When Insomniac Games announced Spider-Man at Sony's E3 press conference a few years ago, people couldn't believe that such an iconic and popular character could be featured in a platform exclusive game – but here we are. A few years later and Spider-Man is poised to make his debut in just a few short months on PS4 this coming September 7, and I got the chance to go hands-on with the latest build at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) down in Los Angeles, CA following Sony’s shaky (but experimental) press conference.
At the show this year I set out to see if Spider-Man could live up to the hype in his new web-slinging adventure, or if Insomniac Games would buckle under the pressure. It's hard to say based on a limited preview build, but we're confident that this version of Spidey has what it takes to hang upside down on a street lamp with the best of them.
For my demo, I was thrust into the open world with little direction other than a few on-screen prompts. In fact, it was quite remarkable how seamless it went from me looking at Spidey chilling on the side of a building to swinging through the streets of New York City. Animations were acrobatic and fluid, the draw distance was remarkable, and everything controlled just as well as I imagined it would.
Holding R2 let me effortlessly swing through the city streets, where I could then release and press X to launch into the air. Since it uses a real, intricate physics system for all web interactions that means you’ve got to make sure there is something nearby for your web to stick to, otherwise you’ll just be shooting them off into the air. You can’t fly as Spider-Man, you can only swing, so it requires a bit of environmental awareness.
One of my fears was that if there wasn’t a clear lane to swing in, it would be difficult to control or the speed would falter. Luckily, that wasn’t the case. As Spider-Man you can easily boost across large gaps of space by just tapping X, or hold down both L2 and R2 to zoom towards a perch spot, then tap X again to launch off of the perch immediately. All of this combines together for a really intuitive system that seldom slows down and keeps rolling right along.
Combat plays out a lot like it does in the Batman Arkham or Shadow of Mordor games. Square let me dish out my basic melee attacks with triangle throwing out webs and circle evading incoming blows. But it’s all of that plus a ton of Spidey style.
For example, if I pressed square and then circle right afterwards I’d punch the bad guy, then slide under his legs to wind up behind him. I could launch enemies in the air, grapple them from a distance and pull myself towards them or pull them towards me. You can wrap enemies up in webs, do plenty of slo-mo dodges, and you’ve even got access to gadgets like web bombs.
Leveraging your environment during combat plays a huge role as well. During one fight I had to take out waves of Fisk’s henchmen on top of a building construction site and there were tons of bricks, sand bags, and more for me to toss at enemies. Later on, while swinging through the streets, a robbery was taking place. Mid-swing I decided to rocket straight down towards the ground, bound off of a light post, land on top of the van, and start beating the snot out of the bad guys with my bare hands.
The press conference demo leaves open plenty of questions about the narrative, I noticed a good deal of quick-time events, and I’m still unsure about how errand-driven the open world will be, but from what I’ve seen this could be the best Spider-Man game we’ve seen for quite some time.
In a time when most developers are taking their games in a gritty, dark, post-apocalyptic direction, it's refreshing to play an action-adventure game based on a comic book hero. While theatres are flooded with childhood heroes, few superhero games are created these days that aren't made out of Lego, but hopefully Insomniac's latest can lead a resurgence in comic book-based video games.