Marvel's Spider-Man is the best superhero movie you can't buy a ticket to see, and it's one of the best open-world games of the generation. Insomniac Games has shown great audacity in its effort to craft a wholly original Spider-Man story, with its own timeline and set of origin stories.
Having played the game from start to finish, I can say that even the most hardcore comic book fans will have their expectations exceeded by Marvel's Spider-Man's impossible scope and exhaustive fan service.
You've been introduced to most of the villains you'll encounter in Marvel's Spider-Man, but believe me when I say that the best parts of this story definitely were not shown in the trailers. There are major shocks and surprises coming your way, and long-time Marvel fans have what will seem to be an endless trove of collectibles and secrets to mine.
These come in all shapes and sizes. Scattered throughout New York City are 55 backpacks stuffed with items of lore and interesting knickknacks connected to Spider-Man's past and the larger Marvel universe. The Sinister Six themselves put on an amazing spectacle, and the super-villain insanity truly does get cranked up to 11, then 12, and then 13. Just when things look like they couldn't get worse (or more interesting), they do, and seeds of foreshadowing planted in early chapters bloom madly by the time you reach the home-stretch.
By now I'm sure that you're all neck-deep in trailers and gameplay footage, but let me assure you that nothing compares to getting your hands on a controller and actually playing this game. The animators and systems engineers deserve the highest praise for their work in making players feel like Spider-Man while soaring through the air. For the first few hours, you will no doubt be clumsily running into the sides of buildings and drifting through the air swing by swing, but after about 10 hours, you'll feel like a bird in flight.
All of New York City is your playground, and every single ledge, peak, crane, lamp, wall, pipe, and beam becomes a toy. You begin to see everything in terms of what you can vault off of, zip to, swing through, and climb. Getting from point A to point B, which is typically a chore in most games, suddenly becomes a game all its own, and the thrill of freedom and Spider-Man's aptitude for high-flying acrobatics never become dull.
The whole city feels familiar and lived-in to such a degree of authenticity as to inspire a sense of belonging. This New York City is a seamless blending of fact and fiction, and it feels right. I feel like I know something about the lives of the people there. I know my way from Mott Street in Chinatown to Avengers Tower. I can swing my way from Queensbridge to Hell's Kitchen without checking a map. You may find yourself at one moment swinging by the Museum of Modern Art, and the next you're passing by the Sanctum Santorum.
The city is alive — it changes constantly as you play. The types of people you see on the subway, the way people talk about you as you pass, what you witness happening on city streets and on rooftops... it's all in flux. A perennial highlight as you complete story chapters and side-quests is J. Jonah Jameson's ever-cheerful commentary, which comes in the form of a talk radio podcast. Jameson's hilarious rants offer another great way for you to tap into the zeitgeist of this fictional NYC as he frequently invites guest callers onto his show. Most of them, unfortunately for Jameson, don't quite see Spider-Man as the menace triple-J makes him out to be.
As the city changes and evolves, so too does Spider-Man. When the time comes to stop wisecracking and start cracking skulls, you're initially introduced to some basic attack and dodge mechanics that will serve as your bread and butter in every conflict. As you level up and accrue skill points, you'll get the chance to invest in three separate skill trees, which open up your options tremendously. By the time you reach the end-game, your moves list will look impossibly long for a game that features only one primary attack button.
Fluidity in animation and movement, as I've said, is one of Spider-Man's great achievements. This is just as true in combat as it is while on the go. Acrobatic combos on the ground and in the air, unique finishing moves, insane suit powers, and the constant deployment of gadgets ensure that every fight is a mind-bending, cinematic spectacle in the hands of a competent and resourceful player. Thankfully, the difficulty curve flatters players by assuming that they'll get the hang of things, and by the time you reach journey's end you'll be forced to use every tool at your disposal instead of just mashing the attack button.
In other words, you're going to look and feel like a total badass. Count on it.
Of course, it's not all about Spider-Man. Insomniac insisted that they were out to tell a Peter Parker story as well as a Spider-Man story, and at first, that gave me some anxiety. I was not looking forward to the pedestrian sequences because I thought that they would be boring compared to Spidey's superhero antics. My cynicism was not merited, and the human stories told in Spider-Man are some of the best bits of narrative I've ever experienced in a game.
Yuri Lowenthal and Laura Bailey (the entire cast, really) give incredible performances. Peter and Mary Jane's relationship is authentically messy and complicated. The game picks up right as the two begin meeting and working together again, and it's clear that things are a bit strained after a long split. I felt like I could sense the knots in Pete's stomach after every phone call or text to MJ. Are there still feelings there, or is it too late? Should Peter keep her out of harm's way, or trust her as a capable partner in his work as Spider-Man?
Their relationship isn't exactly the stuff of fairy-tales, and it's all laid bare for you to see. In fact, every major character is sold to the player as a real, living person with thoughts, feelings, ambitions, and faults. Yes, this is still a superhero-fights-super-villains story, but it's also a story about mentorship and mental health; about finding happiness in one's work; about mending broken things and broken people. It's touching, and these pedestrian sequences that I was worried about deliver some of the bigger jaw-dropping moments that you all have to look forward to.6comments
There's so much more I want to tell you about this game. I want to assure you that the stealth missions will make your mouth go dry. I want to warn you about certain challenges. I want to admonish you to cherish your time with certain characters. There's much more that I could say, but you don't need any more persuasion. This is a genre-defining and generation-defining effort from Insomniac, Sony, and Marvel, and it's one of the best Spider-Man stories ever told. Go play it. Go be great.
ComicBook's Score: 5 / 5