It took the impending release of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 to make me realize that I hadn’t played the original in five years. The original release was my favorite game in the superhero genre and I was delighted to brush up on the story while also getting into the downloadable story content that I never got a chance to try. With a fresh coat of paint and new content to explore, I was excited to pick up the controller and give it another go.
Crafting a narrative that walks the fine line between the comic relief of Spider-Man and the seriousness of the predicaments in the main story is something that Insomniac handles well. There are moments here and there that come across as tawdry, but when the punches need to land, they hit hard. Both tense and tender moments between MJ and Peter and handled with punctilious effort, while Aunt May keeps Peter honest. All of the main players feel true to themselves and don’t bend to serve the narrative. Despite all the chaos that surrounds our heroes, they are the stars of the show.
The weakest gameplay segments occur when the perspective shifts from Spider-Man to MJ or Miles. They aren’t bad per se, but the juxtaposition between someone who can do it all and someone who can temporarily hack a machine to make a distracting noise is rather tame by comparison. Despite this, the Miles/Rhino scene has its moments, and it's nice to get to know the other characters a bit better.
Marvel’s Spider-Man’s approach to the open world follows in the footsteps of Ubisoft’s finest; find a tower, and unlock part of the map. It’s all basic and uninspired but takes up very little time to reveal the entire map. Once you have visibility of the whole map, you are free to look for Pete’s old backpacks (which are great for finding out what he’s been up to these last eight years), take pictures of monuments and buildings, along with other activities. As the game progresses other options will be open to the player. Taking down enemy strongholds, beefy side-missions, chasing down escaped pigeons… I’m still not sure how I felt about this last one, but at least it was fun. At any given time, a crime will occur and it’s up to Manhattan’s friendly neighborhood Spider-Man to tackle the situation. They can range from a car chase to a kidnapping to breaking up a drug deal. The downloadable content adds an extra range of crimes to dive into.
By the end of Spider-Man, I had run the full gamut of gamer emotions. I laughed, teared up, felt tense, excited, worried. Spider-Man manages to tell a great story within the confines of a superhero suit. And in the end, tasks our hero with being greater not just by doing difficult things, but by having to make difficult choices as well. In Marvel’s Spider-Man, Insomniac has created my favorite superhero game and one of my favorite all-time action games.
[Though I didn’t review the Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales expansion here, it’s worth noting that many of the mechanics are similar and even improved upon. The story is separate and exclusively follows Miles as he comes to terms with being Spider-Man and what that means to him. If you haven’t played either, they’re both worth the price of admission.]
Objective Assessment: 8.5/10
Bonus: +.5 JJJ. +1 for creating my favorite traversal mechanics.
Penalties: -1 for Ubisoft cut and paste open world exploration.
Nerd Coefficient: 9/10
Posted by: Joe DelFranco - Fiction writer and lover of most things video games. On most days you can find him writing at his favorite spot in the little state of Rhode Island.