I’ve been debating how to start this review, trying out different angles and opening lines, but I’ve decided to keep it simple. It’s a new Spider-Man game, the hype is off the charts from trailers and gameplay footage, it’s been reviewed extremely well, and now I’m reviewing it. Here we go.
Right off the bat, it earns points for not being an origin story: Peter has been a costumed super hero for eight years now, he’s graduated from school, worked at and subsequently quit the Daily Bugle, and now works as a research assistant for one Dr Otto Octavius. Aunt May helps run a homeless shelter called F.E.A.S.T, Mary Jane is an intrepid investigative journalist, and New York is in the vice-like grip of Wilson Fisk, to whom Spidey has been a real nuisance for that eight year stretch. I won’t spoil anything, but the story is excellent; it weaves in some real tragic elements for the characters and offers some interesting new angles for them; Otto as the driven mentor, Fisk as a sort of self-proclaimed bulwark for even worse criminal enterprises, and my personal favourite: badass journo Mary Jane. You control her at several points in the game for shockingly good forced stealth sections, made to compliment the plot and understanding that such sections should be simple, easy and not make you want to tear your hair out. The driving force between her and Peter’s relationship in the game is her frustration at him trying to keep her out of danger when she’s actually a capable investigator who’s been diving headlong into trouble for a while now and coming out without a scratch. I love this take on the character and I was genuinely pleased every time she turned up, doubly so when I got to play as her. Spidey’s other main ally is Captain Yuri Watanabe, basically Peter’s version of Jim Gordon, who’s tired of his dumb jokes but puts up with them because she knows he’s of genuine help to both her and the city. On the villain side of things the usual suspects are present and correct: Rhino, Shocker, Vulture, that kind of thing, with Mr Negative leading the pack. He’s a character I wasn’t familiar with before this game, but he’s an interesting idea: a philanthropist of genuine compassionate character with split personality driven by revenge, with explosive energy powers and an army of hardcore goons in masks. Of course all of that is for naught if Peter himself doesn’t work, but a combination of experience, personal investment in events, good writing and Yuri Lowenthal make him the best Spider-Man I’ve ever seen, hands down. It’s just a really solid Spider-Man story with great versions of established characters, a few risks here and there and a clear love of the source material. Also, J Jonah Jameson has quit the Bugle to host a radio show called “Just the facts” where he yells about how shit Spider-Man is and that’s a goddamn inspired idea.
Now as you can probably imagine, the gameplay owes a lot to the Batman: Arkham series. Melee attacks handled by one button, a button to dodge when an icon appears above the character’s head, enemy-disabling gadgets that can be quick-fired or aimed, and predator-style stealth sections in which you hide in high places and pull guards towards you. Not only does all of that stuff suit Spider-Man just as well as Batman, it actually works better here in a number of ways. Spidey dodging rather than countering gets him out the way to set-up follow up attacks, upgrades can turn dodging into an attack, and certain enemies have specific, explicitly outlined dodge n’ counter tactics that always work, meaning as long as you learn to what to do and your reflexes are good enough you can get out of fights unscathed. That’s not to say fights are all linear and you can only do what the game wants you too: you’re still free to use whatever tactics you want, throw environmental objects at enemies, knock them into the air, web them to walls, all sorts of things. This is all helped out by Spidey’s collection of different webbing types and gadgets, as well as each unlockable suit’s powers, ranging from increased damage or protection to a drone that electrocutes enemies. Powers and suits can be mixed and matched, and suits are easily unlocked through the use of tokens obtained by completing side activities. Said side activities are all worth doing, but the stand-outs for me are helping an absent Harry Osborn keep his environmental research stations up and running, and collecting backpacks; each one containing an item from Peter’s past, with him giving a brief outline on what it is and how it’s connected to the lore. This method of getting across Spidey’s backstory works far better than flashbacks; just give little nuggets of info about those eight years as the wall-crawler, keep the focus on the matters at hand. The stealth is easier than it is in the Arkham games; webbing guards up to high places isn’t limited to certain spots here: any beam, railing or billboard can have a whole squad of goons stuck to it, the game tells you when it’s safe to do a takedown, and the alternative to webbing them up is to instantly zip over to them and knock them out. Personally I prefer the easier approach, the stealth in the Arkham games always started to wear me down over time, and it fits with Spidey’s image of quickly and quietly disabling multiple targets, rather than that whole prolonged “let ’em stew in their fear” thing Bruce goes for. Finally, I’ve kept you waiting long enough, so I’ll address the big issue, and answer the question you’re all asking: the web swinging is phenomenal. Webs actually stick to objects, including trees, so Central Park is a viable option, and Spidey shifts his weight accordingly depending on what they’re attached to. Gaining speed and height, nimbly gliding through gaps in buildings, or leaping over the top of them, it’s all incredibly satisfying. The game actually has a fast travel system complete with cute shots of Spidey taking the subway in costume, but outside of the game forcing me to use it to show it existed, I exclusively swung everywhere. There’s wall-running and a mini web catapult move as well as the iconic wall-crawling, but they exist more to compliment the swinging, which never gets old, and makes getting literally anywhere in this game a treat. That’s what Arkham City was missing; a fun, reliable way to get around the city smoothly and swiftly. Arkham had “Be The Batman”, this is “Be The Amazing Spider-Man”, and it works a treat.
Marvel’s Spider-Man is the new benchmark for superhero games; as fresh, exciting and important to the genre as Arkham Asylum was nine years ago. The inspiration it takes from those games fits the character like a glove, even working better in several ways, its take on established and beloved characters and their world is fantastic, and above all: it made me feel like Spidey. It’s easily the best adaptation of the character I’ve ever seen, and I’m genuinely excited for them to build on this universe in any potential sequels. An amazing game, a spectacular achievement, the ultimate Spider-Man game: I cannot recommend it highly enough.
By James Lambert