Marvel’s Spider-Man Review

Marvel’s Spider-Man is the Spider-Man game we’ve all been waiting for. Yes, there have been good games featuring the wall crawler. Shattered Dimensions was a focused, linear take on Spidey, but lacked the freedom and exploration that you’d expect from a Spider-Man game. Ultimate Spider-Man saw its strengths in its comic book roots, featuring other Marvel characters besides Spider-Man’s typical friends and foes, but was criticized for its short length and lackluster side content. And of course, Spider-Man 2 absolutely nailed the web swinging and traversal, but the combat just didn’t reach the same heights, and there were only so many times you could get that kid’s balloon back. But now, Insomniac Games has put their own spin on the web slinger, and they definitely deliver.

PS_Messages_20180917_101727One of the important aspects of capturing the feeling of being Spider-Man is the web swinging, and Insomniac Games put an incredible amount of care into it. Webs attach to buildings this time and the physics feel just right. An interesting addition to the moveset is a dive that you can initiate at any time in the air, allowing for a burst of momentum if you catch yourself with a web at the last second. You can also web zip to maintain altitude while airborne, and you can zip to a point and boost off it with a well-timed button press, giving you a huge burst of speed. That, in combination with wall running and other small touches like being able to pull yourself over a building as you reach the top, creates an incredibly polished and exhilarating swinging experience. The game does feature a fast travel system, but I didn’t use it once during my 20 hours with the game’s main story. Insomniac Games put so much love and care into the swinging, making it my favorite form of traversal in any game ever.

PS_Messages_20180917_101725What enhances the traversal in a way I didn’t quite expect was the game’s recreation of New York City. Manhattan is gorgeous, and the lighting and reflections create breathtaking views, and sometimes you’ll want to zip to a rooftop ledge and just perch there for a second, taking in the sprawling urban environments. Each window also features an interior that you can look into, thanks to some clever visual tricks. The game is absolutely stunning in motion, and each of the game’s nine districts feels unique, both visually and mechanically. Swinging through the smokestacks of Hell’s Kitchen feels very different from the skyscrapers of the Financial District, and I found myself using every part of Spidey’s moveset to navigate the concrete jungle.

PS_Messages_20180917_101721Another aspect Insomniac Games nailed is the combat. On the surface, it’s mechanically similar to the Arkham series, but it has its own intricacies that make it feel uniquely Spider-Man. In Arkham, Batman is powerful, but grounded. Spider-Man heavily focuses on aerial combat and tool usage, resulting in acrobatic combat and creative gadget synergies. For example, you might toss a web bomb into a group of enemies and then throw them into a wall and stick them onto it. Yes, enemies do stick to walls if webbed near them, which, when combined with contextual environmental takedowns, requires you to be aware of and utilize your surroundings at all times, just like the web head. Enemies also pack a punch and come in numerous different archetypes. I found myself dying more times than I thought I would, but not enough to frustrate me. Spider-Man’s combat is challenging enough to be engaging, but not difficult enough to make me want to throw a controller.

What did let me down, however, were the boss battles. The spectacle of these fights is definitely there, but mechanically, they were a bit of a let down. Most of the boss fights feel the same. The enemy throws some hits at you, you dodge until you see an opening, and then you attack. This happens three or four times and then the fight’s over. I really would have liked to see some more variety in the encounters, although there are a couple that are more interesting than the others.Spider-ManPS4_E32018_Electro_LegalOf course, Spider-Man is an open world game, and you can’t have an open world game without collectibles. Unlike most open world games, however, the collectibles in Spider-Man are a blast to find, for the most part. The game features 55 backpacks that Peter left all around the city, each of which contains a piece of Spidey memorabilia that comes with its own voiced lines of dialogue that help to fill in the blanks of Spidey’s career. There are also tons of hideouts for multiple factions that you can clear out. Crimes randomly happen as you swing by, too, and if you neglect to help out, you might end up being criticized on J. Jonah Jameson’s podcast, which plays while you’re out exploring or after a noteworthy story beat. Later in the game, challenges start to appear on the map, ranging from combat, to stealth, to swinging. All of these side activities are fun, but can get a little repetitive if you choose to do them all, but luckily the game’s fantastic combat and traversal break up the monotony. Each side activity rewards tokens that can be used to purchase gadget upgrades as well as suits, of which there are 28, each featuring its own unique suit power. One activity I didn’t like so much are the research stations. They all feature dull and sometimes repeated missions like swinging through some clouds or getting somewhere without swinging. Some were entertaining, but nine times out of ten they were a slog. They do unlock fast travel stations, so there is some incentive to complete them, but in a game with movement as fun as this, I neglected them until much later in my playthrough.

