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Insomniac’s ‘Spider-Man’: Everything you need to know

A new 'Spider-Man' game hits September 7. Here's what you should know

Spider-Man, unlike many comic book heroes, has enjoyed a long, successful history in video games, scoring a few genuine hits across the PlayStation 2 and PS3 eras. Even so, when Sony announced a PlayStation 4-exclusive Spider-Man title at E3 2016, it opened up the possibility to take the web-slinging hero to new heights. With revered studio Insomniac Games developing Peter Parker’s next interactive adventure, the popular hero appears to be in good hands.

While the debut trailer showed off flashy action sequences and a slightly revamped suit (spider logos are large and white, red boots are now slippers), little concrete information was revealed. Since then, we’ve seen Spider-Man sling across the city at E3 2017 and at Paris Games Week, and had a chance to go hands-on with the game’s first couple of hours. Here’s everything we know about Spider-Man ahead of its expected 2018 launch.

The story thus far

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Instead of a predictable origin story, this Spider-Man game follows an experienced Peter Parker.  He’s 23 years old and has already been fighting crime for eight years. No longer the clumsy, green hero that could occasionally get himself into trouble, Insomniac described him as “an athlete in the prime of his career.” Much of the game’s story centers on Peter balancing his dual lives of being a normal, nerdy citizen and also a superhero — being Spider-Man is conflicting with being Peter Parker, and Peter’s starting to wonder if he might do more good in the world without wearing a mask.

An Inside Look at Marvel’s Spider-Man

The game starts with Peter aiding his police buddies in a big sting against Wilson Fisk, also known as the Kingpin. The first big set piece is a lengthy fight up Fisk’s high-rise tower, where Spider-Man beats down bad guys, saves a few civilians, and aids the cops so they’re never out-gunned by Fisk’s goons. Eventually, Spidey brings Fisk down, but the Kingpin warns that things will get worse in New York thanks to the power vacuum removing him is creating. We know from trailers and previews that the Sinister Six, a group of supevillains bent on Spider-Man’s destruction, is a big part of the game — so it sounds like Fisk might have been right.

The 2017 trailer introduced us to a group called the Demons, led by a nefarious individual known as Mister Negative, who has an array of interesting superpowers, both physical and mental. It’s his command of both the Darkforce and Lightforce, however, which could be truly troubling for our red-suited hero. He’s not quite the same as in the comic book’s canon, and the tweaks seem meant to present him as a more serious threat.

Sony hasn’t thrown out the source material entirely, though. Spidey spends the first few hours of the game collaborating closely with Captain Yuriko Watanabe of the New York Police Department, who previously worked with Spider-Man in the comics to take down Mister Negative, aka Martin Li. If Insomniac has drawn other inspirations from the comics, Watanabe may even don some confiscated weaponry and become a superhero in her own right. Insomniac also stirred the rumor pot with a quick shot in the E3 2017 trailer of alternate Spider-Man Miles Morales capturing a video of Spidey on his smartphone.

Marvel's Spider-Man (PS4) 2017 E3 Gameplay

Miles Morales’ role in the game may be bigger than we initially thought if the Paris Games Week trailer (at the top of this post) is any indication. The trailer picks up after Fisk is in jail and Peter Parker is struggling to figure out what to do now that his foe is behind bars. The trailer provided our first look at our hero in street clothes, which was uncommon in previous Spider-Man games. He volunteers at a soup kitchen Aunt May works with called F.E.A.S.T. (Food, Emergency, Aid, Shelter, Training), an organization founded by Martin Li (the aforementioned Mister Negative). Peter also brings Miles to work at F.E.A.S.T., suggesting that the two may become close throughout the game.

Mary Jane Watson, who is working as a journalist for the Daily Bugle, will be playable at certain points in the game. In our preview, we played a portion of the game in which Spidey runs into Mary Jane in a museum just after Mister Negative’s goons show up to try to steal something. The Mary Jane portion of the level focused on stealth, with players avoiding getting spotted so they could get into the back room of the museum to gather some evidence. Her inclusion, along with the focus on Peter Parker’s life outside the suit, suggests we’ll see puzzles and stealth sequences to break up the intense action set-pieces.

The trailer also shows that Norman Osborn (the human counterpart to the Green Goblin) is running for mayor of New York City. Other villains include Shocker, who is shown robbing a bank in the trailer. We’ve seen Scorpion and Vulture hanging around, too.

The game nails the feel of being Spider-Man

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Insomniac gave us a good look at the upcoming game’s combat system in its E3 trailer, and we got to feel it in action during our time with the game. In a fight with a group of Demons, Spider-Man uses his web to haul one of the enemies up and out of the fight entirely, before descending on the others and striking out with more typical martial abilities. In combat, Spider-Man doesn’t necessarily just have to focus on the enemies in front of him — certain items in the environment can also be used to dispatch baddies. Scaffolding can collapse and cranes can be dropped on unsuspecting goons’ heads, all while Parker remains hidden several yards away. Defensively, his spider sense manifests as a red-indicator giving him advanced warning of impending attacks, putting a focus on finding the rhythm of combat and avoiding getting hit before dishing out more punishment. Insomniac has said a big focus for Spider-Man‘s combat is on improvisation, so expect to be jumping into the air, swinging around, zapping people with webs, and using the environment against enemies at any given moment.

