After playing Marvel's Spider-Man PS4 at E3 2018, coming back to the game at a preview event, and getting back into the literal swing of things, it feels like coming home. Not Spider-Man Homecoming though, something very unique, something potentially very, very special. Insomniac's highly anticipated game is the next big PS4 exclusive and after the success of God of War, along with pretty much every Marvel movie ever, there's a certain amount of pressure for Insomniac's Spider-Man to offer a fantastic story experience. After all, this is the Marvel title that's got to follow on from the ridiculousness that is Avengers: Infinity War.
Thankfully, there are no Thanos clicks to worry about here, but there are a heap of iconic baddies like Wilson Fisk, formidable foes like Super Sable, and a little group called The Sinister Six. Of course though, these villains are nothing without a hero, and what a hero Marvel's Spider-Man is shaping up to be.
Playing through the very first two hours of the game, it's clear that this is a story that's just as much about Spider-Man as it is about Peter Parker. This isn't an origins story after all, this is an older, hopefully a little wiser, but still very quippy Spidey. He's now 23 years old, has graduated college and is trying to make his way in the real world as a scientist and researcher. It's strange to think of Spider-Man actually having to earn a living, struggling to make rent, on the verge of being evicted, but that's exactly what you're getting with this Spider-Man. Brian Intihar, Creative Director at Insomniac, says the team are calling it his "next coming of age story" or "his journey to becoming a young adult".
"There’s one thing that’s literally driven everything we’ve done on this project: the best Spider-Man stories are when Peter’s world and Spider-Man’s worlds collide," explains Intihar.
From what I've played so far, that certainly seems true. The opening few hours see me play as Peter Parker almost as much as I do as Spidey, heading to the lab where he works to complete tasks and tech puzzles, but also interacting with key characters in his personal life like MJ and Aunt May. The story seems so interwoven between the two halves of Peter's life that the edges are already starting to blur beautifully, seeding plenty of intrigue for future events that I'm literally sitting on the edge of my seat as I play.
But of course, all you want to hear about is how it feels to swing, right? Well, the opening cinematics play out and before I know it Spidey's leaping out the window of his pokey apartment and swinging across New York to head to the scene where they're trying to arrest Wilson Fisk. The action seamlessly moves from cutscene to putting me in control, and suddenly I'm the one hooking web in the sky, soaring between skyscrapers, running up red brick buildings and generally having the time of my life. What's additionally amazing is that you instantly feel like a superhero, and the tutorials are subtle enough - simply slowing down the gameplay for a second or two to alert you to a specific button press - to never take you out of the moment. Helpful, rather than hindering, is exactly what you'd hope for with a game that's dropping you into a story mid-way. If Spidey's not learning things from scratch, I shouldn't feel like I am either.
In fact, the way Insomniac steadily but persistently drops in helpful hints to alert you to Spidey's various moves and combat skills is incredibly well done. You never feel bombarded or left wondering how to do something, and quickly you feel like a master controller manipulator, particularly in combat. There will always be parallels between what Spider-Man does with combat and what the Batman Arkham series has cemented. There are huge similarities between the two, especially with the way the flow builds, combo counts mount up, and the use of gadgets and skills to enhance what's essentially a rather brutal dance. Intihar's aware of that too. "I've played Arkham and I know we'll be compared to Arkham from the combat, I'm not an idiot, but we want to make it our own at the same time".
And don't worry, although there are definitely elements of Arkham's flow in Spidey's combat, with every gadget you unlock and every skill you learn how to combine, they evolve and change to feel uniquely Spidey. There's a wonderful mix of aerial acrobatics, swing attacks, web shots, gadgets and more that make sure your combat is going to constantly evolve. And boy, are there plenty to collect over the course of the game. I only unlock one gadget in my first two hours, but by that point I'm rocking the amazing white spidered Advanced Suit after the original gets slashed in a fight with Fisk, am comboing up my suit skills, and collecting Backpack tokens for the next thing I want.
That's where it does all get a bit complicated though as you'll have to collect XP and tokens in order to get all the gear and gadgets. According to Intihar, "XP gives you skill points, everything else gives you currency to craft", but at this point it seems quite confusing, and even a little bit daunting. There are six different resource token types to collect in the game: Research, Base, Landmark, Crime, Challenges, and Backpack. They basically make up your general sidequest types at the moment, although I'm sure that these are only scratching the surface of what Insomniac's New York has to offer. You get Crime tokens for breaking up robberies, high speed chases and other such antics, while earning Backpack tokens is done by literally finding old Spidey backpacks that have been webbed up around the city. Landmarks are my favourite so far, as you have to swing your way to the biggest New York landmarks and snap a photo of them, utilising Peter's backstory of a budding photographer for the Daily Bugle in a lovely nod.
Of course, as you'd imagine - and hope - there are plenty of Easter Eggs and references to the wider Spider-Man universe in the game. Even the backpacks you find to collect tokens contain mementos of Spidey's life and his relationships, particularly with MJ. The first two hours are littered with them, and although I won't dare spoil them, I will say that I genuinely chuckled out loud at various times. Spidey's quips, the groans from the cop weary of his japes, and quick one liners are plentiful, and just as you start to tire of them Spidey himself acknowledges that very fact. Get out of my head Spidey. I did particularly love the fact he says, after stringing Fisk upside down in a web net and sliding down a web to face him, "Should we kiss now?" It's cheesy and a little bit corny, but in the way you'd hope from a Spider-Man game.
Although it already feels inherently Marvel with all its grand fights and colliding storylines, this is also an Insomniac game through and through. You can feel the team's history and personality glowing from every component, from the flow and fluidity of the combat, to the silliness and inventiveness of the gadgets and suits, to the upbeat and jovial tone of the game. Spider-Man and Insomniac feels like a perfect match, and I can't wait to swing back into New York to see just how good this is going to be.
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