I'm quite often a latecomer to video games these days. My pile of shame seems to have new games added to the top of it far more quickly than I clear items from the bottom - and it's been that way for quite some time. This particular game has been sat on the pile for about two years, and I really wish I'd hit it earlier - because it's an absolute masterpiece. Spider-Man might be the finest open world third-person adventure game I've ever played - and that's high praise indeed.
I've been a fan of everyone's favourite neighbourhood Spider-Man since I was a little kid. The first superhero 'thing' I ever remember being given was a Superman duvet cover; the second was a worn old paperback compilation of the first ten or so Spider-Man comics. I still have it. There was always something about Spider-Man that appealed to me. Partly it was that he was smart and a geek (something I saw elements of in myself), but mostly I think it was that he always won but usually by the skin of his teeth. Things always came out right in the end, but along the way he'd screw up and make whatever the situation was even worse for himself - like he was his own worst enemy. As a kid who rarely felt like he got anything right the first time, it was a vibe I could relate to... and still can to a degree.
This is another game though that, when it came out, was on the console that was on the opposite side of the gaming divide to where I was standing. I picked it up and played it briefly and then put it aside - vowing to come back at some point, but unable to get along with the frantic combat due to those horrible symmetrical sticks on the Dual Shock 4. Here I am though, a couple of years later - and with the aid of a decent controller have discovered for myself that here is a game that actually lives up to its hype.
Where other open world games place mission waypoints a large distance apart, causing most players to reach for the nearest fast-travel point, Spider-Man encourages you to travel the world by simply making the process of doing so one of the most fun things in the game. I think it's the conscious decision to lean into this element of the superhero power fantasy that's where Spider-Man picks up so much steam as being outstanding. Where other open world games see you walking or using vehicles, Spider-Man lets you swing - and once you get the hang of it, I'd go so far as to say that if feels so good that it will ruin other open world games. Which is more rewarding? Getting on a horse and holding 'x' to gallop, or engaging with a system that lets you swing, boost, snap yourself to a particular point, and even perform gravity-defying acrobatics at skyscraper heights in a state of perfectly controlled freefall? I don't think it would be much of a spoiler to say that it's the latter. The weight and physics that inform this element of the game are simply incredible - snapping to a ledge, seamless launching from it and then doing a backflip into your next swing just never feels old.
That world contains a story that spans the map and includes enough twists and turns to keep it interesting, with the flow of it interwoven with high intensity set pieces and quieter, more thoughtful moments that give scope for more character development than most AAA games.
Playing a lot of Sony exclusive games in a row as the last generation has faded to an end and the new one has begun, one of the overarching elements of these games that I've come to appreciate is the narrative pacing - it's something that Sony's first-party studios really seem to consistently get absolutely right. Tight combat will blend into a chase, which will become a boss battle, which will become a moment of exposition, which will lead to a period of exploration and discovery, culminating in more tight combat - and on and on the cycle goes. The game is always offering up a change of pace before the action you're engaged in at any given moment gets time to become stale. The overall effect is similar to that of watching a movie or reading a good book, with each moment blending seamlessly into the next to the point that, when you stop and come up for air, you realise how breathless the ride to this point has been.
Spider-Man is standing out through being on the lighter side of superhero fiction. The game doesn't feel as though it's taking itself too seriously while simultaneously being absolutely packed with things to do and to see - and sometimes, this is exactly what I need. The upgrade system feels meaningful - both in terms of its impact on your combat prowess and on how quickly and easily you can traverse massive distances. The combat borrows the best bits from the system used in the Batman: Arkham games but amps up the acrobatics - if you aren't throwing enemies into the air and then web-swinging into them to kick them off buildings, you're doing it wrong. There are lots of destructible elements in the environment - I'm especially a fan of hitting enemies with sewer grates and car doors, and the silent takedowns are hilariously brutal (especially the one where you flick a guy into the air, catch him, and drag him head first into whatever you're perched on - knocking him out cold and guaranteeing my a dark snigger every single time).
It's a game I sat on for far too long - but I'm so glad I've finally started it. It's one of the finest games of the last generation. If you haven't played it, do yourself a favour and pick it up. I promise, you won't be disappointed.