MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN on PS4 wasn’t just one of 2018’s best games, but one of the best superhero games period. Its quality is on par with the Batman ARKHAM trilogy, which set the bar for licensed superhero titles in gaming. Not since 2004’s SPIDER-MAN 2 has web-swinging through an open-world New York City been this well-executed and fun. Sometimes it was more enjoyable to zip to and from Manhattan landmarks than complete an actual side mission.

Polished gameplay aside, MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN’s story surprised me the most. This is a narrative on par with the Raimi films and the wall-crawler’s best-animated entries. I’d even say it ranks amongst my favorite Spider-Man stories to date, embodying everything great about him and Peter Parker as characters. And believe it or not, this isn’t an origin story of any kind.

Spoilers for MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN ahead:

MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN in Action

Insomniac Games made the smart move to skip the Spider-Man origin altogether. Even the opening cutscene uses little more than childhood photos and newspaper clippings to catch players up to speed on Peter’s highs and lows. By detaching Spider-Man from any existing iteration of the web-slinger, the writers had free rein to put their own spin on Peter’s story.

Suiting Up in a Messy Apartment, Courtesy of Insomniac Games

This is an older Spider-Man in his prime, complete with updated web-gadgets and a long history with his rogues’ gallery. He’s also behind on paying the apartment rent, one of many human flaws that makes the character so endearing. No longer a Daily Bugle photographer, Peter works as a research assistant for Otto Octavius in the field of prosthetic limbs. He used to date Mary-Jane Watson in college, but a break-up left them on shaky terms.

That’s MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN’s biggest strength, introducing characters in a manner that’s different, but still in touch with their core identities. Aunt May is an active volunteer at the F.E.A.S.T. homeless shelter run by philanthropist Martin Lee. Mary-Jane is a Bugle investigative journalist who shows just as much of an independent streak as her comic counterpart. Even J. Jonah Jameson has discovered his 21st century calling as an Infowars-lite podcaster dedicated to ranting about Spider-Man. And for all his conspiracy-spreading, I admit Jameson’s rhetoric was far too amusing for me to unsubscribe.

Spider-Cop on Patrol

Despite Jameson’s podcast being the game’s central source of Spider-Man criticism, this Spidey has a more solid relationship with the police. As Captain Yuri Watanabi’s secret partner, Spider-Man proves a beneficial ally with police cases. Even the opening storyline features Spider-Man aiding NYPD in Wilson Fisk’s arrest, an adversary with whom he shares a history. And taking him down in a building aptly titled ‘Fisk Tower’ felt cathartic for…. reasons.

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Spider-Man vs. Mr. Negative, Courtesy of Insomniac Games

Of course, in true Spider-Man fashion, this victory reawakens the ol’ Parker Luck. Fisk’s arrest creates a power vacuum in the New York criminal underground, turning Manhattan into a turf war battlefield. This includes a mysterious faction known as the Demons, whose leader is revealed to be Li under the alias Mr. Negative. Despite his monstrous alter ego’s actions, it’s revealed that Li’s corrupting powers are the result of a childhood experiment gone wrong, overseen by now Mayor Norman Osbourne. So, for all Li’s altruistic deeds, he’s also tragically driven by the need for vengeance.

Like most Spider-Man narratives, the role models or fatherly figures in Peter Parker’s life become supervillains. Osbourne, despite being his best friend’s dad, is still a corrupt politician whose company commits dubiously moral experiments. Li’s literal corrupting powers, by comparison, threaten to undermine all the altruistic deeds he’s done for the city. With his connection to Peter and especially Aunt May, stopping Li becomes more personal than your standard conflict with Rhino or Electro.

The Tragedy of Doctor Octopus

The relationship between Peter and Otto Octavius, however, is by far MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN’s best storyline. From the moment you learn who Peter is working under, you instantly know what direction the writers are taking. What I didn’t expect was how attached I would get to this version of Octavius, even more so than Alfred Molina in SPIDER-MAN 2.

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Octavius and Parker Having a Moment, Courtesy of Insomniac Games

This version of Peter has idolized Otto as a scientific hero since childhood. Otto, in turn, views Peter as a bright spot in his work even when confronted with their financial struggles. He even helps design a new spider suit under the assumption that Peter is his alter ego’s “suit crafter.”

It’s this mentor-student dynamic that enhances the tragedy of Otto’s downfall. The clues come in small bursts, from Otto’s past with Norman Osbourne to the reveal that he is suffering from a devastating neuromuscular disease. He’s a man running on borrowed time and dreads the notion of his body going the way of Stephen Hawkings. Of course, Otto would create the mechanical arms to keep his body active once it stops working. And of course, the neural implant controlling them would enhance his rage at the setbacks Osbourne provoked. It’s a horrifying downfall because you, as a player, spend time with this character’s good side before he embraces his inner villain.

