Insomniac Games' Spider-Man for the PlayStation 4 is an ambitious foray into the superhero genre, and it succeeds in many ways, but that doesn't mean it's without some drawbacks. Marvel Entertainment is looking to reboot their brand in the triple-A video game space with their new Marvel Games division - and the first title releasing as part of this new initiative is Insomniac's Spider-Man, which is being published by Sony Online Entertainment. While the game was playable for the first time during Sony's impromptu showcase at their E3 2018 press conference after-party, Screen Rant had the opportunity to go hands-on with the game (twice) in the company's press arcade area on the E3 show floor later that week.
From the start, the demo allowed a moment to get used to the general feel of the control system by dumping us into a sprawling New York City. Although it's not a 1:1 recreation - not like how Sucker Punch Productions is famously known for doing with their titles (and cities) - Insomniac's Marvel-themed New York City is designed specifically with Spider-Man's web-slinging capabilities in mind. The game is all about verticality and traversing the open world in true Spidey fashion, which is what the title (and demo) does admirably. There's a sense of strategy involved when swinging across the city, as players will need to think about where to shoot their webs next and how long to hold onto the swing before detaching. It's not easy to mess up, though there are moments in which players may find themselves accidentally hitting the ground - but don't worry, there's no fall damage.
Throughout the approximately 20-minute long demo, we completed two small missions and fought several bad guys - in which we were able to really dive deep into the game's combat mechanics - before making our way into a one-on-one showdown with the Shocker (just one of the villains in the game, of which Doctor Octopus is one). Overall, Spidey's animations are solid and the game's combat is reminiscent of both the old Spider-Man games and the character's fighting style from the comics. So, it's good, but as previously mentioned, there are some drawbacks. Considering that Rocksteady's Arkham series tends to be the benchmark for modern superhero games, it's easy to compare Insomniac's new Spider-Man title with the Caped Crusader's. While it certainly shines in that regard, specifically the combos characters can create, the biggest point of contention is Insomniac's AI. It's not intelligent... at all.
Fighting feels tight and fluid in the game, but the enemy AI is too easy to beat and doesn't adjust well to fighting Spider-Man. Of course, that could've been the way it was all set up for the demo, but in general, Spider-Man's Spidey Sense coupled with the easy-to-master combos makes fighting less neat as time goes on. At least, that's how it felt when we tried the demo out the second time around. However, it's worth noting that the combat mechanics against bosses are entirely different than they are with common enemies - and that's where Insomniac's design truly reflects their expert development skills. Bosses are difficult to beat because it's not just about attacking and countering, it's about strategizing and figuring out the opportune moment to strike. Then, it all boils down to taking him out one-by-one, piece-by-piece, just like the superhero games of the past.
One particular thing to note is that while the web-slinging is fun - and, more importantly, smooth - it has one byproduct that is unnecessarily... unnatural: the running. Put simply, running in this game feels less like running as Spider-Man than it does running like the Flash or Quicksilver (in keeping with the Marvel theme). That much can be seen in both the E3 trailer and show floor gameplay demo. It's not something that players will read too much into when the game comes out, but it's certainly a feature worth mentioning since players will have to do a lot of running up buildings. On the technical side, though, there were some occasional frame-rate drops when traversing high-rise buildings or rapidly changing swinging directions in open areas. That's something that can be fixed prior to release, especially since there are still three months left until Spider-Man's street date, but it was a slight issue in the brief hands-on demo.
In the end, regardless of the various minor concerns, none of it was enough to detract from what was an enormously enjoyable experience. Insomniac's Spider-Man game is fun - in practically every way - and it gets the character of Spider-Man right. With that in mind, it surely looks like the acclaimed studio has a hit on their hands that will satisfy both fans of the character and casual video gamers alike. One thing is for sure, though, this Spider-Man game does little to improve or reinvent in the superhero video game genre (and the open world component, for that matter), but it is the Marvel video game fans have been waiting for - and that shouldn't be overlooked.
Marvel's Spider-Man releases on the PS4 on September 7.
- Marvel's Spider-Man Game (2018 Video Game) release date: Sep 07, 2018