The first thing you see in Marvel's Spider-Man is an actual spider.
Dangling outside Peter Parker's New York City apartment, the arachnid looks menacing enough to be the radioactive bug that bites him, spawning his path to superhero stardom. The game immediately kicks this notion in the face, however, forgoing the origin story slog in favour of allowing players to feel like Spider-Man from the get-go.
Within seconds, they're flying past the creepy-crawly and swinging among the skyscrapers of Manhattan with the ease of a seasoned Spider-Man. Moments after treating the world-famous city like their own personal playground, players find themselves effortlessly thwarting thugs in Times Square, before engaging in a boss battle that could serve as a story-capping set-piece in any other superhero game.
WITH GREAT POWER COMES MORE POWER
Marvel's Spider-Man makes a thrilling first impression by immediately putting players in the spandex of an experienced web-slinger, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for growth. While the game's satisfying, intuitive mechanics allow you to feel like a do-gooding superhero right out of the box, its many RPG-flavored systems let you progress Spidey into an even better day-saving badass.
Levelling up allows players to invest points in a trio of skill trees, focused on Innovator, Defender, and Webslinger paths. Brimming with active and passive perks and abilities, these trees offer the opportunity to upgrade existing powers or unlock entirely new ones. Players have the freedom to focus on abilities that improve Spidey's acrobatic prowess, combat skills, or various combinations of the two.
Whether you want to yank rifles from the hands of your foes or propel yourself through the city like a rocket, though, building a better Spider-Man via the skill trees barely scratches the surface of the game's character-shaping depth. There are also over two dozen suits – all with accompanying powers – to unlock, gadgets to acquire and upgrade, and mods that further fine-tune your web-spitting arsenal.
FIGHTING AND FLYING
Thanks to these incredibly layered, polished systems, progressing your personal web-head is a highlight of the game. But the addictive levelling loop is just the beginning, as actually unleashing all Spidey's acquired skills, powers, and abilities is where the real fun is at.
Something as simple as sliding through the legs of an enemy, before beating him down from behind, feels fantastic. It's similarly satisfying to just swing through the city, gaining momentum and enjoying the giddy sense of speed.
Credit is due to the game's fantastic controls, which pack a satisfying punch during combat and give physics the finger when navigating the city-scape. Whether shooting webs at targets or using them to get around town, leveraging Spider-Man's powers always feels incredibly responsive and rewarding.
Of course, that immersion is upped significantly when you begin stringing – literally – traversal moves together and chaining combat abilities in succession. Flying through the city feels fantastic, but it's even better when you're doing it with acrobatic style to spare.
And taking down large groups of thugs, whether stealthily or aggressively, never gets old. Quietly stringing up clueless enemies on the outskirts, then sending in our Spider-Bro drone to surprise-zap their gun-toting allies, was our favorite strategy. Mopping up what was left by juggling baddies, cocooning them in webs, and using them as human wrecking balls was just icing on the cake.
As endlessly satisfying as Spider-Man's swinging and brawling is, its mission structure and open-world design don't quite live up to the seat-of-the-spandex action. There's nothing necessarily broken or bad about the quests or how they're presented, it all just feels a bit too familiar and formulaic.
Outside of story and side missions, players are offered a lengthy list of optional tasks, from thwarting random crimes and collecting Peter Parker's old backpacks to hunting for Black Cat clues and gathering lost pigeons. Again, these activities aren't terrible, but they do feel more like items on a checklist rather than interesting goals organically tied to the story and world.
Hacking mini-games, occasional quick-time events, objective-revealing radio towers, and stealth missions you can fail also feel a bit dated in an era when sandbox games are attempting to build worlds that feel more natural and realistic. It doesn't help that Peter Parker's Big Apple, while visually stunning, is primarily populated by people that feel more like walking, smartphone-wielding drones than actual citizens living their lives.
On the plus side, engaging in almost any activity – optional or otherwise – grants you XP and/or tokens, both of which feed into the progression system. So even if you're just swinging through smog clouds to complete a tedious research objective, you'll be rewarded for your time. Toss in the fact the swinging and combat mechanics are as polished as Kingpin's head, and you won't even mind tracking down those aforementioned wayward birds.
MARVEL'S SPIDER-MAN VERDICT
If you can get past the game's more formulaic elements and old school design decisions, you'll discover one of the Marvel icon's absolute best interactive adventures to date. The addictive progression path, engaging combat, and thrilling web-swinging not only overshadow the game's flaws, they make them fun in spite of themselves.
And while many of the side activities feel like they were taken from a familiar open-world template, the main story path is far more absorbing. Brimming with favorite evil-doers, cool call-outs and Easter Eggs, some surprising twists, and even a number of unexpected playable characters, the narrative path is packed with fan-pleasing content.
Whether you're a longtime follower of the web-head or only know him from his more recent cinematic outings, you'll have a blast beneath the mask.