My face hurts. I wasn’t sure it was possible to smile that much during an E3 2018 games demo, but Insomniac’s Spider-Man PS4 exclusive has proved me wrong. It was only a 20 minute timed demo showcasing the open world New York the game has to offer, but that was plenty of time for the exhilaration to set in. Actually, that all happened in the first 30 seconds. The demo starts with Spidey perched on the edge of a building and all I’m initially told is to press R2 to swing. Oh boy, here we go.
It’s potentially even more amazing that I’d expected. You swing with R2 and then web dash with a quick tap of X while in mid-air to keep your momentum going, and within minutes I’m basically flying through New York on a string of web. It’s an incredibly smooth and fluid motion that’s every bit as satisfying as you’d hope, and although there are some teething problems in the form of me smacking Spidey into buildings, there’s no other gaming mechanic quite like it. This feels like the sort of thing that takes a little while to master, but the learning curve is so incredibly satisfying that the entire experience is a pleasure.
Because it’s not just about swinging after all, traversing New York is about combining a number of Spidey’s moves, in the same way that Insomniac championed combo-led traversal in Sunset Overdrive. L2 + R2 lets you snap to a perch spot, while holding L2 lets you sprint, including up the side of buildings, meaning you can change direction and move around the city with an incredible amount of precision once you’ve got the hang of the way the moves can flow together.
Flow is actually the word for my entire experience with Spider-Man as, like the Batman Arkham series, the idea of combos and fluidity is a huge part of the combat too. Although at first it seems like it’s just a case of mashing attack and dodge to sort out the bad guys, the entire thing is much more nuanced than that. Holding attack flings enemies into the air and then you can hammer the attack button to combo aerial attacks. You can use your webs to temporarily bind an enemy, which is especially useful for ones with guns, or grab a piece of the scenery to swing around you and smash into them. Combo enough attacks and dodges together and you’ll be able to unleash your suit power, which is basically a confetti explosion of webs, and there are finishing moves to use too once you’re really in the zone. Gadgets are all available too, from tripwires to web grenades, and not to mention that there are stealth attacks you can unleash from your perch point above an area, very much like the Batman Arkham series too. The resulting combat flow feels like an acrobatics display full of finishing moves and web explosions.
All of this exists in a open-world New York that’s absolutely brimming with things to do. Perched on another building, or even mid-swing, a quick hit of R3 brings up all the activities that are available in the nearby vicinity. From just a few of the icons I noted, there are wave-based enemy based, robberies to stop and also high-speed chases to get involved with. I swung my way into a cop chase with a van carry a bomb, and – prepare for the joy to set in again – it’s an interactive cutscene of epic proportions. As soon as I was close enough to the van, a prompt to press triangle appeared, allowing Spidey to drop down seamlessly onto the van’s roof. Pushing left or right let Spidey slide onto the sides of the van, and another quick QTE later I was swinging through the van’s cab from window to window to quickly evict the drive in a mass of webs. I honestly chuckled out loud with glee.
Although you might panic at the mention of QTEs, they aren’t anywhere near as intrusive as that last E3 demo suggested. Because they seem to be woven into the general flow of combat or traversal, they feel more like just part of that process rather than a obstruction to the fluidity of Spidey’s movements. And when the action is this impressive, you won’t mind what buttons you’re pressing.
It all combines, much like Spidey’s own combos, to create a game that totally pulls you in as soon as you start swinging. I got to play through the E3 demo twice, and the more I played, the more natural the traversal and combat combos felt to pull off. I can only imagine that my feeling of utter gameplay satisfaction and joy only grows with every hour we’re all about to spend with Spider-Man PS4 come September, and I just can’t wait to see more.
Insomniac’s Spider-Man is coming exclusively to PS4 on September 7, 2018.