Spider-Man: Remastered Review – Just Keep Swinging

Marvel’s Spider-Man released on the PS4 to general applause in 2018. One of a rare selection of video games to successfully simulate actually being a superhero, it struck a chord with fans all over the world. It’s currently the best selling PlayStation exclusive of all time, and sits somewhere in the top 50 of the best selling games in general. Of all time. But this isn’t a review of Spider-Man, this is my Spider-Man: Remastered review, and a review of what it’s like to play this sprawling action title in 2021, on the PS5

Don’t worry, despite being a remaster I’ll keep this review as spoiler free as possible!

Gameplay? 7/10 – Lacklustre optional activities drag down the stellar combat, traversal, and story quests. 

Questing

In 2018, Spider-Man followed the footsteps of most open world titles before it. By that I mean it’s a large map, full of tiny icons of varying colours and purpose, and is generally a bit overwhelming. It’s not up there with the most egregious of examples like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, but it’s also not as pleasantly pared back like Horizon Zero Dawn. Somewhere in between.

If all the icons and side objectives were of equal quality then I’d probably be able to forgive it, but even in 2018 some of them were a little… damp. The upsides are the challenge missions, courtesy of Taskmaster, and the various bases you have to conquer around the map. The latter comprises 6 waves of increasing amounts of enemies, and increasing difficulty in kind.

Spider-Man - Review - Map
Credit to Polygon for the image.

Bases are actually the most difficult content in the game, with a pure story playthrough being a relatively simple proposition even on Ultimate difficulty. If you’re a seasoned Spider-Man player coming back for the visual updates and changes, then you’ll not find a harder experience here. It’s the same game as in 2018 after all, it is what it is.

Unfortunately, despite the bases being a satisfying and challenging prospect, the other side activities aren’t all equal. Research Centres, left behind by Harry Osborne before a trip to Europe, offer up short tasks that are largely pretty dull. Swinging through smog clouds, tracking down vehicles responsible for pollution, that sort of stuff. In general I didn’t care for research stations at all, not in my original playthrough, and not in the remaster.

Other activities include interfacing with police scanners to reveal the map, collecting old backpacks, and taking photos of famous landmarks. Each and all of them help pepper the world with more backstory and depth, with some nice nods and Easter Eggs in there for those who are interested. But no amount of story snippets can prevent most of these side activities from being what they are; filler, and fairly unengaging filler at that. 

There ARE ordinary side quests, and these are a little stronger, but unlike in Miles Morales don’t really help explore Spider-Man as a character or Peter Parker as a person. You’ll meet interesting characters, and engage in some fun distractions, but nothing that will blow you away. 

Fortunately the story missions are miles ahead in terms of engagement. Tasked with various set pieces and objectives, you’ll range from dismantling external security systems, chasing down helicopters, and clearing entire buildings of bad guys via stealth. Each mission is complete with in-engine and fully rendered cutscenes, cameos from characters left, right, and centre, and an enthralling story that I’ll cover later. 

The variety in the main story missions helps raise the bar for the entire game, and somewhat revives the experience from the fairly mundane side content.

More importantly, aside from bases, the story missions are the single best way to stretch your legs and unleash the full potential of the moment to moment gameplay. Ironically though, one of the highlights is best explored in the open world.

Swinging

I don’t recall any game… maybe ever, making exploration and movement so entertaining. The side stuff all bored the hell out of me, but I still platinumed Spider-Man: Remastered because moving around the world and going from place to place excited me. No game that I can recall, aside from maybe Sunset Overdrive (also made by Insomniac ironically), has made the pure method of motion so engaging.

It took me 91 hours to platinum Spider-Man: Remastered. Add that to the initial 25, and the 20 I have in Miles Morales, and I’ve easily cleared 100 hours of game time with Spider-Man. I’m still not bored of swinging. The physics of it, the pendulum effect of swinging down a road, the point launches from the top of a street lamp, the zips across rooftops, all of it is just utterly sublime. Hell, I only fast travelled once; because the game makes you for a tutorial.

