Game Review | Spider-Man
Game summary: An older and more experienced Peter Parker continues to deal with the duality of life as a superhero while taking on a threat bigger than himself. (IMDb)
I was immensely looking forward to this game, but had my hopes dashed that this would be the Marvel equivalent of the Batman: Arkham series inside the first few minutes. It’s an uneven ride from start to finish, with far more lows than highs, making for a frustrating experience.
The problem is that the game contradicts itself so often that it feels like it could’ve done with a very thorough edit to stop these problems occurring, especially in a game that takes so long to complete. That is, if you do complete it – you just need to check the trophy stats to see that every story section loses a good chunk of players, and it’s not really surprising at all.
Even ignoring the issues with some of the controls in regular play, these highly-scripted sequences usually force players to play in a certain way, or introduce a mechanic that only exists for these moments. It's easy to see why players will give up when they have brick walls put in their path telling them there's only one way to proceed and it's not how they've been playing the rest of the game.
As for the rest of the game, it doesn't start off well thanks to throwing about a dozen different controls at you in the first ten minutes. You don't really need them all right away, and might not be an issue for people who play games like this regularly, but I imagine those first few minutes will put a lot off.
And the controls really are an issue throughout the game, with far more in the game than really needs to be. Sure, it's nice to give players options, but usually they're contextual and have some relation to each other - as an example, it's easy to trigger one of the various 'suit powers' you're given because they're mapped to the analog sticks that you use to look around and move.
Even the traversal through the city, which is excellent, highlights the problem: to keep you moving, some of the actions will just trigger automatically, or different buttons can produce the same actions as each other. From one point of view, that's great design from Insomniac to keep the players moving, but then it makes you wonder why so many controls were needed in the first place.
It reminds me of Deadlight, which had the same problem of just adding too many controls for movement, and again I'm wondering why the controls weren't just trimmed back in the manner of Assassin's Creed and let the player worry about where they're going and choosing the optimum route.
And for a Spider-Man game, the wall-crawling is shockingly bad. I have to compare it to Assassin's Creed games again, because they're far more adept at ascending/descending buildings. Spider-Man can do it faster when sprinting up the buildings, but when trying to the 'classic' all-fours climbing, even the slightest ledge can block him from going higher.
And the wall-running even has issues too, with the controls switching between being player-related and camera-related at random. By that, I mean that you can press up on the controller to move forward and it seems random whether Spidey will actually go up or simply continuing forward in the direction he was heading.
The fighting isn't any better, although this isn't helped by this being one of the physically-weakest Spider-Men ever depicted in media. Have you noticed how Tom Holland's Spider-Man in the MCU hasn't actually punched anyone yet? Hell, he's only kicked a few people and that still sent them flying (or, in Thanos' case, being someone powerful enough to absorb the hit). This is because he knows he would cause a regular person serious harm if he actually struck them with full force.
On the other side of that, Spider-Man in this game takes about half-a-dozen hits to knock someone out, powered or not. Now, this isn't to complain about power levels exactly, but instead how this weakness actually frustrates.
First off, it drags out the fights far longer than it needs to. As an example, put Batman from the Arkham games up against twenty guys and the fight will be over in a couple of minutes - if you're a decent player, you won't even take a hit.
Put this Spider-Man up against the same number and, even if you're half-decent, it'll probably take ten minutes or more to put them all down, and you'll almost certainly take some damage too. It just becomes boring after a while and you just want these endless waves of enemies to go away.
It's especially bad at the start of the game, before you unlock some of the more interesting skills or get some of the better gadgets. Once you have access to those, you can shorten the fights considerably, although you'll still probably take at least some damage.
Which leads on to the next criticism: the 'dodge' button - which really needs to be re-named. It's a side-step at best and, with enemies' attacks effectively locking on to you, usually doesn't actually dodge anything. Get used to combining dodging and jumping to get away.
That 'lock-on' that enemies have is frustrating, and one that the Batman: Arkham games had too, with opponents attacking you from one direction and you dodging away, only for them to warp closer or spin on the spot and still hit you. When this happens in the middle of a group of enemies, you might as well reload the last checkpoint unless you have some focus saved up to heal you, as attacks briefly stun you and you can end up receiving a chain of attacks with no way of avoiding them.
The healing is also a problem for me, because it was clearly put in there to take into account how badly the combat has been implemented. It's a very 'video-gamey' solution to a problem that would never have existed if the dodge command actually lived up to its name.
Thing is, I'd be willing to overlook all of this if the story was good, because none of the above are real deal-breakers and are of a consistent source of frustration. Unfortunately, the central plot almost mirrors the combat, feeling way too stretched out and poorly-paced.
The central narrative around Peter's evolving relationship with his mentor, Otto Octavius, is absolutely fantastic, but the rest of the story and most of the characters don't come anywhere close to it. Not all of them are necessarily bad, but they feel worse than they are because of how good Peter and Otto are.
Miles Morales and Mary Jane Watson are the two biggest supporting characters, and are the other people we get to control during the game. Miles is fun enough, but if you know who he is, then his story is more than a little predictable, but MJ is just annoying as hell.
Her and Silver Sable both suffer from some sloppy writing trying to make these two female characters stand out and failing miserably. MJ isn't too bad, but the section of the game where she and Peter have a falling out thanks to her whining about having to be saved when constantly putting herself in situations where her life is in danger is irritating as hell.
Sable comes off worse, acting like an antagonist from the start before a sudden change of heart just before she abruptly leaves the games. It's not helped that her 'skill' is shown in cut-scenes thanks to her amazing ability to apparently not trigger Peter's spider sense.
Usually, characters in video-games are more powerful in cut-scenes than in regular gameplay, but not on these occasions. Why? Like I said, I think it can only be to try and make Sable seem dangerous even if it does undermine one of Spidey's signature powers - and a core gameplay mechanic!
It's strange, because May is well-written, and Yuri is one of my favourite characters in the game; so the writers are clearly capable of writing female characters, including strong characters like Yuri. Hell, Black Cat doesn't even appear in the base game and she is better written than Sable and MJ, actually out-smarting Peter in a very believable way.
Leaving the criticism behind, the game looks and sounds incredible, with the visuals really proving to be the star of the show. The game looks incredible in stills and in motion, with an insane level of incidental details for such a massive city-scape.
The animation of Spider-Man is especially impressive, always looking as nimble and flexible as you'd hope, even if the controls don't always match the slickness of the movement. Sure, regular civilians and the swarms of enemies aren't hugely detailed, but the camera never really spends enough time showing them in detail for it to really matter.
The character models who do feature in the cinematic sequences look incredible though, with some mind-blowingly good facial animation conveying almost the same level of emotion as the fantastic voice acting.
Yeah, I might not like how some of the characters are written, but that's never the fault of the performers, who are universally fantastic. Yes, even Sable's generic Eastern European accent isn't enough to detract from the great delivery - you buy her antagonism and admiration of Spider-Man even if the writing doesn't deserve that change in character.
In the end, Spider-Man is an audio-visual wonder with a fantastic traversal system and truly emotional relationship between the title character and his ultimate nemesis. Unfortunately, just about everything else is a frustrating mess that will have less experienced players wondering what so many people were raving about.
Spider-Man is more than disappointing, with enough poorly-implemented and conflicting gameplay mechanics to frustrate players on a regular basis. The gorgeous looks and fantastic sound work can’t overcome those obstacles, especially with a stretched-to-breaking-point story.