Marvel’s Spider-Man review: Spinning its own web

Sony Interactive Entertainment, Insomniac Games, Marvel Entertainment
Sony Interactive Entertainment, Insomniac Games, Marvel Entertainment /

Sony and Insomniac are now at the reins of Spider-Man’s latest foray into gaming and may have crafted the wall-crawler’s best outing to date.

Title: Marvel’s Spider-Man
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PS4 (version reviewed)
Release Date: September 7, 2018

It’s been said many times, but Spider-Man has had a pretty extensive history in the gaming realm.

Going all the way back his debut on the Atari 2600 in 1982, the web-head went on to star in countless iterations. But in that first game, he could only use his web to crawl up a building in trying to stop a nefarious plot by the Green Goblin.

It’s pretty, well, amazing to see where how far we’ve come since then.

Now, well over three decades later, we enter Sony and Insomniac’s latest collaboration with Marvel’s Spider-Man. The first game starring the character in four years received unbridled hype, fully backed by the Sony and Marvel marketing machine.

But with the shaky history games starring the wall-crawler over the years, could this one stand above all of the rest? Despite getting tangled up in its own web at times, it absolutely does.

Marvel's Spider-Man
Sony Interactive Entertainment, Insomniac Games, Marvel Entertainment /

Where it reigns supreme is in its presentation. Despite the ruckus about puddles and lighting, Insomniac crafted what is hands-down the best-looking Spider-Man game to date. Daytime in Marvel’s Manhattan is colorful and vibrant while evening and night scenes have some impressive shadow work.

The motion blur also does a decent job at further enhancing the action but can be toggled off along with film grain and chromatic aberration options. Rest assured; the game looks spectacular, and fans will get great use out of the photo mode set to release as part of a free Day One patch.

Despite the ruckus about puddles and lighting, Insomniac crafted what is hands-down the best-looking Spider-Man game to date.

Cutscenes clearly show that big-budget sheen with tight motion-capture work paired with a great voice cast. Yuri Lowenthal, in particular, really steals the show in the starring role.

The former Prince of Persia doesn’t just perfectly portray Spider-Man, but really gets across the other side of the coin in Peter Parker. His quips and confidence behind the mask make sense for this being an older and more experienced version of the superhero. On the flipside, the more somber moments as Parker do an excellent job of showing his range and ability.

The game’s main plot, however, trips up a little bit. It’s certainly serviceable and ticks all of the Spider-Man boxes, and most fans probably won’t have much of an issue with it. That said, anyone with even a base knowledge of Spidey lore will likely find it predictable within the first couple of hours all the way until the very end.

It also doesn’t do much with the character that hasn’t been done before in many other mediums. That’s not to say Insomniac take none of their own liberties here, though. This iteration of MJ is much more fleshed out and interesting as a supporting character this go round. J. Jonah Jameson goes from managing the Daily Bugle to hosting a pretty obvious (and quite often hilarious) talk-radio parody blabbering on about you-know-who as he swings around Manhattan.

That said, this mostly safe direction can make the 20-25-hour campaign a bit of slog towards the third act. This is even with some brief gameplay segments starring Peter outside of the suit and Mary Jane Watson sneaking around in very dangerous situations that do their best to break up the action.

Marvel's Spider-Man
Sony Interactive Entertainment, Insomniac Games, Marvel Entertainment /

The gameplay also does a great job in making the player feel more like Spider-Man than ever before. This philosophy is shown in spades with the game’s swinging system. Similarly to 2004’s Spider-Man 2, Spidey can’t swing around the city without something for his web to latch onto.

These things can range from tall skyscrapers, antenna towers and even trees that can be used to zip around areas like Central Park. And while the game’s musical score isn’t too memorable, the way it begins to start up as you swing makes you feel like you’re swinging in the big superhero blockbuster.

