momentum and physicality at play here that makes the game feel like it’s always in turbo mode. You move quickly in this game and everything plays into that. The R2 button makes you move with ease. Swing if you’re in the air, run on the side of a building, or sprint on the ground. As long as you have that button held, Spider-Man never has to stop moving. Combined with a few other tricks and skills you’ll learn along the way, you can be rest assured the wind will always be rushing by.
Catching Thieves Just Like Flies
Proper superheroing requires fists to fly, of course, and Spider-Man definitely doesn’t slouch here either. The combat certainly learned from its superhero video game brethren, but it adds just the right Spider-Man flavor. The games keeps combat fast and loose, and allows you to cover ground very quickly. It only ever takes a single button press to close the distance between Spidey and an enemy. That’s a handy thing, because those enemies come fast and frequent. Several enemy types surround a given battle, and the act of juggling every thug feels complex. It never overwhelms, but it requires your constant attention. Death comes in only 3-5 hits in Spider-Man, even up until the end of the game. It joins a very rare company of AAA titles that still respects the player’s abilities.
There’s some stealth as well. It’s not overly deep, but it does allow you to survey the battlefield more closely. There is definitely a rush in clearing a whole room of baddies with them none the wiser, though. Spider-Man has plenty of stealthy perches to zip between, and it never gets old webbing the bad guys up into a cocoon. A suite of gadgets (true to the studio’s lineage), allow for plenty of fun trickery as well.
A Sinister Six
The boss battles are a highlight in this game. One of them will rank amongst the pantheon of great battles this console generation, but all of them will leave your mouth agape. Whether inside a subway train or swinging through the air, the game impresses in its ability to balance cinematography and player agency. There are QTE’s for sure, but many of the fights put your skills to the test and feel like a gruelling battle with a supervillain.
This being an open-world game, there are collectibles and side activities abound. Spider-Man dodges the open-world checklist fatigue, however, thanks to its traversal and integration of “token” rewards. Everything you do in the game rewards varied “tokens” that you’ll need to upgrade your gadgets and unlock new suits. Combined with the narrative interwoven into these activities, it’s a smart ways to keep players engaged with everything on offer.
Mary Jane, Super Spy
It helps that Spider-Man never has you doing the same thing for long. Peter Parker engages in science minigames, for instance. Even Mary Jane has playable segments that are a particular highlight. MJ is a journalist in this reimagined universe, and her stealth segments featuring such a human character contrast very well to the superhero antics of Spider-Man. There are many more surprises along the way, and each is more compelling than the last.
Insomniac Games really knocked it out of the park with their first chance at bat. Their past games almost seem as if they’ve been building this moment for the entire history of the studio. It shows, too. There is a restraint on display here than only a storied developer could manage. Zeroing in on Spider-Man lore, allowing the larger Marvel universe to exist on the periphery, is a bold move that should be applauded. Never in a million years did I think Yuri Watanabe would show up in a game, let alone C-listers like Screwball. There’s a reverence on display for the character and his world that I could have only ever dreamed of.
For Every Type of Spider-Man Fan
It’s easy to call Spider-Man the best Spider-Man game ever made. It’s more difficult to properly articulate just how much of a dream come true it is for fans, but allow me to try. I remember seeing Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man back in 2002 with my father, a colossal movie buff and Spidey fan. I can recall him telling me it was “the movie he’d always dreamed of.” Well Dad, this is the game I’ve always dreamed of.