Sony first revealed Marvel's Spider-Man for PlayStation 4 at E3 two years ago, but how it actually plays remained a mystery until now. At this year's show I finally got to go hands on with the PlayStation 4 exclusive. My demo was a little different than what Sony showed off at its media briefing. Rather than a frantic mission during a stormy night above and around New York City's East River, I had an hour to explore a sunny daytime chunk of Manhattan's Lower East Side, mostly as I pleased.
Like the stage demo, though, there was a distinct focus on fighting early on. The first mission tasked me to take out a group of thugs in a back alley, which taught me the basics of combat. Essentially, it feels like a faster, more acrobatic Batman Arkham game. Which makes sense: Peter Parker isn't a shredded fortysomething walking around in tactical armor, he's a scrawny young adult in spandex.
Controls should be familiar for Arkham veterans, however, and pretty easy to pick up for everyone else. Tap the square button for quick punches and kicks, hold it to launch a goon into the air; triangle fires your selected web-gadget while cross and circle are jump and dodge, respectively. That last one is key to keeping combat flowing smoothly. When your Spider-Sense goes off as an enemy readies their attack, if you hit the dodge button you'll evade them without ever breaking your own attack combo.
For example, during one brawl I timed my dodge just right and slid between one enemy's legs while another ran up behind me. The runner tackled his buddy, stunning him and buying me a few moments to pick up a manhole cover with my web-shooters and swing it around in a wide circle, knocking out the surrounding goons. Another time, I dodged and an enemy on a platform above me shot his compatriot as I evaded.
I have to admit my fights never looked as slick as the ones from Sony's media briefings.
Unfortunately, I have to admit my fights never looked as slick as the ones from Sony's media briefings. It's frustrating, but my own fault, not the game's. In any given encounter, you've got loads of options at your disposal, whether it's ripping a car door off and using it as a weapon, yanking an enemy toward you with your web-shooters or pulling scaffolding down onto goons. There is an awful lot going on and more than a few times I found myself overwhelmed with options. And that's all in addition to zipping around the environment to get the best angle on a fight.