Everything can be greater.
Ever since I completed Marvel’s Spider-Man the other week, I’ve been going back and forth with my critique of the game. When the review scores initially came flooding in, it seemed almost too good to be true, yet, in most reviews, there were significant criticisms of its open-world elements, followed by an unusually high score. It struck me as odd at the time, how did all these problems amount to one point? That being said, I have absolutely no idea how I could offer a critical review of Spider-Man with an appropriate score.
Marvel’s Spider-Man is a game I love SOOOOOO much. However, the design of the open-world is the very antithesis of what I view is good. Repetitive side missions, towers that reveal the map, and a trove of collectables littered throughout for no real logical reason all contribute to being reminiscent of old Ubisoft Open world titles, which I’m so God damn sick of. So, given my overwhelmingly negative opinion thus far, why did I do everything? Does the fact that I completed them justify their placement? How do you review parts of a game that you hate, but also love?
I think I need to start this analysis with the blatantly obvious: The open-world content is fun because the gameplay is AMAZING. The backpacks are in easy to find places, the buildings have a generous leeway for what counts as a photo-op, and the pop-up crimes accentuate the perfect sensation of swinging around a fictional New York City. Even the repetitive side missions which just involve infinite scenarios of beating up the same dudes are still exhilarating because of the deep and experimental combat.
So, does the outstanding gameplay outweigh any negative feeling about the rest of the game? Let me fly another contender into the ring. Do I really have the right to complain about the game’s open world when I’ve completed it all? In fact, Marvel’s Spider-Man is probably going to be my first ever platinum. On one hand, it makes me seem like I’m never going to be satisfied with anything, but on the other, isn’t it justified that I would want a little more from my favourite superhero game?
I guess my overall issue boils down to the defensive nature of Insomniac and the fans of this game. Wanting more from the open-world isn’t about entitlement or unreasonable expectations, it’s a recognition of where the genre has been veering in the last few years. Hell, even Ubisoft, the crown jewel of rote open-world developers has shifted from the tower-collectable layout.
Now, there is the argument that Insomniac had to ‘pick their battles’. This philosophy rests on the notion that given the story, its characters, and the gameplay is so tremendously good, they need a break for not reinventing the wheel with open-world tasks. I get that, I truly do, but does that mean they get a free pass? I don’t think they should. I’m terrified that the overwhelmingly positive reception to the game this go-around is going to be used to justify more of the same in the sequel.
Spider-Man’s open-world is essentially one large checklist of repetitive side missions and collectables. Whether you enjoyed the activities or not, you have to admit how painfully dull the design is.
Another thing that rubbed me the wrong way is the token system. I get it, it’s a superhero game, but using crime tokens to upgrade gear? Come on, surely there could have been a bit more ingenuity with that system. What if you collected materials from enemies? Raided OSCORP tech bases? Or even upgraded them Ratchet style by levelling them up with specific and general uses. It’s a minor nitpick, but the token system exacerbates an already struggling open-world design to make it seem even more repetitive than it needed to be.
Perhaps the stronghold missions would be less repetitive if you were actually rewarded for stealth. I really enjoyed the Batman-like stealth adaptation in Spider-Man, especially combined with the cool web gadgets. However, there’s almost no point. Aside from the occasional ‘stealth take-down’ objective, barrelling head first into the enemy base and smashing each wave of baddies is monumentally faster than strategically taking them all out.
Even the proper side-quests with smaller stories are painfully dull. The characters are expressionless bores, and the activities become needlessly repetitive. Perhaps if they included more of those missions with interesting dialogue or some sort of character arc and gave them an upgrade incentive, they’d seem less like trash thrown in last minute.
At the end of the day, Marvel’s Spider-Man is some of the most fun I’ve ever had in a video game. It trampled my expectations, to the point where I’m still more excited for New Game Plus than anything else in the foreseeable future. One thing is for sure, I’m so glad I didn’t have to put a score on this game because it would have probably destroyed my mind.