In a fight shown during E3 2017, Spider-Man takes on a hulking enemy enhanced by Mister Negative. The player is given a number of onscreen indicators for his own attack options, as well as a warning for what types of attacks are incoming. Options for the former include strikes and throws, as well as the ability to sling objects at them. Defensively, Spider Man has quick-time button prompts for avoiding incoming attacks, as well as countering them. Quick-time events aren’t a major part of the game, but they do seem to come up in major action sequences and boss fights that require Spidey’s incredibly fast reflexes.

Saving the city isn’t all about knocking out bad guys, though. In one scene in the trailer, Spider Man has to prevent a huge crane from tumbling down onto the pedestrian-filled streets below. This proved a perfect opportunity to showcase Spider Man’s ability to run up walls, using fantastical twirling jump maneuvers and webbing to secure fragmented sections of the crane against the side of a building. Following a bout with Mister Negative himself inside a helicopter, we again saw Spidey save the city by using his webbing to slow the helicopter’s fall by attaching it to skyscrapers. Players were given button prompts for such actions during the fall, highlighting how Insomniac has chosen to handle these sort of set pieces.

Yep, it’s an open-world game

Spider-Man - E3 2016 Trailer | PS4

The trailers made clear that this Spider-Man game will let players swing around New York City freely. It will act as an open world where Parker must deal with his dual life as a young man and superhero. Spider-Man’s New York will be the largest open world that Insomniac has ever created, and it was partially inspired by the studio’s work on the Xbox One exclusive Sunset Overdrive.

During our hands-on, we spent a lot of time swinging around New York, exploring Manhattan, and engaging in the various side activities that flesh out the city. The web-swinging is hugely important to a successful Spider-Man game, and Insomniac has put a lot of effort into theirs. Swinging through the city is easy and intuitive to start, but there’s skill to it, as well. Webs require tall buildings and anchor points to catch onto, so you can’t just swing anywhere — but Spider-Man also has abilities like a web zipline and a powerful spring jump that can help him pick up speed and cross gaps. Moment-to-moment, swinging in Spider-Man is mostly about balancing height with speed, making your swings take Spidey high enough so he can fall to move quickly, while also moving forward enough to cover a lot of ground.

The open world of New York sounds like it’ll be a major character in the game, and it’ll respond to the story as you play it. In the early parts of the game, Spider-Man is something of a celebrity, and you can drop in on crowds to take selfies and slap high-fives. Insomniac said that situation will change over time, and since this is a Spider-Man story, it’s almost a sure thing that public opinion will turn against Peter before the story is done.

You’ll find a whole lot to do in the open world, and according to Insomniac, new things will become available over time as well. The opening portion of the game has Spidey running around to reboot electronic communications towers used by the police, which gives him access to a network that identifies crimes happening in the area, which he can then go stop. Most of these are fairly generic, but each has a little twist — the storefront robbery becomes a bit of a side-scrolling brawl, the car theft has Spidey tossing guys out of the vehicle and then stopping it before it hits any pedestrians, and the burglary requires players to track down the participants before they scatter and escape.
All those activities give Spider-Man experience points he can use to unlock new abilities, and there’s a very robust and complex system of unlocks to work through as you play the game.

It has a little bit of RPG DNA, too

Spidey’s primary form of getting stronger throughout Marvel’s Spider-Man is experience points, which he earns for winning fights, successful completion of missions, and a host of other things. The early portion of the game also includes side missions that are good vehicles for earning experience, like the construction sites still populated by Fisk’s goons. You can infiltrate those locations and take out the guys there (stealthily if you like, for as long as you can keep it going), and once the fight breaks out, you’re required to battle through a series of waves of reinforcements. Each of those sites also has bonus objectives, like beating guys by throwing them into each other or webbing a certain number to walls, that give more experience points, as well.

Points enable you to unlock new abilities or Spidey along three upgrade trees, centered on broad concepts like combat, agility, and web-slinging. Opening up new abilities quickly increases the kinds of combos and improvisational feats you’re capable of deploying against enemies.

There are other things to upgrade in Spider-Man as well, though, and they’re tied to other activities to complete around the open world.

A whole mess of Spider Suits

Open world activities are key to another line of Spider-Man upgrades: His suit. Early in the game, you’ll get access to the white Spider suit shown on the game’s cover, and it comes with a special “suit ability.” But you can earn points to unlock other suits by completing open world events, too. Stopping crimes and gathering up Peter’s old backpacks from his early Spidey days, which all include knicknacks reminiscent of his previous exploits, gives you currency to open up new suits from across the Spider-Man comics — things like the Noir Spider-Man suit, the Secret Wars suit, and more.

Each of those new suits comes with its own particular suit ability, and there’s an incentive to do all the activities you can to purchase them all. Once you unlock a suit and its ability, you can mix and match them, meaning you don’t have to wear the Noir suit in order to use the Noir suit ability if you like it. You can just equip it to the white Spider suit (or any other suit) and be on your way.

There’s also puzzle activities Peter can take part in as a civilian, where he puts his science brain to the test. Drop by his workplace at the lab and you can complete circuits and fix up other objects, which open new upgrades for his gadgets, like Spidey’s web shooters. It means that all those usual open world side activities have a purpose. They make you a better Spider-Man.

When can you sling across New York City?

Spider-Man will be a PlayStation 4 exclusive, and hit stores on Sept. 7, 2018.

Update: Added information on the open world, side quests, Spider suits, story and combat.

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Phil Hornshaw
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Phil Hornshaw is an author, freelance writer and journalist living in Los Angeles. He is the co-author of The Space Hero's…
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