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Games of the Generation: the super-heroic choreographed chaos of Marvel’s Spider-Man for PS4

(Image credit: Sony)
Games of the Generation

As we approach the launch of the PS5 and Xbox Series X, TechRadar is looking back at the games that made this generation great. This week's entry? Marvel's Spider-Man for PS4.

Superheroes make it all look so easy. Stopping a train from speeding off an unfinished track? No problem. Defusing a bomb with seconds to spare? Piece of cake. Saving the universe from an intergalactic menace hell bent on wiping out half of all life out there? Well, maybe that was a little tougher...

It’s difficult enough translating that sense of seismic danger from comic book pages to tightly-scripted Hollywood silver-screen box office extravaganza. But trying to get that feeling of choreographed chaos into a video game when you’re handing over control to the whims of a player in an anything-goes, open-world, setting? That’s tough.

Which is why Spider-Man for the PS4 is so supremely successful. We’ve been Spider-Man before – we’ve spun his webs over Manhattan in many a 3D adventure, taken on the Kingpin and Electro several times already. But Insomniac’s take on web-head nails the sense of acrobatic peril that Spidey faces better than any other superhero title before or since.

Swing low, sweet cheiracanthium

(Image credit: Sony)

Marvel’s Spider-Man on the PS4 puts you in the thick of dramatic battles that would not only go toe-to-toe with the best that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has to offer, but betters them in many respects too. Not least of all because you’re in control.

From the off, Spider-Man gets a key mechanic spot on – swinging above the skyscrapers of New York City is a thrilling experience, from the dramatic swell of music as you hurtle towards the ground, to the symphonic release as you reach the height of a swing, it totally understands what it takes to fill you with a sense of heroism.

There’s plenty to do in its open-world, from taking on random criminals to hunting down hidden landmarks from Marvel lore. But it’s when the game fires up its set pieces that it truly comes into its own. Many games like to up the stakes, pitting you against multiple enemies in dangerous environments to challenge your skills, but regularly it becomes unmanageable, or sloppily executed. There’s a fine line between creating mayhem on screen and maddening difficulty – especially when a human player doesn’t have superhuman reflexes to fall back on. 

With great power comes great responsivity

(Image credit: Sony)

Marvel’s Spider-Man on the PS4, however, expertly puts you at the heart of a dramatic scene without wrestling control from the player. Sure, there are some QTEs thrown in, but never as a crutch and only ever in service of a crucial storytelling beat. Most often, you’re left with Spider-Man’s dazzling array of skills and swings to weave your way through enemy attacks, with smoke-and-mirrors set dressing ramping up the tension without ever making the odds unbeatable.

Take a late-game showdown with Electro and Vulture. You’re in the middle of an electrical storm, with Electro firing lightning blasts at you, powered by destructible generators as Vulture swoops towards you, pelting you with missiles. You’ll enter the battle with heart palpitations: there’s so much going on onscreen, how could you possibly prevail? But Insomniac deftly dresses the set in such a  way that your near-fully-powered superhero is able to dart effortlessly among the dangers with precision and just the right amount of fear of impending doom. 

It’s thrilling and empowering, and paired with superb production values, a gripping story and expert handling of its source material, makes Marvel’s Spider-Man one of the greatest games of this generation.