Here’s a confession: we swung into the PS4 exclusive Marvel’s Spider-Man skeptical of its combat system. Being hardened veterans of three Batman Arkham games (and a spin-off), we’d developed an attachment to Rocksteady Studios’ rhythmic, standard-setting fights.
Watching E3 2018 footage made us suspect that Spidey was doing a me-too. But playing the game shows the AI, environment, and combo systems to be decidedly different. When a problem comes along Peter Parker not only thwips it good, he can do it in his own inimitable style…
The Spider-Man PS4 approach to combat has some passing similarities to Rocksteady’s framework but you’ll find it becomes its own beast in a very short amount of time. For starters, the goals for fighting here are more about improvisation and acrobatics.
The bat is a blunt instrument whose no-nonsense, Krav Maga-esque style is borne from a lack of super powers. Conversely, Spidey can more or less defy gravity to run rings around any non-metahuman mook who stumbles into his web.
Anyone watching the Spider-Man PS4 trailer might assume the combat is more like than unlike Arkham’s trendsetter, but the differences start showing as soon as you pick up the controller.
Peter Parkour Beats Batty Brawls
The concept is simple: Peter Parker is a showy, smart-ass brawler with enhanced awareness of his surroundings and the webshooter means to make incidental objects work for him. Batman had a few limited ideas about hurling stuff and people about with his grapple gun but he’s an amateur compared to the smart-as-a-thwip resourcefulness of Spider-Man.
It seems like this is the next evolution for this fighting system. Spider-Man on PS4 makes it incredibly easy and effective to weaponise the world around you. Yanking things like racks down onto thugs, or express delivering a mailbox into a villain’s face is a great way to even the odds early.
Honestly, the first thing we’d do in any brouhaha would be to quickly twist the camera around to see if a telltale “L1+R1” marker was painted on anything. Hopefully there’ll be a manhole cover nearby for you. It’s the perfect gift to give a goon (at about 100 km/h).
It’s also worth noting that we cranked the difficulty setting right up to “Spectacular” just to see how durable Parker would be against some low-level mobsters. We could eat a total of four knuckle sandwiches before needing to take a post-meal nap.
This gave him roughly the same durability as the Bat on his toughest difficulty setting, but Arkham’s combat wins here vs the 2018 Spider-Man due to its small vignette upon death. By contrast, no arch nemesis will talk trash to Spidey when he punches out. It’s just a no fuss checkpoint reload.
Different Decisions in Swarming Systems
We punched our way through hordes of bad guys – typically half a dozen at a time – until something occurred to us. Insomniac’s enemies are much more ruthless and willing to swarm you in a dog pile, whereas the Arkham series affords Batman a bit more fear, respect, and distance to do his work. As Spidey you’ll be much more hard-pressed to mash out a full, uninterrupted combo on one particular baddie.
Get too personal with one enemy and you’ll be painting a bullseye on your pancreas – opportunists will run in from behind, essentially shoulder to shoulder with one another. Fighting on solid ground and on even terms with criminals is the fastest way to get Spidey splatted.
You’re way better off thumping into somebody a few times and then displacing out of the swarm to resume your assault from an outside vector. Getting clear is easy enough, thanks to a dodge button on circle (and your Spidey sense’s “incoming attack” warning).
But even with the new telegraphing mechanic in Spider-Man PS4, we found ourselves getting tagged mid-evasion more often than any Arkham game. You’ll find more success from tapping X to leap straight upwards and then square will Tarzan sling you forward with your boot stretched out. It’s a move highly reminiscent of Spidey’s Web Swing special move in the Marvel vs. Capcom series.
Spider-Man PS4 Gets More Air
Failing this, Spidey is into air-launchers in a way that Batman never was. If you’re new to the concept, a launcher is essentially an almighty uppercut that shifts the assault a few metres into the air. In the PS4 Spider-Man it’s an incredibly effective way to isolate a person of interest for a one-on-one drubbing. The only way your beat down (beat up?) can be interrupted now is by a bullet (but you can see a ghostly warning trajectory of that gunshot before the trigger gets pulled).
Better yet, while you’re upstairs in hang time you’ve got a means to crowd control even more. Any fly caught in your mid-air web can be flung down at the mob waiting below you. If you’re lucky, the human projectile will smack another victim far away from the pack thus giving you a new window with this newly isolated prey. Divide and conquer. All the way.
Arkham Freeflow vs Spider-Man Focus
Kick enough butt to rack up a 20x combo and you’ll fill one bar of a three-tier Focus meter. Much like the Arkham series this will earn you an instant finisher move on triangle + circle. This is where the fun begins.
In our opinion, Insomniac’s animation system handles these moments with greater panache and fluidity. With the Arkham series you’d spot the occasional odd-looking roundhouse kick that seemed connect-the-dots rather than kinetic. We never once felt or saw that disconnect in Marvel’s Spider-Man.
Whichever way you look at it, Batman: Arkham Knight and Marvel’s Spider-Man both share a bit of DNA but the billionaire in the batsuit and the kid jacked up on radioactive spider venom each do different things.
It’s perhaps an unfair comparison — 2018’s PS4 Spider-Man is better, but it’s standing on the shoulders of the Arkham giant. Insomniac has effectively taken the best combat system in gaming and air-launcher-uppercutted it to a higher benchmark of slickness and satisfaction. It’s sheer criminal arse-kicking catharsis. That launch day can’t come soon enough.