I also still think it’s a small miracle that the camera rarely bugs out or gets stuck, even when I’m swinging through an interior. The quality when it comes to the traversal mechanics are near second to none and that continues to impress me. Much like my next subject.

Combat

I don’t exactly know the best way of describing the combat in Spider-Man. There’s so many descriptors; satisfying, weighty, elegant, silky, deliberate, engaging. I could go on. 

It’s a combat system that takes the ideas set from other games, Shadow of Mordor, the Batman Arkham games, Assassin’s Creed, Tekken, and spins them into the best version of themselves. There aren’t many games that make you feel like the character you’re playing, and Spider-Man joins that list. 

There’s suit abilities, like becoming bulletproof or unleashing a storm of webs in all directions. These are unlocked by engaging in the side activities and purchasing more suits for Peter. There’s swappable passive abilities, like more damage or better resistance. 

On top of that there’s a bevy of gadgets to employ, from anti-grav grenades, to tripwires, to web bombs. All of these gadgets can be used equally well in stealth or open combat, creating a moment to moment variety that continues to be fun. Fun, even after all of my hours in Insomniac’s world. 

Then there’s your fists and feet. Spider-Man employs a fairly wide ranging set of skill trees that add new combos and abilities to Peter’s arsenal. The game places a huge amount of emphasis on air combos, and fighting on the ground makes you very vulnerable, but the tools are there for either if you need them. 

Fighting enemies in Spider-Man isn’t like Batman, where you’re standing there often waiting to counter attack. It’s not like Assassin’s Creed, where you’re button mashing your way to victory. The combat is free flowing, you’re sliding through legs, launching people in the air, bouncing off walls, jumping over heads, and unleashing combos mid-air. 

It’s one of the most enabling combat systems in recent history. In one instance I found myself at a 165 hit combo, something that only counts up assuming YOU haven’t been hit. Flowing from enemy to enemy, room to room, rooftop to rooftop feels effortless yet deliberate. The system doesn’t work if you don’t memorise the combos and commands, but once you do, good lord. It’s up there with some of the best.

Visuals? 10/10 – The remaster brings with it an impressive 60fps ray tracing mode, enhanced detailing across the board, and top tier character models.

Okay so this is where I can talk about the features unique to the remastered version. Normally I’d talk about my feelings regarding graphics, but this is a review of the remaster. As a result I’ll be more technical than normal. 

With many changes, let’s start with the most blatant; Peter Parker’s face. 

Prior to the release of the remaster, it was announced that the original facial actor for Peter Parker, John Bubniak, had been replaced with Ben Jordan’s. The voice acting is still the same, courtesy of the fantastic Yuri Lowenthal, but the facial model and animations for Peter Parker have completely and entirely changed. 

The reasoning for the shift isn’t well explained by Insomniac, so I won’t bother trying to decipher it here, but it will mean that the face you’re used to has changed. A lot. 

Early on I wasn’t sure I was impressed with the change. Despite the visual enhancements, which we’ll get to shortly, I felt like Ben Jordan’s capture didn’t live up to the original. But come the end of the journey, and the various emotional turns that Peter Parker has to navigate, I was left just as floored by the performance as I was originally. So all’s well that ends well there.

Moving on from that, and we get to the rest of the improvements that come with the remaster of Insomniacs game. 

The headline feature, something that was added a short while after launch, is the 60fps ray tracing mode. Now I’m no expert, as savvy as I am, but this mode is a damn near miracle as far as I’m concerned.

Spider-Man: Remastered isn’t the first game to implement ray tracing. Games including Cold War, Watch Dogs Legion, and Control: Ultimate Edition all feature it to varying degrees of quality. 

The difference is all of those games, aside from Cold War, restrict themselves to 30fps in order to achieve the advanced rendering technique. Insomniac have obliterated that barrier entirely. They offer three modes; Quality, Performance, and Performance Ray Tracing. 

