The most important thing in any Spider-Man game is the web swinging. What’s the point of being Spider-Man without it? Sure, he could swing in some of the 2D 8 and 16-bit platformers, but when the Gamecube-era Spider-Man 2 game came out the freedom of 3D traversal round New York was a massive wow. The rest of that game… not so much.
Well, much time has passed since then and this, the PS5-improved version of the PS4 exclusive, is very much the same game as that Spider-Man 2 of yore only even more impressive and gets almost everything right.
In the same way that Arkham Asylum made you feel like you really were The Goddamn Batman, in this game you feel like you really are the, uh, Goddamn Spider-Man, in a way none of the previous games quite managed. Peter Parker is light and agile, he’s quick and flexible both physically and in his fighting style. You have a lot of control over ground, air and distance attacked, both with kicks and punches and with his webs, which can be used to both slow down enemies and grab nearby items to chuck at them. You can attack from walls and ceilings, slide between legs to attack from behind, and have a number of gadgets with which to web up, electrify or otherwise incapacitate foes, and you can even jump in the air then grab a baddie via a web shot and drag them up into the air with you. It’s so fluid and easy to mix up your attacks and dodges. Plus, of course, there’s all the swinging between buildings in Manhattan.
It does borrow more than a bit from those Batman games, however. Frequently you’re dropped in a room with patrolling guards or thugs, and you have to take out as many as you can without being seen before all hell breaks loose, and these sections are ripped straight from Rocksteady’s games. You can even grab baddies and leave them hanging from gargoyles, if that’s how you want to play it. Of course, being Spider-Man, you can do the same from walls and ceilings too, which Batman couldn’t. Also borrowed from Batman is the “detective mode” type scanner, where you can highlight objects and enemies that are behind walls, or discover clues to follow.
The plot OK but it’s played out in an uninteresting way, as it’s basically “these guys are bad”, followed by “now you’ve got rid of those guys, these guys have come in instead and they’re worse” followed by “the guys we sent in to deal with those guys are actually worse still and you’ve now got to deal with them”. All the while there’s the Kingpin in prison trying to run his empire from his cell, a load of escaped super criminals like Vulture and Rhino to take down, and the gradual change in Otto from Peter’s mate and employer to Doc Ock. There’s also the Not-Green-Goblin Norman Osborn who has sent his son (and Peter’s friend) Harry “away” because he is “sick” who starts off as mayor and becomes increasingly evil as the game progresses, but never actually embodies it completely. Sequel, perhaps?
The voice acting and characterisation is excellent, with J Jonah Jameson being especially good with his radio show rantings that you frequently listen to. Although this instance of Spider-Man and his Assorted Friends and Foes is in a separate universe to both the comics and the MCU, there’s obviously similarities but it still manages to remain its own thing. And luckily it’s not yet another retelling of his origin story. Graphically the game is impressive, especially the draw distance, but it didn’t feel as PS5 as I felt it probably could. Perhaps I was expecting something a bit more realistic? Or more lighting effects? It doesn’t subtract from the experience, and is probably down to being a touched up PS4 game, but still – I was hoping for a bit more for the eyes.
Something which came as a surprise is that you get to play a few missions as people other than Spider-Man himself. There are a few as MJ, sneaking into (or out of) buildings while trying to find evidence. She gets the ability to incapacitate and distract guards, but can’t actually fight so it’s all stealth. You also get a couple as pre-bite Mile Morales, which are similar but he can hack devices remotely to cause distractions. To be honest, none of these missions are very good but they’re all pretty short.
There are also loads of side-missions for Spidey himself, with various challenges and a wide variety of things to do, from using spiderbots to defuse bombs to chasing pigeons. All of which I completed, as I very much enjoyed the game and so merely finishing the story wasn’t enough – I went back and did every optional mission and challenge too. And then? Well, there’s the DLC!