Spider-Man is a fantastic game. The swinging feels wonderful, the story is an interesting take on your typical superhero joint, the combat is fluid, the suits and gadgets are cool, the character work with Peter, MJ, Miles, Aunt May, Otto, Mr Lee, Norman, Yuri and every other cast member is top notch. Everything comes together to create the type of prestige video game experience the PS4 is becoming known for. You should play it.
OK, now that's established, I want to talk to you about what really elevates Spider-Man from great to fantastic.
Sure, Insomniac went ahead and did for Spider-Man what Rocksteady did with Batman - made a game that not only was great, but made you feel like the comic book hero. But what the creators of this iteration of our web slinging Spidey have also done is work tirelessly to make the smallest of touches matter. The attention to detail in this game is nothing short of astounding.
Not sure what I mean? Take the screen that pops up whenever a controller is disconnected. Most games will bring up a default menu, some kind of utilitarian screen that advises you of the lost connection. Spider-Man also does this, but instead of just being a straightforward message, the cutest little Spider-Man you’ve ever seen in your life pops up on the screen looking unbearably distressed. As soon as the controller is reconnected, lil Spidey turns that frown upside-down and gives you a delightful thumbs up before you jump back in.
Like Batman, our hero does not kill. So what happens when you’re fighting a bunch of guys on a rooftop, and you power kick them off the edge? If you pay attention, Spider-Man attaches a small gadget to said goon, who is then webbed to the side of the building.
In most games, it’s particularly noticeable when the protagonist you’ve spent hours customizing and dressing up just the way you like appears different in a cutscene. Given the cornucopia of suits available here, it would be understandable if Spider-Man were in his default suit through the main cutscenes - but no, Insomniac made sure that whatever suit you are wearing in game is exactly what you see when you’re witnessing the story beats. This is even reflected during the loading screens that pop up when transitioning between areas.
If you listen closely while Peter is interacting with other characters while swinging through the city, you’ll hear him speak as if he’s exerting himself. Which he is! It’s not easy flinging your weight around like that, even for a superhero. While that’s fine in itself, what’s more impressive is that if you stop swinging and land somewhere, Peter’s voice will switch back to regular speaking, mid conversation. Insomniac recorded every line by voice actor Yuri Lowenthal more than once, in order to play the one that made sense for what you were doing at the time.
Another extremely small detail that most won’t notice unless their PS4 settings are set a certain way is reflected in the popping of trophies. For those that are set to occur during the main story, the notification does not come up until the screen fades to black. But that’s only part of it - if you have your PS4 set to take a screenshot whenever you get a trophy, the game will make sure that the screenshot taken is at just the right moment during a cutscene, rather than simply taking one of said black screen.
All that pales in comparison to what truly gives the game heart; F.E.A.S.T. Or, more specifically, the people who reside in the shelter. There are two stories in particular that stood out to me, and they are stories that many players will miss completely. The first focuses on Gloria.
Early in the game, while running through the soft tutorial, our friendly neighbourhood Spidey jumps into a fray of muggers to break up the crime. This happens a lot through your time with the game - a crime is reported, you go to the location, bust up a few baddies and then head on your merry way - so Spider-Man does what Spider-Man does. There’s a cursory line to the person you’ve saved about FEAST, and they say they’ll check it out.
Most games would just leave it at that, as most players will forget this even happened. Instead, that person you’ve rescued is a woman named Gloria, and does in fact go to FEAST. You can check in with her at various stages through the game to see how she is, following her life through the few weeks the game is set. We never learn her backstory, or why she’s ended up homeless - that isn’t the point. She’s fallen on hard times, and needed a hand getting back on her feet.
Through the few interactions we have with Gloria, we see her go from someone being supported by those around her, to inspired to help out around the center, to becoming manager of the whole shelter.
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Two other occupants of the shelter are already present when we first arrive. You might’ve noticed the middle-aged man and lady playing a game of chess in the middle of the center: that would be Cam and Eileen. Their story is also a reflection of the realities of homelessness, as I’ve already discussed here - not one where everyone is a drug addict or someone suffering from mental conditions, but regular people who’ve had a string of bad luck and nowhere else to go.
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All games have an unbelievable amount of passion behind their creation. For Spider-Man, that absolute love for the subject matter shines bright throughout the experience of playing it - from the things that keep immersion for the player to those that reflect real life in places most games would explain away. The dedication of the teams behind this game should be lauded, because it’s exactly that which turns this game from something great, to something truly special.