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'Spider-Man' swings to cinematic heights

  • spiderman1-jpg

    A screen grab from 'Marvel's Spider-Man.'

    SONY INTERACTIVE ENTERTAINMENT

  • Spiderman-game-jpg

  • Spiderman2-jpg

    A screen grab from 'Marvel's Spider-Man.'

    SONY INTERACTIVE ENTERTAINMENT

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Are you in the mood for an open-world action game that stars a beloved and enduring superhero? Should the combat make you feel like a pat of butter gliding around the surface of a hot pan? What if this game used elements of its comic book and film franchises, combining the two in a way that feels welcoming to die-hard fans and neophytes alike?

Does that sound good?

Then you should totally go play Batman: Arkham Knight. That game is fantastic (this is a hill I continue to die on three years later) and, no, the Batmobile doesn’t ruin the experience.

Wait, did you think I was talking about Insomniac’s Marvel’s Spider-Man? My bad. I’m not sure what would have given you that impression. Was it because I mentioned the similarities? Spider-Man doesn’t even have a car. Completely different.

This isn’t meant to be a knock against Spider-Man, as a comparison to the Batman: Arkham series is a high regard. Insomniac has done wonders creating an open-world New York City that looks and feels like the Big Apple of the Marvel cinematic universe. That big-screen look and feel is a large part of what makes Spider-Man so enjoyable, despite borrowing from the Arkham franchise in ways that feel downright derivative.

‘Marvel’s Spider-Man’
Grade: ★ ★ ★ ★
System: PS4 No.
Players: 1
Published by: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developed by: Insomniac Games
Genre: Action-Adventure
ESRB Rating: T
Grades: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Outstanding; ★ ★ ★ ★ Very Good; ★ ★ ★ Good; ★ ★ Fair; ★ Poor

Not set in either the comic book or film universes, Spider-Man opts to take the best of both and create a New York that resembles Dan Slott’s 2010 comic series The Amazing Spider-Man. From start to finish Spider-Man feels like the Marvel movie that Columbia Pictures failed to create with The Amazing Spider-Man films starring Andrew Garfield. The grandiose music swells, and intense, tight action scenes are made all the more impressive by one of the best looking games of 2018.

It’s rare that video games have moments where the appearance of true acting is happening on the screen, but Spider-Man is filled with moments of tension, distress, and heartache that make for a whirlwind of an experience. This may sound weird to say, but the mundane nature of how the characters look and move is something that neither comic books nor film can do, and that goes a long way in creating memorable performances.

This Peter Parker is the loudmouth we all know and love but also has a vulnerability that you can see in his face. Likewise, Dr. Otto Octavius and his Breaking Bad-esque turn toward evil are captured and made believable through the animation and performance. Never before have I noticed something like a character having flaws such as huge pores, but here we are.

Mary Jane Watson’s transformation from trait-less model and damsel in distress into an active participant in Spidey’s quest to save the city is also a welcome change. I’m not keen on Marvel’s insistence of changing their female characters into Lois Lane-like reporters for modern adaptations (I’m looking at you Karen Page from the Netflix Daredevil series) but Spider-Man uses it to reflect on the nature of MJ and Peter’s relationship and interactions.

The main story arc tells a fantastic Spider-Man story while also setting up some important building blocks for a second game, with post-credit sequences that once again made me feel like I was at the theater. Unfortunately, the side stories and missions don’t have the same weight, thanks in part to that derivativeness I mentioned earlier.

Now, I’m not out here saying that Spider-Man rips off the Batman: Arkham games whole hog, but the similarities are pretty hard to ignore. There's even a somewhat goofy villain who sends you around the city to solve forced perspective puzzles, an armored mercenary testing your abilities at every turn, and sequences where a poisoned hero suffers hallucinations in a dream-like state.

I half-expected Spidey to shout “Where is he?” in a gruff voice before jumping off a building and yelling out that he is “The Batman.” These moments are well written and executed, but it did feel like Spider-Man was created as a market response to the excellent Arkham series. Much of the side stuff in Spider-Man feels like filler when all I really wanted to do was blitz through the main story and see it though. 

Luckily, this sense of deja-vu vanishes because of the sheer joy and ease at which Spider-Man moves through the city. If there’s one thing Insomniac nailed and improved upon from every other open-world game then its the movement via web-swinging. There’s a frenetic nature to shooting webs around New York to get around and it never gets old. Even with a fast-travel system I still found myself forgoing the subway and flying across the skies by spinning a web of any size.

Marvel’s Spider-Man doesn’t break much new ground in regard to gameplay, but as a narrative and piece of entertainment, it stands high above other video games. This is the Spider-Man film I’ve always wanted but have never quite received, which is as high a compliment as I can give.

And, Marvel? I was kidding. Don’t give Spider-Man a car. I don’t think anyone needs any Spider-Mobile flashbacks.

Contact William Harrison at DoubleUHarrison@gmail.com or on Twitter @DoubleUHarrison.

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