Spider-Man has a long legacy that covers almost every form of media, including comic books, movies, TV shows, and video games. He’s one of the most popular superheroes on the planet, and it’s hard to find someone who isn’t familiar with the webslinger’s powers and history.
That means that Insomniac’s Spider-Man game for the PlayStation 4 has a lot of expectations to live up to, especially when it comes to the most important piece of the puzzle: the web-swinging. After playing the game E3, I’m pleased to report that Insomniac has nailed it, and it’s shaping up to be one of the best superhero experiences you can play on a console.
Web-swinging in the game is deceptively simple: if you hold down the R2 button, Spidey will throw out a line that attaches to the nearest building, and then you’re off. Release the button, and Spider-Man will release the line and fly through the air. That may sound like a watered-down mechanic, but there's a huge amount of control that players have over the process. You can adjust the trajectory of where you're swinging with the left analog stick, and you have the choice of when to attach or release a line. It all makes for a system that‘s incredibly easy to pick up but still satisfying for more seasoned players.
You really feel like Spider-Man is flying around as a weight at the end of a rope. And by chaining your swings correctly, you can build momentum and speed just like you’d expect in real life (if swinging around New York City were a possibility, that is).
There are other pieces to the puzzle that add flexibility of the system. You can press X to shoot out a quick vertical line, which is useful for angling around corners or zipping over to a perch, and you can use the trigger buttons together to shoot a freely targeted line that will bring you to wherever you’re aiming. It’s perfect for scaling buildings quickly. On top of that, there’s wall-running, which kicks in automatically when you swing into a wall for more horizontal and vertical movement options.
What really pulls all of this together are Spider-Man’s animations, which are incredibly natural: the way he twists around at the end of a line as he reaches the bottom of a swing, or the way he soars into a dazzling flip to set himself perfectly up for the next web. When I played the demo, I could see that the city was littered with crimes to stop, drone trials to attempt, and gangs to fight, but I barely cared. The simple act of swinging through the city was so satisfying that I almost didn’t want to waste my limited time trying anything else.
For the sake of thoroughness, though, I did take some time to test out the combat, too. Fighting enemies feels fine. It‘s similar to the Batman: Arkham series type of brawling that’s heavy on quick combos and clever gadgets like bombs and bullets made of web. Spider-Man feels properly quick and agile, as he should, dodging around his foes or sliding through their legs for a quick shot to the back. This gives the game a slightly different feel compared to the more direct parrying of similar combat systems.
The game also takes advantage of Spidey’s mobility: players can juggle enemies in the air, grab foes from a distance with webs, or swing across a combat arena to dodge blows or close gaps. A boss fight with Shocker was less entertaining, falling into a fairly predictable pattern of “dodge enemy fire, wait until vulnerable, attack, repeat,” but it’s a relatively small quibble about what’s otherwise an enjoyable experience.
But the swinging is definitely the star of the show. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to soar through the streets of Manhattan like Peter Parker, you’ll definitely want to give Spider-Man a try when it comes out in September.