I have to acknowledge that I am not a big fan of superhero flicks and I barely follow the Marvel cinematic universe. With that being said, Spider-Man for the PlayStation 4 managed to reel me in regardless of my distaste for Marvel movies. In essence, Spider-Man is the direct translation of a superhero film into a game. All the elements are present: big-budget action, quips and banter, and a story that tugs on your heartstrings.
While I find superhero movies boring and repetitive, the interactivity of games makes playing as a hero far more engaging than simply watching one. Swinging about New York City, climbing walls, zipping from point to point, and fighting common thugs just feels natural. Its easy to get into the swing of things as the controls are extremely simple. The accompanying cinematics and animations of Spidey’s swinging, fist-fighting, and web-slinging imbues the sense of heroics. Most of the spectacle is fairly automatic, and you can look stylish just by holding down a button.
I was shocked by just how similar Spider-Man was to a genuine Marvel movie. Granted, I don’t watch a ton of Marvel films but the striking similarities are hard to ignore. Where this was most evident was in the story and writing. It’s about more than just beating up bad-guys, Peter Parker’s personal life takes precedence. His relationships with Aunt May, Miles Morales, Mary Jane, and a few mentor figures is what drives the story. The theme of mentorship is present through the entire game, as Peter is mentored by Dr. Octavius and in turn mentors Miles. The writing itself parallels modern Marvel movies in all facets. The cheesy one-liners and quippy banter permeate less serious scenarios, but there is no shortage of tear-jerking scenes. If you are a fan of Marvel and their cinematic universe, then Spider-Man will be right up your alley.
The gameplay of Spider-Man mostly consists of effortlessly swinging across Manhattan and busting up baddies along the way. Peter is a scientist and develops a horde of gadgets and suits with different powers to assist in combat. Gadgets consist of items such as web-shooters, web-grenades, trip-mines, and drones. You are heavily encouraged to switch gadgets mid-combat and play with different combinations for some effective takedowns. Like webbing enemies with a grenade and then sticking them to the wall using a sonic-blast. Peter also gets access to a variety of suits which are both fashionable and functional. Each suit has an ability such as creating a large explosion around you, summoning a helpful drone, or webbing up all nearby enemies. These abilities are incredibly powerful and as such have a few minute recharge period.
To unlock all of these gadgets and suit powers, the player has to traverse the city and gather a variety of collectibles and complete challenges. From collecting backpacks, to finding lost pigeons, to fighting crime, to completing time-trials, Spider-Man has a ridiculous amount of content to do out in the open world. Doing these tasks provides the player with tokens that will allow them to upgrade their gear. Normally, such a ludicrous number of collectables might be off-putting, but Spider-Man is unique in a way. Just swinging from building to building, fighting crimes and collecting goodies along the way is so enthralling. It is easy to just take a break from the main story and just be a crime fighting hero. The collectables are far from intrusive and they encourage the player to explore and experiment.
The combat of Spider-Man mostly succeeds because of the gadgets and the options they offer. Other than that, the combat just feels automatic. The most effective way of dealing with enemies is to just mash the punch button and press the dodge button whenever the game indicates that something is going to hit you. Sure, it looks cool, but without gadgets Spider-Man lacks depth. Sure, you could use other tactics like throwing objects, using the environment around you, or even use stealth, but in reality, it is just far faster and easier to just beat up the enemies by mashing the square button. The issue lies in the fact that for the vast majority of the game you are fighting the same enemies, just reskinned. The basic grunts of all the different factions the player encounters just get boring and monotonous after the hundredth encounter. I had a blast with the boss fights, but those are mostly concentrated at the beginning and end of the game.
The most pertinent issue with Spider-Man is its reluctance to let you be Spider-Man. A good chunk of the main campaign is filled by missions playing as Mary Jane or Miles Morales. These missions are generally stealth missions where the player is forced to slowly make their way through areas without being seen at all. I like stealth games, but these sections were the most basic and boring stealth that they could have shoehorned in. Playing as Peter was also fairly uneventful and mostly served as expository. As Peter, the player has to solve some incredibly banal puzzles that really had no business existing. Maybe these sections were meant to pad out play time, or perhaps flush out character development. Either way, much of what was accomplished in these missions would have been better served in a short cutscene or a phone call to listen to as you swing through the city.
At its core, Spider-Man has a multitude of different genres and styles that it attempts to appeal to. It is a story-driven, action, stealth, puzzle, collectathon game. Appealing to a broad audience is fine, and as a result I am positive that most people could find some aspect of this game that they like. But in the reverse, that means that most people can find some aspects that they don’t like. Perhaps the game would have been better as more refined experience. I really enjoyed Spider-Man regardless of this, and even though I am not a Marvel fan, I had a blast. It is for these reasons I give Spider-Man an 8/10. Playing as everyone’s favorite friendly neighborhood Spider-Man was immensely satisfying, I just wish the developers realized this and cut-down on the superfluous other aspects.