There is one element which makes or breaks a Spider-Man game: more than the combat, more than the city, more than the villains, and even more than the story itself, the swinging mechanics can either propel the game much closer to masterpiece status or drop it straight into mediocrity.
In open world games, there are very few things that I enjoy more than flying. Once I unlock the ability to soar into the sky, the sensation of being finally unbound from the ground is extremely satisfying. You can see the whole world from a different perspective, and enjoy those giant maps like you’re finally the king.
In Marvel’s Spider-Man by Insomniac Games there is no flying (at least to my knowledge), and swinging is available from the very first minute when you’re given control of the character. That revolutionary sensation of finally evolving from a turtle into a hawk is missing, and I actually went into my two hour-long demo slightly worried that taking to the sky among the skyscrapers of Manhattan wouldn’t feel as special since I had not earned it.
The first minute of swinging attached to the end of a web completely erased those concerns from my mind. The natural feeling and pure joy offered by the mechanics of the game were so pleasant that I was completely engrossed and enchanted.
I was wearing headphones, so I was pretty much immersed in the world of the game and oblivious to my surroundings. After a little bit, I felt someone tapping on my shoulder. As I removed my headphones and looked to my side, the journalist sitting there politely mentioned that I was being a bit noisy, unconsciously going “weeeeeee!” every time I swung around. In case you’re wondering, I’m not five years old, and I don’t normally do this: the feeling of freedom was just too pleasant and relaxing.
While the basics are very simple and intuitive–and it’s super-easy to start swinging around literally in seconds without relying on complex tutorials–the underlying mechanics are actually rather complex. Not only can you execute several tricks by pressing the controller’s buttons at certain times and in certain situations, but you can “play with physics” to radically influence your speed and vector. It’s a lot of fun to explore just how far and fast you can go, and what kind of acrobatics you can engage into.
It took no time at all for me to start swinging around like what I thought was a pro. The game definitely made me feel like Spider-Man by being perfectly in control of my powers from the very get go. Yet, across the whole two hours and change thatI played the game, I kept learning new tricks and new ways to swing more gracefully, more effectively, and faster.
Every time I felt like I had mastered the trade of the Marvel superhero, the game threw at me new things I could enjoy trying. I’m actually glad I wasn’t allowed to record my own gameplay, because I would probably feel ashamed of the clumsy swinging I was doing at the beginning. To be completely honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if I still have a lot to learn even after two hours, and I’m looking forward to honing my skills even further when the game releases and I won’t have a PR rep ready to swoop down on me as soon as I reach a certain scene (which I won’t lie: I tried to delay as much as possible).
Swinging in Marvel’s Spider-Man is constantly enriched by the joy of discovery. You’re not just discovering the world, but also yourself and your abilities. You don’t even need to unlock new actual skills, as those suble but relevant new variations are provided by the mechanics and physics themselves as you gradually get familiar with them.
While flying is fantastic, it’s mostly a flat experience. Once you get on your plane or flying mount, you have all the tools at your disposal neatly arranged in front of you. What you discover from then on is just the world from a new perspective, but there is little evolution in the way you fly. Of course, I’m talking about adventure games, and not about complex flight simulators: those are a completely different pair of sleeves.
On top of that, the swinging mechanics in Marvel’s Spider-Man keep you consistently engaged. I guess if you want to be lazy, you can simply stick to the basics and get by just fine, but as soon as you become more daring, zipping among New York City’s skyscrapers becomes so much pure, unadulterated fun that you can’t stop.
I didn’t think I’d find something that I like more than flying over the vast maps of an open world game, but thanks to Marvel’s Spider-Man I did. September can’t come fast enough.
If you want to learn more about Marvel’s Spider-Man, you can enjoy my hands-on preview alongside some new gameplay, quite a few lovely screenshots captured on PS4 Pro, and my conversation with Creative Director Bryan Intihar.
The game releases on September 7th exclusively for PS4. You can already pre-order the newly-revealed limited edition PS4 Pro and the game itself on Amazon.
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