Over the next few days, we will reveal what we believe are the 10 best games of 2018, organized by release date. Then on December 19, we will reveal which of the nominees gets to take home the coveted title of GameSpot’s Game of the Year. So be sure to come back then for the big announcement, and in the meantime, follow along with all of our other end-of-the-year coverage collected in our Best of 2018 hub.
Marvel’s Spider-Man is special, if for no other reason than that it’s the closest a video game has come to capturing what it feels like to be everyone’s favorite friendly neighborhood wall-crawler. It’s exhilarating to step off a skyscraper and hear the orchestral score begin to swell, only to crescendo and level out as you start swinging towards your next objective; there’s never a moment in the game’s 20-hour run-time where you don’t want to be flying through the air. You’re constantly unlocking or discovering tricks that Spidey is known for pulling off in the comics–like firing out a web from both shooters to slingshot yourself through a hanging pipe–that make traveling from point A to point B the most thrilling part of the game.
The game knows what it’s good at too, and wastes no time throwing you straight into its traversal system after a brief opening cutscene leaves you hovering over a city street. Pulling the right trigger on your controller fires out a web from Spidey’s shooters with a satisfying thwip, and web-zipping, vaulting, cornering, and wall-running add stylish flair to your journeys across New York. All of the web-slinging mechanics are very easy to grasp, and it won’t be long before you’re careening over traffic and leaping off buildings with all the natural grace of the Spider-Man from the comics.
This same level of accessibility extends to the game’s acrobatic combat, which utilizes a collection of dodges, punches, kicks, and throws to create an enjoyable zen-like flow of counters and strikes. Unlocking new skills and gadgets, such as web throws and electric webbing, allows Spider-Man to be more versatile. Spidey can be stealthy too, and it’s fun to quickly zip through the rafters of a building or between the shadows of a warehouse while taking out enemies with trip mines and impact webbing. And regardless of whether you sneak or swing into a situation, Spider-Man is always ready with a collection of clever quips to liven things up.
All of this isn’t to say that the game is solely good for being a Spider-Man simulator. Far from it. There’s a well-written story in this game too, and it delivers a compelling retelling of the origin of one of Spider-Man’s lesser-known enemies, Mister Negative, before transitioning into its own take on the formation of the more notorious Sinister Six. Side missions flesh out other characters from Spider-Man’s rogues gallery as well, from familiar faces like Tombstone to relatively unknown ones like Screwball.
Much like the comics, Marvel’s Spider-Man is as much a story about Spidey’s villains as it is about the wall-crawler. Some people might recognize the names of several of Peter Parker’s acquaintances, from his boss at work to his ally on the police force, as supervillains and murderous vigilantes from the comics. One of the game’s greatest strengths is how it lays the groundwork for these characters without actually giving away if those you begin to care about are doomed to their fate, because the story leaves you guessing right up until the end whether they’re going to follow their comic book origins or not.
An unforeseen, but no less welcome, surprise is the amount of agency the game gives to several of the women in Peter’s life, something that’s not really been done in other Spider-Man games. Aunt May runs a business that a male antagonist dumps into her lap, while Mary Jane gets her own campaign missions where we see her ingenuity at work. Unfortunately, in the main storyline, Silver Sable is just annoyingly evil, Black Cat is heard but never seen, and Yuri Watanabe is mostly dependent on Spider-Man’s help. However, the latter two are fleshed out and have more prominent roles in The Heist and Turf Wars post-launch expansions.
The cookie-cutter nature of Marvel’s Spider-Man’s crime activities that randomly pop up around the map can get tiresome–especially since you need to tackle dozens of them in order to fully complete the game. But even these side missions fulfill an important purpose, as their inclusion allows you to immerse yourself in Peter’s life.
The game makes you feel bad for not being there for the citizens of New York, as they’ll rage against you or express their feelings of betrayal on J. Jonah Jameson’s podcast if you fail to stop crimes. Their words push you to try and be greater–even if it’s 2AM and you should really be going to bed because you have work in the morning. But it’s that nagging feeling that you should be trying to do more, even if it’s stopping a store robbery for nearly the dozenth time, that defines Peter’s life. The inclusion of these activities captures an important part of the fantasy of being Spider-Man, a role which frankly shouldn’t be fun all the time, and the entire experience of playing the game is made better as a result.
Marvel’s Spider-Man isn’t just one of our favorite PS4 games of 2018, it’s one of the best titles to come out this year. Between the traversal mechanics, acrobatic combat, and story about a young man trying to shoulder a city’s worth of responsibility, Insomniac’s newest game captures the essence of what it’s like to be Spider-Man.