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The student news site of Moravian University

The Comenian

The student news site of Moravian University

The Comenian

‘Marvel’s Spider-Man’ Review

Be Greater
Photo courtesy of PlayStation
Photo courtesy of PlayStation

2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man (also called Spider-Man PS4) has unequivocally become the most significant PlayStation success of the last decade. It was the highest-selling PlayStation 4 exclusive title and it was so popular that it launched Spider-Man into the gaming mainstream, along with juggernauts like God of War and Red Dead Redemption II. In a year so filled to the brim with fantastic games, Spider-Man PS4 was a clear standout due largely to its gripping narrative and gameplay that really makes you FEEL like Spider-Man.

In 2020, developer, Insomniac Games, released a remastered version of the original game on the PlayStation 5 with graphical, performance, and accessibility improvements. The biggest of these improvements was allowing ray-traced reflections off of surfaces.

This game is like that one ex who always comes back. No matter how many times I tell myself I’m done with this game, it somehow snatches me back into its clutches every summer. Since 2018, it has become a yearly tradition to play this game despite my gaming backlog being longer than the Great Wall of China. 

Spider-Man PS4 takes everything that worked in previous Spider-Man games and improves on them in (nearly) every way to create what was the gold standard for not only Spider-Man games, but superhero games in general (until its sequel blessed us with its existence).

This game is stunningly beautiful and detailed. The original game already looked incredible, but this remastered version is on a whole other level. Despite playing it three times now, I can’t get over how detailed the character models are or how good the lighting is. It may not do much for some, but the ray tracing adds a lot to the presentation and makes this world even more beautiful to look at. 

Playing this game at 60 frames per second is also just a dream come true. It makes the combat and swinging feel much smoother than the original, and the game honestly is worth a replay just for that alone. It elevates the gameplay so much that I can’t go back to the old version at all.

The gameplay itself is a little wishy-washy. Sometimes it’s absolutely spectacular and others it’s really dull. This is because this game is split between sections where you play as Spider-Man and others where you play as MJ and Miles Morales in stealth missions. These stealth missions are awful. They are dreadfully dull and they completely ruin the momentum of the story. 

Rarely do these missions ever feel necessary so they almost always feel like annoying detours because Insomniac wanted to give MJ and Miles more importance to the plot. I used to think that they weren’t as bad as everyone says but after this playthrough, I’ve grown to detest them more than ever. Compared to playing as Spider-Man, these sections just feel painfully simplistic and monotonous. 

I wouldn’t mind these missions if there were only a few but this game annoyingly decides to shove in one of these missions what feels like every hour. There is one good one with MJ in Grand Central Station but besides that, they just felt completely unnecessary.

Thankfully, playing as Spider-Man is much more fun and satisfying. This is the most smooth and fluid Spider-Man gameplay to date (again until the second game came out). Previous games always had a level of clunkiness to them that somewhat hampered the power fantasy of being Spider-Man, but this game does an excellent job of making you feel like you’re playing as Spider-Man (yes I know it’s a meme at this point but it’s true).

The web swinging is the best it’s ever been. A lot of older games either felt like you were nearly weightless when swinging or you were a giant lead brick with limbs. This game strikes the perfect balance between feeling agile while also being weighty enough to feel satisfying and convincing.

My only wish is that the swinging felt a little less automated. I wish the game would reward you a bit more for mastering its traversal systems by allowing you to build increasingly more momentum while you’re swinging. This would help incentivize interacting with and learning the mechanics of the game a little deeper. 

The combat is honestly the best part of this game. No matter how many times I play this game I just cannot get over how good this combat system is. Sure, it’s a tad easy even on the hardest difficulty, but that doesn’t really matter much when the combat is just so fun. It’s a bit similar to games such as the Batman Arkham series, but this does enough to leave its own unique stamp on this style of combat. 

At first, the combat is admittedly a little basic, but as you increasingly get more abilities and come across new enemy types, it becomes an amazingly satisfying dance of webs and bullets. There are so many options in your arsenal in terms of both gadgets and unlockable moves. Admittedly, some abilities and gadgets can become fairly overpowered, but I generally just opt not to use the ones that don’t mesh well with my idea of a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. 

Unlike other similar combat systems, this game heavily emphasizes arial abilities which is extremely useful for avoiding getting hit while also dealing damage to your foes. The amount of verticality in the combat makes it feel more complex and satisfying. This certainly isn’t a Batman game with a Spider-Man coat of paint.

The stealth mechanics though are pretty shallow. This side of the gameplay mostly just relies on you scanning to see whether it’s safe to take down an enemy and pressing the triangle or square button to take them out. Compared to the combat, this has the depth of a kiddie pool and not the fun ones with the mushroom water fountains. 

Despite the beautifully recreated rendition of Manhattan, this game’s open world is not very good. It’s passable but the vast majority of side content boils down to punch enemies or collect items. It’s very barebones and lacking any real substance. Even the side missions aren’t that great or memorable. If the only ones I remember are the one that references Grand Theft Auto IV and the one where you collect pigeons like Pokémon, you’ve got a serious problem.

I think for a first attempt, the gameplay here is a solid but flawed system that thankfully was improved a bit in Spider-Man: Miles Morales and now Spider-Man 2. It’s definitely a fixer upper but its highest highs outweigh most of its lowest lows.

