If the Batman: Arkham series changed the landscape of superhero action games, as well as giving you the sensational feeling of what it's like to be said hero, Insomniac Games' Spider-Man takes that to a whole new level. This is an expertly-crafted game that perfectly explores and delves into the internal and external turmoil and plights of both Peter Parker and Spider-Man in a grand tale that offers brilliant twists and surprisingly emotional moments. Add superb web-swinging mechanics, cool gadgets, suits, collectibles, various missions and activities, as well as plenty of witty quips to boot, and what you have is an amazing, great-looking experience that brings in all of Spidey's famous enemies and closest allies together for one of the best games to have hit the PS4 yet.
As opposed to many Spider-Man games in the past, this game truly does let you do whatever a Spider-Man can, and so much more. There's a wide plethora of web-swinging abilities, fighting abilities, web-gadgets, and so forth that allow you a large variety of methods and techniques when approaching a situation. All of these mechanics may seem overwhelming at first, but once you get the hang of it, all options are open for you. The web-swinging itself is simply astounding and the best iteration of it so far, having the weight and heft that it needs while also allowing for some graceful and balletic poses with every leap, jump, zip, wall-run, dive and swing. Believe us when we say this: web-swinging has never been this brilliant or wonderfully realised, and you'll definitely have plenty of joyous entertainment in swinging about all the various complexes, skyscrapers, and tunnels in New York.
There's also the fun, methodical thrill of organising and planning how to deal with the many, various enemies and foes this game dishes out at you, which highlights in perfect detail the many skills that Spider-Man has. Due to the variety in enemies (such as the brutes that can block most attacks), the encounters become all the more challenging as you progress further and further, although that's partly due also to the increasing number of foes you face. Combat feels smooth and fluid in movement, allowing Spidey to pull off some impressive takedown manoeuvres that you can unlock through the skill trees, resulting in immense satisfaction when performing the simplest of attacks like web-yanking a weapon away from an enemy and smacking him around with it or webbing thugs to the ceiling to immobilise them. There's even Arkham-style stealth tactics when approaching certain enemy situations, and these offer nice variation to the traditional combat mechanics. Strategy and improvisation are the keys to overcoming the various obstacles that stand in your way and once you learn the ropes and master your power and abilities, the pure fantasy and delight of being the web-slinger in action is delivered in full.
The power of the PlayStation 4 is taken to its peak to bring this technical marvel (no pun intended!) to life with the graphics and animation being some of the very best yet seen on the current-gen of consoles. Everything from the colour vibrancy, suit textures, world-building, facial animation, and motion-capture is pitch-perfect, and you'd be very hard-pressed to find any technical faults. Another aspect that's as important as Spider-Man is New York City itself, with the magnitude of skyscrapers and back alleys to web-swing around and explore. While the Batman: Arkham series had great cityscapes to roam around, they did feel pretty lifeless with nothing but criminals roaming the streets of Gotham, but here, New York is full of life with civilians that you can either interact with (you can compliment them with a witty remark or a handy high-five!) or save from random acts of violence. With the Big Apple being such a vast place to uncover, there are plenty of side missions and activities as well as the main campaign, which involves such missions like stopping Taskmaster or stopping Kingpin's illegal operations. There are plenty of backpacks scattered throughout the city that you can find to uncover many Easter eggs and goodies that harken back to Spider-Man's long history in the comics and are definitely worth collecting.
Despite the impressive gameplay and the gorgeous graphics, what's perhaps the most surprising element of this game was the main story campaign with its focus primarily revolving around Peter and his relationships with his closest allies, including Mary Jane, Miles Morales, Aunt May, and Captain Yuri Watanabe. Despite being active for eight years, this Spider-Man is still going through the trials and tribulations of being a hero, succeeding greatly in a lot of areas but screwing up in others. His story also revolves around the theme of mentorship, and we see Peter working with and idolising this one mentor who he works with in a science facility, while also becoming one to Miles Morales. Without wishing to spoil plot details, Miles' journey is cleverly well-handled, brilliantly coincides with Peter's, and made this reviewer finally love the character. The mutual alliance between Spidey and Watanabe is also a joy to watch (someone make Spider-Cop a thing!), and Peter's interactions with Aunt May are often profoundly touching.
However, the main crux of the game is the central relationship between Peter and Mary-Jane, and Insomniac manages to breathe new life into this power couple. It's clear that these are two people who have a long history together, have had highs and lows in their past, and are trying to work out what future they have together, whether it is as lovers, friends or co-workers. This relationship is beautifully portrayed and perhaps better than most romances in a lot of superhero movies in general. Spider-Man always had the best rogues’ gallery in comics, and this game smartly utilises some of Spidey's greatest enemies instead of just throwing them in for glorified fan-service. Insomniac wisely show some restraint in handling the villains, and how they handle the ultimate central antagonist of the game is expertly handled, which results in some powerful moments. Plus, the ending is quite possibly one of the most tear-jerking endings to have been shown in a video game.
The performances do a great job of enhancing this story, and Yuri Lowenthal delivers quite possibly the greatest performance of his career, as he manages to convey the various emotions and facets of Peter's character; delivering the emotion with real weight that doesn't feel contrived or forced. Also, Laura Bailey is incredible as Mary-Jane, perfectly finding the right balance of toughness and vulnerability to create a nuanced portrayal of an iconic character in Spidey's lore. Nadji Jeter brings genuine warmth and likeability to Miles, while Tara Platt manages to deliver the fierceness and snarkiness of Capt. Watanabe fantastically well.
Insomniac Games had to deliver the sensation of being Spider-Man, and this game does that and much more, thanks to its map size, the wide range of different types of gameplay, a brilliant collection of characters, top-notch performances and a compelling central narrative. Not only is this the greatest Spider-Man game ever made, it is also one of the very best games on the PS4, as well as, quite possibly, the best superhero/comic book video game to date. Insomniac has nailed what Spider-Man is supposed to feel like, and fans should rejoice since this is an amazing, spectacular game on every possible level.
SPIDER-MAN / DEVELOPER: INSOMNIAC GAMES / PUBLISHER: SONY INTERACTIVE ENTERTAINMENT / PLATFORM: PS4 / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW