A loud ding can be heard off in the distance. The source: your mom’s brand new 2004 GE oven and stove top combo priced at $350 in the sears catalog. This chime is like a sweet symphony to your ears as it heralds in an era of unadulterated greasy goodness. That’s right, it’s pizza time. You rush to your kitchen and grab a slice before high tailing it back to your cool bedroom with all those glowy star stickers. You slam your greasy fingers on and around the power button of a mysterious box until you’re greeted with an obnoxious bubbling of the Original Xbox’s startup animation. You’ve waited for this moment for weeks. Not only is it Pizza time…It’s Spider-Man time. Most of us probably have a memory similar to the one I just described. My source? The overwhelming amount of people that hark back to the “good old days” of Spider-Man 2 for the Xbox and PS2 whenever confronted with the possibility of a NEW web slinging adventure game. I understand the comparison, really. Spider-man 2 was almost perfect, according to my nostalgia, and no game after it really hit the mark for me.
The last two Spidey games, the Amazing movie tie ins, left me so disappointed that I just gave up hope for another good Spider-Man game. That was of course until I picked up Spider-Man for the PS4, developed by Insomniac Games. In this brand new adventure we slip into the webbed feet of everybody’s favorite arachnid hero as he struggles against the likes of the Sinister Six in an open world recreation of New York City. The game starts off with an action packed assault against Wilson Fisk, aka The Kingpin, that introduces you to the air combo centric combat by utilizing the vertical space inside Fisk Tower. The combat itself is a lot like the Batman Arkham games where you tap the attack button until you see a very obvious flash letting you know that it’s now time to press the dodge button, which was disappointing at first glance, but to my surprise actually felt like a refreshing take on the format.
Unlike the Arkham games the main goal in Spider-Man is to increase and maintain momentum while also juggling all of the enemies around you and building your focus meter. As you dish out damage your focus meter will increase and when full can activate a power selected for your suit via the upgrade menu. These powers range from an electric blast that stuns all nearby enemies, to a whistle that signals a group of Spider-man wannabes to come even the odds a little. Another thing I liked was that enemies don’t just wait around until it’s their time to get “Press Square”‘d. They’re aggressive and will either gang up on you all at once, or shoot at you right in the middle of a sick combo.
These improvements aren’t without some issues, however. One of the things that drove me crazy over the course of the game was that when an enemy shoots a gun at you the only way to avoid it is pressing the dodge button. That sounds pretty par for the course but it means that moves that should count as a dodge (and do against melee opponents) just don’t register for ranged enemies. No matter how far across the map you zip to their 5 star robo cop Steven Segal aim will blow your fucking head off. But thankfully you have some gadgets to help you out and I have a convenient segue.
The gadgets that can be used during combat open up several opportunities for you and definitely come in handy when you’re in a pinch. You have your run of the mill web gadgets like your web shooters, and a web bomb; then you have other interesting gizmos like a concussive blast that knocks back enemies and a Suspension Matrix that lifts them up into the air allowing you to begin an air combo. There’s an upgrade system allowing you to spend skill points earned while leveling up on new moves and attacks that help out in a fight. But don’t worry too much about what upgrades you pick, by the time you reach the level cap you’d have earned enough skill points to purchase every single upgrade.
The last thing that I really liked about the combat was the introductions to all the different type of enemies you encounter. Throughout the game you usually encounter bosses that introduce a new attack pattern or gimmick that eventually transition over to normal enemies you find throughout the game. One example I could give is the fight with the Kingpin, the first boss.Up until his encounter you’ve only faced your run of the mill henchman that usually resemble a punching bag, but when you get to the kingpin you realize some of your moves won’t do damage unless you web him up/shock him first. This later translates to the Brute enemies you encounter fairly regularly and effectively teaches you how to deal with them. Nothing too impressive really but I liked the attention to design that is usually absent in games like this.
