Swinging around New York City has never felt this good.
That's a tremendous part of what makes Marvel's Spider-Man, a PlayStation 4 exclusive developed by Insomniac Games, such a success. The mere act of traversing its sizable open world -- a reasonable facsimile of New York -- is a blast. With what feels like little effort, Spider-Man maneuvers through alleys, runs up walls and darts past billboards with both speed and grace.
Then you get down on the ground to fight some enemies -- from low-level street thugs to classic comic book villains like Reptile and Kingpin -- and the gameplay still feels good. While easy to pick up, the combat in Spider-Man offers a lot of variety in how you beat your way through crime. Before you know it you'll be launching one enemy into the air, yanking a gun away from a thug several feet away, webbing a third guy to a nearby wall and then slamming the first thug back to the ground, all without thinking too much about the buttons you're hitting on the controller.
It's not just a bunch of flashy action in a high-tech package, though. The story of Spider-Man has much of the same charm and other appealing qualities that recent Marvel live-action movies have. It's a unique story that's not connected to either the film or comic book universes, allowing the developers to take the plot in their own interesting directions.
Throughout the lengthy adventure you will battle a lot of classic villains, sure, but you'll also experience a very personal Peter Parker story that occasionally takes some serious turns. He's struggling with his relationship (he and Mary Jane, his classic love interest, have broken up) and struggling to pay rent, yet he still makes time to help Aunt May by working at a homeless shelter. There is a great deal of heart in this superhero story, which is a wonderful contrast to some other major comic book-based video games (looking at you, Batman).
There are some deeper themes for a modern audience, too, if you look for them. For instance, J. Jonah Jameson has gone from loud, obnoxious newspaper editor to loud, obnoxious podcaster that will give you some serious Alex Jones vibes. Certain missions and plotlines touch on topics like the dangerous obsession with being internet famous, the over-militarization of police and the potential dangers of electing the rich head of a corporation into a high-level political office.
There are a few low points, including some forced stealth sections of the game in which you play as characters other than Spider-Man sneaking their way past bad guys. These areas sometimes offer an interesting angle of the game's narrative, and on occasion they are even a nice change of pace, but too often they're just too slow and even frustrating.
The little details are what really push Spider-Man into masterpiece territory, though. There is an incredible level of detail shown in even small interactions, such as how Spider-Man interacts with the everyday citizens of New York (there are a lot of finger guns and high fives) and how he rides the subway as other passengers gawk at him.
If you're a hardcore Spidey fan, there is a ton of fan service here for you to dig through and enjoy. Even if you're just a casual fan of the character, though, or if you just like the idea of a well-made, lighthearted adventure, Spider-Man is immensely successful at what it sets out to do. The little kid in me that grew up wanting to be Peter Parker is very happy to have a game that comes closer to realizing that goal than anything that has come before it.