Every superhero action game will forever be compared to Rocksteady’s Batman. It’s a cross to bear for all, but one you’re better off embracing – like Insomniac Games has done with Spider-Man. From the moment I began to bust the heads of Wilson Fisk’s men in a stretchy supersuit, I was instantly transported back to Gotham City, and the mass destruction I caused as The Dark Knight. But like Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker thankfully doesn’t murder any criminals – he just breaks every bone in each lawless lout’s body by roundhousing them off the rooftops of really tall buildings. There’s honour to crime fighting.
Spider-Man isn’t a copy and paste job, though. At all. While its basics feel very Batman-like, and there are other little touches you may recognise from Arkham, like the indicator above the hero’s head when an attack is incoming, quickness is preferred over brute strength. You’ll probably be fine mashing the square button and dodging the occasional projectile, for the most part, but why be fine when you can be the bastarding Spider-Man!
Incapacitate one enemy with your on-point web shooting before sliding under the giant shield-having lad, and giving him a few slaps on his dome like a soft drink’s mascot in the 90s. Grab a nearby bin, flake it off the eager young fella making a beeline for you, watch the Twirl wrappers fly, and then fling yourself off the adjacent wall so you don’t get bombarded by the gang of rabble-rousers circling in on your position. Like an Olympic-level gymnast, Parker has the ability to mesmerise with dance moves that are only lacking a twirly baton with those frilly bits at the end. The higher your combo, the faster your focus bar rises, and when that’s full you can perform finishing moves that would be the envy of most legendary CMLL luchadores. Punch the bad guys, get XP, and dump skill points into your preferred vision of the web-slinger. But to be so simplistic is reductive; the flowing choreography of battle is majestic.
But when you think of Spider-Man, you think of effortless swinging between blocks of overpriced office space like a yuppie Tarzan. Insomniac’s done a marvellous job reminding those of us with enough grey hairs of how that felt in the early 00s – well, how we remember it, at least. It’s all about momentum, and Spidey rarely came to a screeching halt in my few hours of play; once traversal is second nature, I’ve no doubt you’ll have an unnerving grin tattooed on your face like one of Spidey’s caricaturish nemeses explaining their plot to take over the world – maniacal laughter may occur if there’s any funny glitches. Seldom as it is, when you’re not in the vicinity of a skyscraper to dangle from, you can propel yourself forwards while airborne to get to the next high-rise, hop along roofs and lamp posts at breakneck speeds, and sprint up and down walls to your heart’s content. With enough practice, you should be whizzing around this metropolis like the driver of a red and blue sports car unconcerned about penalty points. This is also where you see Spider-Man showing some of the open-world tropes of old, though.
Like all massive games nowadays, this massive game is bigger than the last massive game that this massive developer released. It’s hard to tell whether New York will remain interesting for tens of hours, because I only got a taster of the activities outside of the main story. I wasn’t inspired.
Fisk Hideouts are essentially challenge rooms where you’re tasked with downing waves of baddies. You get rewarded for taking snaps of landmarks with your camera, some of which will excite Avengers fans. Parker clearly cleaned up on a BOGOF deal at JD Sports or something, because there are loads of his backpacks scattered about the place that, when collected, aid you in crafting better gear. And you can stop random crimes that pop up, too, if you feel so inclined. Oh! And you reveal parts of the map by unjamming police radios on top of towers via a mini-game where you spin the analog sticks around a bit.
I only got to see introductions to each, so I hope they turn out to be more than the busy work I anticipate. Through the tokens you obtain by completing these distractions, you can upgrade your suits and gadgets; Parker is a scientist now, after all, so it only makes sense that he’d be tinkering with his doodads in his spare time.
Insomniac’s version of the wall-crawler is in his early 20s, graduated from third-level education, and trying to balance life as the friendly neighbourhood superbug with his job at a research facility. It’s clear the Sunset Overdrive developer has been given some leeway when creating its version of Spider-Lad, which should hopefully produce a narrative that isn’t afraid to take risks. Sure, there is a smattering of those expected relationships, but Spider-Man also plays with the established lore too. Mary Jane Watson, frequently Parker’s love interest in the movies and comics, is an investigative journalist at The Daily Bugle now, for example.
During the preview, the one MJ section I played had me doing a tiny bit of sneaking, as well as solving a pretty rudimentary puzzle – early doors, to be fair, so I can only imagine Watson gets more involved as the story goes on. The Arachnaboy is up for a bit of espionage, too; I was skulking around one area, attacking from the shadows and tying up baddies while perched on
gargoyles steel beams. Parker enjoys the one-liners more than Wayne, though.
Spider-Man is likely going to be as good as you think it will be. While this early section had some of the antiquated trappings of open-world games from years gone by, throwing yourself to gravity before swinging from NYC’s horizon-bursting architecture is an absolute joy, as is the thrill of the fluid combat.