‘Marvel’s Spider-Man’ is an immersive, web-slingin’ masterpiece
The highest compliment I can pay to Marvel’s Spider Man is also the simplest: it makes me feel like I’m Spider-Man. Not sitting on my couch playing Spider-Man, I feel like Spider-Man. Everything from the ease of Marvel’s Spider Man‘s controls, to its soundtrack, to the immersive New York environment comes together in the game to create a fully believable Spider-Man story and places players directly in the middle of the action.
As Spider-Man, I can do whatever Me-Spidey wants. I can spend a few minutes checking Twitter or investigate a lead with Mary Jane Watson. I can stop by to visit Aunt May or do a little web-assisted sightseeing. If I pick up some noise on a police scanner it’s entirely up to me if I want to go stop that mugging or kidnapping, and when I finally put my controller down…it feels like I’ve done my part to patrol the city as a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
That’s A Big Apple
As a New Yorker I was concerned about how “real” Spider-Man’s city was going to feel. I wouldn’t have been happy if there weren’t at least a few indications that this was truly the New York of Marvel comics, layered on top of the city I know and love.
Luckily, the open world of Marvel’s Spider-Man is a gorgeous blend of reality and comic-book fiction, where Washington Square Park sits just a few blocks away from Dr. Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum, and Avengers Tower stole One World Trade’s thunder as the tallest building in Manhattan.
One of the game’s collection quests involves getting pictures of some of New York’s famous landmarks (and a few of Marvel’s), which is an excellent way to get players to pay attention to the level of detail in the city — but don’t get too caught up on only taking pictures of the big stuff. Some places aren’t marked on the map and still reward XP for “Secret Location” pictures. Happy snapping.
Meet Peter Parker
The best thing Marvel’s Spider-Man does for Peter Parker is set the game eight years after his origin story (RIP Uncle Ben). In bypassing all of Pete’s familiar beats, the game allows the player to take control of a seasoned, slightly cocky Spidey who’s at the top of his game straight out the gate.
Peter as a main character is completely delightful. He’s high-energy, very chatty, and so responsive to his environment that I often found myself talking back to him as he commented on his surroundings, made bad puns, and motormouthed his way through battles (one funny boss fight has the villain literally beg Spidey to stop talking. He doesn’t.)
Making Peter a likable character —someone who feels more like a friend than a player avatar— is key in this game, because the plot really puts poor Pete through the ringer. His character development and emotional journey is much more interesting when people care about what happens to this version of Peter Parker, and it’s hard not to care when he’s so dang charming.
The web-slinging mechanics in this game are nothing short of magical from the moment they’re introduced.
The web-slinging mechanics in this game are nothing short of magical from the moment they’re introduced. The learning curve for figuring out how to swing, release, and slingshot Spidey around the city is super small, so much so that I think the mechanics do a little too much of the heavy lifting required to make Spidey look cool.
Swinging also feels incredible in this game — the gentle rumble of the controller when Spidey is at the bottom of an arc is a nice touch, and the way the camera snaps and pans around when he puts a flippy flourish on a particularly well-timed jump is downright cinematic.
Hot New Dance Craze: Beating People Up
Marvel’s Spider-Man thankfully bucks the trend of having a 100-page combat moves list in favor of having a few standard abilities that get better and more powerful as you play. Spidey can punch/kick someone, dodge around or under them, shoot webbing at them, and (this was my personal favorite) yank them up into the air and just absolutely destroy them in aerial combos.
That’s not to say that the combat is simple. Each of those basic skills can be upgraded through the game, so a simple web shot to the face at the beginning can become a full-body web bind that turns enemies into human wrecking balls when spun, or an aerial combo can launch into an endlessly fun game of “come up here and fight me like a spider,” as mook after mook is yanked up and smacked down.
Combat becomes even more fun when gadgets are involved. There are electric webs, deployable drones that help Spidey out, tripmines, a suspended gravity matrix that really ruins a bad guy’s day, and way more. Using the gadgets in conjunction with Spidey’s move set turns each fight into a quippy, graceful battle-dance. Getting it right looks awesome.
Big Bad Bosses
Here’s the thing: the boss fights in Marvel’s Spider-Man are visually and stylistically dope. Each major villain in the game gets at least one set piece that showcases their dastardly skills and no two fights require the same strategy. However, I found that some of the game’s bigger moments, many of which have shown up in gameplay trailers, are played via quicktime events.
To the game’s credit, the transitions between straightforward combat and Telltale-ish quicktime battles is very smooth. There are some clever uses of it in some of the neighborhood crimes, and those feel earned because they’re capped at the end of a regular battle.
But when the big stuff happened— and there are a lot of huge, blockbuster moments in this game — I did feel a bit miffed that my participation was reduced to timing a button press to the rhythm of an onscreen fight as opposed to actually fighting. Only a little bit, though. The story payoff was usually worth it.
It’s The Little Things
Huge boss battles aside, a lot of the charm of the game comes from what happens outside of the main plotline, when Spidey is free to explore some of the small scale duties of being a hero. Marvel’s Spider-Man smartly weaves in moments where Pete doesn’t have a lot to do and goes on patrol, which can mean scanning for petty crime, taking some pictures, or following through on one of several side or collection quests.
Those smaller quests end up being important because they award different tokens that can be used to upgrade gadgets or suits (more on the suits in a minute), but they also have some interesting plot developments of their own. One of them leads directly into the first announced DLC for Marvel’s Spider-Man and has to do with Black Cat, the others I’ll try not to spoil.
Some of these smaller quests have payoffs beyond collecting tokens or unlocking a new suit, but not all of them. I wish that they all had some kind of cutscene or extra reward and a few times had a “that’s it?” reaction to finishing a quest, but some of them have surprisingly poignant emotional beats.
Marvel’s Spider Man‘s suit crafting and customization system is way more involved than I expected. Materials collected through the game can be exchanged for new Spidey suits, each of which comes with a special suit power and three slots for further customization.
There are thousands of possible combinations that can tailor the Spidey suit to any style of gameplay.
Those four customization options may not seem like a lot of variety, but there are thousands of possible combinations that can tailor the Spidey suit to any style of gameplay. I was delighted that after unlocking enough powers I could build a suit that looked like the one from Spider-Man: Homecoming, had a high resistance to bullet damage, helped me find secret photo opportunities, and let me use an electric guitar to knock people down with the power of rock (not joking, that’s a suit power, it’s dope).
So Much More
I’ve tried to stay vague in this review because a lot of the joy of Marvel’s Spider-Man comes from experiencing the fantastic moments in real time. It’s common knowledge by now that Miles Morales appears in the game, but to say anything about how and why would take away from how freaking cool it is when he appears. There are some twists I didn’t see coming, others I saw from a mile away, and enough action and heart in between to make the game experience more than worth it.