Marvel’s Spider-Man Review

Image result for ps4 spiderman

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

Yakuza Kiwami 2 Review

I was really looking forward to this. Apart from 5, which I own but haven’t played yet, Yakuza 2 is the only one in the main series I’ve never played or had the opportunity to play: I jumped from the original straight to Yakuza 3. I’ve heard from a reliable source that it’s the best one, and from what I’ve seen I was all ready for it to be the best Yakuza game I’ve played, or at least the best of this current run. Unfortunately, Kiwami 2 is a mess of highs and lows; great ideas undermined by some mediocre elements and occasionally poor execution.

Having dealt with the fallout from the murder of Sohei Dojima and the missing ten billion yen, Kazuma Kiryu has left the Tojo Clan to live a peaceful civilian life with his adopted daughter Haruka. However, after being gunned down in a cemetery, the clan’s Chairman Yukio Terada implores Kiryu to come back into the fold for a task of utmost importance: travel to Sotenbori, Osaka (last seen in Yakuza 0) and broker a truce with the Omi Alliance, the Tojo’s main rival and Terada’s previous clan. Tagging along at Kiryu’s insistence is Daigo Dojima, son of Sohei and current acting chairman (the term they use despite her being a woman) Yayoi, whom Kiryu believes to be the one man who can keep the clan going, and who had trouble in Osaka five years previously. The truce is struck with chairman Jin Goda, only to be almost immediately undermined by his son Ryuji, a sort of beautiful beige beef mountain who stages a coup, with the two goals of starting an Omi-Tojo war, and killing Kiryu to become the sole Dragon in the entire Yakuza world. See, much like Kiryu’s “Dragon of Dojima” moniker and matching back tat, Ryuji wears a golden dragon and is known as “The Dragon of Kansai”, a title he hates with a passion, due to the implication that there are other dragons out there disputing his status. Now, as a set-up, this is excellent. Kiryu venturing into enemy territory, on a mission the Tojo higher-ups reckon may well kill him, with the promise of safe passage stolen by a coup headed up by a powerful, intimidating fellow Dragon. Unfortunately this is spoilt when, after a boss fight with Ryuji, Daigo and Jin Goda flee back to Kamurocho, and throughout the story Kiryu travels between the two locations as he pleases. See, the game isn’t really about the Omi Alliance and a potential truce, that’s just a framing device. The game is actually about the Jingweon Mafia; a Korean organised crime group seeking revenge for the Tojo clan wiping almost all of them out years prior. Seeing as the two men responsible for the massacre, Kiryu’s adoptive father Kazama and Majima’s old boss Shimano are both dead at this point, the Jingweon are planning much delayed revenge on Kamurocho as a whole. They’re less an organised crime group and more a sort of psychotic death cult; clad in a uniform of black fatigues and heavy boots, packing knives, treating any slight against their honour as an offence worthy of death, and willing to die themselves rather than act in any way against the clan, they pose a physical threat unlike that of the Yakuza and thugs Kiryu normally deals with. Unfortunately, they don’t have anything else going on besides that threat; the only interesting thing about them is the effect they’ve had on several key characters in the plot, and how those characters behave in response to the massacre and the current state of the Jingweon. Chief among them is Detective “Killer” Kawara, a cop on the edge of the law with a grudge against the group, and naming anyone else would spoil the best parts of the story. While I’m pointing out flaws, however, the actual massacre is shown repeatedly throughout the story with extra information added each time to the point where it starts to make less and less sense. More and more people are revealed to have survived, one of them is a character that other characters know and interact with in later life but apparently never recognise, and the fact that the most interesting characters related to the Jingweon do not include any of its members is a damning indictment of the gang as a whole. There are some good new characters though, the best two being the “Yakuza Huntress” detective Kaoru Sayama, who puts Kiryu into protective custody and, pleasingly, straightaway realises that her best course of action is to team up with Kiryu and help him out, rather than stop him doing anything illegal. Female characters don’t have key roles in Yakuza games often outside of Haruka, but Sayama’s great; strong and driven, but with a softer side making her more well-rounded. Her interactions with Kiryu are some of the strongest character moments in the game. The other is new best boy Ryuji Goda, who despite being in the game for only a short time, stole the show for me. A hulking great blonde bruiser in a beige suit, with sweet sideburns who brings a Katana to a fist fight and gives Kiryu a hard time. Maybe I’m biased because I fancy him, but I really like him as an antagonist. Ahem. Anyway, the game’s plot suffers because of its focus on the Jingweon, but its core group of characters are all well-written and have enough depth to keep it interesting. It’s less focused than other games in the series, but it’s still enjoyable. Oh also, Majima runs a construction company now, and isn’t in the game much either. He has one scene where he exhausts himself kicking the shit out a load of Go-Ryu clan goons (Ryuji’s men), and apparently that’s his promise to help out the Tojo kept. Said Go-Ryu launch an invasion of Kamurocho late in the game, and it manifests as two civilians being harassed and a fight at club stardust. As I said before, the Omi don’t have much of a foothold in this story.

Speaking of Majima, he has a side-story unique to this version of the game. It’s over in a flash, but it does have two important story elements: another meeting with Yakuza 0’s Makoto, and an explanation for Majima’s break away from the Tojo to the construction business, an explanation that contradicts the one he gives to Kiryu in the main story. That’s about it, really. It’s a nice little addition but doesn’t offer much of any real substance.

Gameplay wise it’s Yakuza 6, but with some of that game’s anti-frustration features taken out. The more free-flowing, streamlined combat system is back, with the same limitations on heat moves, same stat systems and extreme heat mode, although that has to be both learned and bought, which the game neglected to tell me. Carried over from the original Yakuza 2 is the unique “Feel the heat” system whereby upon dealing enough damage to a boss Kiryu does a DBZ power up pose and you have to mash square, then press triangle to do a finishing move, of which there are about four total. The features it removes from 6 are bosses only having one health bar, and in some cases bosses not having bullshit attacks that track, have dodgy hitboxes and interrupt combos. It’s not as bad as it has been in previous games and neither are the multiple health bars, but after how bosses worked in 6 it feels like an step down, at least for me. I suppose the fact that it’s a remake of an existing game explains it, but they changed the core combat, so it’s not like they had to keep everything the same. Outside of the combat the side stories didn’t grab me in the way 6’s did, there’s another cabaret club management minigame I do intend to go back and do at some point, and that big dumb RTS game from 6 is back, only this time you’re controlling Majima Construction. I have no intention of ever going back to that.

Overall, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is something of a mixed bag, and that’s disappointing. Everything good about the gameplay was done better in 6, the story is messy and every interesting or enjoyable character or plot beat comes in spite of everything, and it’s poorly paced. Not as good as 6 or Kiwami, on par with 0 for me. I’m glad I played it, I definitely enjoyed it, but it’s still disappointing.

By James Lambert