Spider-Man! SPIDER-MAN! Does - Considerably More Than I Thought My PS4 Could...
Let’s get this clear from the start. I am Spider-Man. That’s exactly how you feel a few short minutes into playing this game, all the way until you unlock your final trophy. Not only am I Spider-Man, but I’ve been Spider-Man for years and as you’ve probably heard already, this adventure doesn’t track Peter Parker’s journey of discovering his abilities or the traumatic story of losing his Uncle Ben. Rather the story lets us take over at the point that he’s managed to defeat several of his main enemies and on the verge of putting the Kingpin into the RAFT – the super-prison off the coast of Manhattan Island.
I’m familiar with a fair chunk of Spider-Man lore, story lines, allies, villains etc. and whilst this game retains these it writes its own story with all the relevant pieces. Some of the things you know have already happened, some occur during the games story and for some the seed is merely planted for future use (although not always in a way which you’d expect).
The story ultimately amalgamates various plots from different Spider-Man universes and lifts heavily from Ultimate Spider-Man due to the presence of certain characters. You soon discover that Peter is currently “on a break” with Mary Jane having dated previously and she is fully aware of his identity as Spider-Man and she currently reports for the Daily Bugle, Aunt May is more active than we’re used to working for FEAST, a homeless shelter charity and Peter is under the employ of a certain Dr Otto Octavius and is currently working to create a new prosthetic limb. Whilst not active in the Story we discover J Jonah Jameson has left the Daily Bugle but was previously Peter’s boss as we’d all famously recall. Jonah provides some padding to the plot via a humorous radio show which you tune into passively between missions. I’ll avoid spoilers to the plot here beyond this but suffice to say what begins as a slow story reaches several climaxes throughout the whole adventure.
Keeping you more entertained that the plot alone are the games mechanics. When it comes to combat you’re in familiar albeit different territory to the Arkham series (and all the titles which have copycatted that one). You’re generally ascended upon en-masse by criminals, special forces agents etc. and the game allows you flexibility to target your enemies individually without too much trouble. The enemy types are also less frustrating than those found elsewhere but become all the easier to dispatch as a result. Towards the end of the Arkham series I often found myself thinking in terms of a game of chess as to how to get around certain enemies but here most can be handled with a swift uppercut and failing that you’re not penalised if you punch a riot shield or stun rod etc. The camera can get a bit sticky in these moments but generally your spider sense will allow you to avoid danger from threats off screen.
The games main playground of New York is fantastically realised as a game world. I can’t say first hand that it’s geographically accurate but there’s an attention to detail here that’s rarely seen in a videogame. Upon scaling a building you can see into rooms (which naturally are all quite similar and lack any occupants) but the buildings themselves are all unique architecture with a huge sense of vertical scale, especially in the Financial District. You’re free between missions to swing around the whole environment from the start and pretty much between every mission too. Prior to release there was a veritable slur campaign regarding down-scaling of the games visuals (the aptly named Puddle-gate) and I can without a doubt concur that this does not appear to be the case in any way shape or form. The game demonstrates Insomniac very much know their way around the hardware and when you’re standing on top of the (faux) Freedom Tower with the whole city in a single eyes view and the engine not struggling to keep up with individual cars on the street you know they’ve done it right.
Traversing the city is a pure joy. Unlike the previous 32 bit iterations of the game (for those that can remember) gone are the magical web swinging mechanics which let you swing from ledges beyond the height of the Empire State Building. Here if there is no peak above, there’s no swinging. Traversing Central Park is very much a close to the ground affair and particular planning is needed to avoid a dip in the pond! You’ll learn some additional tricks for getting around as you play in the form of vaulting and zip-lining in certain situations.
In line with Peter Parker’s investigative photographer past a portion of the game includes a chunk of Stealth. To me Stealth rates alongside protection missions in order of severity of the things I think can ruin good games but here it’s a very “lite” version. Whilst playing as Spider-Man in these parts the same mechanics used to traverse the rooftops apply and the game seamlessly allows you to travel the terrain and enter a construction site filled with Kingpin’s goons. Whilst you won’t get a game over upon sight as Spidey you also get to take control of MJ and another character at predefined moments of the plot. These sections are brief and require the most stealth and will insta-kill you upon being spotted (especially by Rhino). They’re mostly scripted however and require little thought or imagination to pass.
This is the first game in recent memory where I have actively sought the platinum trophy as frankly it was attainable without repeated play-throughs, excessive grinding or even a ridiculous level of skill. That’s not to say that there aren’t challenges. The Taskmaster makes an appearance to provide some of the more challenging tasks the game has to offer. These provide somewhat of a reality check when they first appear as you’ll find you’re more than capable of obtaining a bronze rating early on but despite your best efforts the gold medal will elude you for some time. Thankfully like all good challenges you will find that the missions are based around the fundamentals of the games mechanics, stealth kills, combat, webslinging etc. are what’s covered so I found myself naturally getting better as time went some additional gadgets as you progressed helped out too. It’s vital that you gain as many of these medals as you can as these are one of the handful of currencies which you’ll need to accrue in order to purchase gadget upgrades and new suits.
Beyond all the main events of the games there are the obligatory side missions which take a few forms. There are Side Missions are that are named as such, whilst not centric to the plot these missions are just as varied and are always worth completing. Rooftops are littered with Research Stations, these take the form of specific challenges for which you’re given some nice background on Harry Osborn and these play around with the environment and ad strange rules to tasks. Several of the gangs set up bases which you’ll need to clear several waves of enemies, these are all individually set up and additional points awarded for completing certain requirements like combo counter and stealth kills. Even the ridiculous task of Pigeon Catching and finding backpacks which you apparently stashed away 7 years ago all around the city (really Peter?) are fun and take little additional time away from you.
Finally it’s worth mentioning the game has a great way with dealing with the general public who populate the main streets. In order to stop you from becoming a public menace Your attack function switches to a finger-gun or thumbs up or a wave when around an innocent crowd. If you’re lucky you’ll pick up a bit of advice or a high-five as you go, or you could get a selfie in there, why not! It’s these moments which give the world a real sense of life as some don’t appreciate your antics and whilst they won’t attach they will jeer you openly (but there’s more love out there than hate!).
So having recently 100%ed the game (which isn’t hard, to date 10% of all those playing have done it) now I’m now left in the empty void of having no discernible way of knowing the games plot for probably a couple of years. The whole experience from beginning to end was a treat. I’ll just have to find myself something to do for the time until I can pick up the mantle again as what I’d predict would be a new Spider-Man, potentially on a new console. In honesty though, this game only tells me my PS4 has plenty of life left in it yet.