With great power there must also come great responsibility. More than five decades ago, this iconic quote helped define a new breed of hero. An everyman battling the extraordinary, a blue collar vigilante risking life and limb to save the people who shunned him. Spider-Man’s legacy is one of sacrifice, of courage and power that is used for the greater good.
It’s a core part of the character, an idea that has transitioned out of comic books and into new forms of media. Cartoons,bonkers live-action Japanese series and massive blockbuster films have all attempted to put a spin on the wallcrawler, but somewhere along the way the video game side of Spider-Man’s multimedia web began to unravel despite a strong showing from 2010’s Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, which starred a quartet of amazing arachnid-themed heroes.
Four years later, and who would have guessed that a quick tie-in to the worst Spider-Man film ever made would have resulted in a game that was equally atrocious? The bar for one of the greatest superheroes of all time had been set impossibly low, crashing and burning far away from the lofty heights set by earlier games.
Spider-Man didn’t just need a change in management, he needed a return to his roots, a back to basics approach that could highlight not only how sensational the American icon was, but just how vital he was to the ideals of heroism. Sunset Overdrive developer Insomniac Games had a hell of a task set out before them when they were handed the job of revitalising the webhead, with fan expectations naturally reaching a fever frenzy at what many considered the dream team for a new Spider-Man game.
Insomniac haven’t just risen to the occasion. They’ve surpassed those expectations, to create the definitive and best Spider-Man game of all time.
Part of that magic comes with the pure confidence that Spider-Man exhibits the very first time you pick up a controller. A quick press of R2 has you spinning a web that latches onto a surface and sends you soaring into the air, exploring New York City from a dizzying height, feeling both graceful and playful. There’s an eye towards momentum on Spidey’s traversal, a thrill for speed and danger that feels more than natural, highlighting the experience and wisdom of Insomniac’s mature Spider-Man.
In fact, that’s the real charm with this take on Spider-Man. The webhead is a natural at living on the edge, able to pounce on thugs and dance between them as he avoids haymakers and bullets, webbing up the burliest of thieves and swinging off to save the day. It’s an incomparable experience, a dizzying combination of speed and agility that extends to every aspect of the character and makes him feel utterly unique.
Even more so during several high energy sequences where you’ve got to keep an eye on the screen for a few quick-time event props, that shows off not only Spider-Man’s reflexes in full glory, but also his aptitude for quick thinking and improvising on the fly. When you’re faced with a villain who wields the darkest of energies, a flaming helicopter in freefall and falling debris that’s about to turn the crowds below you into a Jackson Pollock painting, it’s sequences like this that feels truly inspired and spectacular to play through.
Does Spider-Man pinch a few ideas from the Arkham playbook with his liberal use of Spider-sense and gadgets? Absolutely, but the end effect here feels far closer to inspired than flatout thievery as Spider-Man’s brutal ballet of punches and kicks emphasises the spectacular nature of this character. Spider-Man isn’t a hulking bruiser with parental abandonment issues, he’s an acrobat who’s quick on his feet and even quicker with his wits as he uses the proportionate speed and strength of a spider to not only out-fight any danger in front of him, but to outsmart as well.
That makes for some truly thrilling encounters, as Spider-Man flips under mercenaries and brings the house crashing down on them, utilising guerrilla gadgets to even the playing field and stay one step ahead of the game. Players can enhance these talents even further with unlockable costumes that provide bonus suit powers that complement their play style, pour some of their accumulated experience into new techniques and outfit themselves with better tools of the trade.
Between those thrill rides, Insomniac also pads out Spider-Man with some filler material that feels…odd. Several puzzle sections attempt to show off the inner workings of Peter’s mind as he engages in some mini-games that require you to do everything from connecting circuits to analysing spectrographs, Mary Jane gets a chance to shine in some stealth sections and New York is filled with all manner of activities to engage in.
