It’s been a while since I’ve played a game that’s compelled me to devour it the way Marvel’s Spider-Man has. I frequently found myself racing from mission, to collectible, to crime scene and back again for hours on end, with the “just one more” mentality propelling me forward. But it wasn’t because these objectives were particularly interesting or exciting, rather it was because just being Spider-Man was fun, and I was willing to use any excuse to continue playing as him.
Marvel’s Spider-Man is kind of like a really good pizza with pineapple on it. You had this amazingly well-crafted pizza, but you went ahead and sprinkled some bullshit on top of it that made me enjoy it less. It wasn’t bad, but the toppings could have definitely been better. In this case, the presentation, mobility, combat and even the story are the pizza, and most of the side stuff is mediocre at best; just like pineapple on a pizza.
The mobility itself is phenomenal, striking a good balance between physics-based momentum, and fluid animations that blend together incredibly well. There are certain upgrades that allow you to add additional layers of complexity to your web-swinging that may seem superfluous at first glance, but the expanded move-set allows you to traverse New York City faster, and more stylishly than ever before in a Spider-Man game.
While the swinging mechanics are phenomenal, the combat in Marvel’s Spider-Man is just as well done. Combat is almost identical to that of the Rocksteady Batman games, even down to the button prompts for melee finishers. This isn’t a bad thing though, considering the Arkham games have fantastic combat that translates incredibly well to Spider-Man. The big differentiator here is the focus on airborne combat. Swinging kicks, launching uppercuts, ground-pounds, air-juggles and more, are all vital moves when facing Spider-Man’s foes. By the end of the game, I was chaining together massive combos that would rarely ever see me touch the ground, and it was easily one of the most satisfying aspects of my time with it.
All of these elements are crammed into a beautifully rendered, yet a little lifeless version of New York City. The story does a decent enough job to justify why gangs are having gunfights in the middle of Times Square, but it’s still a pretty big stretch to justify those actions. The story itself is a nice re-imagining of Spider-Man and his villains, remixing events and timelines to form something unique and interesting while also telling a fairly intimate story about Peter Parker and the people closest to him.
However, one of the biggest issues with Marvel’s Spider-Man stems directly from some of its missteps in translating the storytelling into compelling gameplay. In this version of the Spider-Man universe, Peter Parker and Mary Jane are no longer in a relationship, but are working together as colleagues to try and uncover the bigger mysteries in the game. What this results in is some very underwhelming stealth sequences as Mary Jane, where not only are you severely limited in your abilities, but you’re only course of action is to stay hidden. These sequences are incredibly promising concepts that rarely feel fleshed out and ultimately end up being some of the worst parts of the entire experience.
But it isn’t just the stealth sequences that are less than stellar, a lot of the side activities you’ll do as Spider-Man aren’t exactly what I would call exciting either. Things like photographing landmarks, collecting old backpacks with Easter-eggs in them and research stations that make you traverse the environment differently, were fun to seek out and complete. But once you finish them, you’re left with drone hunts and bad “complete the circuit” mini-games which get really tedious, really quickly. If it wasn’t for the fact that completing these side activities provided you with specific tokens that unlock certain upgrades, they wouldn’t be worth doing at all.
It was the sheer act of just moving around as Spider-Man that was enough to keep me playing through the endless repeating side missions and incredibly dull stealth sections. That in itself is a testament to how well Insomniac Games nailed the feeling of being Spider-Man and combining that with a story that feels fresh, yet honors the legacy of the character. Despite its shortcomings, Marvel’s Spider-Man is still a tremendously fun game that no Spider-Man fan should miss out on.