Narratively, the game is superb. It skips over the overdone storylines like the spider bite or Uncle Ben’s death and instead lets us take control of a more experienced Spider-Man, one who has worn the red and blues for eight years. This is the best Spider-Man story told in recent years because it’s not just a Spider-Man story; it’s also a Peter Parker story. Peter’s arc grounds the otherwise spectacular comic book tale in unexpected ways, and I found myself eagerly anticipating my next trip to the FEAST shelter just as much as my next Demon hideout or Fisk construction site. Everyone is well-written and likable, and I especially adore the changes made to Mary Jane and Aunt May. They’re not just plot devices here, they’re their own characters with their own ambitions, and they’re at the forefront of this story. The dynamic between Mary Jane and Peter also never failed to be entertaining, with the two engaging in very real arguments that had me on the edge of my seat.Spider-Man_PS4_PGW_Pete_and_MJWhat I didn’t like about Mary Jane were her missions. Mary Jane is a playable character, but she’s featured exclusively in stealth missions that instantly fail if she is detected. These are short and aren’t very difficult, but they are not fun to play through. There is one that stands out where she and Peter work together, but I won’t spoil that for you. Stealth missions aren’t the only non-superhero gameplay in Spider-Man. Peter Parker is also playable during a good portion of the game. You won’t perform feats of heroism or swing around stopping crime while not in costume, but rather participate in puzzles at a lab. The puzzles aren’t mind-numbingly difficult, but they offer enough challenge to not let you switch your brain off. I enjoyed them, and there are more challenging optional ones that have their own rewards if you really want to scratch that scientist itch. Sometimes they find their way into the Spider-Man parts of the game, which I wasn’t too fond of, but they don’t overstay their welcome.

Despite its shortcomings, Marvel’s Spider-Man is not only the best Spider-Man game ever made, but the best superhero game ever made. It takes a foundation first laid out by Rocksteady in 2009’s Arkham Asylum and expands upon it with its own unique touch. The open world is rife with activities and detail. The main story gripped me the entire way through. Everything about this game feels deliberate. With its spectacular traversal, engaging combat, and stellar writing, Spider-Man has raised the bar and set a new standard for superhero games.

Final Score: 9

Firewall Zero Hour Review

Flashbangs are a lot more effective when you’re in VR. In a normal first person shooter, flashbangs are a minor nuisance. Your screen goes white for a bit, you hear a ringing noise, and that’s that. You can usually see pretty clearly while the whiteness wears off, too. But in Firewall Zero Hour, flashbangs are disorienting. You feel them. And that’s what’s so great about it.

Firewall Zero Hour is a 4v4 first person shooter exclusive to PlayStation VR. The defending team is tasked with protecting a laptop containing valuable information while the attacking team is tasked with finding and hacking said laptop. If a player dies, they don’t respawn. This makes for incredibly tense firefights and even tenser quiet moments, similar to games like Rainbow Six Siege. However, each player is not just using a controller, but holding their weapon in their own hands and physically peeking around corners.

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Firewall’s gunplay is tight and responsive. VR makes things complex, but in a good way. Things that were simple button presses like aiming down sights require physical action in Firewall, and something like holding an angle is a hundred times more stressful than in a regular shooter. The freedom of VR is what separates Firewall from other shooters. You can blindfire over or around cover, you can lean to look around corners, you can get creative with your hip firing, the possibilities are endless and have led to moments that I won’t soon forget. In one match I heard an enemy coming down a hallway toward me (thanks to the game’s fantastic sound design) and I blindfired my shotgun around the corner and killed him. In another match I saw what looked like movement through a door hole, so I fired my SMG through it and downed the player on the other side. Strategies like these feel oh so rewarding and are made possible due to the PlayStation VR Aim Controller (the game is playable with a Dualshock 4 but for the true experience, you want the Aim) and the limitless freedom of VR.

