Marvel’s Spider-Man might be a small game compared to the sprawling open-world saga that is Assassins Creed Odyssey but it is perfectly formed. I thought that I wasn’t that into Spider-Man, for instance it took me a long time to get used to the supposedly all important hyphen, but this game has certainly reignited my love for the ever-youthful quip-tastic web slinger.
Relative to the aforementioned AC game, the map is small – covering nine districts of New York City: Harlem; Upper West Side; Central Park; Upper East Side; Midtown; Hell’s Kitchen; Greenwich; Chinatown; and the Financial District. The city is beautifully rendered without a single bit of pop-up or obvious repetition in modelling. The streets are alive with traffic and pedestrians plus the odd gang of escaped convicts, violently zombified students, misguided security teams and criminal gangs. You can interact with some of the passers by and get copies of the Daily Bugle from the newspaper dispensers on some of the sidewalks.
Along with the main story missions which are sprinkled with very well voice-acted, animated and written cutscenes (including the obligatory Stan Lee cameo), there are numerous collections to be collected and a few fun side-missions too. Perhaps not enough bone fide side missions actually, but when the gang fights and the web slinging is so much fun it mostly goes unnoticed.
Characters include the usual Aunt May, Mary Jane, Doctor Octopus, Norman Osborn, Harry Osborn (he leaves Peter recordings but doesn’t really appear as such), J. Jonah Jameson (providing hilarious radio show snippets), and a range of familiar and (for me) obscure villains such as Vulture, Shocker, Electro, Rhino and Scorpion. For most of the story the main villain is Mister Negative who has a beef with Norman Osborn. As you’d expect he’s joined by Doc Oc towards the end of the game.
Investigative reporter and Parker’s on/off girlfriend, Mary Jane is playable in some parts of the game. I was initially a bit dubious about this part of the gameplay but one of the final scenes where Spidey and MJ work together to clear bad guys out of a train station was a lot of fun. Another character, Miles Morales, is also playable in some segments.
Morales is the son of a police officer who is befriended by Parker. Miles is unaware of Peter’s secret identity until he himself is bitten by a radioactive spider toward the end of the game and gains spidey-like powers. Having seen the trailer for Into the Spider-Verse I wasn’t totally surprised by this turn of events, and I had heard talk of the character being a black teenager in later iterations of the comic. If you think that was a minor spoiler then please forgive me; it’s not fundamental to the game.
I bought the version that includes all the DLCs and I have (so far) been mightily impressed by the effort that the game developers have put into this additional content. The first revolves around Black Cat, one of Parker’s old flames and Marvel’s equivalent of DC’s Catwoman, and is very enjoyable.
But there’s plenty to do in the main game. There are backpacks to collect, science experiments to do, pigeons to catch, and crimes in each section of the map involving car chases, bomb disposal, break-ins and riots that need sorting out. There’s also mini games in Doc Oc’s lab – simple puzzles relating to spectroscopy and electronic circuit building. And then, if all that wasn’t enough, there’s Taskmaster and Screwball, the annoying social media star, who both set you tasks.
There are also criminal bases where stealth takedowns can serve you well up to a point and then it’s down to your silky controller skills and memory (of how to tackle each of the various enemy types) to work through the waves of opponents. If you’re really focused you can fulfil specific challenges such as ‘perform ten perfect dodges’ to earn more points.
All these things allow you to build up points to buy suits and create and upgrade gadgets. In this respect the game is rather like the very enjoyable Arkham series of Batman games. However the combat system in Spider-man feels far more fluid than the Batman games and the sensation of swinging through the skyscrapers of New York is an unparalleled experience.
And then there’s the small matter of the new film…
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a visually stunning animation with a kinetic style that left me with a happy headache. The fine diagonal lines of shading on most scenes take some getting used to, as do the slightly doubled images that are meant to be seen as out of focus, but these don’t distract from the excellent character designs and virtual camera work. The script is very funny; along the same kind of lines as The Lego Batman Movie. It’s such a colourful and amazing looking film, I kind of regret not seeing it at the cinema. Maybe in 3D. I guess the visual ‘artifacts’ are due to a conversion from the 3D format.
Voice talent is provided by an excellent cast including relative newcomer Shameik Moore as Miles Morales, Mahershala Ali (Alita: Battle Angel) as Uncle Aaron (Miles’s equivalent of Uncle Ben), Zoë Kravitz (Mad Max: Fury Road) as a bit-part MJ, Hailee Steinfeld (Bumblebee) as Spidey’s other squeeze Gwen Stacy (Spider-girl from another dimension), John Mulaney as Spider-Ham (a cartoon pig from another dimension – no really), Kimiko Glenn as Peni Parker (anime style spider-robot pilot from another dimension), Jake Johnson (New Girl) as the cynical and out-of-shape Peter B. Parker (from another dimension), and the unmistakeable Nicolas Cage as Sin City style Spider-Man Noir (yep, you guessed it – from another dimension). Chris Pine (Wonder Woman) also voices the original Peter Parker, but for reasons I won’t go into, he’s not in it for long.
As you may have gathered the story revolves around bad guy Fisk building an interdimensional portal generator and threatening the very fabric of reality. Luckily for New York all the aforementioned Spidey variants end up on Miles’s doorstep and help him to battle the bad guy who is also helped out by an interesting version of Doc Oc, The Stalker (no, me neither) and Scorpion.
The film seems to have taken some steer from the way Thor: Ragnarok mixed action with humour, and indeed one scene in particular, where one character is webbed up to a revolving punch bag, owes much to one of the first funny scenes in the Thor film where the titular character is chained up.
The only thing that disappointed me was the soundtrack. I guess it was mostly filled with Sony Music artists in the same way that the company didn’t shy away from featuring their own products within the film. No-one wears Beats headphones in this version of New York.
There is some tying in of the back-stories of the principal characters to the previous Toby Maguire movies and I guess the PS4 game (getting hit by a drone for instance), although the story of the movie doesn’t follow that of the game. If you play and watch both it becomes quite obvious why I say this, but I don’t want to provide any spoilers beyond the very minor ones that have already slipped in here. Suffice to say that both game and movie are a must for any Spider-man fan and even if you’re feeling a bit jaded toward the character after all the previous films, the new film is such an interesting take on things I think you’ll find it very refreshing. I certainly did.