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The work put into getting this right is clearly shown, too. Not only is it the first thing you do upon starting a new game, but getting good at swinging around Manhattan is integral to finding shortcuts and being more proficient at challenges and stopping random crime. It’s also simple, exhilarating and never really gets old.

Sure, you could fast-travel to that point across town and see a brief, silly cutscene on the subway, but what’s the fun in that?

Speed is also a big aspect of the mechanic. You can time a press of the jump button at the height of a swing for a boost, but there’s also a bit more to it than just thinking vertically. Spidey can lock on to just about any perch-able platform and get a boost off of it, and can even quickly pull onto objects in front of him in order to keep momentum. If you’re too close to a building, you can even just briefly run across a building for the same effect.

Marvel's Spider-Man
Sony Interactive Entertainment, Insomniac Games, Marvel Entertainment /

Swinging is supplemented well by ground movement. Holding R2 puts Spidey into a free-running, parkour mode in which he can get around some obstacles and, most notably, run up the sides of even the tallest buildings in Manhattan. The latter, in particular, is immensely satisfying with some of the taller structures that one can immediately swan dive off of after reaching the top.

Spider-Man also returns to probably the best open-world interpretation of Manhattan since the aforementioned 2004 game. Insomniac’s trademark sense of scale and handling of an open world show in spades when just wandering around the city. The entire map is littered with things to do apart from the main plot, like finding collectibles and various interesting side missions; one such highlight including where you chase escaped, renegade pigeons.

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Random crime events also pop up throughout the city. They are pretty frequent occurrences and can keep any web-head busy, with some even dynamically occurring right after one is stopped. For instance, Spidey can stop a carjacking only to find another car full of even more thugs to take out which creates one challenge on top of another in a way that most superheroes would likely have to deal with.

Marvel's Spider-Man
Sony Interactive Entertainment, Insomniac Games, Marvel Entertainment /

Combat is also pretty smooth and feels like an improved amalgamation of many previous Spider-Man games. Zipping to enemies directly with webbing, sticking them to walls and following up uppercuts with air combos are all present and accounted for. The animations also really shine here, especially when ducking underneath an enemy or doing some more elaborate stealth takedowns. It generally treads the line between being shiny and new, but also familiar pretty well.

But while the game offers the best playground for Spidey in a long time, it does come with a drawback or two. The game also fails to escape some trappings of most open-world action games of the era. Oscorp crime detection towers, for example, are all over the area and activating them unlocks more of the map. It’s just a bit too familiar to other titles on the market and could have used a unique spider-touch.

Combat is also pretty smooth and feels like an improved amalgamation of many previous Spider-Man games.

Those same modern action game trappings can also be found in the game’s progression system. Skill points acquired by leveling Spider-Man up can unlock new abilities spread across trees for combat and mobility.

The abilities themselves aren’t really the issue, so much as it is how they’re acquired. Midair tricks while swinging, enhanced stealth tools and perfect dodges that can be earned with skill points throughout the game.

This is in addition to several familiar and new gadgets that are at your disposal, all of which are upgradable and are flexible to be used in either stealth or live combat situations.

The game does put a unique spin on other upgrades, though. There are various unlockable suits that stretch across many interpretations of the wall-crawler. They’re not just for gameplay scenes either. Each suit is fantastically detailed in almost every cutscene of the game, giving players a great sense of cosmetic freedom.

Bonus points for including my personal favorite outfit, the 90’s-as-heck Scarlet Spider outfit complete with a hoodie. 

8.5. If this is the beginning of things to come, Insomniac has done a great job crafting a great foundation for Spider-Man’s future in gaming. The hiccups with the story and open-world action games do bring it down some and could draw ire from some others, as well. But the grand package of wonderful visual presentation paired with solid swinging through a lively Manhattan and polished combat more than make up for it. Marvel’s Spider-Man finally gives players the best opportunity to do whatever a spider can.. Insomniac Games. . Marvel's Spider-Man

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.