PlayStation 4
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Game Info:

Marvel's Spider-Man
Developed By: Insomniac Games
Published By: Sony Interactive Entertainment, Marvel
Released: September 7, 2018
Available On: PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
ESRB Rating: T for Violence, Blood, Drug Reference, Language
Number of Players: 1
Price: $59.99 new, $79.99 Digital Deluxe Edition 
(Amazon Affiliate Link)

Spider-Man has been one of the most prolific and popular superheroes for Marvel since his inception, and that has spun off into him appearing in dozens of video games. Since the medium became popular, he's been the main character in several of them just in the past 15 years or so. Given that he’s been everywhere lately—cartoon shows, comics, movies, video games—you would think that Marvel would take his popularity for granted, and that licensed games starring him would be rushed and sub-par, with plenty of glitches and a bad plot. When it comes to Marvel’s Spider-Man—Insomniac Games’ newest title, developed exclusively for the PlayStation 4—you’d be wrong.

Given that Spider-Man’s a superhero, his games have almost always revolved around combat and taking down supervillains while New York City ends up the victim of some nefarious plot or other, and this game is no different. However, the quality of the experience, as well as the sheer amount of content available, is what really makes this game stand out from the pack.

The basic “flow” of the game reminds one somewhat of the Batman: Arkham series, especially the later ones that were more open-world. As with most other Spider-Man games, you’re free to explore the entire island of Manhattan, story missions are highlighted on the map, and there are various other side missions, tasks, and collectibles to find/complete. However, the core mechanic of the game is combat, and it’s here that the game borrows from the Arkham series the most. Combat in this game is basically a quicker, more “jumpy” kind of Arkham combat—whereas Batman in those games mostly did a few flips and fought criminals on some relatively small, flat surfaces, Spider-Man’s fights are bigger, take place over larger, more varied areas, and involve him zipping back and forth all over the place with his webs whilst taking out bad guys. As a testament to Insomniac’s genius, however, even with the size of these fights, you very rarely have camera issues or “lose your place”—a minimap clearly marks all nearby enemies, and you can press a button to “web zip” to a nearby enemy instead of having to look around for them.

As Spider-Man, you feel like a formidable foe (as you should), but as with the Arkham games, you’re not an invincible tank. If you go zipping into a group of 10 guys and try to trade punches with them, you’ll end up dead in no time, even on “Friendly”, the game’s version of Easy. (That said, there was a Very Easy mode—“Friendly Neighborhood”—added in a patch at some point when I had already nearly finished the game, so I’m not sure how much this combat description applies to the lowest difficulty setting.) The crux of the combat involves getting in some punches, using your gadgets to help take down foes and clear out crowds easier, and dodging out of the way before you’re overwhelmed—just like the Arkham games, you get a clear indicator (the classic “Spider Sense” symbols around your head) when you’re about to take a hit, and you have a short window in which to press the circle button to dodge or your health meter takes a hit.

This is where the combat similarity with the Arkham series ends, however. Insomniac has added many new or different aspects to the combat, the most important of which is a “focus” meter. As you take down enemies, your focus meter builds up—initially you have just one bar, but you can unlock more “bars” of focus as you progress through the game. Once you get focus, if you’re getting low on health you can immediately “drain” that focus and replenish some of your health, OR you can use a bar of focus to perform an instant takedown of a nearby “normal” enemy. (Unlike many combat or shooter games, you don’t automatically regenerate your health just by ducking out of the fight for 10 seconds or so.) This presents an interesting balance—do you focus more on getting things done quick, or carefully? Both play styles can be equally effective, so it’s completely up to the player. Stealth takedowns are usually initially an option for large fights, but it’s not something you can practically use for a long period of time, unlike the Arkham games. During some unique sequences, quicktime events are used, but they’re rare and make sense when they are used, so I don’t have a problem with them.

