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Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Review: Marvel's Spider-man (PS4 Pro)

So we now had a 4K HDR TV, but scarce content to drive it with. Well, since the TV was bought within the same time frame as the Limited Edition Spider-man PS4 Pro Bundle, I decided to place a pre-order for it. For $400, you got a bright-red PS4, a retail copy of the game with codes for the future downloadable content, which is about a $80 value. I figured if the game had horrible reviews,  I could still sell it unopened for a profit on eBay.

Nowadays, you can tell whether a game's going to be good by the press embargo. A game that the manufacturer expects to be good will lift the embargo days before the game is released, so that the press hype helps to sell the game. That was indeed what happened to Spider-man, so I ended up installing it (downloading the multi-gigabyte day-1 patch in the background) and playing it.

AAA-games, especially those backed by Sony as an exclusive game for the Playstation do several things very well:
  1. Tell a cinematic, movie-like experience, complete with all the special effects you would expect from a blockbuster-movie experience.
  2. Be relatively accessible (i.e., with a little experience you can play and be expected to "finish" the game)
  3. Make full use of the platform's capabilities, showing off all the capabilities the device is capable of. In this case a 4K video output with plenty of HDR effects would be expected.
Spider-man delivers on all these fronts. The story is great, with an expectation that you already know who Peter Parker is, and conversations introducing and driving the characters supporting Spider-man. I especially liked the Mary Jane Watson as depicted in this game, who's a spunkier and braver character than in the movie Spider-man 2. And yes, Stan Lee makes a cameo, just like in the movies! Bowen didn't even play through the first act of the story and but became inspired to actually finish watching Spider-man 2, still the best Spider-man movie ever made. I didn't particularly like the character model that was used for Peter Parker, but I got over it eventually. You don't spend a ton of time being Peter Parker anyway.

The game does everything right: the swinging in New York City is a delight: Bowen would pick up the controller and swing around the city for fun, not trying to advance the story or even stop any street crimes. The combat liberally borrows from the Batman Arkham series, but with its own feel: Spider-man is a much more agile character and moves around the scene quickly and easily, and Spider-man loves bringing enemies up into the air and swinging down at them. I became comfortable with the combat in ways that I never did with any of the Batman series.

There are a few frustrations: there are times when you have to play Mary Jane Watson or Miles Morales. You can tell that the game has a certain direction/solution that it wants you to use, but the direction is sometime too subtle and you end up getting misled. But fortunately, those sections are short and don't overstay their welcome.

Insomniac studios shares the same office building as Naughty Dog, so you can see some cross pollination of ideas here and there, with a few scenes where you can take a breather and just explore an area without combat being thrown at you.

The game has no loot-boxes, no multiplayer, and no "insanely difficult get this timing correct or die" challenges. I successfully completed the game on "Amazing" (medium) difficulty. To be honest, Bowen tried it on "friendly", and I can't really tell the difference.

I don't get to play many video games these days, but Spider-man is definitely one that you shouldn't miss. It tells a great story, and I'm looking forward to playing the DLC as it comes out. It's the first game that I've actually gone to the trouble of getting a Platinum trophy for.

Highly recommended. This is a game worth buying a PS4 for!

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