HEAT VISION

'Marvel's Spider-Man': Game Review

Insomniac Games delivers the best Spidey experience yet.
Courtesy of Sony
Insomniac Games delivers the best Spidey experience yet.

Video games, being an interactive medium, rely strongly on feel. Gamers control the characters in the stories they are witnessing, and thus conveying emotions through tactile feeling is of utmost importance to fully engage the audience. Marvel's Spider-Man, which allows players to suit up as one of the most iconic superheroes in history, successfully accomplishes this feat in a way few other titles have been able to.

Insomniac Games, best known for the Spyro the Dragon and Ratchet & Clank franchises, teams with Marvel to bring everyone's favorite web-head to the PS4. What they achieve is something that should be applauded as the single best representation of the hero in gaming to date. 

Spidey, of course, is no stranger to video games. The character's unique powers lend themselves to gameplay, with fans worldwide eager to try their own hand at swinging through the towering concrete jungle of New York City and acrobatically taking down thugs that plague the Big Apple. Director Bryan Intihar and his team have fully delivered on even the most hard-core Spider-Man fan's wish list in terms of web-slinging. Just how perfectly the mechanics of launching through tight alleyways, performing "point launches" off of skyscraping vantage points and deftly maneuvering across the rooftops of the country's largest city is hard to convey without a controller in hand. Suffice it to say, Insomniac has nailed it.

Of course, web-slinging is only one facet of the character, and combat is equally as rich and fully realized. As players progress through the story and open world — acquiring various tokens for completing a multitude of tasks that range from clearing out gang hideouts, performing research projects for Dr. Otto Octavius and Harry Osborne or simply tracking down pigeons for a jovial fellow New Yorker — new abilities are unlocked that help deepen combat, traversal and customization of Spidey's suit. 

For true fans of Spider-lore, Insomniac has crammed in dozens of suits from across the character's long history and a staggering amount of nods and Easter eggs to various other Marvel properties throughout the game, which helps round out an already impressively immersive in-game universe.

The re-creation of Manhattan, while (obviously?) not a direct 1:1 representation, is large, meticulously detailed (while climbing over glass windows in certain light, Spider-Man's reflection can be seen underfoot) and a true playground for the hero's specific powers. The game is big and absolutely jam-packed with side quests and activities outside of the main narrative.

As for the game's central plot, Intihar and team have crafted a fresh superhero tale that takes a number of unexpected turns as it progresses. While much criticism has been laid on past comic book adaptations for shoehorning multiple villains into a single story, Marvel's Spider-Man finds a way to deftly introduce a veritable murderer's row of famous baddies from the web-slinger's roster, and each one is provided with ample screen time.

Chief among them in this adventure is the relatively new character of Mr. Negative (who first appeared in comics just over a decade ago) and his "demon" henchmen. These masked marauders have taken to supplanting former crime boss Wilson "Kingpin" Fisk following the game's opening, and players can expect to fight literally hundreds of them throughout the game. 

Mr. Negative and his cronies are a satisfying threat to NYC and Spidey, but after the 10th fight with the same three to four character models, the combat can grow a little stale. Luckily, the narrative underneath keeps the game engrossing from start to finish, even if some of the more expository dialogue can be clunky at times.

Where the game really grinds to a halt, however, is when control is switched from Spidey to other playable characters, such as Mary Jane Watson. Here, the famous comic character is portrayed as a budding investigative journalist, which provides multiple scenarios in which she and Parker can cross paths in very, very dangerous situations. While some of the Mary Jane sequences find unique ways to play with stealth machanics (the highlight being a segment in Grand Central Station in the game's second act), it is jarring to go from a superpowered character who can pull helicopters from the sky to a mission in which you must avoid toppling cardboard boxes. The effort should be applauded, as once again it deepens an already fully fleshed-out world, but players may find themselves disappointed when the game inevitably switches control away from Spidey to non-supe characters.

Overall, Insomniac Games has created a gorgeous, intricately made game that stands alone atop the pantheon of Spider-Man video games. Already touted as a console seller for the PlayStation 4 (where it is available exclusively), Marvel's Spider-Man will undoubtedly satisfy any tingling Spider-Sense fans have. 

Marvel's Spider-Man is available for the PlayStation 4 on Sept. 7.

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