Marvel’s Spider-Man Hands On Preview - With Great Power...
Spider-Man 2 was the last great game based on the web slinger - really giving you the superhero sense of freedom in the big city of New York, which you were totally free to explore.
Shortly after this, we got Spider-Man 3 and…well…besides mentioning that hilarious emo transition scene in the film, we don’t really talk about the game. Luckily, Sony is not giving up on the web slinger - giving Insomniac Games a chance with the licence.
So far, the gameplay has looked rather amazing, but “looked” is the key word here. What is it actually like to play? I rarely write hands-on preview blogs, but after getting a chance to play this at Insomnia Gaming Festival, it’s my duty to let all you nerds know about whether this will be worth your hard-earned money.
In one word: yes. But allow me to explain in a few more words than that.
The demo I played starts with a slight feeling of constraint - brought on by a tutorial that gives you a very set-in-stone route. Picking up web slinging controls is a cinch with swinging applied to R2 and other techniques mapped comfortably around that.
After this, it’s time for the combat, which takes a page out of Rocksteady Studios’ book of combo-fuelled simplicity. The moves feel satisfyingly hefty with every punch and the simple fluidity between spider sense-indicated blocking/dodging and attacks look incredible on-screen. I never found myself blaming the controls/gameplay for any deaths - it was always obvious to spot where I went wrong and adjust for next time.
Once the tutorial finishes, Peter Parker runs up the side of a building and onto the tip of a roof. This is where the demo really begins to give you a taste of what’s to come, as you see New York sprawling out in front of you and mission markers dot throughout this heaving metropolis.
The map is huge and I was positively salivating at the chance to dive in, primarily because of the mesmerising presentation of the world in front of me. Insomniac have done an incredible job with the visuals, pitch-perfectly matched with a smattering of orchestral scores and immersing cityscape sounds. From high up, the views are sweet, but the game looks just as good up close and personal.
A key beauty of this open-ended construction is the variety of approaches you can take. One player on the screen next to me focussed on finding crimes, taking down bank robbers and moving through the main objectives.
I, on the other hand, opted to explore - picking up a couple of the collectibles, running into a couple of street crimes and even posing for a selfie with one of the NPCs. Whether you’re a focussed vigilante like the former or always a bit distracted like me, your play style is covered.
But while it’s easy to heap praise on a game like this for me - a superhero geek - it would also be fair to look at Spider-Man conversely. Making reference back to the first game I mentioned in this piece, this shares a lot of similarities with Spider-Man 2, to the point that it’d be easy to argue a lack of originality in this area. That’s not to say the gameplay is bad in anyway shape or form, but this will limit the audience somewhat to fans of Peter Parker’s crusades.
Good example, the boss of this demo. To close the short hands-on time I had, I was facing Shocker in the city bank. The methodical turn-taking beatdown followed any boss battle logic you’ve ever known - dodge his attack cycle and respond in suit. Again, not a bad thing. Just something to take into account if your tastes have been soured by the repetitive nature of bosses over decades of gaming.
And while the comparisons are there to this former title in spidey’s lineage, many people have asked if it’s similar in construction to Rocksteady’s Batman series. It shares a lot of the elements - from on-screen notification-based blocking and simple-yet-effective combat, to the encouragement to explore. In these aspects, yes. It is similar, which for every pessimist’s outcry of “lack of originality” comes an optimist’s view that this is mighty high praise for a superhero game.
I hope this puts any fears you had to rest. If you never liked superhero games in the past, then this will not change your mind - it’s Insomniac’s twist on the tried and tested formula, rather than a total reinvention.
However, if you’re old enough to know about and appreciate the last great free-roaming PS2 outing for Spider-Man, then you are sure to find this as thrilling and mesmerising as you did at a younger time in 2004.