Quality gives you the full capabilities of the PS5. You get a native 4K experience with some extremely high quality ray tracing, but you’re playing at a locked 30fps which can look choppy now, especially on high quality TVs and monitors. You will however get the best lighting and shadows, and the most detailed visuals.

Performance gives you a rock solid 60fps, and achieves 4K via some complex upscaling. 99% of people won’t be able to tell the difference in resolutions here between modes. You’ll lose some of the detailing to hit that higher frame rate, but not something you’ll miss in a game like this. At least in my opinion. You also don’t get ray tracing in any way.

Performance Ray Tracing, my preferred mode, gives you real time ray tracing similar to that in the quality mode, just of a lesser degree. The resolution here is the biggest hit, which sits anywhere from 1080p to 1440p versus the 4K seen in the other modes. Without going too far into it, the ray tracing here isn’t of the same quality that you’ll see in… well, quality mode, but the end effect is the same. 

You’ll see your reflection as you dive down a glass faced skyscraper, or as you’re swinging through a sunset city. Sure, the reflected details won’t be of the highest quality, but they’ll be there. Plus you’ll still be playing at a frankly glorious 60fps, which is the only speed at which to play this game if you ask me.

Beyond the various modes, the remaster also sees some global enhancements.

Improved assets across the board, even down to specific noodles in a takeaway box (credit to Digital Foundry for that example, and for a lot of the specifics in here). Character models have been overhauled, with hugely improved hair effects, skin tone and details, and facial animations. The result here is night and day to the original, and I was constantly blown away by the fidelity of the characters in every cutscene. 

The improvements don’t stop there either. Insomniac have re-worked textures across the explorable areas, with a noticeably higher level of detail almost wholesale. Draw distance is extended, meaning that NPCs and vehicles stay on your screen longer before fading out. Pedestrian density is increased, giving a more bustling feel to the city. 

When you factor in the cost of Spider-Man: Remastered, a standalone price of £40, the vast array of changes to this game are impressive. I kept looking for ways to knock the way the game looks but, considering it’s three years old, Spider-Man: Remastered looks jaw dropping a lot of the time. 

Audio? 9/10 – Having your dialogue cut by nearby activities is a pain, but the addition of 3D audio is much appreciated.

With the PS5 remaster came 3D audio and it’s pretty brilliant here. It’s not the best in the business, The Last of Us Part 2 and various multiplayer games take that trophy, but it’s great.

Projectiles off screen will register in different sections of your ear, conversations will pan with your camera brilliantly, and spatial awareness is enhanced exponentially. The whole system results in wonderfully immersive combat scenarios and cutscenes, and really ups the ante versus the 2018 release.

The remaster didn’t see any other specific changes in regards to the audio, so the rest of the experience here is the same. Each cutscene is wonderfully mixed and means that Spider-Man is one of very few games I don’t have a burning desire to enable subtitles in. I never had an issue hearing dialogue as it broke through the action. Likewise in the intense battles, some of which see dozens of enemies on screen at one time, I never felt audibly overwhelmed. 

Music across the board is great. The MCU-esque swinging track did start to get a little dull, and I was thankful for cutscenes that mixed it up a little. The score that oversees the final moments of the game remains some of the most poignant in my recent memory; inducing tears every time without fail. The other tracks involve huge brass and general ochestral sections that bring me chills when listened to alone. Seriously, John Paesano (Daredevil, Maze Runner) did a fantastic job with the score.

If I had one major complaint, it would be that of interruptible dialogue. God of War, for instance, would remember when a line or conversation got cut off and smoothly pick it up the next time there was a spare moment. In Spider-Man, podcasts, phone calls, introspective musings, they’ll all get sliced the second you get within any distance of an activity. In the case of story specific stuff, it’ll get replayed the second you’re free, but it’s not very natural. 

