Hands on with Marvel's Spider-Man for PlayStation 4

At Sony's E3 2018 event, they finally showed off in-depth gameplay for Insomniac's Spider-Man... or, as in-depth as they thought they should, I suppose. Just from what was on screen, I was disappointed in the lack of detail the publisher went through in showing off the game. None of what they showed was especially dramatic from what we had already known, and it felt like much of our time was spent in cutscenes rather than in gameplay.

However, after the event, I was able to go hands-on with Spider-Man from Insomniac Games and experience traveling the city, fighting off bad guys, and taking down a familiar boss.

Spider-Man, Spider-Man

When I first saw the trailer for Spider-Man, I was excited, but a bit nervous at the prospect of the most quintessential of Spidey's powers: his web-slinging. Given my clumsiness, I wasn't sure I could pull off a series of complex grapples to get myself around the city in a smooth, flowing motion like the trailer showed.

Even if I did mess up, I could always stick a landing, dash up a building, and get going again.

Fortunately, I never had to. Spider-Man throw out a web with a touch of R2 and, in the dense New York cityscape, almost always hits something. The game's logic for web placement was fairly good while I played, and there's enough freedom of movement on a single sling that even if the angle wasn't what I was gunning for, I could still make nice, smooth turns and keep the flow going. Even if I did mess up, I could always stick a landing, dash up a building, and get going again. Sailing around the city like this was by far my favorite part of the demo, and I hope there are enough interesting landmarks to explore to make it worth just floating around for hours.

Though I know it's not a great comparison, something about this view from the sky reminded me of what I loved most about early Assassin's Creed games--looking out over a huge city and planning my next move before setting off over the heads of everyone below, zipping across rooftops. It's not quite the same, but the feeling of freedom was comparable.

Whatever a Spider can

Eventually, I had to stop swinging around and take out a bunch of thugs atop a roof construction site, where I got a taste of the combat in Spider-Man. With the square button, Spidey will punch, kick, and perform logical combos--circle is to dodge. Triangle shoots webs, X will jump. These four buttons can be used in combos to pull off interesting moves on enemies and counter some of their attacks. There are also certain special moves that can be executed if you fill up a Focus bar high enough by landing attacks, and that bar can also be burned to self-heal.

I enjoyed combat more than I expected. Spidey fights fluidly and intelligently, usually targeting the nearest enemy I focus my camera on and flowing from one clash to the next seamlessly. I also appreciated his ability to web sling up out of combat if things got hairy, then drop back down for a surprise attack. Spider-Man does include some stealth elements, allowing for an advantage if you can sneak up on your foes.

Find your objective

Earlier, I compared the "view from the sky" element in Spider-Man to what I had always wanted to the earlier Assassin's Creed games, but there's also a negative comparison to be made on those same lines. When not actively pursuing story missions, you can use a ability to search the city for trouble and go deal with the problems. This can involve stopping drug deals, chasing runaway cars, fighting off thugs, or (I presume) other activities. I worry about Spider-Man suffering from the weird, repetitive map bloat that other open world games like it suffer from, where the map is peppered with objectives and you find yourself not wanting to do any of them. Though I enjoyed the simple acts of swinging through the city and combat itself, I can see chasing cars and fighting same-faced thugs on rooftops getting real old, real fast.

To combat that, the activities will need to be diverse enough in the final game to keep everyone's attention and preventing the map from becoming a non-stop series of pointless objectives. I don't know yet if Spider-Man will deliver on that, but given how much I enjoyed some of the game's other elements, I very much want it to.

It's electric

My session concluded with a boss fight against Electro, who had escaped from prison. It took place in the lobby of a bank and mostly consisted of a familiar boss loop: dodge attacks, use ability to break boss' shield, hit him, repeat. This seemed a little bit basic compared to what I'd seen in the trailers, but I'd be lying if I said the addition of web slinging abilities didn't make things much more enjoyable. I liked being able to dodge attacks both in the air and on the ground, and the addition of Spidey's web grappling and shooting abilities spiced things up somewhat.


Overall, I walked away from Spider-Man feeling happy but a bit more skeptical than I had been when I initially saw the trailer. The overall feel of the game, characters, witty banter, and the deluge of popular villains delivered on my expectations, but there was the slightest creep of hum-drum open world game elements that gave me pause. I hope that repetition was reflective only of an easygoing demo to ensure I was able to experience everything, and not an indicator of the full scope of the game. It's a big city--there should be a lot to discover.

Reb Valentine