I don’t play a lot of AAA games; there are certainly specific AAA series I like, and I do play my share of Nintendo games, but most of the big releases just don’t catch my eye. (Or at least don’t catch my eye enough for them successfully fight their way up my queue.) But I remembered thinking that Spider-Man sounded kind of neat when it came out last year; and so, when I found myself with a month to kill before Shenmue III came out, I decided to use Spidey to fill the gap.

And Spider-Man is a really good game! Partly really good in ways that show the virtues of AAA games; partly really good in executing on AAA design tropes in ways that make me actually kind of like them; and partly really good purely on its own merits.


The main potential virtue of AAA games is how they use the budget. Using it on conventionally good graphics (generally interpreted as having photorealism as your touchstone) is de rigeur; but you can also use it on having a large and detailed map, on having lavishly crafted set pieces, or (where appropriate) on licensing. The last random AAA game that I played was Forza Horizon 4; it had beautiful graphics, a great world to drive around in, and lots of licensing. (Not so many set pieces, it’s not that sort of thing.) And Spider-Man put its money in all four of those areas.

And, honestly, that’s great. I’m far from a connoisseur of the state of the art of human in-game character models, but the ones in Spider-Man looked as good as any game that I can think of that I’ve played? Or at least it looked as pleasantly realistic, as any game I’ve played: I’ve played lots of games that go for a more distinctive art style, and honestly I prefer that in general. But that’s not what Spider-Man is going for, and if a game decides to have a realistic-looking Peter Parker face instead of, say, taking the approach of Into the Spider-Verse, then go for it and do it well. Which this game certainly did.

As far as the map goes: it models Manhattan. I don’t really know how faithful the model is, because I’ve barely visited New York at all. But there are a ton of buildings there; when I started playing the game, my reaction was “wow, I bet people who live in New York would really get a kick out of going through the city like this”, and by the end of playing the game, I was enjoying the city too, the experience actually made me rather more favorably inclined towards New York.

As for the rest of what I listed; the set pieces are fine, pleasant but nothing that I feel will stick with me. And I don’t have any particular attachment to the Spider-Man license (I’m not a big superhero comic fan), though it seemed like they did a good job with the license and the presence of that license helped strengthen the game?


Another aspect of AAA games: if you want to sell a game to millions of people, you’re going to want the mechanics of gameplay to be something that isn’t too offputting. Spider-Man does that particularly well, I think? I enjoyed the combat even though combat isn’t particularly my thing; there’s a gentle level-up skill tree mechanism that feeds you new moves to try out without overwhelming you; and the side tasks often come with rewards for handling the combat in a specific way, encouraging you to branch out more instead of sticking exclusively with the same move. So, as the game goes along, you feel like more and more of a badass; but also the game is generous enough with health that failing and having to retry was rare.

But the game also gets the mechanics right in one way that is specific to this game, not a generic AAA thing at all: they nailed webslinging, so movement is a total joy. There’s a fast travel option, but it took me a while to use that option at all, and I never used it much: I was quite happy to spend a few minutes webslinging from one end of the map to the other.


And there’s one last AAA aspect of this game: the way there are side tasks cropping up all over the place. You unlock sections of the map by traveling to a tower in that section, and then there are lots of little tasks that show up on that section of the map. This gives you something to do while traveling across the map (which, as per the above, is something that you want to do!); and it lets you explore just being Spider-Man, outside of the context of the main plot.

There’s a lot of beating people up in these missions; too much, honestly, I wish they’d cut down on that. But, like I said above, the good aspect of the combat in this context is that the game actively encourages you to explore different combat moves. And there are other tasks that are more exploratory, usually involving helping people out; most of the time this translates mechanically into practicing your traversal skills, but not always. And there are some tasks that are flat out skill challenges.

Sometimes, when confronted by this sort of profusion of tasks in a game, I feel annoyed because my brain wants me to check stuff off but I’m not really enjoying that. And there was a little bit of that here, a few too many police alerts cropping up as you move around; but mostly I was really glad that these side tasks exist. The game’s main story plot is fine, I enjoyed going through it; but I liked just being Spider-Man more, and that’s what these tasks emphasized. So, for me, these tasks actively brought out something good about the game, they weren’t just padding.


Good game: I’m not going to spend most of my time with games like this, but it is neat to see what studios specializing in this sort of production can come up with.

Post Revisions:

This post has not been revised since publication.