Anything optional, like podcasts, will get cut off permanently and will require you to navigate the menus to listen to them. It’s a small thing in the grand scheme of things, but it’s something that bothered me.

Story? 9/10 – With some of the best character building and narrative points in video games at large, the story is only blemished by a rapid climax that can feel slightly rushed.

The story in Spider-Man is stunning, from start to finish. It’s possibly the best example of a video game Marvel/ DC narrative currently available, aside from Miles Morales. Insomniac manage, across the course of more than 15 hours of campaign missions, to balance famous characters and heroes numbering in the double digits. It never feels forced, it never feels cheap. 

There’s cameos, mentions, winks at the camera (metaphorically), references to larger Marvel media, and some of the biggest villains in Spider-Man’s playbook. 

There’s a danger that it would’ve ended up feeling like a season of Defenders. A hodgepodge of heroes and villains forced together in a way that doesn’t work. Thankfully it feels more like a proper MCU departure. 

Marvel’s Spider-Man follows the story of a veteran Spider, Peter Parker. Origin story this is not, Peter in this game is experienced and aged. He’s attempting to balance his love for science and his need to help people, not to mention trying to maintain the various relationships he’s established. 

Working for Otto Octavious (yes, THAT Otto), Peter Parker is trying to find a reason to hang up the suit. It’s a well trodden narrative but one that’s well sold in this case. Throughout the entire story you can see the push and pull between the life he has, and the life he wants

Following an early run-in with Fisk, which ends up with the big man in jail (not a spoiler, don’t worry, it’s the first 30 minutes), the city is left wide open for new criminals to make their mark. In a story that displays a tug of war between Otto, Harry Osborne, Peter Parker, Spider-Man, and a bunch of other characters, the juggling act here is masterful.

My only complaint is that the final third of the game feels like it moves at light speed. Plot points are thrown at you every which way in order to get you to the climactic finale, and that can sometimes seem unnatural. 

Spider-Man: Remastered obviously includes every piece of DLC for the game, making up The City That Never Sleeps expansions. This follows the stories of three characters important to Spider-Man in the pursuit of Hammerhead; Black Cat, Yuri, and Silver Sable. The DLCs are actually pretty good across the board, and do a good job expanding the universe beyond the main game. I will say that the narratives aren’t up to the par with the main game, but each DLC will last you approximately 3 hours in story content so that’s to be expected. 

The biggest shame is that Silver Sable didn’t get as much love in the main game. She’s by far the most interesting of the DLC characters, and is only around in fleeting moments during the main campaign.

Other than that? Pretty incredible work across the board.

Acting? 9/10 – The primary cast put in a masterclass showing, and only the later side characters bring that down slightly.

To put it frankly, the primary cast of characters in Spider-Man put in a flawless set of performances. The highlights are Yuri Lowenthal and William Salyers, portraying Peter Parker and Otto Octavius respectively. Without spoiling anything, the progression of their relationship throughout the game is one of the best developments I’ve witnessed in video games. 

Despite Otto Octavius being the obvious villain that everyone knows and loves, you can’t help but empathise with him at every turn. There are emotional crescendos in Spider-Man that match some of the best I’ve seen across games like Red Dead Redemption Part 2, God of War, and The Last of Us Part 2. 

The main downside is that some of the characters introduced later in the game aren’t up to the same standard. They aren’t around for very long, but they do come across as… second fiddle in almost every way. It could be deliberate, a way of explaining their involvement, but it’s something I noticed to be of a lower quality. 

Writing? 8/10 – Much like the acting, the writing for side characters introduced later dims in comparison to the main cast.

In somewhat of an extension of my complaints regarding certain side characters, the quality of writing is spotty. Predictably, the main characters are all written near flawlessly. Peter Parker is an almost perfect representation of the character, but manages to stand apart from the major iterations we’ve had in other media. 

Otto Octavius is a masterclass in writing, demonstrating how a true villain can be written from start to finish but still be believable. 

