Insomniac Games has already proven highly capable when it comes to helming a gaming franchise. From Ratchet & Clank to Resistance, the Burbank-based developer has given PlayStation some of its most thoughtful and inventive gaming universes. It’s therefore no surprise that Insomniac’s first shot at an open-world Marvel-branded superhero game has become one of the year’s most anticipated PS4 exclusives. I recently went hands-on with the first two hours of Marvel’s Spider-Man ahead of it’s September release, and from that alone I can confidently state that the hype is certainly not for nothing.
Insomniac have obviously put a lot into this game, starting with an original narrative inspired by numerous Spider-Man comics. This story is very much the core of how players will experience this new iteration of the character. Graphically, it’s gorgeous to look at with plenty of bright, vivid colours and a recreation of New York City more realistic than any Spider-Man game before it. Gameplay is fluid and dynamic enough that you really get the improvisational feel that is the hallmark of the character. This is best defined in the combat mechanics which borrow liberally from — you guessed it — the Batman: Arkham series, but introduce a broader arsenal to keep it fresh. Spidey is able to use various gadgets, environmental elements and, of course, his super adaptable web-slinging ability to dispose of large groups of foes. Spider-man is obviously much more nimble than Batman, so may of these fights unfold at an exciting pace, the speed of which really adds to the challenge, but also feels more rewarding.
Even more addictive is the traversal aspect of the game; swinging across the buildings of New York City using your web truly gives the players a sense of being Spider-man. Web-swinging is the mechanic you have to get right, and the profile of various jumps, wall-climbs and swings you have available (I assume even more after you level up) only add to the fun. It’s also a skill, and one of incredible nuance as you use the different textures of building facades to launch yourself through the city at high speed, moving to crime scenes as fast as possible. This very physical part of the game has a noticeable learning curve, and timing your web-swinging perfectly is key. This should ensure that traversal isn’t as monotonous as similar open-worlds that rely heavily on parkour can often be.
Returning to the story for a moment, Insomniac came up with their own detailed story for Spider-Man rather than have this modeled off any single comic. This is a clear strength and has given the developer a broad mythology to play around with, unattached to any established canon or timeline. As such, you jump into Spider-Man at a point where he’s been on the job for eight whole years — this ain’t no origin story. There are a few benefits of this, most of which have to do with the characters you run into (no spoilers) and the dynamic between Peter Parker’s personal life — which is a big part of the story — and his time as Spider-man. You even get to play as both Spidey and Parker, the latter featuring a more cerebral story line that has you tinkering away at various lab equipment accessed through puzzles. They’ve even made Mary-Jane Watson a playable character at some points, and while my playthrough only had me controlling her once — in a stealthy museum sequence — there’s no doubt that her story will add plenty to the overall game.
Another big benefit is where you start off in the game. Spider-man has been a hero to New York City for the better half a decade — everyone knows him, and they react as such — and even though familiar crime bosses are still lurking out there, Insomniac have plenty of room in the story to introduce interesting and creative threats. In fact, the first mission has you going straight for Wilson Fisk, infiltrating his operations in a muscular action sequence that doubles as a tutorial.
Word has it that there will be around 25 different Spidey suits available, combined with plenty of collectibles (such as old webbed-up backpacks scattered around the city), unlockables, and easter eggs for Marvel fans. Turns out giving Insomniac this much freedom is a very, very good thing, and if the team have proven anything with their previous titles, it’s that coming up with concepts for things like suits and gadgets is an area in which they excel. I for one can’t wait to spend more time with the game to build up skills points and unlock the ability to re-direct enemy projectiles, or build up my “webslinger” abilities, which will improve my swinging and aerial attacks.
Marvel’s Spider-Man launches on September 7, 2018 exclusively for PlayStation 4.