Insomniac has been praised for delivering what some consider to be the best comic-book video game of all time. So does Spider-Man PS4 live up to the hype?
As a veteran gamer who started with the original NES, I’ve played a lot of retro gaming. My first experience with a comic-book video game was Wolverine on the NES. A clunky platformer, Wolverine was just awful.
My experience wasn’t much better on the Super Nintendo. Batman Returns was treated to a Final Fight style beat-’em-up, whilst Spider-Man and the X-Men teamed up for a game consisting of several sub games in which you could control various characters in different environments – none of which were particularly well polished.
It wasn’t until the PS2 came along that we started to get superhero games that started to genuinely nail the feel of comic books. Spider-Man 2 and Ultimate Spider-Man both gave gamers the opportunity to swing through New York in an open sand box. While both games look dated by today’s standards, they were incredibly impressive at the time.
Marvel’s Spider-Man is not only a spiritual successor to those early games. It builds on them.
Underneath all the gloss, the same basic mechanics are at work in both this title and Spider-Man 2. In both games there are a number of collectable items hidden around the city; the combat is somewhat similar; there are small groups of criminals for you to defeat scattered throughout the city, mini-quests and even the ability to drop onto a car.
This time round though the presentation of those game mechanics is so finely polished it feels like the video game equivalent of jumping from a guitar to an electric guitar.
And that’s what makes Spider-Man shine: the little touches. Details such as seeing Spider-Man swing through a pipe in a construction-site, or noticing that you can see through the windows on buildings. It keeps the game feeling fresh. At times the level of detail in the cityscape is so phenomenal that you can find yourself spending hours just exploring and uncovering easter eggs.
While creating an immersive environment is essential for a superhero video game, it’s even more important to nail the characterisation. With fifty years of comic-book history, films and cartoons to draw inspiration from, you would think it would be near impossible to please everyone.
Yet Insomniac has nailed this too.
Spider-Man also has multiple un-lockable costumes, referencing various iterations of the character from the comics and films. There are also several backpacks hidden throughout New York, each with an item of sentimental value to Peter. Now some of these are mundane items like a University ID card, but others reference off-screen adventures or part of the lore of the character.
There are so many touches that not only help build Spider-Man up as a character but also make the world feel lived in. This isn’t a Spider-Man starting out on his first adventure. And that’s a good thing. Insomniac has left plenty of space for sequels and prequels, which will undoubtedly appear in the years to come.
Voice acting done right
Yuri Lowenthal has a list of voice credits a mile long, but has never really become a household name. It’s Yuri’s voice-acting that not only brings Spider-Man to life but cements this game as a bona fide classic.
Yuri actually recorded several lines of dialogue twice. There’s a standard version of a line and a variation that is played whilst web slinging, in which Peter sounds more out of breath.
More to the point, Yuri captures the heart of Peter better than any film adaptation to date. Peter is a genuinely likeable guy. He may be witty, but not in a way that makes him obnoxious. This is a Spider-Man that cares about the people around him he’ll try to help others when he can.
So the city looks incredible, the voice acting is on point and the characterisation is flawless, but what about the combat?
Once again, Insomniac delivers. Spider-Man moves exactly like he should. He’s agile and has numerous web-based attacks at his disposal. You can use webbing to snatch a weapon, web up a crook or simply give them a beat down with a wide range of combat moves at your disposal.
On top of this, you’ll find a great number of ways in which you can clear out an area, whether it be with stealth or as a brawler. The options can seem endless.
Spider-Man PS4 Verdict
Several elements for Spider-Man have been adopted from a variety of video games. Dealing with petty crimes for the police is reminiscent of Arkham Knight; much of the open sandbox elements have been seen in games like Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row.
But what makes things shine this time around is all down to presentation. Everything is done to service the key objective of creating a definitive version of Spider-Man. And Insomniac has succeeded.
If there is any criticism that I can level at this game, it would be that at certain points the game switches control to another character in the interest of storytelling. During these points you may find yourself simply wanting to get back to web-slinging. This however is by no means a deal breaker, more a minor niggle.
Overall, Spider-Man PS4 is an essential buy – especially for anyone who is a fan of the character.
This is a landmark game, but it’s ultimately not the impressive game mechanics or graphics that make it one of the best comic-book video games of all time. What makes this game succeed is the way it successfully fleshes out Spider-Man. When you buy into this incarnation of Peter Parker, empathise with him and swing through New York, it becomes clear why this is a landmark video game and one that has set a very high bar to swing above.