Marvel's Spider-Man, the PlayStation's biggest PS4 exclusive since God of War, is finally here – and it's every bit the game we'd hoped. We always had high expectations, with Ratchet & Clank and Sunset Overdrive developer Insomniac Games at the helm, but think the studio has excelled itself with the best Spider-Man game in more than a decade.
Spider-Man on the PS4 does the most important things right: it gets Peter Parker's wisecracking, cheeky sense of humour spot on; it provides a large, open playground to explore in the form of a decent slice of New York City; and it has the best web-swinging and slinging mechanics in any Spider-Man game.
Yes, it's heavily inspired by the Batman Arkham series. And, no, it isn't the first open-world Spidey game, but it is the first not based on a movie for years and feels like the start of an all-new, much-welcomed franchise.
In story terms it is typical superhero stuff. Insomniac has created its own universe for its version of Spider-Man and that gives it a fairly open book on characters and their back stories. The villains are similar, the setting obviously so, but there are several plot twists and surprises for long-running fans of Parker and his chums.
We won't go into too many specifics here, for the sake of spoilers, but the main foe this time around is Mister Negative – a relatively recent superpowered bad guy who first appeared in the comics in the noughties.
Naturally, he wants to cause devastation in the city for reasons that become apparent and it is up to you, occasionally assisted by another playable character, Mary Jane Watson, to thwart his plans.
You will encounter plenty of other infamous villains along the way, sometimes in the main story, sometimes as side quests, and while the story mode could be blitzed through in 20 hours or so, there is so much else to do that you won't mind.
Biting the Big Apple
Indeed, we found ourselves exploring the city between story missions every time. There is plenty else to do in New York and considering everything you do pretty much gives you experience points or tokens to spend on loot, you'll find yourself doing the same.
Just travelling around the city is fantastic or, dare we say it, amazing. It starts out as a cool way to get to the next location but gets even better in time, when you learn new skills and level-up. Eventually you'll just hurl yourself around the Big Apple for fun. We've found ourselves spending a considerable amount of time just swinging around the landscape without doing any missions at all.
That's not to say missions haven't found us instead, however. One of the most constant interruptions when meandering about comes in the form of crimes, which occur randomly in boroughs around the city. They start out as simple enough muggings and break-ins, but as the story progresses become more sinister and dangerous.
Sadly, and this in one of the game's only major faults, they do get repetitive and almost unnecessary as your powers and skills improve. But as we said above, you do get tokens for completing them, which can be spent on crafting gadgets, so you'll definitely want to take on every one that pops up. And each type of crime is finite, so you know that when you've done a certain number in each area of the map, they won't occur again.
Slinging it with Spidey
Also, while they can feel samey, the combat system is excellent, so at least you won't feel like you are simply mashing buttons all the time. Combat is the biggest part of the game, so Insomniac has put considerable effort into ensuring it is as fluid and intuitive as possible.
On the ground it bears a striking similarity to the system in Batman Arkham Knight, but while Batman had access to gadgets in the Arkham trilogy, they could largely be ignored for simple kicks and punches. Not so Spider-Man. He has multiple gadgets at his disposal and, of course, his trademark web shooters. Both are essential in ensuring a fight goes your way.
Web bombs, for example, will temporarily halt all enemies in the near vicinity, enabling you to dispatch them with no answer. And there are web mines that, once tripped, will more permanently stick a foe to a wall or floor.
These are delivered through a weapons wheel that owes more than a nod to Ratchet & Clank, but is no lesser received. It works wonderfully, even when in the middle of a hardcore battle, with bullets and rockets raining down on you.
Combining the gadgetry, deft combos and verticality thanks to Spidey's own abilities, results in a combat system that flows and ebbs naturally. It gets even more fun and interesting later in the game, when you've unlocked many of the additional tools and skills.
For the fans
As well as a trademark Spider-Man story, fans of his comic book adventures will have a geekasm at the amount of Easter Eggs in the story and just scattered around the city.
For a start, the tokens that you get for each completed side mission or encounter can not only be spent on your gadgetry, but different suits to redress your hero. They are generally taken from the comic books and famous moments in Marvel history. Fans will love trying each one.
What's more, each comes with its own special power, which you can equip once unlocked no matter which suit you wear. You can have one active at a time and it adds a layer of customisation that can change the very way you play.
For example, we are particularly fond of a move where Spidey jumps into the air and shoots webs quickly in all directions – often sticking foes against walls and objects. That's only available with a certain suit, but once unlocked through earned game tokens you can assign that ability to any item of attire – including the white spider costume designed specifically for the game.
Another customisation option in the game – as if the gadgets and suits weren't enough – comes in the form of a decently stacked skill tree. There are plenty of skills that aid in combat or when swinging around the city and rather than the in-game tokens, they can be unlocked through skill points earned when you level-up.
Yep, this Spider-Man game is part role-player, with experience points and levels which provide another reason to complete everything on the map before you have to face the bigger bosses.
Bossing the big bad guys
Boss battles are inevitable in a game like this – and you'll be pleased that you've spent the time improving Parker's skill set before you have to face each one.
Every main villain you meet will end up in a boss battle, each of which results in a different fight pattern or system to defeat them. Beefing up Spidey definitely helps.
If you're playing it on the hardest difficulty level of three – spectacular – then it's downright essential.
Graphically, Spider-Man is beautiful – especially so on PS4 Pro (but still great on PS4) – thanks to the use of HDR (high dynamic range), with sunsets over the city being a highlight. The Pro gets a resolution boost too, with sharper edges and, seemingly, better defined cityscapes. It is unlikely you'll be disappointed with either console's handling of the game though.
Audio is also great, with the musical score upping the ante when you're about to enter tense scenes or skirmishes. Even when swinging around the city, it retains a film-like quality that suits every mood.
Insomniac's take on Spider-Man is a refreshing return to the days of Ultimate Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 on the PS2. Its open-world setting feels like a living, breathing city – and the feeling of swinging around it is exhilarating.
Yes, the game does suffer from some of the same pitfalls of most open world games, with repetition in side tasks being a by-product of ensuring there is plenty to do between missions. But at least it compensates through tokens to spend on essential upgrades.
The story is captivating enough to also counteract the more mundane moments, and there is enough lip service to the history of Spider-Man to satisfy dedicated fans.
Sony really has pulled a masterstroke having such an important licence as an exclusive. And by giving it the right amount of reverence and respect, it has started a new franchise that we hope will proffer many sequels in time.