There was a time when superhero movies were bad. Like, really, really, really bad. Dolph Lundgren-George Clooney-Ben Affleck-bad. Fortunately, we got past those dark days in comic book history, ushering in the era of Marvel Studios, which has pumped out so many great movies that we’ve almost grown spoiled by them.
But somehow video games in the genre have lagged far behind. Games like “Batman: Arkham Asylum” breathed life into that universe, finally giving us the chance to experience being a superhero in a meaningful way. But on the whole, it’s been a series of stale, underwhelming, rushed-to-market money-grabs that have failed to capture an audience desperately wanting to play their favorite hero.
I’m proud to report that Sony’s highly anticipated PlayStation exclusive, “Spider-Man,” delivers and elevates video gaming to a whole new level. From the moment the game opens, and you’re thrown into a battle with Kingpin, you feel like you’re Spider-Man. The story line takes a backseat to the game play, but it’s worth noting that there is an honest to goodness plot here. It’s clear that it’s not part of Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Insomniac does a great job of weaving its own take on the Spider-Man story into the Marvel universe, while still making it feel familiar at the same time.
Peter Parker is a college grad and struggling to pay the bills – that is SO Peter Parker – and has left his job at the Daily Bugle to work in a science lab as an understudy to a “pre-Doctor Octopus” Otto Octavius. J. Jonah Jamison has moved on to a job as a wildly entertaining yet agitating conservative firebrand call-in radio host. And of course there’s a romance in the on-again, off-again relationship between Peter and Mary Jane.
The true star of this game, besides Spider-Man, are the controls. I can’t remember the last time a game felt so fluid, where I actually felt like I was in sync with the protagonist. If you’ve ever wanted to swing between towering skyscrapers in Times Square, scale the side of the Empire State Building, or stealthily string a sniper up in a ball of webbing, this is the game you’ve been waiting for. Even if you’ve never had a burning desire to walk in Spider-Man’s neoprene boots, you’re bound to enjoy it on a sheer “video game” level.
Although this isn’t an origins story, you’ll still learn the game through a series of in-game tutorials that add new moves, combos, and gadgets to your ever growing arsenal as you play. This is where “Spider-Man” really shines. Combo attacks and swinging around town only gets you so far, but the game takes a cue from games like “Infamous” by giving you a tree of unlockable tech that makes your Spider-Man more and more formidable. A surprisingly vast selection of Spidey suits awaits the player, as more outfits and web options are added to your inventory as you progress through the game.
Players can look forward to insanely fun combos like shocking their foes (yes, electrified spider web is a thing in this game), sending them flying into the air, then yanking them back to the pavement, all in one swift series of button presses. The game does a fantastic job of toeing that fine line between complex sequences and easy execution, making sure even the lesser players out there get to experience some of the best action that “Spider-Man” has to offer.
Visually, the game absolutely captures the “Spider-Man” feel. Other games have done a fantastic job of recreating New York City, and Insomniac does not fail in that department. Chances are you’ve experienced Times Square, Manhattan, and the Brooklyn Bridge in games like “Grand Theft Auto.” Now you have a chance to see those landmarks from a whole new vantage point, as you crawl, sling, and swing your way though the Big Apple.
Even the music is on point. Insomniac deserves a big pat on the back for including a rich, vibrant mix of music that lends to the experience, but does not distract. The music picks up its pace as soon as you spin a web to start swinging through town, as if a composer was scoring the music just for you. You could easily find this same soundtrack in the MCU.
“Spider-Man” certainly isn’t the first of its kind. Combat and its chain attacks are ripped right from the “Arkham Asylum” playbook. So are the stealth elements of the game, as you string up unwitting foes in the shadows above. I was half-expecting to dive into a haystack a la “Assassin’s Creed” after climbing to a perch and unlocking a zone and its accompanying points of interest. But all of it somehow feels like it belongs to “Spider-Man.” It all works perfectly and seamlessly together.
I’ve always fancied myself a Batman or Punisher fan, but Spidey has a new place in my heart thanks to this new entry into the super-hero genre. His one-liners and sophomoric tone are a perfect fit for a game like this, and it’s refreshing to play a title that doesn’t get too dark or take itself too seriously. Simply put, “Spider-Man” might just be the most fun you’ve had playing a video game in quite some time.
SWX Final Score: 9.0
Sam Adams in sports anchor for KHQ and SWX.
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