By Spencer Smith ’19 // Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
There’s this great little moment (very mild spoilers ahead) where Peter Parker is evicted from his apartment. Realizing that his landlord has thrown his belongings in the trash, Spidey must track down his stuff. What follows is a small mission; it has little to nothing to do with the overall plot. It’s just a small, almost slice-of-life moment where we get to experience Peter’s life. You feel the frustration, annoyance, and pain of being Spiderman. It’s such a small, yet beautiful moment, and it’s a shame that there’s not another mission really like it.
Hopefully that doesn’t give the impression that Disney’s Marvel’s Sony’s Playstation’s Spider-Man (also known as Marvel’s Spider-Man) is a bad game. Quite the opposite, it might be the best Spider-Man game ever made. Yet that doesn’t say much considering its only real competition is Spider-Man 2 and Ultimate Spider-Man. To clarify, Spider-Man is pretty much what AAA games should be besides unmitigated destruction simulators: a main mechanic that’s fun, decent, varied combat, plenty of variety, gorgeous graphics, great voice acting, and a decent story, or rather two decent stories that don’t make a good whole.
More on that last part later, because there’s plenty to love about Spider-Man. Let’s start at the top: the web swinging. Every great Spider-Man game usually is measured by how good the web swinging is, and in this case, Spider-Man pretty much hits it out of the park and quite possibly out of orbit. The game’s movement system is simply magnificent. Swinging through the NYC skyline before nose-diving into the suburbs before web-zipping along building tops before launching into the air with a well-timed jump is more satisfying than Assassin’s Creed games as of late. The player is given true freedom over Spider-Man’s movement, whose character animation increases the satisfaction even when making a mistake. Eliminating fall damage might seem odd at first, but it gives room for experimentation and allows for the player to truly have fun with the system. Top of the line here.
Yet (and surprisingly) combat is fun too making it a real first for Spider-Man’s game library. Beforehand the combat was at best varied and at worst an awkward ordeal where button mashing would ultimately dictate the results. While it’s a bit unforgiving with single enemies obliterating most of Spidey’s health and henchmen bombarding the web-head with an unusual number of rockets, the combat is incredibly varied and engaging. Once you get into the frenetic nature of Spider-Man’s combat style of bouncing off the walls, dodging countless projectiles and changing attack strategies for multiple enemies, it’s a blast. The combat, for once, has nearly lived up to the web slinging.
On top of that, the acting is rather solid across the board, with Yuri Lowenthal making the role of Peter Parker his own. Laura Bailey also makes for one of the best incarnations of Mary Jane in recent memory, reinventing the character as a feisty reporter is one of the better changes. In fact, Spider-Man does quite a bit to update Peter Parker’s life, friends, and foes for the modern age. Not only introducing Miles Morales into Peter Parker’s life but changing around the dynamics of other famous characters. Aunt May runs a homeless shelter, J. Jonah Jameson has a podcast, Norman Osborne is mayor (with Trump symbolism about as subtle as a mounted deer head), and Otto Octavius is Peter Parker’s boss who’s aiming to create a new form of limb replacement. While initially clunky, these elements all come together to create a surprisingly decent Spider-Man story.
Or rather a decent two-thirds of a story. The main qualm with the game is how it’s paced and the story itself, but not because it’s a garbage fire or something like that. Rather, the narrative is rock-solid throughout a large chunk of the game until… well… without spoiling, it’d be the equivalent of watching the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie. The story was very personal mixed with a small action movie, sure there’s hints of a larger universe in it, but it’s small and effective. Then in the third act, suddenly the channel switched and suddenly Spider-Man 3’s final act came on. All the subtle plants from the past are suddenly paid off without any real build up and it feels so large and bombastic that you wish there was another movie between them to justify this shift. That’s what playing Spider-Man is like.
On top of this, the stealth elements of the game are…. Frustrating. The very worst is when the game shifts to either Mary Jane or Miles Morales’ perspective. In these sections the game turns into a stealth game but also the worst kind of stealth. Where if you’re discovered at all there’s no means of defense and an instant game over screen. While there are occasionally brilliant moments such as Miles’ first mission, often these parts of the game feel like a waste of these great characters. Spidey himself participates in stealth missions only slightly-better than this, often resulting in the same “distract one guy, take out the other” tactics. Stealth in the game ultimately becomes a chore, which is the exact opposite of what a game should be.
Ultimately though the story is the main issue. Both stories are decent, but when combined it feels like an inexpertly stitched together Frankenstein. While the Frankenstein is functional and even fun, it doesn’t quite work together and by the end, is starting to collapse as the stitches come loose. Still, even if it is a bit of a cobbled-together mess, Marvel’s Spider-Man is still worth your time and money because it’s everything you could want from a Spider-Man game. Even if they stuffed far too much of it in there.