'Marvel's Spider-Man' Preview: Amazing? Spectacular? It's Possible

Everyone loves a different Spider-Man. An indelible American icon since the 1960s, the friendly neighborhood/spectacular/amazing Spider-Man has seen numerous adaptations and been licensed on every piece of merchandise imaginable. Whether your Spider-Man hails from Silver Era comics, 90s cartoons programming or Sam Raimi movies, we're all drawn to the same things. Web-slinging through New York's busiest streets. Outsmarting and overpowering supervillains from Kingpin to Vulture. Dating Mary Jane Watson. Spider-Man, often by way of his alter ego Peter Parker, is an accessible superhero. And, so far, Insomniac Games' PS4 exclusive Marvel's Spider-Man delivers that fantasy. It's one radioactive spider bite short of being the real thing.

My two-hour PS4 demo opens with a glimpse into the life of a messy genius. Cluttered throughout Peter's apartment (at 410 Chelsea Street, of course ) are Daily Bugle clips and post-its. Two glass jars, one labeled "Vacation Fund" and one "Laptop Fund," contain a pittance of loose change. A police scanner spews chatter in the background as Spider-Man bolts into action. We're off to web-slinging.

spider man ps4 preview hands on release date price walkthrough impressions
Web-slinging is a nice alternative to the MTA. Sony

Web-slinging defines a Spider-Man game as much as it defines the character himself. Games offer the only medium where you can actively experience his distinct locomotion. Lots of heroes dash or fly, either through hidden forces or hulking machines, but web-slinging belongs to Spider-Man. Marvel's Spider-Man mechanic has already been scrutinized ad nauseum after a spate of public demos and the consensus opinion remains: yeah, pretty good . You're going to do a lot of it, obviously, and my experience left me feeling like I was the problem most of the time. The final verdict on web-slinging will likely rest with player skill, and the more you play, the more you'll like it. A host of special moves for it are unlockable across the three skill trees too, so I suspect late-game web-slinging will be faster, smoother and more intuitive.

The three skill trees (Innovator, Defender and Web-Slinger) seem to house the engine that drives the open-world exploration we're encouraged to do. You're tasked early on with a mission to repair police scanners across the city, and doing so activates waypoints to chase. You earn tokens and experience for completing various events, and spend it all on skills for Spider-Man or upgrades for his suits. Sometimes it's finding hidden backpacks stuffed with Peter's high-school memorabilia (he's 23 years old in this, a veteran Spider-Man in his eighth year). Sometimes it's stopping a getaway car going 60 mph. Sometimes it's a bank robbery with lots of guns.

There's also a great Spider-Man story going on inside this big game full of demanding waypoints. I don't want to spoil anything, but in general terms I found story missions to be a bit more specialized than what went down on the streets. They incorporated a bit of everything, stealth, combat, puzzles, etc., all told with some trademark Spidey snark or Peter's endearing humility. Mary Jane was also playable for a brief bout of sneaking and problem-solving.

spider man ps4 preview hands on release date price walkthrough impressions Mary Jane Peter
Acrobatic combos aplenty. Sony

It isn't much of a surprise that Peter's personal life is a part of the story, but Insomniac puts extra effort into supporting it with a strong puzzle mechanic. Players can earn tokens completing two types of puzzles, circuit and spectrograph, in Peter's laboratory. Like everything else in the game, the puzzles ramp up nicely and go from pathetically easy to respectably tricky in a short span. They provide a nice break from the frantic freefall of web-slinging or one of the game's many, many wave brawls.

The focus of combat is … well, focus. A focus meter underneath your health bar provides currency for special moves and health. The art of being Spider-Man is the art of not getting hit, so you're not going toe-to-toe. Instead, you're following the rhythm of spider-sense prompts as you duck and weave and counter. Wasting focus to recover from sloppy goon fights gets you nowhere fast; it's much better spent on special moves to take out tougher enemies. Combat will be familiar to anyone who's played an Arkham -style punchfest lately, but even novices stand to look impressive by way of cool animations and tutorials. As with web-slinging, one look at the deep skill tree told me there's more to the melee than meets the eye. My time spent on "Amazing" (Normal) difficulty saw a handful of defeats. It's not mindless button-mashing.

But I only played for two hours. In that time, Marvel's Spider-Man developed towards being an engaging grind, albeit one that may not be as good as the sum of its parts. My gut check left me wanting more, and it was hard to put down the controller and walk away. But how much more? Tough to say. Hopefully enough to make this Spider-Man my new favorite Spider-Man (sorry Spider-Man: The Animated Series ).