It’s…an odd mix. Marvel’s Spider-Man has plenty of open-world filler activities to engage in, some of which hit the mark with enough precision to make Daredevil’s Bullseye jealous and others which feel like absolute tedium to undertake in case you have an obsession with grabbing a 100% completion score in your game. When these activities are done right, they’ll make you feel like the quintessential Spider-Man as you swoop into to save the day.
Bank robbers, armed gangs of Inner Demons terrorising civilians and people stuck under burning cars? There’s no problem that a canister of web-fluid, agility and the proportionate strength of a spider can’t fix as you’ll soon discover. On the other hand, when you’re chasing pigeons, swinging through smog for science and collecting backpacks filed with (admittedly charming to my inner comic book geek) nods to the past? That open-world bloat really starts to be felt.
Tastes may vary of course, but of the content that is available, Spider-Man doesn’t short-change players with the quantity of if the varying quality on offer. It speaks volumes of Insomniac’s love for the character, when you realise just how much fun it is to be Spider-Man. From combat to web-swinging, every aspect of Spider-Man feels like the end result of untold hours of fine-tuning to create not just the ultimate web-slinging experience, but one that also feels naturally fun and never wants you to ever stop moving forward.
Heck, Insomniac even throws in new stealth mechanics for Spider-Man, giving the New York resident a chance to flex his sneaking skills and play with his new gadgets as unsuspecting goons quickly find themselves caught in the stickiest of webs. Even with all of those fun elements in play however, it wouldn’t mean much if there wasn’t a face behind the mask that players could connect with.
That’s perhaps the greatest strength of Marvel’s Spider-Man, as Insomniac’s take on the character and his supporting cast is both joyful and heart-breaking, comedic and tragic. Insomniac nails the core appeal of Peter Parker within the opening minutes of Spider-Man, as the studio realises exactly who he is. He’s not an alienated youngster thrust into a world that hates and fears him.
Above all else, Spider-Man is a good person. He has an unwavering moral compass, a respect for life that manifests itself in multiple ways. No matter how far off the beaten path you’ve strayed, Spider-Man wants to save you and help you find redemption. And sure, he may wear a mask but Peter Parker and his wall-crawling alter-ego are the same person through and through. There’s a desire to help people, a responsibility to wield his power in a way that benefits society.
It’s this sacrifice, this personal duty that defines Spider-Man throughout his journey. I’m not going to spoil the story here, but by the time the end credits roll you won’t just see Peter Parker in a new light, you’ll appreciate him more than ever. Marvel’s Spider-Man doesn’t just return the webhead to a relatable status of barely being able to pay the bills on a Tuesday and punching bankrobbing villains on a Wednesday, it sets a new benchmark for who Marvel’s greatest hero truly is, that future films and TV series are going to be hard-pressed to find themselves matching, let alone surpassing.
Marvel’s Spider-Man is also a gorgeous game…if you’re looking in the right direction. PuddleGate be damned, Insomniac’s work on the Marvel icon has prioritised the more important aspects of this visual journey, resulting in a Manhattan skyline that is mesmerising to explore at sunset and packed with Easter eggs from across the history of the Spider-Verse. Spider-Man flips and somersaults with reckless abandon, his various costumes boasting an insane degree of detail right down to the smallest thread while battles around you erupt in embers and arcane energy.
It’s the human side of this game that is especially stunning however. Motion capture work on the actors of Spider-Man creates characters who feel not only relatable, but also real. Every nuance of their performance is captured, from a quivering lip to the quickest of facial twitches that takes a step closer to finally crossing the uncanny valley.
Special props to Peter Parker himself, as actor Yuri Lowenthal absolutely nails the hero in his most bombastic and private moments, culminating in a third act finale that puts every Spider-Man actor to shame as Lowenthal embodies the very essence of the amazing arachnid.
Does the overall story of Marvel’s Spider-Man tend to drag on until it reaches its third act? Absolutely, but that’s the nature of the beast that is video games and when viewed as a whole, every puzzle piece fits perfectly into place within Insomniac’s grand saga. What Marvel’s Spider-Man truly is, is a reminder. A tale of heroism and tragedy, of rising to the occasion and finding the hero within.
Last Updated: September 4, 2018