Empowerment is the feeling you get when you play Marvel’s Spider-Man. From the moment the game switches the first cutscene to third-person gameplay, swinging through an open-world New York feels natural, fluid, and most importantly, fun. Throughout the game’s lengthy campaign, I found myself moved as I experienced a story filled with pain, triumph, and humor. And despite a few aspects of repetition and flawed open-world, Marvel’s Spider-Man is an excellent addition to Sony’s exclusive collection.
Combat is smooth too, perfectly replicating Spider-Man’s flexible fighting style. I could take down thugs how I wanted by mixing up aerial and land attacks, punch and kick combos, spider-gadgets, and special finisher moves. A combat wheel is used to switch gadgets while a skill tree is used to unlock skills I wanted my Spider-Man to specialize in. The many unlockable suits spanning Spider-Man’s history (including as recent as Avengers – Infinity War’s Iron Spider suit) don’t just offer cosmetic change but come with a unique ultimate type ability to deal with foes. There is a sense of freedom by approaching each combat scenario with the many tools at my disposal.
As soon I was given control of Spider-Man, I found myself wallrunning up skyscrapers, swinging through buildings or alleyways, and leaping off rooftops to get to the next exciting destination. I spent hours experimenting with how long I could fall off a building before resuming swinging or how many beams and poles I could hop on without stopping my traversal combo. Movement is fun and exhilarating, with sleek animations for going through the metal beams of water towers or even dodging thugs’ attacks, giving the player the sensation of power and speed.
The same sandbox doesn’t quite extend to villain boss fights, however, as those encounters rely heavily on following a pattern of dodging, hitting a quick time event button, then attacking. Despite this, there is a still a giddy sense of excitement as I dodged Rhino’s charges or hit Scorpion with a punching combo. Occasionally the focus is taken away from Spider-Man to other characters for calming breaks from combat, allowing for environmental storytelling, non-combat stealth segments, and puzzle solving to engage me instead.
The game map, while beautifully rendered by my PS4 Pro, lacked a certain depth compared to an amazing open-world title like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Looking carefully around resulted in the same dressed people walking near each other and same structures popping up again. There was little interaction with the environment, with lobbing objects and interacting with cars or people being the most I could do. Like many open-world games, there are towers that need to be visited to reveal more of the game’s map. They seem unnecessary since major objectives can be seen without unlocking them and there wasn’t more danger in unrevealed areas. Insomniac Games relies on the open-world genre’s tropes without offering much to the genre themselves.
Luckily, there’s more activity in the open-world besides people watching, with optional objectives like finding backpacks, snapping pictures of landmarks, and challenges like disabling bombs. Enjoyment of these objectives will vary. While simple, backpack hunting gave me fascinating information detailing Peter’s past. The research stations contained unique tasks to better the city in significant but sometimes small ways, very much in character for a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. My enjoyment of finding Black Cat’s toy cats or dealing with muggings grew stale towards the middle of my playthrough, especially when that scenario is repeated a number of times with little variation. There seems to be a preference for sprinkling the open-world with more content rather than making experiences unique and memorable.
The main story, however, more than makes up for the repetition. Marvel’s Spider-Man’s narrative features an experienced wall-crawler years into his career. Like any superhero game, fighting crime is front and center, but a focus is placed on Peter’s relationships and day job. The well-acted, cinematic cutscenes expertly balance heavy drama and humor Spidey fans expect and love. The voice acting and facial animation were so well done that I genuinely cared when these fictional characters were struggling and I laughed at the many funny moments. The twists and turns were shocking and made it clear to me by the end of the game that Insomniac Games was given creative freedom by Marvel to tell the story they desired. The end result is a video game narrative could easily be a big budget MCU movie.
As the final cutscene ended and the credits rolled, I had spent many hours swinging around New York, beating up bad guys, and upgrading my abilities to become stronger. If Insomniac Games’ goal was to make the player feel like a superhero, they succeeded many times over. And although there were hiccups in terms of variety and open-world innovation, the slick gameplay and engaging narrative leaves me waiting for the inevitable sequel.