Thus, when Otto emerges as the final antagonist, it hurts because you still feel the relationship these characters once shared. Like Peter, the player must stop Otto but has had no desire to actually fight him, hoping instead to reach out to his better nature. If anything, our reluctance to see a character become one of Spider-Man’s most iconic foes speaks volumes about the game’s storytelling prowess.

Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends

What makes Spider-Man and Peter Parker so compelling is their long-running relationships with other characters, ordinary and superpowered alike. In many respects, video games provide a more suitable medium for exploring these dynamics via player interactivity. Otto Octavius aside, MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN’s best relationships involve Peter’s connections to Mary-Jane and Miles Morales.

Similar to the origin story, Peter and Mary-Jane’s relationship takes place at a point in time following a presumably nasty break-up. The two must learn to work together in the field- journalism vs. crime-fighting- while reconciling their previous romantic feelings. Click here for another ComicsVerse take on the Peter/Mary-Jane character arc.

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Peter and MJ on a “Not Date,” Courtesy of Insomniac Games

However, this shared history also highlights how Peter and MJ’s love life collapsed in the first place. Spider-Man is ultimately an obstacle within their romance, having forced MJ to care for Peter in moments of critical injury. Likewise, Peter’s affiliation with this dangerous life made him over-protectiveness of Mary-Jane’s safety, annoying the latter due to the nature of her job. This flawed balance of partnership responsibility provides a necessary human element to make the story more than just. “Spider-Man vs. bad guy.”

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Miles Morales Joins F.E.A.S.T., Courtesy of Insomniac Games

Similarly, Miles Morales enters the game as a surrogate ward of sorts for Peter. He’s a victim of tragic circumstance, losing his NYPD father to the Demons as Mr. Negative escalates his attacks on the city. Peter, who couldn’t stop this death, reaches out to Miles partially out of guilt but also because he’s been there before with Uncle Ben’s murder. After Miles gains powers from one of Oscorp’s spiders genetically-enhanced spiders, their relationship becomes more intertwined.

Whatever Happened to Harry Osbourne

By comparison, Harry Osbourne’s whereabouts are deliberately withheld as part of a larger personal story. At first, Harry’s absence is chalked up to him traveling abroad trip to Europe. That’s not to say Harry’s presence isn’t felt, however. The game lets Peter visit multiple research stations across Manhattan which demonstrate Harry’s commitment to making the city better.

However, during one of the Mary-Jane stealth segments, the plot thickens. Turns out Harry inherited a rare neurological disease that previously took his mother’s life, something he kept hidden from her and Peter. Norman then sent his son away for special medical treatment, using the Europe trip as a smokescreen. Ironically, this willingness to cure Harry at all costs led to Norman creating MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN’s central biochemical MacGuffin. A superhero equivalent of “the road to Hell (or corrupt business ethics) is paved with good intentions.”

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Foreshadowing the Osbournes’ Future?, Courtesy of Insomniac Games

The fact that Peter, Mary-Jane, and Norman all care about Harry’s safety makes his absence all the more tragic. Yet, in the game’s final moments, it also foreshadows the possibility that things will get worse. As we learn, Norman is keeping Harry alive in a substance that looks like a cross between the Goblin serum and the Venom Symbiote. Whatever fate the two of them might undergo will likely be resolved when Insomniac releases their sequel.

MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN: Perfect Spider-Simulation

I have no shame claiming that MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN is one of my favorite Spider-Man adaptations to date. On top of some near-flawless web-swinging mechanics and fun combat, the story perfectly encapsulates what makes Spider-Man so compelling. It’s a story about character dynamics and their contribution to the plot, rather than pure visual superpowered spectacle. So good in fact that the recent Spider-Geddon storyline included him amongst the multiverse’s spider-roster. Thanks to these human connections, Spider-Man and Peter Parker’s heroism shines even brighter.

Also, there’s this touching scene, which feels rather melancholic in hindsight.

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  1. […] We’ve talked a lot about this game lately. But can you blame us? MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN is the best super-hero game since SPIDER-MAN 2. The combat is thrilling, the web-swinging has never been better, and the narrative is perhaps the best I’ve ever seen in a comic book game. […]

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  2. […] Like many of you, I’ve been having a blast with MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN. The game is incredible. The combat is solid, the activities are varied, and the narrative is perhaps the best I’ve ever seen in a comic book game. […]

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