If you’re playing this game though, you’re playing it for the story first and foremost. This may be considered a hot take for many, but while the story is very good, great even, I think it is also deeply flawed. For every massive positive there is also a considerable drawback that keeps me from saying this stacks up against some of Sony’s other narrative titans like The Last of Us and God of War

This story thrives on absolutely stellar moments and character interactions but ultimately doesn’t feel quite as cohesive as it should be. Part of this issue is the aforementioned MJ and Miles missions that kill the pacing and momentum of the story. These missions often just feel unnecessary and sometimes just aren’t relevant to the main story and it drags this game down a lot.

Another issue is that the third act feels way too disjointed and rushed. At the end of the second act, they introduce the Sinister Six in a big climactic reveal and yet by the time the third act rolls around, you are tasked with taking them down in groups of two which distracts from the primary conflict between Peter and the main villain. The third act would be improved if the Sinister Six operated as a more cohesive unit to draw more attention to the main villain. This also by extension weakens the tertiary villains which makes them feel like glorified obstacles rather than real, tangible threats.

The biggest thing that bothers me about the narrative is the portrayal of MJ. Her portrayal is just not a good adaptation of the character. She essentially is boiled down to a crummy version of Lois Lane without any of the quirks and charm that make that character so enduring. I understand that Insomniac wanted to give her a little more relevance to the main plot but, to be frank, she never had to be. She may be Peter’s most significant love interest, but her world doesn’t have to revolve around Peter.

By making her a reporter they keep her in Peter’s orbit, but it doesn’t quite work because she never needed to be directly relevant to the main plot because she is her own person independent of Peter. She should be important to Peter’s personal growth and development but you don’t need to have her running around like Lois Lane Jr. in order to achieve that goal.

The rest of the cast is great though. Aunt May is probably the only version of the character that doesn’t make me groan when she’s on screen. Miles is great for showing what it’s like being in this version of New York while you’re not swinging across the city skyline. The two main villains are incredible too. Mr. Negative, who was previously a relatively unknown villain, quickly became known among Spider-Man fans because of his great portrayal in this game. He has much more depth than most of the villains in the movies. 

Minor spoilers ahead, Doc Ock is the best portrayal of any Spider-Man villain outside of the comics. Everyone knows Marvel doesn’t have the greatest villains of all time but Doc Ock breaks the curse because he is so well done that even long-time fans of the character would be impressed. He is introduced fairly early on and the game immediately assumes you know exactly what he will eventually become so, instead of playing some stupid game of will he won’t he, they make you dread what he will inevitably become.

Otto Octavius gets so much development before he gets the evil squid arms that the game really nails just how tragic his turn to villainy is. Even comics and other adaptations don’t give him all that much development before the accident, but in this game, you see him slowly get worse and worse as the game progresses and his experiments and innovations continue. 

Peter also works for him and idolizes him because of his great mind and his genuine care for helping people improve their lives, making Otto’s inevitable fall all the more tragic and heartbreaking for Peter.

Norman Osborne, while used sparingly, adds a great presence to this game. He’s like an ever-present boogy man who uses his charm to hide behind his greed and corruption. Both main villains are motivated by their hatred for this one man and going by the teases for the second game in both this and Spider-Man: Miles Morales, it seems Norman’s machinations are only going to lead to further conflict. His being mayor of NYC is also a great change as it really helps to sell that this Norman is a power-hungry slimeball.

This Peter Parker is one of the best adaptations he has ever had. Insomniac perfectly nails almost everything that makes a good Peter Parker and Spider-Man. This version isn’t perfect, however. There are two problems that in the grand scheme of things are nitpicks, but bug me nevertheless. First, I think this version overemphasizes how important science is to Peter’s life. This is more of an issue with every modern version including the comics, but I simply do not like him being some genius scientist. It somewhat messes with the everyday aspect of the character, but it also just wasn’t all that important up until recently in the character’s history. Him being a scientist undoubtedly makes his relationship with Otto stronger, but I don’t exactly like this being his ultimate calling in life.

The second issue is that this version is just a little too nice. Don’t get me wrong, Peter should be a nice guy and a good person, but he also undoubtedly has a bit of a temper and bite to him. Peter in the comics can sometimes just be an outright jerk if someone catches him in the wrong mood and you really don’t see much of that edge here. It feels like they somewhat dulled his teeth a bit.

Despite these issues, this version of Spider-Man far exceeds much of its competition. There is a reason that fans often believe that this is the best Spider-Man of all time and it’s because Insomniac nails the three most important aspects of the character, Peter Parker, Spider-Man, and the conflict between those two identities. 

Peter Parker is a lovable dork as always who tries to help everyone around him both in and out of spandex but because of that, he often forgets to care about himself. He is undoubtedly a hero, but there is always a cost whether it be his relationships, his job, or his finances. The two sides of Peter’s identity constantly conflict and are partially the reason that Otto became a villain. His activities as Spider-Man distracted from his work which could have prevented the creation of Doc Ock. We all know that with great power also must come great responsibility, but even that responsibility comes with disastrous consequences. 

The conflict between Peter and Otto eventually culminates in the best final act in any Spider-Man story ever put to screen. While I think the third act is a little messy, the climax is absolutely fantastic. Realistically, it’s just a fight between two guys on a roof but it’s presented in such a way that this intimate battle feels immensely important to both the city and Peter himself. This finale is heart-pounding and riveting ending with the two best Spider-Man moments ever put to screen.

While this game is very much flawed, I can’t help but love it because of how good its best aspects are. The combat and swinging are fun and addicting and the story provides some of the most heart-pounding emotional beats ever seen in a Spider-Man story. This game sets a very solid foundation for future games and is only improved and expanded upon in Spider-Man 2.

Score: 8/10

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