Zadzooks: Marvel’s Spider-Man video game review
The creators of such iconic video game superstars as Ratchet, Clank and Spyro the Dragon now bring back to virtual life a comic book legend in Marvel’s Spider-Man (Insomniac Games and Sony Interactive Entertainment, rated Teen, $59.99).
It has been more than a decade since our friendly neighborhood web head has freely roamed New York City in a video game, and this third-person, three-dimensional adventure, exclusive to the PlayStation 4 entertainment system, expands brilliantly on his former glory.
The action allows a single player to spend roughly two dozen hours controlling Spider-Man and his 23-year-old alter ego, the mild-mannered lab intern named Peter Parker who was empowered by the effects of an encounter with a radioactive spider.
Our experienced crime fighter will spend hours swinging around Big Apple locations such as Greenwich Village, Harlem and Manhattan, saving citizens and thwarting evil while passing by some of Marvel Comics’ iconic buildings, including Avengers headquarters, the Wakanda Embassy and Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum.
He’ll need to unravel a plot by a mysterious group called the Inner Demons as well as deal with a cabal of super villains who have joined together to cause mayhem in his beloved city.
I was initially reminded of Activision’s 2004 game “Spider-Man 2” that essentially offered some dynamic swing mechanisms and complex button-crushing combat, but Insomniac and the evolution of technology has made life much easier and much more dazzling for Spidey fans.
After a fairly exciting initial encounter with Wilson Fisk, aka, the Kingpin, it took very little time before I was stopping an unlimited amount of criminal activities, tipped to me from a police scanner and a confidant at the NYPD, Capt. Yuri Watanabe.
During most encounters early on, with a medium difficulty setting, I was shot or pummeled to death over and over again by armies of thugs causing mayhem around the streets of New York. I actually reached a point at about three hours into the game where I was pretty much fed up trying to stop six waves worth of henchmen dug in at a construction site.
That was a mission crucial to progress the story, but I was clearly not at the skill level required to continue.
Instead, I went back to methodically building up experience points to increase my level by conquering challenges to accumulate different types of tokens to use to craft suit modifications such as reducing incoming bullet damage.
I was happy rescuing civilians trapped by fiery auto accidents, tapping into surveillance towers to expand my map of the city or finding more than 50 backpacks filled with an odd variety of collectibles such as a Crusher Hogan poster from Peter’s early days, a piece of the Rhino’s horn, his Mach 1 web shooters and an excessive hospital bill for a strained shoulder.
Actually, I was much happier just perched on a water tower, watching birds and airliners flying over head, spying puffs of steam bellowing from factory stacks in front of me, admiring a sunset and looking below to see a bustling city that never sleeps.
I also had a giggling blast seamlessly swinging around the city, showing off an occasional trick while in midair freefall, running up the sides of the building and web blasting to highlighted point like a human slingshot. The swinging is by far the most intuitive and exhilarating ever used in a Spider-Man game.
Alas, I had to get serious to keep leveling up and acquiring skill points and found a few deep side missions to help with the process.
One involved finding a laptop in Central Park’s Belvedere Castle; stopping a pigeon from stealing a flash drive (that’s right, I chased a poop patrol around the city); shutting down small armies of thugs from stealing New Yorkers passwords at multiple computer terminals; and saving a very helpful girl named Stephanie.
Peter also showcases his brilliant laboratory and research skills when visiting his mentor’s lab. Multiple types of puzzles offer twisting circuit blocks on a grid to complete a flow of electricity and lining up spectrograph patterns to create new molecular substances.
Once again, I was much happier solving these conundrums than getting crushed by a pipe wrench or mowed down by an assault rifle.
Despite my early combat gripes, life did get easier as I hit Level 10. Spider-Man certainly has plenty of offensive and defensive combat moves to stop the bad guys. However, my finger fumbling remained a constant for this maybe too-old gamer.
My most effective attacks were webbing an opponent and swinging him around to knock down others, or tethering manhole covers to pound away at adversaries.
Overall, the acrobatic ballet of close-quarters combat, sometimes in slow motion with the correct suit upgrades activated, is stunning to watch as the limber hero punches, kicks, flips, throws, sticks, suspends and pummels enemies, but I just wish I was more skilled mashing those controller buttons.
Still, the question everybody keeps asking remains: Does the game authentically bring the Spider-Man universe to realistic life?
First, an emotional story offers Peter’s ever-complex relationship with nosy Daily Bugle reporter Mary Jane Watson.
Next, a steady stream of super villains such as Shocker, Electro, Vulture, Rhino, Scopion appear through lifelike designs, not quite as impressive as the video game Batman: Arkham Asylum’s baddie roster, but still eye-popping for comic book fans.
A player can eventually unlock and upgrade more than two dozen Spider-Man costumes, including a noir version, Secret Wars garb and Tony Stark’s design. A very cool design from comic book artist Adi Granov features a blue-and-red leather suit with a large white spider on his chest and back, and some white bands of highlights going up his arms.
Now add Peter’s moments of angst and wise-cracking comments, his use of spidersense (with white bands radiating around his noggin when in imminent danger), listening to retired Bugle editor J Jonah Jameson in his online radio show and appearances by Aunt May, philanthropist Martin Li, Black Cat and mayor Norman Osborne (I didn’t see that coming).
And, finally abundantly throughout, New Yorkers always have an opinion of our hero, giving him praise and grief as he walks the streets.
Without a doubt, Insomniac Games clearly took Uncle Ben’s advice of with great powers come great responsibility” seriously and have created a deep, canon-rich Spider-Man masterpiece sure to impress casual as well as hardcore fans looking for cinematic action.