Many games branding the Spider-Man appellation exist, and most do the nearly six decades old Marvel main man a disservice. Constantly chasing the slick swinging of 2004’s Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man games never nailed it. Cue Insomniac Games having a go at the friendly neighbourhood red-clad webbed lad in the creatively titled Spider-Man (sarcasm).
Shattering the cycle of poor Spidey games, it recaptures Spider-Man 2’s acclaimed swinging, zipping and crawling through a bustlingly lifelike New York. But despite its accomplishments, it’s bogged down by banality. Spider-Man offers a slice of fun flavored pie, but the pie’s stale. The crust’s hard, and the filling tastes a bit weird. You should’ve stored it in the fridge Grandma, you wretched wrinkled witch, always ruining the pies!
Pie analogy aside, Spider-Man’s a grand romp in the shoes of Manhattan’s masked marvel, but lacks originality. For better or worse, this is Peter Parker’s alter-ego at his most predictable, so don’t expect too many surprises. True to name, Spider-Man is what it is: simple ‘n’ straight up Spidey, nothing more, nothing less.
Fortunately, amazing combat and movement maintained by razor-sharp controls is the beating heart of Spider-Man, and the titular hero thrives as a result. A deluge of dazzling abilities for traversal and baddie beatdowns bring him to life, his actions playing out with briskly paced brilliance. Exploring New York is a blast with his powers at the helm, so much so that fast travel is obsolete. Why take the train when it’s more fun to don skin-tight spandex and swing sky high from skyscrapers?
Combat is top-notch, with many marvellous mechanics at work. Fights contain cartoonishly kick-ass choreography, oozing with style as players punch in quick-fire button bashes, before being rewarded when Spidey kicks the chops off a thug and webs him up. It’s the best kind of combat: lots of depth, but not overwhelming.
Spider-Man’s story is engaging, featuring fan favorite villains alongside some dark twists and turns for good measure. The decision by Insomniac Games to not rehash an origin story and instead tell a new tale, is a smart move. Highlighting an experienced Spidey hurls players into the thick of it, as mission one sees him obliterating Wilson ‘Kingpin’ Fisk’s criminal empire (as opposed to confronting Flash Thompson or chit chatting to Uncle Ben). Bundles of bombastic action set pieces arise along the way, satisfyingly juxtaposed with a sub-plot concerning Peter and Mary Jane’s off and on relationship. Culminating in a showdown with Spidey’s most infamous opponent, Spider-Man’s adventure boasts high stakes and quality.
But the cracks begin to show.
Beyond main missions, Spider-Man has lots to do. Side activities are plentiful but unfortunately forgettable. Whilst never outright bad, beating up thugs gets old. Chasing pigeons, finding Felicia ‘Black Cat’ Hardy’s stakeouts, and swinging through smokey smoggy stuff for Harry Osbourne offers variety, but doesn’t transcend mediocrity. Mandatory for acquiring tokens, which in turn unlock suits and gadgets, Spider-Man’s side activities are a means to an end that doesn’t stand on their own merits. Furthermore, said side activities are tediously trickled onto the world map, dictated by players’ place in the main story (an approach at odds with modern open world design).
Restrictions like this aren’t specific to side activities; suits and gadgets are affected too, as many hide behind level requirements. “Congratulations on collecting those backpack and research tokens, but come back after accumulating more experience points and levelling up thirty two more times, loser!”. The eye-popping suits and handy powers are one of Spider-Man’s best assets, so impeding access to them via a levelling system prevents players from diving into Spidey’s wardrobe. Spider-Man withholds flexibility from the player, drip-feeding its content with little room to venture off the beaten path.
Spider-Man lacks freedom of choice.
Despite its core strengths, Spider-Man flaunts much to criticize. It may be one of the titular hero’s best outings, but it’s plagued by negative tropes of the open world genre, and the cracks begin to show once the novelty of zipping around New York and webbing up baddies dissipates. Instead of being bold, Spider-Man plays it safe by neglecting innovation and slapping training wheels on the player. Thankfully, it’s saved by fantastic fundamental mechanics, oodles of nifty unlockables, and respect for its source material. Not to mention, it tailors to die-hard webheads via nods to Spidey’s rich legacy (collectible backpacks offer fan service-y easter eggs), but without alienating casual fans.
Spider-Man stumbles into some potholes here and there, but it’s a web-tastic time nonetheless.