Marvel's Spider-Man
Highlights:

Strong Points: Tight, precise controls; fantastic gameplay, with everything serving a purpose by improving your character; mind-blowing graphics; great story and acting; lots of playtime for your money; Spider-Man is (mostly) a paragon of virtue and a good role model
Weak Points: Some side missions seem like odd, boring tasks to bother a superhero with; if you only play the main story your character will be very underpowered by the end of the game; some missions are difficult even on easy
Moral Warnings: Sporadic cursing (the worst being “s**t” and “g*d d**n”); violence with some minor blood (bruises and scrapes); minor innuendo

As you’d expect, there are many different possible combos you can pull off in a game like this—in fact, so many I usually tended to focus on about the same five or so unless there was a secondary objective that pushed me to do something else (more on those later). You need to vary up your attacks a little depending upon the situation—there is no button spamming here—but the game doesn’t force you to memorize all of its 30+ moves just to do well, thankfully. (That said, all you need to do is go to the in-game menu and all of your moves are clearly spelled out, as well as what each one does—and you can pause the game even in mid-punch to look.) You WILL need to memorize the different kinds of enemies’ weaknesses, however—some familiar to those who played the Arkham games, some not. For enemies with stun batons, you’ll need to hold down the square button to do a hard punch to lift them up into the air, then jump up and defy gravity to take care of them before they hit the ground again. (It should be noted that the combat system rewards you more focus for stylized and aerial takedowns.) There’s also enemies with shields that require you to slip under and attack them from the back, big brutes, enemies with rocket launchers or massive rotary guns, flying enemies, armored enemies—quite a variety, all of which require different tactics.

Additionally, you can also use the environment to your advantage—taking a sewer cover or generator, swinging it around with a web, and throwing it at an enemy is a good way to hit them from far away. Various gadgets will also become unlocked that will allow you to take care of thugs in increasingly interesting ways, from the obvious (like webbing them up so they can’t move) to more advanced gadgets (like electrifying enemies with currents that spread to other nearby enemies, stunning them; gadgets that temporarily lift up groups of enemies in the air, either taking them out of the picture until you can “deal with them” later or making them prime targets for aerial attacks; and even little robot spider-helpers that can help distract and do minor damage to your enemies, as well). All gadgets have a certain number of uses before they have to recharge, and you can get those charges back by either taking out enemies creatively or just waiting—this encourages you not to rely too heavily on gadgets or just web up everyone.

Of course, combat isn’t all you do in this game; you can web-zip around all of Manhattan, and the controls are quite precise, with the web-swinging mechanics having never felt better (and I’ve played all of the major Spider-Man games of the last decade). Beyond simply throwing out a web line, swinging on it like a pendulum, and then throwing out yet another as you fling across the Manhattan cityscape, the game auto-targets certain “perch points” that you can swing to and then leap off of, gaining more speed. You can also zip out additional lines to nearby buildings to keep swinging in between “gaps” in between skyscrapers without losing much altitude; run up and across building walls; and more, with more moves unlocked as you progress. Simply traversing around Manhattan can be quite fun, though even towards the end of the game I would occasionally target a building I didn’t want to or the game would have me cling to the side of a building when I wanted to jump off—this isn’t normally a problem unless you’re under a strict timer (which rarely happens), and is a side effect of you zipping around so fast, but it is worth mentioning as a minor annoyance.

Now, I’ve been talking a lot about gadgets, abilities, and special moves unlocking repeatedly, and yes, this game does have a RPG-lite system in that you level up, spend skill points on various trees to unlock new abilities, and gain a bit more in your basic statistics (speed, power) as you continue to level up, with your level cap being 50 (which you will only hit near the end of the game if you’ve been doing every side task). How do you get this experience? Well, this is where the true genius of the game comes in—no side quest or collectible, and I mean none, do you complete in this game simply to get 100%, a trophy, or unlock something like development art. Every single thing you do in this game serves a purpose in terms of improving Spider-Man in one way or another.

As far as “normal” XP for improving your basic stats: completing missions unlocks XP, as well as completing various “milestones”, which anyone who has played a multiplayer shooter will be familiar with (i.e., Run up a wall for 5000 total meters to unlock 50 XP, 15000 meters to unlock 150 XP, etc.). More unique to this game are “tokens”, which are used to do things like purchase and level up your gadgets, purchase myriad new suits and special abilities, and up your resistances to certain kinds of damage. Every kind of collectible or side mission has a certain kind of “token”. For instance, you have backpacks hidden around the city that are your typical collectible, with a unique piece of Spider-Man’s history hidden inside each that also gives you a backpack token. (Once you activate the relay stations in each district they display the location of anything of import, so you don’t have to worry about tearing your hair out looking for that last collectible you can’t seem to find.) You also have crime tokens, which are achieved by stopping randomly-occurring crimes around the city (most of which have secondary objectives—such as “Web 5 enemies to a wall”—that will gain you additional crime tokens). There are also landmark tokens (gotten for taking pictures of certain landmarks), challenge tokens (gotten for completing certain challenges given to you later in the game), base tokens (which involve you fighting off multiple waves of enemies in a certain location—these also have secondary objectives), and research station tokens (which involve wildly varying tasks).

Marvel's Spider-Man
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 94%
Gameplay - 18/20
Graphics - 10/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 4/5

Morality Score - 69%
Violence - 4/10
Language - 5/10
Sexual Content - 5.5/10
Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10
+3 Delivers a good moral lesson

Nearly all of the upgrades and suits require a unique mix of tokens to purchase—for example, 6 backpack and 4 challenge tokens, or 2 base and 6 landmark tokens—which encourages you to do secondary objectives during the game instead of saving them all for the end. This is an ingenious idea that encourages the player to really explore the open world—however, on the downside, if you just want to play through the story, this may not be the game for you, as the game will get much more difficult as you progress if you refuse to get the requirements to purchase a fair number of upgrades. That said, the game’s biggest challenges are left to these secondary objectives. Clearing out bases can be quite challenging, even on easy, as you progress—usually the checkpoints for this game are rather forgiving, but if you die even on the 6th (final) wave of enemies in a base, you have to start all the way at the beginning again, which can be annoying given the time sink some bases can be.

Challenge tokens can also be difficult to obtain en masse—there are three “levels” of achievement for each (bronze, silver, and gold), and silver levels are already very difficult to get, with the golds seeming nigh-impossible for pretty much every challenge, even on easy. (That said, I still encourage you to at least get a bronze on each challenge—that, at least, is usually pretty easy—as once you complete every challenge, you get into a unique boss fight with a supervillain that does not otherwise show up in the normal story path of the game.)

Research station tokens, though relatively easy to obtain, are the weakest and generally least fun of the various collectible tokens to get. Some involve unique circuitry or spectrum analysis puzzles which can be quite fun—though they’re completely different from your normal gameplay and more what you would expect from a simple puzzle game (you can select at the beginning of the game to skip them altogether)—while most involve rather odd, repetitive tasks that you don’t think Spider-Man would be doing, such as regulating water pressure spikes throughout the city, chasing pigeons for a homeless guy, swinging into smog clouds to check their toxicity, or even checking the alkalinity of lakes. It seems that for the most part, research station tokens were a “bottom of the ideas barrel” kind of thing.

Beyond playing as Spider-Man, there are a few story missions where you play as Mary Jane Watson and one other character whom I won’t spoil. Of course, MJ (and this other character) don’t have any powers, and their story missions involve rather formulaic stealth segments where you have to keep out of enemies’ fields of vision, cause a few distractions to make enemies look the other way, and sometimes hack a few computers to get to your goal. Unfortunately, compared to the rest of the game, these segments feel rather dull and too slow-paced—not to mention it’s not entirely clear when an enemy can see you and when they can’t sometimes, which can get a little annoying. One false step and you’re dead, though the checkpoints are pretty generous.

