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Spider-Man

Spider-Man

Can this compete with the classics like Spider-Man 2?

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If you were to sit people down and ask them what their favourite Spider-Man game is, chances are you'd get the answer of either Neversoft's game on the original PlayStation or Treyarch's Spider-Man 2 from 2004. Not many people would go for releases from the last decade, and that's because Spidey hasn't managed to hit the same high notes as he did in the early noughties, with recent entries like Web of Shadows, Shattered Dimensions, and the film tie-ins of The Amazing Spider-Man failing to impress to the same extent. Now Insomniac Games is here to try and change all that, using Sony backing and PS4 exclusivity to usher in a new golden game that aims to please Spider-fans once again.

A big part of the reason that Spider-Man 2 is held in such high regard is that the swinging mechanic is exquisite, and that's always been one of Insomniac's biggest priorities with their game (to paraphrase creative director Bryan Intihar: "those webs better connect to buildings"). After extensive swinging through Manhattan, we'll start this review by confirming that Insomniac has indeed managed to nail this side the game, making exploration via webs feel natural and easy while also giving you that power fantasy at the same time. Not everyone can swing through New York, after all.

It's a testament to how strong this mechanic is that Insomniac starts the game with you jumping off a ledge and getting into the swing of things (pun intended), and with only a few tutorialised buttons like R2 to swing and X to zip yourself forward, within seconds you'll find yourself instinctively moving from location to location with ease. It's wonderfully simple in essence, and by combining all of his moves together even the most un-heroic of us can get exactly where they want to be with ease.

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And the best part? Yes, these webs do attach to buildings and structures, and the environment around you actually plays a big role in how you swing around. In the midst of the urban jungle you'll obviously find it easier to attach your webs to the buildings around you, but tight angles and narrow spaces mean it's harder to turn, while in more open spaces like Central Park swinging needs to be a lot lower and tighter to the ground since Spider-Man is using the trees instead.

It's not just for jollies that you start swinging in the game's opening, as you're actually on your way to bust Wilson Fisk, who you'll better know as the Kingpin. This mission serves as a tutorial for the essential mechanics, but more importantly, it's a springboard for the plot to bounce off of. You see, without spoiling too much, Spider-Man's obsession with Kingpin may have distracted him from other threats, and the power vacuum left in his place is set to have dire consequences later on.

We won't talk about the other villains in the game specifically - despite Sony showing their hand with a lot of them in pre-release trailers - but if you've played superhero games or watched films before, you'll know pretty much how this story goes. A villain emerges, threatens the city, and our friendly neighborhood hero must save the day. It's not reinventing the wheel by any means, but there are a few ways in which Insomniac distinguishes its own narrative from the piles of games that have come before.

For instance, the studio very cleverly takes a lot of the characters that we're very familiar with and repositions them within the universe, like J. Jonah Jameson as a ranting radio host, Mary Jane Watson as a reporter for The Daily Bugle, and Peter Parker as a scientist. This provides a fresh take on existing characters, and so it doesn't feel like a rehash of old ideas.

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Another way Insomniac has set themselves apart is that they've consciously avoided the origin story that we've seen so many times. Instead, we're thrown into the shoes of an experienced Spider-Man who, at 23 years of age, has been doing this for years and is a well-known force within the city. It's not about establishing a reputation and dealing with emerging villains then, but about interacting with the world you've already seen and the foes already faced, and what happens when a larger threat comes along that you've not seen before.

Older doesn't necessarily mean more mature though, as while Parker works in high-tech science labs on the one side, Spider-Man is still out there wise-cracking and making quips. Actor Yuri Lowenthal has done a great job in making our hero feel witty without being cringey or annoying, and we have the writing to thank for that.

The writing is excellent across the board and the narrative is incredibly well-delivered. While the crux of the story is about besting your foes, the relationship between Peter Parker and Mary Jane (who have been broken up for six months at this point), as well as others like Aunt May and Miles Morales, also provide interesting angles for character development.

That said, actually playing as MJ doesn't always hit the mark. MJ's sections allow you to explore interesting areas Spider-Man can't access, providing new perspectives to the story and new locations, but sometimes these areas seem like unnecessary asides rather than meaningful additions. These sections also feature dreaded insta-fail stealth, which slows the pace down after you've been swinging around the city and makes you crawl around and distract AI enemies.

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We have to mention the superb facial animations as well, as that's what really elevates these relationships to the next level. We first noticed it with Mary Jane, who is expressive in her conversations with her ex-boyfriend, but then we then began to notice how expressive the whole cast were. Even lip-syncing seems bang on the money here, and this attention to finer details applies all over the game.

