Placed directly in the center of San Diego Comic Con’s massive exhibition floor is Marvel’s booth filled with merchandise, freebies, photo opportunities and occasionally even celebrity guests. This year, as an added treat, there was the possibility to get hands-on time with the upcoming Marvel Spider-Man exclusive for Playstation 4. Those attending and giving the game a shot got a neat, special gift in the form of a mock 8-page Daily Bugle issue, largely focused on the villains and introductory plot points of the game.
The game itself is as impressive looking as the teaser trailers form the last year or so. From what we could tell here, it’s not perfect, but that could certainly be small choices in what the studio decided to present (or not present) as the demo for this experience. This demo focused on Spider-Man in action, swinging around the streets of New York City. The city is presented as a luminous, nearly open world. Think a day-time version of Batman: Arkham City, and you wouldn’t be far off. Given Spider-Man’s web slinging powers and ability to scale pretty much anything, most of the demo is spent learning how to attach to buildings, objects, signs and street poles, and using them as either a mechanism to swing or catapult yourself in various directions. While the game’s engine is supremely well tuned for making a beautiful city that never looks out of focus or unrendered, it can be tricky dropping straight in and knowing how to control Spider-Man as effectively as one might hope. Odds are, a real playthrough of the retail version of the game will inch the user into the mechanics more than this demo did, but after being dropped right into the soup, it’s hard to know whether Spidey is aiming for a mark to head to or an object to swing from.
The game does a good job (Metal Gear Solid V-style) of representing your objective and distance to it, wherever you might be swinging at a given moment, but in the demo we tried here, the transition between the searching of the city and the objective was a little awkward. It’s framed as if you can arrive at objective and then dive into whatever happens, but each one we made it to had a tiny cut scene introducing some genera-baddies or the lay-of-the-land. This felt a bit like once champion Grand Theft Auto: Vice City’s changeover between driving the fictional Vice City and switching to an objective. 15 years back, it was an understandable necessity. Here, it felt like an unwanted pause.
The sections we got a chance to explore looked like a precursor to the epic rooftop battle sequence and chase first seen in the trailer debuted at E3 2017. Once arriving at the scene, we could guide Spider-Man carefully to surprise the gang of thugs present, or we could just go thoughtlessly into battle spinning, kicking, shooting webs and using objects in the melee. It wasn’t clear what real advantage sneaking up on enemies held in this particular sequence, and it didn’t seem that in stealth game tradition there was a way to shake the enemy awareness of your presence once you were heard. Pretty much anywhere you stood (or repelled to), they could shoot you easily from that point forward. The fight mechanics or frenzied and reward you for quick thinking and action. Once again, this mechanic was much like the slowly evolved beat-em-up theatrics done so well in the Batman: Arkham Asylum games. As with repelling across the city, this might play better with a slow introduction to the features, but as it stands, it was not super intuitive to know how to keep Peter Parker punching efficiently without getting hit back. The moves themselves are impressive and devastating to watch. Spider-Man can go from one to the next with almost supernatural agility (that seems a tad unbelievable even for a legendary comic book character). It is satisfying to be sure, but the small portion of combat we experienced in this assuredly gigantic title seemed a bit endless. We were hoping for more of where this goes and how things connect to the big picture, but it felt likes dozens too many bad guys before moving on.
Marvel’s Spider-Man PS4 will be released on September 7, 2018.