Superheroes have been a dominant force in cinema for years, hitting peak zeitgeist earlier this year after the release of a certain film. Infinity something? I think it did alright at the box office. What’s strange is that this popularity has never completely transitioned to mainstream gaming despite being a seemingly perfect fit. Even stranger when you consider how much of a staple one costumed crusader has been in gaming. Spider-Man has spawned some of gamers’ fondest memories, namely 2004’s superhero benchmark Spider-Man 2. But recent iterations of the wall crawling arachnid have failed to deliver quality. Can Insomniac’s triple A attempt buck the trend?
One major difference is that the game, thankfully, doesn’t bother with another rehash of the Spidey origin story. Radioactive spider and dead Uncle Ben, we’ve seen it a million times before. Instead we jump ahead 8 years, where we meet an adult Peter Parker who’s now a veteran vigilante. We get to skip the nerdy Peter learning his powers and get thrown right into the action, resulting in a more interesting experience both narratively and from a gameplay perspective.
The game is just as much about Peter as it is about his web-slinging alter ego and, although some of the mini games whilst playing from him can get dull, the writing and acting is good enough to keep the player engrossed. Of course we’re also joined by familiar faces like MJ, Aunt May and Miles Morales but the unique setting and timeline keeps things fresh and engaging. Peter’s trademark humour helps keep things cartoony and light, whilst a roaring score compliments the game’s more epic moments. All in all the final product delivers everything we love about the comics.
Sadly the game’s fabulous plot is let down by an open world that can at first seem somewhat lacklustre. Despite being beautifully crafted and detailed, Insomniac’s vision of New York can come across as a bit vapid due to the monotony of the side activities at the players disposal. There’s a lot of content on offer here, but much of it boils down to the usual sandbox tropes such as fetch quests, radio towers and fighting enemies. So it’s testament to just how balanced and fun the gameplay is that even after hours of doing the same old stuff, players can still get plenty of enjoyment out of exploring The Big Apple. The game’s RPG elements, such as upgradable gadgets, learnable skills and a host of new suits, means treading off the beaten path is not only enjoyable but rewarding.
Combat does nothing new, using the typical dodge and attack system popularised by the Batman Arkham and Shadow of Mordor series. Mix this with a swathe of acrobatic animations and the player really feels like crime fighting web head. However the star of the show has to be the game’s traversal mechanics. Based around an ethos of constant momentum, the speed swinging, web zipping and wall crawling all feel concise. It’s simple to use but very satisfying when mastered. Seamless transition between cutscenes and gameplay only adds to what is an incredible, cinematic tone.
Spider-Man is far from being the perfect game, falling over the same hurdles as many other open world titles. However it could mark the beginning of a new era of superhero games, perfectly embodying what it means to be your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man.
Image: Spider-man / Insomniac Games