The Arkham Spider Rises: A review of Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4)

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Owned by Sony, Marvel and image from Alphr

 

The newest Spider-Man game and the first to be a Sony exclusive since Neversoft’s beloved PS1 entries from the early 2000’s is good, even great. It’s not spectacular or amazing though it has its moments, it’s simply a good new Spider-Man. I can’t be the best judge of what makes a good Spider-Man game having not fully played any of the games based on the Sam Raimi trilogy. The adaptation for Spider-Man 2, once and for some, the best Spider-Man film, also had the quintessential interactive Spidey experience of its day. Swinging across a PS2-era Manhattan with countless enjoyable side activities, encounters with Spider-friends and foes and just enjoying the sensation of web-slinging around made it a new milestone for superhero games. Batman would eventually surpass Spider-Man in quality with the Arkham series, with Arkham City doing for Batman would S-M 2 did for the wall-crawler.

Now Insomniac, creators of Sony franchises like Ratchet and Clank & Resistance, have taken more than a few pages from Rocksteady’s Bat-series and the more remarkable thing is how easily you can ignore and forgive the thievery of formula as Arkham’s style of combat, countering, maneuverability and traversal meshes just as well with Peter Parker as it does with Bruce Wayne.  If only they had made the things you do in the game over the long haul a bit less repetitive.

An older, sorta wiser Peter Parker now at the ripe old age of 23, has successfully ended his near decade crusade to put New York’s greatest crime lord, Kingpin, behind bars. But of course, with great victory comes great consequences and with that, even more responsibility. The Kingpin’s fall gives rise to a hole that new gangs and criminals inevitably try to fill, with an Asian gang called the Demons taking center stage. They’re led by a relatively new Spider-foe from the comics, Mr. Negative, who from my perspective is almost Marvel’s answer to Two-Face, right down to the yin and yang symbolically coloring his powers and bipolar morality. The Asian antagonist goes down a surprisingly darker path than most enemies Peter faces, employing terrorist style tactics and blatant public firefights with the police. Intermeshed with this new NY crisis is a conspiracy that ties into some of Spider-Man’s other affiliations,  good or bad. As is Spider-story tradition, Peter has to balance his highly dangerous life as Spider-Man with his “normal” life including a job as a scientist working with a pre-Doc Ock Otto Octavious on artificial limb technology, helping his dear Aunt May at a homeless shelter, trying to get back with Mary Jane, now an investigative journalist for the Daily Bugle and paying his rent and failing gloriously.

Peter Parker is the working class or even poverty class hero, taking all the neat gadgets, dead relative motivation and building swinging action from Batman and creating a more personal or relatable feel to my demographic or just about anyone who’s tried to do good by the world on hard times. That is undoubtably why Spidey endures as Marvel’s signature icon. The game near perfectly captures this essential dichotomy of making you feel strong and powerful as the webslinger and weak and average as the post-graduate millennial. You play as a walking, talking paradox.

Spider-Man’s role in his new shiny PS4-exclusive adventure is aside from doing nearly everything a spider can (ignoring the disgusting stuff) is to explore New York for crimes to stop, missions to complete, actually worthwhile collectibles to find, landmarks/photo ops to shoot, and research to science the shit out of. On that last part is the most creative addition to the open world sand box that Insomniac offers this swing around. Scattered across Manhattan rooftops are research stations operated by Oscorp, the company owned by Norman Osborn, traditionally Spider-Man’s archenemy who now serves pre-Green Goblin as both CEO of his company and Mayor of New York. The stations are monitored by his son and Peter’s best friend, Harry Osborn, away on sabbatical in Europe presumably. The stations track and find solutions to technical and environmental problems in and around Manhattan, some of which are “coincidentally” caused by Oscorp itself. Spidey has to use his genius intellect to figure out solutions to these various problems, leading to fun timed and scored challenges that often put your skill in maneuvering Spider-Man to their absolute limit, especially if you want the rewards for the highest score.

The biggest rewards you get in Spider-Man PS4 are acquiring suits, most of which are based off of Spidey’s fifty-year plus comic wardrobe. Some are based on the MCU Spider-Man like the Homecoming and Iron Spider suits. Almost all of them also come with a new special ability that can be unleashed not unlike a “ultimate” ability from Overwatch. Whether it’s “web blossom”, which involves spinning around spraying webbing at your opponents or even getting to use the “Iron Spider arms” from Infinity War, there is no shortage of possibilities in combat, especially hand in hand with the many different gadgets that are unlocked or craftable. On top of that there is of course, a leveling system which focuses in on three key trees of combat, gadgets and traversal, all helping make Spider-Man well…superior.

It all sounds as good and faithful to Spider-Man as any game could possibly be. And it is, earnestly. Yet, the sheer number of side content that involves fighting enemies despite the legitimately high number of things to do in combat draws the game’s pacing to ironically, a crawl. Sure, you can easily skip a lot of side content and move onto the pretty decent storyline the main missions offer, but the rewards for doing a lot of sporadically monotonous open world content are indeed plentiful. For one, on the standard difficulty Spider-Man PS4 can be surprisingly hard. The game constantly keeps surprising you in how brutal it can be from lowly street thugs to higher class opponents, some of which I omit from mentioning out of spoilers. The game does give you good incentive to actually take the time to do things outside of the general “mission” style content in order to make Peter more resilient and with more options to fight through the challenge but the cost are moments when you’re doing Spidey stuff that goes from off-the-literal-wall awesome to seen it done it all before.  I can’t tell you how tired I got of having to stop a car chase in the exact same manner so many times. If there had been much more variation in Peter accomplishing these misc. tasks or perhaps him having something different to say every-time he checked off one of those in-game boxes, it would have gone a long way in making me let these complaints slide.

Those latter aspects is what shrinks the wall-crawler’s new triple-A adventure for everyone teen and up from being a glorious continuation of the Superhero genre Rocksteady pioneered with Batman to being a stalwart, somewhat safe first chapter for a new franchise I’m quite happy being onboard with. Some of the best things Insomniac’s Spider-Man has to offer aside from a near perfect traversal system is the potential of the wider story they’re trying to tell with this Peter Parker.

It’s probably no longer a secret or that much of a spoiler that a certain character from the recent comics makes a critical and playable appearance in the title and what Insomniac is setting up for the future looks really, really spectacular and amazing in equal measure. Spider-Man is home on the PlayStation 4 and the sequels inevitably in motion are sure to entice more than just the fanbase, Marvel or Sony-wise. Until that time comes, I’m actually looking forward to the post release content as it will be fun to see more virtual adventures in this beautifully realized alternate Manhattan, whether it’s with more enemies or frenemies like Black Cat as rumors suggest, or maybe even other Marvel properties like perhaps Daredevil, that other major Manhattan vigilante who is very conspicuous in his absence. The possibilities are many and maybe Insomniac can snatch them up, just like flies. Watch out, here comes the Arkham Spider-Maaaan!!!!

 

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