Marvel’s Spider-Man PS4 Review: Amazing Fantasy. You can’t go past Spider-Man’s best stories without a good duality–the awkwardness of Peter Parker versus the confidence of his alter ego, the relatable humanity of his adversaries versus their heinous deeds, and the age-old ditty about juggling power and responsibility. Insomniac’s take on Spider-Man juggles dualism too, not just in its narrative themes but its mechanical execution. Intense boss fights are balanced with leisurely exploration. You’ll make the most of Spidey’s acrobatic abilities in the open world, but also the mundane abilities of his less super-powered allies in linear stages. Dualities usually suggest there’s a poorer trait, but they’re often integral in characterizing the whole. That’s Insomniac’s Spider-Man–it’s a fantastic experience that completely absorbs you into its unique slice of the Marvel universe, and while that’s partly defined by a slew of menial tasks, it becomes easy to forgive, because they’re part of what helps complete the fantasy of becoming a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
It’s obvious to point out that a lot of the ideas in Marvel’s Spider-Man have already appeared in a number of existing video game interpretations of the character–surely one of the pitfalls of revisiting something so perennially popular. But where Insomniac’s version elevates itself, and where it makes an immediate impact, is in the slick presentation that neatly wraps major parts of the experience. It’s obvious that the last decade of Marvel Cinematic Universe releases has had an effect here–its photorealistic slant shies away from any overt association to comic books. Bright, saturated colors and stirring orchestral hooks are ever-present, and sweeping angles with camera effects majestically frame Spidey’s signature combat style and acrobatics around the city, emphasizing them as the hyperreal feats they are.
But it’s the story that has benefited from Marvel’s popular cinematic formula the most. Insomniac’s interpretation spends a lot of time focusing on the human side of the tale, and Marvel’s Spider-Man features some solid understated performances. Peter Parker is an experienced Spidey, but still suitably dorky, and his relationships with the important people in his life have a major role to play. The game spends ample time dwelling on supporting characters, a move which aids later narrative developments in producing more effective impacts.
There’s always an interesting dynamic with superhero stories–you’ll likely be able to accurately predict the fates of characters you’re familiar with, but going along for that ride regardless and watching with bated interest to see how things unfold this time around is where the value lies. Marvel’s Spider-Man takes inspiration from an Amazing Spider-Man storyline penned by Dan Slott, who is credited as a writer here. Peter’s elderly Aunt May works at a homeless shelter run by Martin Li, an entrepreneur with a selfless heart of gold, but also a more negative side. Needless to say, things get complicated and worlds collide, but Insomniac takes multiple hard detours from the source material.
Li and other antagonists also benefit from a generous amount of time devoted to exploring their humanity, through both cutscenes as well as environmental storytelling. Marvel’s Spider-Man features segments where you explore key locations as Peter Parker, observing spaces, finding audio logs, listening to Pete’s self-narration, chatting with characters, and playing minigames passed off as “scientific research.” You’ll also occasionally step into the shoes of other characters like Mary Jane, a Daily Bugle journalist in this timeline, as she dives into a more involved investigation using her own unique sets of skills.
Mary Jane’s stages feature rudimentary stealth mechanics on top of regular exploration, and her clandestine skillset becomes more diverse as you continue to revisit her side of the story. These mechanics aren’t particularly demanding and you don’t use them enough to wear out their welcome, but these supporting segments do feature some memorably tense scenarios and as a whole do help create a stronger attachment to the characters. It’s easy to find yourself feeling more involved.