Now I know what you’re asking, ironically most likely: “But does it feeeeeeel like Spider-man?”. You probably think you’re clever quoting a funny internet video in the comment section of a humble digital nootropic forum. You probably think I run with the likes of Ben Kuchera and whoever is currently plagiarizing some poor youtube review slave’s work over at IGN. Well let me tell ya, guy, it does feel like spider-man…when it wants to. Now let me explain what I mean by that. We all know what we want from a Spider-Man game. We want satisfying web swinging in a detailed and alive New York, we want fast and flashy combat where we take on groups of enemies like it’s nothing, we want to be able to help the little folk down below by stopping robberies and other friendly neighborhood dude stuff, but most importantly: WE WANT TO BE SPIDER-MAN.
That last point kinda ties into all of them, really. I guess at the end of the day when we pick up a game titled Arachnid-Asshole we kind of expect to be that asshole, and I’d say this game definitely exceeds those expectations. There are loads of side tasks to accomplish, collectibles to find, towers to climb, all that jazz. The assortment of suits you can collect let’s you customize your spidey experience and you can even take a stroll around the big apple and interact with some of your fans, or haters. These Spider-shenanigans are all fun but they’re usually cut short when the game decides that you’ve had enough Spider-Man time. Like a mother taking the toys away from a baby it tells you to instead enjoy some other boring task like the pipe mini-game from Bioshock! Remember how fun that was!?
Now don’t get me wrong I understand what the game is trying to accomplish here. Sometimes you gotta pump the brakes and pace yourself, after-all part of being Spider-Man is also being Peter Parker. Where the game drops the ball with this approach however is making the not Spider-man sections so god damn boring. Other than the Bioshock pipe game you also have “stealth” sections as either Miles or Mary Jane, two people that are definitely not Spider-man and feel much more like a convenient way to dump exposition onto the player without them feeling completely disengaged. You sneak past some nearsighted guards and occasionally press a button to make a distraction, sometimes you have to press another one so either Miles or MJ will describe what they’re seeing out loud while standing behind a demon man with an ak47. These stealth sections are not very challenging, they’re rarely interesting, and they are definitely not fun. I suppose these sections serve their purpose for the narrative, and sometimes even do a good job at fleshing out some of the characters, but they completely take you out of the game and will leave you begging for another chance to slip on the web shooters.
One of the biggest problems with this game is that a lot of aspects accomplish the task but don’t exactly stick the landing. Web swinging is fun and feels great but a lot of moves(like web sling) seem to kill momentum instead of increase and maintain it. There are a ton of photo ops where you snap some pictures all around New York, but you also have…secret photo ops? These are the exact same thing as regular photo ops but aren’t displayed on your map…Until you unlock the suit upgrade that just shows you where they are. Seemed kinda redundant really. Along with the photo ops there is also a photo mode available at all times via the pause menu. This mode allows you to freeze the action and snap some screenshots but does’t actually have a function to snap the picture; instead it forces you to use the PS4’s screenshot function via the controller. Another great example is that anytime you switch your suit the game reflects that change in each cinematic and loading screen but for the final mission Peter decides to develop a super special suit that he not only never talked about before but also completely forgets to tell us anything about it after it’s development. The most annoying part is that you can’t even switch back to the suit that you want for the final cut scene. I can’t tell if I just glossed over that info or if Insomniac did.
Even with all of these minor faults Spider-Man is a great game created by a team of passionate fans and it really shows. Insomniac went above and beyond to accomplish the task of making us feel like Spider-Man and they gave us enough wiggle room to have fun while feeling like Spider-Man. They created a world full of moments to be enjoyed by all fans of the web head young and old. They were forced to compete with not only two separate cinematic universes, but also the rose tinted memories of a simpler time we all yearn for. A time where we could celebrate the death of Ronald Reagan, and also chill out with a slice of pizza and a friend. Maybe in a few years we’ll look back at this game with the same nostalgic thoughts. Maybe we’ll forget all about it when Sony reboots the franchise again. No matter what happens, it’ll always be Pizza Time.
The collective processing power of the Interdimensional Council of Triodugs rates Spider-Man(PS4): 7.5 removed WTCs out of 10