Alright, enough about gameplay. How does the game look? To borrow a phrase commonly associated with Spider-Man, amazing. Insomniac takes full advantage of the PS4’s graphical capabilities, with even 4K resolution available for those TVs that have it. The textures of each of Spider-Man’s dozens of available suits are incredibly well done, with you able to see even the individual thread weave of each suit, and as Peter Parker he looks just shy of real. The other human characters—Aunt May, Mary Jane Watson, etc. all look very close to real, and that includes a bittersweet cameo by Stan Lee (in light of his recent death). There are certain story moments where you have to “slow down” as Peter Parker and just walk around places—you can go straight up to your objective and engage them, or you can talk to the several other people in the building standing around, whose models all look almost as good as Peter’s. The faces are capable of giving off real emotion, and I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t looking at a special cinematic engine but cutscenes rendered in-game just like everything else.

Additionally, for the first time in a Spider-Man game, when you’re swinging around New York City it feels alive. There are people walking around everywhere, congested traffic—it looks like New York City, in other words, not an oddly abandoned city with only a few people and cars around like in previous Spider-Man games. Even going up to buildings at night, you can see through the windows into the buildings—in fact, one side mission even has you tracking someone inside a building from the outside! Swinging around at a low altitude and seeing just how many people and cars zip by really makes you appreciate how much time Insomniac took in developing this version of NYC. This very much looks like an inhabited, bustling metropolis. The voice acting is also top-notch with grade-A actors, and the sounds are all realistic and sound great, especially in surround-sound. The music—while not mind-blowing—is quite good and very much what you would expect from a superhero game. The soundtrack is also context-based, so it seamlessly gathers momentum as you enter combat or launch yourself off a building to zip around the city.

Marvel's Spider-Man

The story is also nothing to sneeze at. There are a few “superhero video game tropes” thrown in (jail break, villains teaming up—really, what superhero game DOESN’T have one of those?), but the motivations of any remotely major character are shown clearly, and there are some genuine surprises even for Spider-Man fans of the highest caliber. Just to be clear, this IS a new Spider-Man continuity—it’s not based off of the movies or the comics or anything—and the writers assume you’re already familiar with Spider-Man’s origin story and the basic characters, like Aunt May (you don’t have to go through that story yet ANOTHER time, thank goodness). The writers are very good at taking the familiar and mixing it up into something that respects the source material, but is quite new—not an easy feat, given how many different Spider-Man continuities there are now. Small extras like newspapers and J. Jonah Jameson podcasts also help expand upon certain plot points. There’s also great set pieces, with a fight against Vulture and Electro—at the same time—being my favorite boss fight, chaotic and awe-inspiring in all the right ways. Chasing Shocker around town is also great fun, and like in the Batman: Arkham games, there are some “mind trip” segments that are weird in a fun way and help break up the usual Manhattan environments.

My favorite part of the storyline, though, involves a certain major Spider-Man antagonist over the years that, at the beginning of this story, is actually one of Spider-Man’s most admired individuals. As soon as you hear his name and realize who he is, you KNOW the path he’s going to go down, you KNOW he’s going to become a supervillain—but his journey there is very gradual, unique to this continuity, and quite understandable. It shows what happens when someone becomes so focused on justice and personal revenge that he himself becomes a monster. Spider-Man himself stays quite the “white knight” throughout the story, though, nearly always making the right decision (or owning up to it if he makes a mistake). It may be a rather cliché sentiment that “with great power comes great responsibility” by this point, but that doesn’t make it any less true, and Spider-Man has to make many difficult decisions throughout the story.

The ending is particularly well-done, with excellent, heartfelt dialogue, great choreography, and incredible acting. I am not one who lets games get to me emotionally—over the hundreds of games I’ve played in my lifetime, I think I’ve only actually wept a little at the end of two of them—and though the ending didn’t quite get me to shed a few tears, I was pretty close. You really see how difficult it can be to make the right decision, but Peter Parker does it anyway, at great personal cost. The ending is no cliffhanger, but it does leave MANY minor threads left hanging, hinting at what is surely an inevitable sequel, given how well this title sold.

This wouldn’t be a CCG review without mentioning controversial/moral issues, and there are a few, although they’re nothing outside the bounds of a Marvel PG-13 movie. Of course, as Spider-Man you’re punching out a ton of bad guys and supervillains, but Spider-Man’s personal ethics make sure you never kill anyone. This is not to say that people don’t die in the game, but it is never (directly or purposefully) your fault. The most graphic violence you will ever see onscreen are cuts, bruises, and a few drops of blood, with the occasional gruesome act (such as a bad guy getting crushed by something heavy or a suicide bomb going off) being implied offscreen. There is some cursing, but it is used sporadically throughout the game, and mostly consists of lower-level curse words like “d**n” and “c**p”. That said, moderate- to upper-level curse words “s**t” and “g*d d**n” were each used once, which was a little disappointing. Regarding sexual content, you have the usual superhero form-fitting outfits, and one of Spider-Man’s alternate suits is him in just a mask and boxers—obviously partially made for comedic purposes, but probably also meant to be a bit of “eye candy” for female players. Nothing too bad, though. As for sorcery/supernatural material or anything like that, it’s never so much as mentioned in the main story, though one gang is called the “Demons”, and they wear Japanese Demon masks. You also fight a demon in Mr. Negative’s mind, though it’s strongly implied this is metaphorical and not actual demonic possession. Additionally one of Spider-Man’s alternate suits looks like he’s merged with Ghost Rider—he has a skull for a face that’s surrounded by ethereal fire, and honestly looks rather creepy. I’m not sure what the story is behind this particular suit, but it feels so “off" compared to all the other Spider-Suits I wish it hadn’t been included.

Regarding a few other minor issues: The controls for the game aren’t customizable, but with how many combos and the like you can do, added to the fact that this game was made only for the PS4, it’s not really going to affect anyone who is able to handle a normal game controller. Additionally, though Insomniac is known for making very solid, playable games, there are a few very minor glitches. Occasionally a backpack collectible I was looking for just wouldn’t show up visually—I could only tell I was near it by seeing the button prompt to pick it up on the screen. Now and then a specific power may not work as well—I often used as my special suit power something that made me temporarily invincible, but now and again it just didn’t work. Still, these are rare, minor annoyances at best, and nothing remotely game-breaking. There is also a “New Game Plus” mode added in post-launch via a patch, but other than taking some of your experience and upgrades into the story all over again, it doesn’t really add much other than making some of the higher difficulties a little easier.

My review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning “The City That Never Sleeps” DLC story expansions, which are available on the PS Store at $10 for each of the three, or $25 for a “Season Pass” for all three (and really, if you’re going to get one, you might as well get all of them, since they’re all part of the same story arc). This DLC is also available as part of the “Digital Deluxe Edition”. As is unfortunately the norm with DLC, you don’t get nearly as good of a bargain for your money as with the main game—whereas the main game can take 50+ hours to get 100% on, each of these 3 DLC expansions should take you anywhere from 2-6 hours to complete, depending upon how many of the tasks you choose to do and how often you fail a mission. The story is fairly solid, though it never reaches the heights of the main game, and the ending is a little too quick and anticlimactic. Additionally, the DLC includes one moral issue that the main game doesn’t have, and that’s revealing that Spider-Man apparently had slept with the Black Cat (a professional thief, if you didn’t know) at least once in the past. At first he feels bad about it given his current relationship with Mary Jane (who he is apparently living with now, despite them not being married), but then she reveals that she has had multiple partners in the past. Given how often Peter Parker is—again—the “White Knight” in this story, this seems like a huge amoral oversight for him, and it’s particularly bad since his conversation with MJ about the subject essentially leads to the conclusion “it’s okay, everyone sleeps around”. There is also some minor sexual innuendo regarding this issue, but it’s pretty tame overall. The DLC also solves only one hanging plot thread from the main story while introducing two more—thus, unless you can’t get enough of this game, I would not recommend buying the DLC, at least until you find it on discount.

Overall, Marvel’s Spider-Man is another excellently done, well-polished game from Insomniac, with incredible graphics, an addictive storyline, new twists on old characters, great sound, and tight controls. The gameplay makes sure everything you do serves a purpose, and we finally have a Manhattan for Spider-Man to swing around in that feels real. If you own a PS4, I’d wholeheartedly recommend this game to anyone who is old/mature enough to watch the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies; they—and you—will almost assuredly love it.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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