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Because of the tense situations and freedom of gameplay, Firewall is incredibly immersive. There’s an ever-present sense of danger, and you’ll feel it looming over you as your eyes dart from left to right, top to bottom, searching dark corners and balconies for enemies. Luckily, you’re not alone. Your team is your lifeline in Firewall, and they feel like real people. Mostly everyone talks (thanks to the headset’s built-in microphone), and being thrown into tense situation like these quickly transforms your group from strangers to allies. Camaraderie is one of Firewall’s strongest aspects. You and the other players actually feel like a team, and there’s no better team-building exercise than getting rushed by the enemy team.

As far as VR settings go, Firewall doesn’t disappoint. There are comfort vignettes for turning and moving, and you can turn on smooth rotation in place of snap turning if you wish. The tracking is spot-on for the most part, but I did encounter some occasional drift. The game also places your in-game weapon higher than your Aim controller. This is done to prevent the Aim light from interfering with the headset tracking lights, and you really don’t notice it in-game, but some may find it irritating or immersion-breaking.

A lot of VR games have fun, immersive gameplay and interesting multiplayer, but what sets Firewall apart from those is its depth. Firewall has a complex class creation system where you can pick and choose your weapon of choice along with gadgets like frag grenades or signal jammers. On top of that, the game also makes players choose a contractor, a character with a unique skill like Overwatch’s heroes or Rainbow Six’s operators. There are so many possibilities and new strategies to be developed and played around with. There were so many times when my squad and I would be in the lobby excitedly chatting about a new gadget we were about to unlock and the kind of fun things we could do with it.

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Firewall isn’t all fun all the time, though. It suffers from network issues which are far too frequent to ignore. The game uses a peer-to-peer matchmaking system but has no host migration functionality. That means if the host of a game leaves, the entire session is disbanded, and everyone is sent back to the main menu. This happens so often it’s irritating. All too often someone will rage quit and turn out to have been the host, or someone will just leave and they were the host, so everyone gets booted.

Firewall is extremely fun and full of potential. Every time I’m about to log off, I tell myself “just one more round”, and then it’s 4 in the morning. This is the game VR fans have been waiting for. While the network issues hold it back from being something truly special, Firewall Zero Hour is still a fantastic experience and a must play for all PSVR owners.

Final Score: 9

Donut County Review

A group of friends huddles around a campfire 999 feet underground. Trash and fragments of buildings scatter the surrounding area. There’s also a raccoon. Welcome to Donut County.

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Donut County is a lot like 2004’s Katamari Damacy, albeit with a hole instead of, well, a katamari. You move the hole under things, and things fall in. That’s the core gameplay loop, and although it may not seem like much, but it’s an absolute delight. Not only is the gameplay satisfying, but it’s wrapped up in an interesting and funny narrative with witty, fast paced dialogue and a cute polygonal art style.

The hole is a simple mechanic, but Donut County builds and expands upon it masterfully. In the beginning, you’ll just be moving a hole around, but soon enough you’ll be swallowing snakes to hit switches or finding a frog to catch flies. The game has puzzle elements, but you won’t be scratching your head in confusion or staring at the screen hoping for a stroke of genius. The Witness this is not. This, in combination with the game’s fantastic soundtrack, creates a surprisingly zen experience.

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What surprised me most about Donut County was its narrative. Ever since the raccoons showed up to town and took over the donut shop, holes have been popping up everywhere, and people have started to go missing. The game’s story is centered around each resident of Donut County detailing their experience with the holes, followed by the player playing their respective level. While the residents of Donut County are funny and interesting, the real heart of Donut County’s narrative is the friendship between the game’s two main characters: BK and Mira. The back and forth between these two never fails to be entertaining, and the heckling from Donut County’s citizens made me grin ear to ear during some of the cutscenes. Sometimes you can see characters sending text messages to one another at the beginning of certain levels, and there’s something incredibly charming about BK and Mira’s texting mannerisms. You can also choose to send a duck emoji that quacks, and you’ll receive one or two in return. I enjoyed this feature more than I should have.

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I really enjoyed seeing the new scenarios Donut County presented me with, but just when things were starting to get really good, the game was over. I finished Donut County in a little under two hours, and as the credits rolled, I was dying for more. I would have loved some challenge levels or just a couple more story levels. The point is, Donut County left me wanting more.

Donut County is the perfect game for this time of year. It’s a lovely breath of fresh air before the densely packed AAA season, and it’s a damn good one at that. I just wish there was more of it.

Final Score: 8.5