About a year ago, shortly after E3 2018, I wrote a fairly snarky write-up of a trailer for Insonmiac’s then-forthcoming Spider-Man. I thought the piece was edgy and that I was very cool. You know what? I was so, so wrong. Spider-Man is a damn good video game and I was incorrect in my instinct to snark on it.
When the game came out and received universally positive reviews, I took more notice. When my boss, a video game critic for a fairly popular YouTube channel, said it was one of his favorite games of 2018, I started to get on the hype train. I hate to judge a book by its cover, even though I had definitely judged this game by its trailer. So, I started looking for a way to hands on it.
My wife’s family purchased the game for me as a Christmas present (pro tip: find a wife who supports your hobbies and whose family won’t roll their eyes at buying a 30-year-old man a video game as a gift). We watched It’s A Wonderful Life, ate some snacks, then I fired up the game. The minute my costumed hero started swinging through NYC on his way to fight the Kingpin, I was on board.
Spider-Man belongs to a set of video games that sets out to improve on a base formula. While the game brings new ideas to the table, it’s ultimately about executing mechanics more accurately that could have been done in older console generations. And you know what? That’s so, so fine. Video games have always been iterative, and Spider-Man is no exception.
What struck me was that even though I’ve done so many of the things this game has to offer in other games, they feel fresh and new because of a couple small tweaks. Being able to fling Spidey around the city feels amazing, but it also feels amazing because I can do it in both day and night. The incredibly cliché point that has been made in every review about the game since it was released about how NYC “feels alive”? So, so true. I went by my favorite spot in Central Park in the game, and it feels like a one-to-one replication (though when last I was there in person, there wasn’t a Sable compound a hundred yards away). Popping up to a rooftop and stumbling through a barbecue? So good.
The little Marvel touches are stirring and evocative and exciting in a way I didn’t expect. As a longtime Daredevil fan, slinging through Hell’s Kitchen and seeing Josie’s Bar made me do a weird emotional backflip and immediately made my mind go into overdrive imagining a Daredevil game. Somewhere around the same time as finding that landmark I found the backpack containing Matt Murdock’s business card and had what can only be described as a giddiness explosion.
*Mild spoilers for Spider-Man to follow, but if you watched the trailer from E3 last year then you’re good.*
But even more affecting than the familiar landmarks and fine-tuned gameplay is the genuinely great super-story. In my (bad) early take on the gameplay trailer from last year, I rolled my eyes at the riot on the Raft and the very idea of a supervillain gauntlet. But the buildup to the reveal of the Sinister Six in the game itself is incredibly well-done. This reveal comes way later than I thought it would, to the game’s benefit. Spider-Man feels like it’s going in one direction, ends up going in another, and I am along for the ride.
I recorded part of the cutscene as it appears in the game and I think the whole moment when all six big villains show up is really fantastic.
Of course, there’s still stuff that I wish were done a little better; the Silver Sable stuff is... fine, really just an excuse to have supervillains attack someone besides the cops. I think the Miles Morales story integration is great, but his gameplay sections don’t especially stick out to me and I just want him to be bitten by a radioactive spider already! I wish the gadgets were integrated better; you can best pretty much any combat challenge with just basic attacks, finishers, and the web shooter.
These are nitpicks. I’ve been playing through Spider-Man off and on for the last six months and it’s incredibly satisfying every time I pick it up. In a lot of ways, it feels like “one more open world game” but if you’re like me, a guy who is overall pretty medium on Spider-Man the property but likes superheroes in general, it’s well worth the time.
Stay tuned for more hot takes that are sheepishly reversed a year later.