Is Marvel’s Spider-Man the most overrated game of 2018?
Yes. Yes, it is. Here’s why.
Spider-Man 2018 was a massive seller for PlayStation and was a hit with both fans and critics alike. As a fan of comics and Spider-Man, I, like many others, was really excited about Spider-Man 2018.
The more I learned about it in the run-up to release, the more excited I became. When reviews started appearing and declared it the second coming of comic book games, well, let’s just say, my excitement reached fever pitch.
Then, I played it for myself.
Right from the get-go, things just felt… off. Sure, it looked fantastic and the visuals were incredibly stunning, the voice acting was flawless and web swinging around this digital New York was a lot of fun, but I struggled to understand why everyone was raving about this game.
It was mediocre at best and the more I played, the worse it got.
The open-world, for example, is gorgeous but is woefully underused. Aside from traversal, the city serves almost no purpose. It’s a mostly empty urban jungle. Yes, there are collectibles and some side quests, but they actively make the experience worse. I don’t know who out there actually enjoys trudging two points on the map to collect backpacks or worse yet, pigeons, but it’s not me.
Tedious Fetch Quests
The open-world design in Spider-Man 2018 seems to pull directly from the playbook of the PS2 era. The Token system, whereby you need certain types of Tokens to buy and upgrade suits, comes from the ‘needless busy work’ school of design.
By the time I’d reached the end of the game, I was so sick of swinging all over the city to complete pointless fetch quests, boring missions and tedious combat encounters that all goodwill I had for the game had dwindled to almost zero.
So despite having some amazing traversal mechanics, the game’s open-world design made me absolutely sick of them. Which is a huge shame because the first moments you experience swinging around the city feel great. It’s still thrilling after the 10th time and maybe even the hundredth. But after that? Yeesh, was I ever sick of swinging around New York.
It reminded me of the Batman: Arkham series. The first game, Arkham Asylum, was a master class in game and level design. Tightly scripted with just enough freedom and exploration, Arkham Asylum never made playing feel tedious.
Ain’t No Batman
The move to more open design in Arkham City and Arkham Knight had varying degrees of success. Arkham City was still relatively constrained, though I felt the story suffered from your ability to waste time doing side quests. Arkham Knight, on the other hand, is a classic example of a bloated game with too much focus on the Batmobile rather than Batman.
Web swinging in Spider-Man 2018 is equivalent to Arkham Knight’s Batmobile. Exciting, well designed and a lot of fun at first, but eventually a mechanic so overused to be resented by the player.
On the subject of Batman: Arkham, nearly every review of Spider-Man 2018 favourably compared the combat to that in the Arkham series. I don’t know if it’s because it uses a similar hit, counter, dodge system, or because it’s a comic-book game, but I found the combat in Spider-Man to be one of its least impressive features.
Unlike Batman: Arkham’s combat, Spider-Man’s never felt smooth and flowing. It has an odd rhythm and frequent stops caused by an over-reliance on flash rather than substantive mechanics. Too often were the goons in Spider-Man given abilities designed to deliberately interrupt and break the flow of combat.
Goons, Hired Goons
This, of course, exists in Batman: Arkham too, but in that case, Batman has a massive arsenal of abilities to deal with these annoyances. In Spider-Man, instead of being a mere inconvenience, these combo breaking goons are able to turn every encounter into a mind-numbing, by the numbers annoyance.
Coupled with the fact that as the story progresses you’re introduced to increasingly armoured and difficult enemies and the nearly never-ending list of identical side quests, combat, like web swinging becomes yet another chore.
Speaking of chores, I am speechless as to how the Harry Osborn side missions were ever included in a AAA game in 2018. These are the laziest, most poorly designed and awful missions in the entire game.
Since when did Spider-Man actively swing through clouds of fog or dose schools of fish with medicine? It’s absolutely insane, thematically and mechanically and worse still, there’s little variation. They all operate in a similar way and bring the game’s momentum to a crashing stop.
The same goes for the sections where you control Mary-Jane and Miles. These stealth-based levels are dreadful. This is Spider-Man, not Mary-Jane and Miles. I came here to be Spider-Man, not to sneak around as his ex-girlfriend. Everything that happens in those levels could have much more easily been covered in short cutscenes. This would have meant less frustration at these boring sections and a speedier, well-plotted narrative.
A Litany of Distractions
Actually, that’s a major problem with much of Spider-Man 2018’s content. Anything not tied directly to the narrative slows the game down so much that any and all sense or urgency utterly evaporates. Especially considering that to get through much of the story you need to complete a huge portion of the side quests.
By the time I got back to the story, I had forgotten what was going on. Which brings me to the story. Yet another weak link in Spider-Man’s chain. Setting the story eight years into Peter Parker’s tenure as your friendly neighbourhood Spider-man was a masterstroke. It removes any need to focus on origins and back-story.
By now, we’re all familiar with Spider-Man.
There’s some intrigue when it comes to Mary-Jane and Doc Oc, but overall there’s no real weight to the story at all. Characters appear as they’re needed and only to serve a particular story beat. They don’t seem like well-rounded and fleshed our heroes and villains, just stand-ins for whatever lesson or idea Peter Parker needs at that moment.
When we finally come to take on the Sinister Six, these iconic villains are entirely wasted. Not only are four of them dispatched in two quick and easy fights, but they also have no impact on the game overall. Why include so many of Spider-Man’s best villains if they’re only going to briefly appear in the game? Why pair two up at a time?
Ugh, it honestly still makes me angry that these villains were so pointlessly included. It feels as though they were there simply as a wink and a nudge to fans. “Look, here’s Electro and the Vulture. Ooh and here’s Rhino too.” None of them served any real purpose, not to the story nor to the gameplay. And that, to me, is a major misstep.
I would have much preferred a paired back story that focused only on Doc Oc than see six villains done and dusted in one game. The use of Norman Osborn was perfect. Fans know who he is and there’s plenty of foreshadowing going on, but that’s it. And that’s the way it should have been. Unfortunately, there were too many villains and not nearly enough time dedicated to each.
Overall, Spider-Man 2018 isn’t a bad game, it’s just a mediocre one. A game that gets by on its license rather than by being well designed and interesting to play. If the exact same game was released without the Spider-Man license and was instead some original creation it would have been far less popular and far less forgiven for its mistakes and flaws.
Here’s hoping the inevitable sequel makes some big changes and delivers a game much more deserving of the praise heaped on this one.