We haven’t heard much from Insomniac Games for a while, but while the world was enjoying the latest Ratchet and Clank outing the team were beavering away on something very exciting. A new Spider-Man game, one which showed far more promise than Spidey games that have gone before it. Superhero games are a tough cookie to crack, and there have been plenty of duff ones in the past. But just like Rocksteady’s recent Batman titles, this new Spider-Man title is really good. No, that’s underselling it. This is fantastic.
I’ll jump straight to one of the reasons why it’s so good, and that’s the storyline. So often in games a forgotten element, the plot behind Spider-Man is extremely well written, with enough twists and turns to make you feel like you’re wrapped up in the middle of a multi-million dollar Hollywood movie. I won’t go nuts into the detail given the potential for spoilers, but the relationship between Peter and MJ is (as is often the case) a sub-plot in itself, and with the final moments of the story opening things wide open to a sequel or further story content there’s every suggestion here that we could be seeing another game later down the line.
I, for one, seriously hope that’s the case. As well as the storyline being so engrossing there’s an unbelievable amount of stuff to do. As you swing around an incredibly large and well-created New York you’ll be hard pushed to go more than a few seconds without something catching your eye or demanding your attention. A multitude of street crimes, more of which appear as you progress through the game, keep you on your toes as you stop fleeing cars, round up escaped prisoners and try to keep a lid on the epic pain-in-the-ass Sable operators who are taking their jobs a bit too seriously. There are backpacks to collect, various challenges to complete for Taskmaster such as chasing drones or defusing bombs as quickly as possible, multiple side missions and capturing pigeons. Seriously. It makes sense when you play it. All the while you’re keeping an eye out for various photo opportunities, both major landmarks and the secret hidden locations that deserve a snap but aren’t marked on your map.
And as for those photos, they’re accompanied by a phenomenal photo mode, letting you send your camera around the place to get the perfect shot. Once it’s lined up there are dozens of different things to tweak and try out, including a pretty awesome comic book filter which frames your photo in a comic strip and can, if you choose, also bring the photo’s colours down to the old-fashioned dot-based printed version. There so much you can do here it’s possible to lose a couple of hours just finding cool places to take photos, and once you find the selfie option you’ll be lining up shots next to civilians, shops and webbed-up bad guys in no time.
But, and at the risk of sounding like a shopping channel, that’s not all you get. While you’re getting around town, completing story missions, completing research station tasks and hunting for black cats left around by… well… Black Cat, you’re gaining various elements to help along the way. Everything you do earns XP, but there are also challenge tokens, research tokens and base tokens (earned by clearing out enemy strongholds of various kinds) which can be spent on some pretty cool upgrades alongside your skill tree. There are several suits to unlock which as well as looking different also give you new upgrades and special abilities, and coupled with a range of gadgets that you can unlock and upgrade to help with your fighting give you a huge array of possible combinations. The gadgets are great too, ranging from powerful webs to fling at people through to electronic spiders which scuttle round and flick smaller webs at enemies to distract them. My personal favourite was the tripwire web, letting you attach your device to a wall (or for even more fun, an enemy) and capture a bad guy who happens to walk too close. If you’ve attached it to an enemy you end up with a hugely satisfying moment when two of them get stuck to each other as a result; endless fun.
The combat is really great too, letting you wind up some great moves and combos as you work your way through a series of suckers waiting to be taken down. It’s reminiscent of the earlier mentioned Batman games, combining subtle stealth elements with outright brute power as you pick off huge numbers of enemies in a range of ways that leave you with a pretty quick heart rate and a huge sense of satisfaction. What didn’t work as well for me though were those times when stealth was the only way, and I don’t mean zipping from lamppost to lamppost and stringing up bad dudes with webs, but there are sections when you control people other than Spider-Man. Again, I won’t ruin this with details, but trying to sneak past guards and other dangers slowed down the action a little too much in my eyes. I can see why the developers put it in, and there’s a good level of tension, but apart from a really cool section where MJ and Spider-Man work together I wasn’t overly keen.
But that’s pretty much the only gripe I can have with this. It speaks volumes for the enjoyment factor of Spider-Man that there seems to be a lot of people sticking it out to get the platinum trophy, and while it’s not the hardest to achieve it takes a lot of hours to get through everything. But it’s fun, it’s really good fun, and that’s why people are doing everything there is. With DLC arriving soon there’s even more on the horizon, and you’d have to be a bit crazy to ignore what is one of the best games you’ll see on the PS4 this year.
Reviewed on PS4