Marvel's Spider-Man has been one of the PlayStation 4's most anticipated exclusives since it was revealed in the summer of 2016.
Fans' enthusiasm has been balanced by some cautious optimism, however, as Peter Parker's previous handful of interactive outings have been less than stellar. Based on an early demo – containing multiple quick-time events – many potential players were also concerned the game may rely too heavily on the tired mechanic.
We're pleased to announce then, after spending some time beneath the spandex, Marvel's Spider-Man is shaping up to be a polished, fan-pleasing entry that could possibly stand next to the Batman: Arkham series as one of the medium's best superhero games.
Superhero origin stories can be a blast to experience on the big screen or within the pages of a comic book, but they don't always translate well to video games.
Thankfully, Spider-Man is forgoing the origin-tale tedium in favour of putting players behind a web-crawler who's already comfortable with his crime-fighting powers and, of course, the responsibility that comes with them.
Picking up several years after Peter Parker was famously infected by that radioactive arachnid, the game wastes no time getting to the good stuff.
For fans, this means spending less time learning the ropes and more feeling like a superhero at the top of his game. We experienced this first hand during a 20-minute demo of the game that immediately saw us treating New York City's skyline like our personal playground.
SWINGING GOOD TIME
Within seconds of picking up the DualShock 4, we were swinging through Marvel's NYC with acrobatic style to spare. Developer Insomniac Games is no stranger to crafting fast, fluid navigation mechanics – from Ratchet & Clank's rail-grinding to Sunset Overdrive's city-surfing – but Spider-Man's smooth controls prove the studio was just getting warmed up.
Intuitive, responsive and sporting an amazing sense of momentum, the swinging mechanics possess plenty of pick-up-and-play appeal. While super-accessible though, the controls also include enough variation and nuance to satisfy and reward more skilled web-slingers.
During our demo, for example, we were almost immediately able to pull off all of Spidey's moves, from swinging to specific destinations and landing on perches to running along walls and launching from ledges, but it took us a bit more time to successfully chain them all together.
After a few minutes though, we started to string and combine all these actions in a fashion that felt more cinematic than sloppy. Trading our initial clumsiness for confidence, we also began picking up speed, quickly taking corners and covering several city blocks in seconds.
There's obviously much more to do in Marvel's Manhattan than just using it like a jungle gym, but we can see ourselves spending hours simply swinging through the city with a big smile stretched across are mugs.
The unbridled freedom you feel swinging above the streets of the game's beautiful, detailed city also translates to its acrobatic combat. Spider-Man can essentially pinball off and around environments – and enemies – as he unleashes a variety of web-based powers and projectiles. When combined with his lightning-quick punches, kicks, aerial attacks and dodges, his webs offer an endless variety of ways to put goons in their place.
We especially enjoyed sliding between a target's legs before surprising them with an attack from the back, as well as slinging live grenades back at groups of henchmen. Clearing a crowd is also super- satisfying when you're surrounded by interactive objects that can be weaponised; prompts appear over items, such as car doors and barrels, allowing you to quickly grab and toss them at targets.
Much like the motion mechanics, combat is at its criminal-crushing best once you learn to chain attacks and powers together in an extended string to rival a choreographed film fight. We only scratched the surface in this respect, but it's clear the game really finds its groove when the combat feels as good as it looks.
While we nearly achieved this level of baddie-busting nirvana against groups of street thugs, we were knocked down a few pegs by The Shocker. Taking place in the tighter quarters of a bank, the boss battle called for more careful, thoughtful tactics. The multi-tiered fight required us to toss pieces of the interior's architecture at the target, deliver up-close attacks when he was weak, and frequently stick to the ceiling to avoid his Spidey-zapping attacks.
MARVEL'S SPIDER-MAN INITIAL VERDICT
We only experienced a small slice of what promises to be a sprawling, open-world adventure. That said, our brief time tethered to Spidey's webs strongly suggests Insomniac has nailed specific elements, like navigation and combat, integral to making players feel like the iconic Marvel superhero.
If the quality of the story, depth of the character progression, and pacing of the main missions and side content can live up to the high standard set by the mechanics, then Spider-Man fans are in for a real treat when the web-head lands on 7 September for PlayStation 4.