Other main characters like Aunt May, MJ, Mr Li, Harry Osborne, Yuri, they all largely get the same attention and level of quality. All thoroughly believable, all completely in tune with the world around them. 

This doesn’t extend to the extras, for the most part. Characters like Taskmaster are poorly handled, just like Black Cat (in the main game anyway), Scorpion, Electro, and more besides. They’re never bad, don’t get me wrong. They’re still better than characters in the vast majority of other games, but the disparity in quality versus the main characters is very noticeable.

Performance? 10/10 – With astonishing load times and a completely bug-free experience, I couldn’t ask for more in all honesty.

Next-gen, both the Series X and PS5, are starting to develop a theme. The performance of Spider-Man: Remastered is completely devoid of issues. Driven by the internals of the PS5, Spider-Man: Remastered is tremendously fast, loading from home screen to playable in a mind boggling 11 seconds. This is faster than any other game I’ve experienced, aside from those being suspended by Xbox’s Quick Resume, and even then it’s not far off. 

Fast travel is similarly impressive, with cross map travel achievable in less than 4 seconds. If speed is something you care about, Spider-Man: Remastered won’t disappoint.

I had a few bugs with Miles Morales, but there was none of this with Spider-Man: Remastered. I didn’t encounter a single bug, hitch, or glitch throughout my 91 hours with the game. 

Fun Factor? 9/10 – The only mark against Spider-Man: Remastered is the frankly dull side content. Otherwise this is one of the most entertaining games money can by.

Despite my complaints with the optional side content, Spider-Man: Remastered is, as you’d expect, the very best version of the terrific game from 2018. Excellent and tangible visual improvements, along with an extremely impressive 60fps ray tracing mode, make the entry fee worth it. 

(Ish, we’ll get to that)

Pitch perfect traversal and combat, a flowing and believable narrative, and interesting twists on famous characters make this a game for hardcore fans and newcomers alike.

If you hadn’t already played it, this remastered version is one of the best games money can buy you on next gen. Hell, even if you have, it’s still worth a look in my opinion.

Value? 7/10 – An £40 standalone entry fee will sting for those who’ve already purchased it previously, but the sheer volume of improvements makes it worth it in my opinion.

Things get muddy here. Ignoring the vast visual and performance improvements for a second, this is still a £40 remaster for a game barely three years old. I famously criticised Control for charging for their next-gen upgrade in my dedicated article for it, so what’s the difference?

Well, Insomniac haven’t just added ray tracing here. They’ve improved the visual fidelity almost across the board, breathing new life into Spider-Man and bringing it up to almost the same level as it’s younger sibling, Miles Morales. That’s an impressive feat, and one that can’t have been easy to achieve. 

With that in mind, plus the addition of all the DLCs (although Control: UE also includes this), it’s hard to criticise the asking price for this remaster. But, there IS an asking price, which I completely understand will put people off.

How Much Did The Reviewer Enjoy it? 10/10 – I’ve never been driven to 100% a game really, yet here I am with a perfect 100% and over 100 hours of gameplay in Spider-Man: Remastered. To say I enjoyed it would be an understatement. 

I got the platinum for Spider-Man: Remastered. I 100% completed the main game, New Game+, and all the DLCs. That’s something I’ve never done on PlayStation before, and something I’ve only done a handful of times on Xbox; my preferred platform for the better part of the last 20 years. 

That alone should speak volumes of my enjoyment of Spider-Man: Remastered. I don’t find satisfaction in most of the side content, yet I was driven to complete it all. I didn’t need to do that for this review, but here we are. 

The gameplay loop and story of Spider-Man: Remastered is simply enough to drive me to play as much of it as possible, and I don’t see this being the last time I play it either. 

If you enjoyed this review, check out our others here. Specifically, check out my Miles Morales review! Don’t forget to head on over to our Twitter and Facebook for more gaming stuff!

Until next time, have a fantastic week!

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