The beauty of Spider-man rests as much in what it doesn’t do as what it does. It does embrace the idea of being Spider-man; it doesn’t do anything else. Every action, mission, side-quest and collectable feels governed by the question: “What would Spiderman do?” By constantly returning to this point of reference, the resultant design is focused, wellhoned and, crucially, makes you feel like Spidey more readily than any comic book game before it.
What Insomniac Games has proven here is that placing intelligent limitations on game design allows creators to drill wholly into what is important, heightening the experience through a small number of solidly and lavishly constructed pillars, as opposed to adopting the all-time common scattergun approach. Not once are you pulled out of character by being asked to do something that feels atypical for the humanspider hybrid, allowing you to suspend your disbelief and become Peter Parker, as opposed to feeling like a player playing as him.
This kind of performance play is rarely achieved by open-world games, as they struggle to legitimise their large environments by cramming in as much ‘stuff’ as possible, often corrupting the original intention and ending up transforming themselves into a boorish series of elaborate scavenger hunts for unrelated objects. Interactions here are split simply into combat and exploration, the details and contents of both fitting the space and the character as snuggly as a Spider-suit. Thus, each element feels connected to the next.
Key to this cohesion, and the element that most readily links the presented combat and exploration challenges, is movement; the pacing and sensation of which is stunning in how well it imitates our understanding of Spider-man’s superhuman capacities from comics and movies. His web slinging is his quintessential differential as a character, and it seeps into everything you do here.
Success in combat, for instance, requires you to link attacks together into what is essentially a piece of freestyle dance, the final form of which is dictated by the number and type of enemies you’re facing and whatever help you can improvise from the world around you. Kicks and punches chain into slides between enemy legs that expose their unguarded rear, and front flips and spins can be pulled off while simultaneously firing your web shooters at an incoming rocket and returning it to sender.
The sheer speed of Spider-man’s attacks and the fluidity with which every form of strike, dodge and web swing can be combined is mesmerising, and takes some getting used to. From the off, you’re given enough tools to dominate your opposition if you’re prepared to concentrate on keeping the tempo high, and subsequent skilltree-centric unlocks only add to your arsenal down the line.
Crowd management is the aim of the game when it comes to staying healthy, with all nonboss enemies – wisely – choosing to swarm and surround you in an attempt to limit your options. There’s no one-enemy-at-time-combat – à la various Bruce Lee movies – respite here. As such, it’s as important to use Spider-man’s abilities as a means of controlling the space as it is a means of inflicting damage.
To prevent yourself being victimised by your opponent’s superior numbers, you need to think of your abilities in a pluralistic manner. The web shooters that can snatch rockets out of the air are also used to pull manhole covers from the street, weapons from enemy hands and as a means of catapulting yourself towards foes in an attempt to narrow the space and prevent ranged attacks. You need to consider all of these options if you harbour any ambition of imitating the grace we know our avatar is capable of.
Disarming combatants early in a fight can save you later when your energy is low and any lucky shot will kill, and those manhole covers – when swung around your head – are perfect for stunning thugs just long enough for you to zip out of the main fray and reassess your approach.
This might all sound complex and difficult to pull off, but it’s not. Indeed, it’s all rather easy and straightforward to execute audacious combos given that a small number of buttons are used to employ a wide variety of contextually based actions. What you have to master is the timing and direction of those actions and whether you want to risk mastering a few or gaining a knowledge of them all.
Ease of access is key here. If combat was too difficult to engage with and you found yourself dying often or consistently unable to move fluidly between one move and the next,
then you wouldn’t feel like Spider-man at all. Importantly, this isn’t a game in which Peter Parker becomes a superhero and is learning how to use his powers; this is a game in which he’s a fully fledged defender of New York, and players of all skill levels need to be able to experience what that feels like in order for the premise to work. Even in those moments in which you’re asked to slow down and pick off enemies by stealthily webbing them to walls or stringing them up from street lights, the abundance of on-screen cues informing you of whether or not it’s safe to act means the pace can stay high if you choose it to.
Exploration enjoys the same ease of action but spectacle of result as combat, it being possible to look effortless in traversals of the city that are predominantly undertaken by swinging above the streets and between the skyscrapers. You don’t need to aim and position your web for every swing, but the nature of the environment around you determines what you can do. With only the trees to cling to, moving through Central Park is a case of staying low to the ground, for example, while in the midst of Midtown and Times Square you can take flight as high as you like and experiment with more elaborate flips and dives.
It is not an exaggeration to say that there’s not another open-world game that claims to prioritise speed and fluidity of movement that comes close to what Insomniac has pulled off with Spiderman. one of the major reasons that the side missions and collectables are enjoyable to tick off is just how fun it is to move around the city. You'll want to complete those lists of collectables because it’s great to have an excuse to glide above the sidewalks.
Narratively, however, the line snaps and those skyscraper highs are criminally lacking. There’s a palpable clumsiness in how the plot fails to engage interestingly with its characters’ personalities and desires, and the overall pacing is so haphazard that any attempt to create meaning from plot beats comes across as confused and amateurish. By the end of proceedings you feel as though the writing team didn’t know what they wanted to say or how to say it.
