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For anyone who has ever dreamed of swinging through New York City in red-and-white spandex, Marvel’s Spider-Man is here to fulfill that fantasy.
Insomniac Games, known for the Spyro the Dragon and Ratchet & Clank franchises, showed off its latest title to a small group of journalists and gaming insiders in July, allowing hands-on access to the first two hours of the game’s main storyline and free rein in the open world of a Marvel-ized New York City.
The game is a hotly anticipated exclusive title for Sony’s PlayStation 4. If any trepidation was felt by gamers, all should rest assured that, based on this most recent demo, the game delivers on the look, feel and essence of the character.
Immediately evident is game director Bryan Intihar’s grasp of Peter Parker, here aged up slightly from what movie audiences are used to. Rather than a high school student learning to handle his newfound super powers, he’s a 23-year-old recent college grad looking to make an impact in the world outside of just keeping the streets of New York free of crime. Parker’s trademark quips are on display right from the onset, and fears of an older Spidey feeling unfamiliar are instantly abated. In fact, on the contrary, adding a few years to the character is a welcome surprise and allows for a myriad of new stories to be told for everyone’s favorite webslinger.
While this is far from the first Spider-Man game (there have been dozens over the years ranging from “pretty good” to “barely playable”) Insomniac’s version is, hands down, the best translation of the hero’s powers from page or screen to gameplay. The feeling of swinging through New York’s towering concrete jungle is so perfectly captured, so satisfying, that if the game were solely comprised of acrobatically soaring through the air in long arcs it would still warrant paying full price.
Intihar and team did not stop there, however, as the combat system in the game is also thoroughly responsive, deep and gratifying. Combos are easy enough to string together for first-timers but offer enough depth that over the course of the three-hour playthrough, further mastery was attained to the point of making one truly feel like a superhero. Coupled with a stat and leveling system akin to RPGs, the game allows for a surprising amount of customization in the way a player approaches battles with denizens of New York’s seedy underbelly.
Speaking of customization, Marvel’s Spider-Man offers a number of costumes that can be unlocked through the course of the game. From the classic Steve Ditko suit of the 1960s to steampunk, noir and film iterations of the iconic spandex to Insomniac’s very own (and very stylish) take on the webslinger’s threads, fans will have no shortage of digs for Spidey to choose from. What’s more, each costume comes with its own unique ability, but the abilities are not locked to their corresponding suits. In other words, if you like a suit’s power but not its look, you can mix and match.
One surprising detail revealed in the demo (and there were a number, mostly in the narrative, but spoilers are not to be found here) is that Peter Parker is not the only playable character in the new title. Mary Jane Watson — Peter’s ex in the game who, in a slight reversal of roles, is employed by the Daily Bugle as an investigative journalist — will be a controllable character in the game, offering a completely different aspect of gameplay to complement Spider-Man’s swinging, punching and kicking.
Also getting a new, modernized take on their character is everyone’s favorite Spidey critic, J. Jonah Jameson. Known in the comics and films as the publisher and editor-in-chief of the Daily Bugle, in the new game Jameson is a podcaster who hosts a popular conspiracy theory (and decidedly anti-Spider-Man) radio show aimed at bringing “justice” to the masked vigilante. It’s a brilliant, fresh twist on a character that relates him to the current social landscape and one that fits perfectly with the tone of the game and Jameson’s own temperament.
As the game is open world, players can expect a lot of different tasks and missions to await them in the beautifully crafted re-creation of New York City. Police scanners and satellite towers can be recalibrated to reveal new sections of the map, old backpacks can be hunted down for Spidey keepsakes relevant to the plot, hideouts of local thugs can be busted up and, given Peter Parker’s shutterbug history, photos of iconic NYC landmarks can be snapped and shared.
The world crafted by Insomniac Games is truly beautiful, a lushly rendered mashup of Marvel’s version of New York and the fantastical sense of urgency and urban power the real-life Eastern metropolis evokes. Equally stunning is the character rendering, hyper-realistic at times (pores can be seen on characters’ faces) and yet still maintaining that brightly colored, saturated comic book vitality. From Spidey’s suits to villains’ iconic uniforms to a sunset framing the jagged skyline of Manhattan as Parker looks down from the apex of Avengers Tower, the game has a warm, understated allure that draws the player in and beckons them to explore.
Marvel’s Spider-Man will be available for the PlayStation 4 on Sept. 7.
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