Today, Spider-Man is 57 year-old! In honor of his birthday, I’m reposting my review of the Spider-Man PS4 game. I originally posted this, back in February, on the Shattered Lens website. Since that time, I’ve replayed the game a few times and I’ve had just as much fun as the first time. The pigeons still drive me crazy, though. Here’s my original review:
It took me a little over a month to make my way through PS4’s Spider-Man.
I started playing around the middle of December and I finally completed the game on January 30th. I didn’t play every day, of course. There was one week when I was so busy with the real world that I didn’t play at all. Most days, when I did play, I would spend maybe 60 to 90 minutes on the game, sometimes more and sometimes less. All told, I’d estimate that it took about a total of 25 hours for me to finish the game’s story. That’s not counting the time that I spent on side quests or the times when I would just swing through New York and appreciate the massive amount of work and detail that went into recreating Manhattan Island.
The first half of the game is probably one of the best advertisements for New York City that’s ever been put together. Whether you’re swinging through Central Park or taking in the sights in Times Square, it’s hard not to get drawn into the game’s depiction of New York as being the most exciting city in the world. Both Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson get scenes in which they talk about how much they love New York. At the start of the game’s third act, a major disaster happens and New York is suddenly trashed and no longer as friendly a place. While the streets are controlled by the paramilitary mercenaries of Sable International, the rooftops are populated by snipers who think nothing of trying to shoot you while you’re trying to swing from mission to mission. And yet, even when things are at their worst, the indomitable spirit of New York survives. Even though a biological weapon has been detonated and there’s been a massive prison break, you can still find people taking a stroll through Central Park. (Of course, now they’re wearing surgical masks and some of them are stopping to cough.) Even after martial law is declared, you can still drop in on the quad at Empire U and find students hanging out. J. Jonah Jameson (who, in this game, hosts Spider-Man’s favorite podcast) may be a braying fool most of the time but he’s right when he says that New York will never surrender.
(The game’s action is limited to Manhattan. As much as I would have loved to have visited the Bronx, I understand that there’s only so much that one game can do. When I tried to swim to Staten Island, I discovered that swimming is the one thing that Spider-Man does not do well. When I tried to cross the Brooklyn Bridge, I got a warning telling me that I was “leaving the game.” Maybe the sequel will take Spider-Man into the outer boroughs.)
Spider-Man is voiced by Yuri Lowenthal and, after playing this game, it’ll be impossible for me to ever think of Spider-Man as sounding like anyone else. Whether he’s telling a bad joke or, when the game takes a detour into Spider-Man’s subconscious, battling his own demons, Lowenthal simply is Spider-Man.
The game features many of the members of Spider-Man’s supporting cast, with Yuri Watanabe, Mary Jane, Miles Morales, and Aunt May all making welcome appearances. (Four of the story’s missions require the player to take on the roles of either MJ or Miles.) As for the game’s villains, Doctor Octopus, Kingpin, Tombstone, Taskmaster, Norman Osborne, Mr. Negative, Electro, Vulture, Rhino, Scorpion, Screwball, and Shocker all play roles of varying importance. Doctor Octopus is reimagined as being, before he goes bad, almost a surrogate father to Peter. When Spider-Man battles him, he’s not only fighting Doctor Octopus but he’s also battling his own guilt. We all know the old saying: “With great power, comes great responsibility.” PS4’s Spider-Man is one of the few adaptations of the character that actually understands what that means.
While I liked the way that the villains were depicted and I think that this is one of the few Spider-Man adaptations to actually capture what makes Electro such an *ahem* electrifying character, I do wish that some of the boss battles had been more difficult. While they do provide some challenge, they can also often be won just by pushing the dodge button until your opponents eventually tire themselves out. For one battle, Spider-Man debuts a new suit designed to give him an advantage. I won the battle without ever using the advantage. Another battle can be won by finding a high place to perch on while your two opponents defeat themselves with friendly fire.
To anyone playing the game for the first time, my main warning would be to hold off on talking to a homeless man named Howard. It’s tempting to go over and speak with him because his sidequest is located right next to the building where you go to visit Aunt May. When you see the little blue diamond inviting you to visit with Howard, it’s hard to resist. However, when you talk to Howard, you eventually end up agreeing to help him find all of his pet pigeons. Those pigeons are located across the city and, as soon as you find yourself near any of them them, they’ll take off flying and, regardless of whatever else you may have going on, you’ll be expected to chase after them. When it comes to Howard, hold off on talking to him until after you’ve taken care of the game’s main story.
Flaws aside, Spider-Man captures the spirit of its main character. It’s not just about fighting crime, though there is a lot of that to do. It’s also about making sure that Aunt May isn’t wearing herself out with her volunteer work. It’s about trying to find time to cook dinner for MJ without neglecting the demands of being a super hero. It’s about the sidequest where you rescue a civilian who, because he’s wandering around New York dressed like you, has attracted the wrong type of attention. It’s about checking in on the research stations that Harry Osborne set up around the city before he mysteriously disappeared. Sometimes, it’s just about taking the time to stop and take a selfie with a fan. There’s plenty of action but, for me, the game was at its best when it was simply about Spider-Man swinging across Manhattan, looking for old backpacks and sometimes taking pictures of landmarks.
Spider-Man is one of the most enjoyable games that I’ve played in a while and I look forward to replaying it. Next time, though, I’m telling Howard to collect his own pigeons…