This is especially disappointing given that there are some great individual scenes that in isolation successfully manage to blend both narrative and interactive intrigue into a seamless whole. The introduction of Mary Jane Watson is one such moment, setting up the character in an interesting way through multiple forms of gameplay, good dialogue and a believable combination of setting and goal.
Spider-man’s ending, too, is a moment the creators can be proud of, as it sends the game off in brilliantly over-the-top style while – finally – managing to instil some emotional resonance into a chief antagonist that suffers up until that point from incredibly crude and forced appearances.
The quality of the ending ultimately and most powerfully winds up acting as a symbol of potential lost, though. Spider-man adheres to the traditional Hollywood three-act structure to such a degree that you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s a parody of the whole concept, with its three parts feeling more like separate stories than a means to control information release with a view to creating tension and intrigue.
In particular, the move from act two to three represents the kind of extreme shift that should be saved for sequels and spin-offs. At this juncture, a plethora of Spider-man characters are released
one of The Major reasons THAT The Side Missions And collectables Are enjoyable To Tick OFF is just how Fun it is To Move Around The city
old School Sandbox
in many respects, Spider-man feels like a throwback to a different era of sandbox game making. with its towers to activate and collectables to find, it is a game that leans on gamey mechanics rather than the more naturalistic, emergent world elements of some more recent open exploration experiences. in fact, we would say that it has more in common with something like Crackdown than titles such as Assassin’s Creed Origins or Breath Of The Wild. But interestingly, that doesn’t feel like a bad thing. There’s a fresh-faced innocence, perhaps embellished by the overall tone of the game and personality of peter parker, to the whole game that helps to lift it above its more well-trodden or trope-adjacent mechanics. like finding orbs in Crackdown, getting all of the collectables not only gives you rewards, but is fun to do in itself thanks to the strengths of the core features of the game. into the story in a way that is as heavy-handed as could be, their appearance undermining the character conflicts and relationships that had up until that point taken the spotlight. The plot is spent spinning into its own web of meaninglessness as it tries to manage everything that it suddenly finds itself having to wrap up in its final act.
Such is the ungainliness of the pacing that you can’t help but think that the script changed multiple times during production, and there was no consistent consensus on how the story was going to reach its conclusion. Either that or the game was originally designed to include more plot beats in the final third than it did as a means to believably incorporate the bloated cast.
Spider-man’s characterisation manages to survive the confusion, but only because of the fact that the mechanics do such a wonderful job of defining him. If you remove those and focus only on the narrative then it’s actually Mary Jane, ‘MJ’, presented as more than the usual sidekick love interest, who is most interesting.
Where Peter Parker is a naive, innocent idealist who is too childlike to look head-on at his emotions, MJ is adaptable, reflective and always looking for the alternative approach. While Spiderman tries to control it, she’s the one who best embodies and reflects the chaotic world around her and seeks to understand it.
In a sense she’s the everyday New Yorker of the sort the city advertises itself on: smart, tough, inventive, romantic and always ready to lend a hand in a crisis. She deals with the responsibility of knowing Spider-man’s real identity, and she’s the one who provides the support and ideas that he so badly needs to get the job done. Without her, he couldn’t exist as a hero. He’d simply be a kid with cool moves.
It’s a good thing those moves are so cool, then, because MJ isn’t around all of the time. Despite its problems in storytelling, Spider-man achieves its primary goal of making you feel like the titular character. In a way even more impressive than the lauded Batman Arkham series, this is a game that takes the boundaries defined by the relevant pop culture and uses them to build an experience that reflects its heroes sensibilities and tropes brilliantly. If it could add some of Batman’s storytelling nuance then it would be even more deserving of praise.
Hopefully, what Insomniac has achieved here will stand as a lesson to other open-world creators in why it’s so important to build your world, and everything in it, around your character – as opposed to creating a character to fit your world. Everything you can do here is positioned to celebrate Spider-man’s abilities, and that means everything you can do makes you feel like Spider-man.
left: The level of detail in the city is impressive, perhaps as much for the tricks it pulls to giveNew York more depth as for the real engine power underneath. Windows with room boxes inside give every building an improved sense of reality. Sunset overdrive
ASSASSIN’S creed origins
Below: We can’t even begin to express how much it warms our hearts to see the Scarlet Spider costume in this game. It’s a Nineties Spider-man fan thing that is too convoluted to explain, but we love this outfit. right: There are a handful of sections where you play the game not as Spiderman, but as Peter Parker, Mary Jane or others. These do a great job of not just changing up the pace, but also helping to put Spidey’s skill set in better context.
left: As you unlock new webbing techniques and abilities, being able to chain moves together and control a crowd of thugs becomes very satisfying. Insomniac could have gone with the tried and tested parry system of combat, but found something more direct and exciting instead. Below: Spider-man’s approach to stealth is not entirely unlike that of Batman in the Arkham games, but really this game is more about pace and direct confrontation. You can thin out the numbers, but this game is at its best in full flow.