Perhaps the most detailed element of the entire experience is the world of Manhattan, something that Insomniac has said they wanted to feel like its own character. Of course it's not a one-to-one reproduction of the city - Bryant Park, for instance, is a lot smaller than it's real life counterpart - but the details for the major landmarks are there. For instance, at a preview event we attended in New York one journalist beside us was looking for the Flat Iron building, and we could actually use Google Maps on our phone to find it in the game. You might also find some extra locations as well, like a certain tower used by perhaps the greatest superhero alliance of all time...

If you hadn't gathered already, everything looks wonderful too, especially when you get those moments where sunlight pierces through the buildings or you survey the landscape from atop the Empire State building. A lot of song and dance has been made of Reddit images recently, but there's no doubt this is a grand game in terms of the visuals, especially when you run it on a nice TV to make Spidey's colours pop as he bashes some skulls together. Even when the going gets tough and the pace picks up it all runs smoothly as well.

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Speaking of skull-bashing, combat in Spider-Man is fast and fluid, and the pace reminded us a little bit of Bloodborne. Comparisons were instantly drawn to Arkham Asylum when the combat was revealed in E3 trailers and the like, but it doesn't work in quite the same way. Square is your attack button, triangle allows you to zip towards enemies with your webs, X is jump, and dodge is there for you to avoid danger. While it matches the Arkham games in the sense that a prompt appears over your head when you're about to be attacked, it's not about countering here, but about movement, using Spider-Man's athleticism to bounce your way between enemies to simultaneously attack and avoid danger at once.

Once the basics are nailed down new elements are added; you can hold square to launch enemies into the air with an uppercut, for instance, or hold R1 and L1 to throw an environmental object at your foes. Also with this comes gadgets, as you can unlock items like web-grenades, shock webs, and even Spider-drones to assist you in battle with the tap of R1. It sounds complex, and it takes a while to remember everything you need to do, but once you get into the rhythm and perfect the timing of your dodges, it truly is like a ballet of pain for your unfortunate adversaries.

That's without even mentioning the suit powers. They offer unique abilities to help you in combat, like restoring your focus or playing a guitar to send your enemies flying in the air. These suits obviously look different to one another as well, and will definitely provide something for every fan to enjoy, with the choice to modify them affecting your play style as well, letting you do things like bolstering against certain means of attack.

Bosses are perhaps the one element of the combat that feels lacking because as games used to do all the time, they require a specific pattern of attacks to beat, and it feels dated especially because of the same animations you use repeatedly once you weaken them. The game isn't filled with as many QTEs as people feared from early trailers, but during these sections it can feel like QTEs are taking charge, and that it's more about watching Spider-Man finish the foes off rather than you doing it yourself.

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When you're not engaging in your main heroic story, there's plenty to see and do, including of course side missions that range from helping to stop a heist to finding your impersonator. If you're more into the combat though, then there are wave-based holdouts to reclaim in the city, not to mention research stations, challenges from the Taskmaster, active crimes popping up constantly, landmarks to photograph, collectible backpacks to find, and more.

All of these earn what are called tokens, and these tokens of different types are the currency with which you unlock new suits, gadgets, and upgrades. You can also earn skill points as you progress via XP, so there's every reason to explore and enjoy the activities the city has to offer. We just found ourselves doing all of the extras because it was so fun to explore the world and get into fights, even though we had stockpiled tokens for days at that point.

And that word 'fun' pretty much sums up Insomniac's Spider-Man nicely. The story is engaging and original and the characters within it are impressive, but the main draw is that everything is driven by engaging and immersive combat and exploration that really puts you into the shoes of the webslinger himself. It's easy to lose hours just swinging around the city, and so adding fun and varied activities on top of that is just a plus.

We began our review by comparing this game to those that came before it, like Spider-Man 2, and now finally fans have a game that can compete with the Spidey greats. It departs from the other games we've seen with its own unique take, while at the same time keeping all that crucial flavour that Spider-Man is known for. The result is a spectacular adventure that ends up being way more than just another superhero game. Whether you're new to the Spider-Man universe or think you know everything there is to know about him, trust us: this will surprise you.

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09 Gamereactor UK
9 / 10
+
Swinging and traversal is excellent, Original take on story, The world and its characters are detailed, Combat is fast and fluid, Facial animations amazing, Plenty to see and do.
-
MJ sections can be dull, Bosses are weak.
overall score
is our network score. What's yours? The network score is the average of every country's score

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