A Spectacular Game
Review: Spider-Man on Playstation 4
Developed by Insomniac Games
Published by Sony Interactive Entertainment
Finally arriving atop a mountain of hype, Spider-Man has quickly become the fastest-selling Playstation exclusive of all time. Delivering on its initial promise, the game places the player well and truly in its character’s costume, with all of the power and responsibility that comes with it. The game is Insomniac Games’ (Sunset Overdrive, Resistance) first licensed title.
Spider-Man puts the player in control of the titular hero in a sprawling story that sees him confront the corruption sown by his nemesis the Kingpin. Many other members of his rogues gallery show up along the way. As well as the scenes that see the player swinging through the city, the game also splits time between his superhero and civilian guises. Scenes featuring Peter Parker at home and at his work lab involve puzzle mini games and managing his dual life. Whether swinging through the city, engaging in combat, or working to solve the game’s puzzles, the control scheme works well and the gameplay remains consistently rewarding.
New York City and Spider-Man have long enjoyed something of a symbiotic relationship. The character’s setting in the city that never sleeps dates back to the 1960s when his co-creator Stan Lee would walk twenty blocks through the city on his way to work at Marvel’s offices. With some brief exceptions, including when the character was briefly based in Portland, Oregon during the 90s, the Spider-Man franchise has long had a strong sense of identification with New York City. This is one of the major elements that Insomniac have captured, delivering an interactive, loving recreation of New York City. The buildings look particularly sensational and closely resemble those found in the real-life city.
Making the most of the open world setting that they have created, Insomniac give the player much to chase. Hundreds of collectibles are scattered throughout the massive recreation of New York. While finding all of these can, at points, resemble a game of lists, the attention to detail and elements from the Spider-Man comics make these tasks rewarding for any fans of the series.
Of course, no game is perfect on release. Spider-Man has some rare, but still occasionally occurring glitches. Some of these prove to be entertaining:
Honestly I’m way more scared about the thug who doesn’t obey the fact that he’s in a cutscene. pic.twitter.com/CHiVzXghWG
— Liam Allen-Miller (@RSSLiam) September 10, 2018
There are many things that the game lifts from other places. One early mission sees Spider-Man activating towers so as to be able to better access the game’s radar, a mechanic directly lifted from Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series. The combat and open-world teeming with crimes to solve feel very similar to those found in the Batman Arkham series. So derivative are many of Spider-Man’s core components that Mark Serrels penned a CNET piece that argues that it is altogether too typical of other videogames. “Outside a few key details, Spider-Man feels alarmingly familiar to a number of video games you’ve been playing for the last 10 years,” he writes.
And yet, while Spider-Man does not reinvent the wheels in terms of its gameplay, the title manages to integrate the elements that it lifts in such a charming way that it has its own feel. This is, put simply, a fun game that captures its license well.
On a broader level, theologian and missiologist Mike Frost has objected to the superhero genre for its wider philosophical implications. In particular, Dr Frost contends that the genre celebrates a powerful few in stories where most people are depicted as little more than ants. This same critique has itself been taken up by creators and placed at the heart of several post-9/11 superhero stories. These include Bryan K. Vaughn’s Ex Machina, where a superhero realises he is ultimately ineffectual and hangs up the cape for public office in order to do some good as the Mayor of New York City. While this higher-level critique is pressed on the entire genre, and not on this game itself, it is one worth considering when critiquing Spider-Man’s videogame story.
It could be contended, however that the heart of the Spider-Man story is one that celebrates sacrifice: using power not for its own sake but in service of others, an ethos that Peter Parker ended up adhering to after his own selfishness led to the death of his beloved Uncle. For Christians, a way of life that embraces taking up Christ’s cross is one that, likewise, places us at the service of others, albeit in far less spectacular ways.
Additionally, the game manages to create individual New Yorkers in loving detail: walking through the city in the game affords the player the chance to encounter characters that the programmers have put much detail and time into. It is also worth considering the game’s occasional comments on the broader forces of corruption teeming under the surface of its depiction of everyday city life.
Spider-Man is out now on Playstation 4
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor