Ben: Spider-Man is one of the few superheroes with multiple successful video games under his belt. In my youth I played the classic 2000 Playstation game, the adaptations of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 (the latter of which is arguably the greatest video game based on a movie), Ultimate Spider-Man, Spider-Man: Friend or Foe, and a couple others as well. The 2010’s, however, have been sparse in quality Spider-Man games. Therefore, I was over the moon when Insomniac Games, the developer behind beloved series like Ratchet & Clank and Resistance, announced that they were working on a new title starring everyone’s favorite Webhead. After two years of anticipation, Spider-Man has hit the PS4, living up to almost all of my extremely high expectations.
Lauren: As far as excitement levels go at the announcement of a new Spider-Man game, I would say I was more hesitantly optimistic. Other than the Arkham series, the genre hasn’t had the best track record, with a range of decently mediocre entries to Superman on the N64, a game that still haunts the dreams of many a gamer. How could they do that to my favorite superhero, Ben? HOW!?
Which is why I let out the heaviest sigh of relief when I finally got to put myself in Peter Parker’s questionably sticky shoes. To put it simply: Spider-Man is basically Arkham City under a vibrant wash of sunlight. And I am all for it.
Ben: It’s funny you mention Arkham City, because I was constantly being reminded of and making comparisons to the Batman: Arkham series while playing Spider-Man. The traversing, collectibles, and fighting mechanics in Spidey’s newest game should be instantly familiar to fans of the Batman gaming quadrilogy. However, the feel of the characters and environment are drastically different (Spider-Man is about as far from dark and gritty as can be), which makes it feel far less like a simple Arkham clone. In addition, Insomniac’s Spider-Man feels like it’s honoring the stories surrounding the character that have come before, all the while making something new. Let’s just say there are some pretty big changes to the lore that may surprise long-time readers of Spider-Man comics. Fortunately, Insomniac’s Peter Parker is still the witty, slightly naive, and completely selfless one we know and love.
Lauren: I’m going to have to take your word on the lore, because as much as I love Spider-Man himself, I’m suddenly realizing that I don’t know the origins of a lot of his villainous mainstays. Vulture, Rhino, Green Goblin, Carnage… They’ve just always existed to me. I honestly didn’t even know Mister Negative wasn’t a character created just for this game until I googled him just now.
Getting into long established comics is hard, guys.
Even so, Insomniac Games makes adapting this insurmountable pile of source material look so easy because it’s clear that they understand what makes Spider-Man the hero he is, which is a fun loving, pun fu fighting, kid at heart who constantly puts way too much weight on his already heavily burdened shoulders. Sure, there’s a good chance they also made Spider-Man a murderer by constantly pushing me towards sending thugs plummeting off of rooftops, but the main foundation is there. It’s just a solid foundation that also happens to have a crack that gives J Jonah Jameson a legit reason to have a whole podcast dedicated towards spreading his hatred of Spider-Man.
All joking aside, Insomniac weaves a beautiful and heartfelt story that stands up to anything I’ve seen or read about Spider-Man before, with one hell of a final act that’ll get you right in the feels. I mean, I’m not crying; all the wind pelting me in the face as I joyously swing through the city is just making my eyes water a bit. Look at how much fun I’m having! WEEEE(PS)!
Ben: I agree, the storytelling is certainly top-notch, and there were a few moments where I was fighting (and possibly losing to) tears as well. This game has the same heart, humor, and tragic themes that the classic Spider-Man tales are known for.
The gameplay is almost as fantastic as the storytelling too. Swinging through New York is still incredibly enjoyable fifteen to twenty hours in (it’s not often I avoid fast traveling, but I have the vast majority of my time so far), and the combat became ridiculously fun and fluid once I got the hang of it.
Lauren: And oh my god the boss battles! To elaborate would get into spoilers, so let’s just say there are some creatively combative confrontations that’ll be hard to forget.
Ben: You’re 100% right about the boss battles, they were fantastic.
Unfortunately, there was one kind of mission in Spider-Man that I really didn’t care for. There are a few specific stealth missions where you play as Mary Jane that killed the momentum of the story for me almost every time I was forced into them, and they felt like chores I had to get through in order to go back to having fun. I respect the reasoning I assume was behind Insomniac’s decision to include them, but they were definitely something I could’ve done without.
Lauren: I agree with you when it comes to getting around the sandbox; fast traveling never crossed my mind. Where we part ways is on the Parkerless missions. Usually I’m not a fan when games force the player to take on another character, especially when the new character is nowhere near as powerful as the main protagonist I’ve been spending hours and hours building up (I HATED this is Assassin’s Creed: Origins, for example). But it made perfect sense for me here because MJ has always been such an integral part of Spider-Man’s story. It’s no different in this game, and I really appreciated Insomniac not brushing her to the periphery. Matter of fact, one of these missions that allowed us to see Spider-Man from a different POV was one of my favorite moments of the game.
I also think these missions didn’t ruin the momentum for me because we were already spending time as Peter Parker sans web shooters, being super geniuses in the lab (not gonna lie, I love how smart those puzzles made me feel). So being MJ didn’t slow things down for me. I’m not saying this openness extends to all of the missions without Spider-Man, but I’ll choose to be more forgiving of the missions that felt less necessary because I imagine Insomniac has big plans to build off of them in the inevitable sequel.
Now if you come to me with complaints about how hard it is to get high quality compositional photos of landmarks in a city so scrunched together, or how apocalyptically dire all of the environmental threats seemed to be in these research station sidequests, then we can talk.
Ben: I’m definitely not going out of my way to complete all the research stations (thank goodness they’re optional) but I might finish collecting all the backpacks and landmark photos. I usually stop playing games after finishing the campaign, but the little bits of Parker’s history we see with each backpack and the references to other characters in the landmarks like the Rand Corporation (the company owned by Iron Fist) are just enough to keep me going. Plus, it’s more reason to keep swinging around New York.
Lauren: Must be nice not being an achievement/trophy whore…
Luckily I’m far from tired of the world that Insomniac has built for us. Plus, if I collect all these long lost backpacks maybe Parker can finally buy himself that new laptop. Seriously, no wonder he’s broke; he has bought more backpacks than there are weeks in the school year.
Ben: When all is said and done, Spider-Man is one of the Wall-crawler’s best games that I’ve played so far. The Arkham-inspired combat, interesting changes to Spidey’s history, and a story that’s almost on par with the best of the character’s comics make it easy to say that Insomniac has created another fantastic title I will be sure to come back to again and again.
And however long we have to wait for the sequel is far, far too long.