Thoughts On Spider-Man PS4
If there is one thing I didn't expect at the start of the year, it was that Spider-Man For PS4 would be the game to have the biggest emotional impact on me. I saw the reviews, I saw the metacritic score and I saw how much everyone talked about the game, and it wasn't entirely surprising. Insomniac have proven themselves to be a pretty solid game developer, and their combination of game design married up with such an interesting IP was bound to turn some heads. I got Spider-Man For PS4 (and yes I will continue to add the "For PS4" part since it's such a ridiculous title) because I knew I had to take a look at it, and I wanted to complete it before Red Dead Redemption 2 came out since I had an inkling that game would also take up a lot of my time.
I went into Spider-Man For PS4 with high hopes after everything I had seen and heard about the game. And my hopes were met exceptionally well. The fast paced introduction to Peter Parker, his alter ego Spider-Man, and the version New York that they inhabit, is one of the funnest intro's to a video game I've played in years. It went a long way to help establish the atmosphere and feeling that would exude from the game for the rest of my time with it. Much like how Rocksteady captured what made Batman an interesting character to play as in the Arkham series, Insomniac managed to take the decades long history of Spider-Man, and boil it down to the basic elements so that casual fans, or even people with zero knowledge of the character, would still care about what was happening in the game.
My two biggest (and honestly, only) complaints about Spider-Man For PS4 are to do with the kitchen sink approach to the side quests/time killers, and the overall hand holding approach that the game has towards the player.
A lot has already been made of how much of the game doesn't actually involve Spider-Man himself. For parts of the play time you play as Peter Parker, his ex-girlfriend MJ Watson, another lad called Miles Morales, and you even do some basic pattern matching and circuitry connection mini-games. Whilst I did appreciate the inclusion of more elements to show off Peter Parker's more sciencey side (as far as I know that hasn't really been shown much in previous games) I do wish that they didn't take the form of the most basic concepts of puzzle design. It was almost comical when the puzzles first came up with flashy animations, and Parker explaining the extremely complex science behind what was essentially an inverse version of spot the difference.
The missions where you play as MJ or Miles also weren't fantastic. Although I did like the way that the missions would be set up as flashbacks, or as running in parallel with what you had been doing as Spider-Man, they simply weren't fun. They were chores. As you were essentially doing what you would be doing as Spider-Man, but with severely fewer options. By that I mean, you were sneaking around, distracting guards, and getting to a checkpoint. There are missions where you do this as Spider-Man, but they're just way more fun and interesting because you have a dozen different ways to go about the challenge. As MJ, all you can do is throw stuff to distract guards, and as Miles, all you can do is hack machinery (with your smartphone, natch) to distract guards. I actually liked MJ and Miles as characters in cutscenes, and I was interested in what they got up to in between missions, but I would have much preferred it if they had stuck to just being in cutscenes.
When it comes to the hand holding aspect, I'm talking about how the game often doesn't give you the option to fail. Obviously in certain aspects this doesn't always apply - combat can be challenging and dealing with different goons using different tactics was satisfying and fun - and there were plenty of times I failed there. But in many other ways the game is incredibly forgiving. Web-swinging requires way less finesse than it originally seems, the quick time events have zero challenge, enemies in stealth sections are ludicrously blind and deaf, and all of the secrets, collectables and Easter Eggs are all hidden in plain sight.
Using the collectable backpacks as an example, I thought the whole point was that they would be hidden, so that you would actually have to go looking for them, and then your reward was a new token and some Spidey memorabilia. But they're all shown on the map the moment you activate a tower (slow down there on the innovation front Insomniac), and once you get close enough you just click the right analogue stick for it to show up highlighted and shiny for the whole world to see. And this happens with every kind of challenge in the game. Whether it's Black Cat's hidden plushies sparkling at you whilst also vibrating the controller just to make sure you didn't miss them, or hidden power boxes that you find by once again clicking the analogue stick and following the shiny, glowing trail and then being told for the sixth time that day how to take out said power box, the game is terrified of the pace dropping because the player took a moment to think about something.
Those two negatives aside for the moment, I do want to talk about the way Spider-Man For PS4 handled its story, its characters and fallout from what happens. Spending time with all of the characters was surprisingly enjoyable, and although I wasn't the biggest fan of the moments where you weren't playing as Spider-Man, it did mean that the additional cast of characters meant more to me. And as things escalated towards the end of the main story, I got genuinely invested in what would be the outcome for Peter Parker and his friends and family. It became clear that not everyone was going to make it to the end, and I kept playing just to see what the conclusion would be. The ending itself, was emotional and satisfying, even if the final scene itself was a bit abrupt when it slammed to credits.
As I said before, I went into Spider-Man For PS4 expecting a good game, potentially even a great game. I didn't expect to go in and find an emotionally engaging and satisfying game. But there it was. And I look forward to seeing where Insomniac takes the series next, as they obviously have big plans for Spider-Man - I just hope that they do the same for Peter Parker, as they did so well with him here.