If there’s one thing that makes or breaks a Spider-Man game, it’s the web-slinging. While countless developers have nailed Spidey’s wall-crawling or given us enjoyable ways to beat on baddies, the one fantasy we all REALLY want to live out is swinging through a virtual Manhattan.
Well, we’re happy to say that this is one dream that developer Insomniac Games has made a reality. Unlike the set-piece-heavy trailer that was shown off during Sony’s E3 conference, the demo of Marvel’s Spider-Man that Sony provided press was pure sandbox exploration. Dropped in the middle of a beautifully rendered Manhattan, all it took was a quick squeeze of the right trigger and with a satisfying ‘THWIP’ we were instantly swinging our way past skyscrapers.
From that very first web shot, it instantly became apparent just how great this game feels to play. In the comics and the movies, Parker’s carefree web-swinging makes Manhattan look like Spider-Man’s playground. And thankfully, that’s exactly what Insomniac’s sandbox feels like.
A Swing and a Hit
Here, nothing slows Spidey down. Instead of miss-timed web swings sending you slamming into skyscrapers, what should send you crashing into a window actually propels our hero straight into a vertical wall run. It’s an exhilarating feeling keeping the web crawler scaling and swinging his way across town.
The same applies to getting yourself back in the air. If you find yourself misjudging a swing and crashing to the ground, a quick web zip sends Spidey hurtling straight up to whatever point players please. It’s these kinds of design decisions that help to create an utterly exhilarating sense of flow.
Here, Spider-Man is always moving, keeping the player feeling like a badass hero at all times, rather than having them fumble around and breaking that fantasy mid-swing.
It’s a design philosophy that extends to the combat too. While pounding on goons definitely feels similar to dispensing justice in Rocksteady’s Arkham games, brawling as Spider-Man is a more fast-paced affair. Instead of dishing out the Dark Knight’s slow and heavy blows, in Marvel’s Spider-Man, players are free to slide under their enemies, backflip into flying kicks, and even use their webs to send pieces of the environment slamming into unsuspecting foes.
This is a system that instantly feels great to button mash, but one that also has enough depth to let a seasoned player pull off some really elegant-looking combos.
Spidey has more than just standard webs at his disposal too. As well as being able to temporarily trap goons in a tangle of webs, players can lay web trip mines that send enemies hurtling into a nearby wall and cocooning them. We also had access to slightly more lethal-looking web gadgetry.
Dropping a web bomb into the centre of a circle of henchman, we quickly zipped our way up to a nearby girder before the force of the explosion sent the enemies flying. Like in the Arkham games, zipping up to higher ground adds a pleasing sense of verticality to brawls, but once again, the few scraps we got to engage in felt surprisingly like their own beast.
Missions and Story
While there’s always a main story to pursue, it’s up to players to choose what missions they feel like doing at any given time. During our 20-minute demo, we spent some time eavesdropping on police radios to thwart local crimes, sealed up a few leaking water silos with webbing, and then attempted to track down the recently escaped classic Spidey villain, Shocker.
Yet, although countless waypoints and objectives littered the map, to be honest, we found it difficult to tear ourselves away from the swinging and to force ourselves to actually land at our objective.
It helps that this is a seriously good-looking game too. Soaring through the sprawling city, glass glistens in the sunlight as a sea of buildings blur past. What we’ve seen so far makes Insomniac’s Manhattan a bright and endearing place to explore, and there seems to be a fair amount for players to do here too. While we know the story goes to some dark places, we hope that this sunny sandbox manages to continue to feel so compelling after hours of play.
How Is Marvel’s Spider-Man Shaping Up?
It felt refreshing to move so speedily around a sandbox world, providing a sense of arcadey fun that has been sorely lacking in recent open world adventures. It’s too early to tell whether Marvel’s Spider-Man will manage to entertain for the long haul, but based on what we’ve seen so far, Rocksteady might finally have some competition.