With the prolific game developer Insomniac attempting to create the definitive Spider-Man experience on PlayStation 4, now is a good time to look back at the long and storied history of the wall-crawler in video games. Whilst there's a very specific title that gamers looks to as the best (don't worry, it's on our list) it's easy to forget that there have been a few other releases that have delighted Spider-Man fans.
5. Shattered Dimensions
In 2010, developer Beenox looked to reinvent the Spider-Man gaming formula. Whilst almost every release prior since 2004 featured an explorable, open world New York that could be swung around in, Shattered Dimensions created an extremely linear experience. It also featured Spider-Men across four different timelines: The Amazing Spider-Man who we would consider regular Spidey, Spider-Man Noir who was a wall crawler during the prohibition era, Spider-Man 2099 who heralded from the far future and the Ultimate Spider-Man that wore the symbiote. Whilst it was a risky move removing the open world NYC, it ultimately paid off as it vastly separated itself from being "just another" Spider-Man game, and allowed the developer room to flesh out the individual worlds and have each version fo the character play differently. Ultimate Spider-Man had a rage meter, Noir focused on stealth attacks, 2099 was all about speed and Amazing was the well-rounded jack-of-all-trades.
It also dabbled with a first-person view, something that Insomniac revealed will be a feature of their game. Shattered Dimensions was followed up with the disappointing Edge of Time, which only featured Amazing and 2099, and I think tarnishes the reputation of the original. Whilst maybe not the best Spider-Man game it showed that publisher Activision was willing to take risks with the franchise.
4. Web of Shadows
While it isn't as dramatic of a departure as Shattered Dimensions, Web of Shadows featured an original storyline that had a lot of promise even if it wasn't necessarily executed properly. With the premise of a symbiote bomb going off in NYC, the game allowed players to instantly switch between the classic red and blue outfit or the black costume. This intertwined with the branching narrative story, where Spider-Man could either fight off the symbiote invasion or try to control it and ultimately enslave NYC.
The two different costumes had their own unique powers, and some of the branching story options were genuinely great. It also featured a huge cast of side characters, including Wolverine, Moon Knight, Black Cat, Luke Cage, Ant Man and others. This was a game made for fans of the comic rather than just fans of the movies. It also was a much darker, adult story with brutal deaths and even sex. The open world New York was present, and would slowly become more and more infected with the symbiote; a really awesome way to visually track if you were taking the good or evil path.
3. Ultimate Spider-Man
Even though we got a Spider-Man 3 movie-tie in game, most look at Ultimate Spider-Man as the successor to Spider-Man 2. Allowing you to play as both Spider-Man and Venom, the game included some very interesting mechanics. Venom not only couldn't traverse the city with web swinging, and would instead pull himself with the symbiote or leap from rooftop to rooftop, but his health was constantly depleting as the symbiote was feeding off of Eddie Brock. Therefore, you would have to "feed" on pedestrians in the open world. The script of the game was penned by Brian Michael Bendis, the writer of the comic, and artist Mark Bagley was involved heavily in the design.
This made for a game that felt very genuine and one that fits right into the existing mythos. We also got to explore a borough of the city that isn't Manhattan: Queens, something completely unique to this title. The map was also smaller than Spider-Man 2, which on the surface sounds like a detractor but it ultimately made finding collectibles less of a chore. The combat of the game was another highlight, as you were rewarded when trying out new combos with stat boosts. The only real reason it doesn't beat Spider-Man 2 is the swinging around the city didn't feel quite as natural.
2. Spider-Man (PlayStation)
This may the oldest game on the list, but it is definitively the first good Spider-Man title on a console. Based on the fantastic 90's animated series, the game featured a smart story that ultimately had you face off against Doctor Octopus merged with the Carnage symbiote; an f-ing bonkers idea. It changed the game, literally, as Spider-Man titles up until this point were for the most part 2D side scrollers. Whilst we can't really think of a modern Spider-Man game not being a 3D open world adventure, this was the first entry to really dabble in that realm. It ran on the same engine as Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, another PlayStation classic, which meant the gameplay for the time was as good as it was going to get.
This version of Spider-Man boasted an impressive array of abilities, from forming shields with his webs to using them to paralyze enemies. It also arguably is only bested by Ultimate Spider-Man in terms of individual level design. The game was followed up two years later with Spider-Man: Enter Electro, which whilst still an enjoyable game didn't necessarily add anything to the experience.
1. Spider-Man 2
For the last ten plus years, developers have tried to capture the magic that makes this specific title beloved among fans, but none have quite reached it. Based on the movie, which also just happens to be the best Spider-Man film, this was the first time in a game Spidey's webs had to attach to buildings. It sounds simple, I know, but it added an additional layer of authenticity to the game that made it a thrill to simply swing around Manhattan for hours on end. Whilst the game stumbles with its missions and side quests, it ultimately didn't matter since the open world was masterfully crafted and being able to swing through most of New York City with no load times boggled the mind in 2004. After beating the story, you still had a whole other half a games’ content to work through. It included light RPG elements as well, with upgrades for Spidey as you gained hero points doing all those pizza deliveries! These upgrades would improve the rather repetitive side quests, which also benefited from a counter attack system tied into the wall crawler's spider sense. The game is also narrated entirely by a Bruce Campbell, which is the real reason that it sits at the top of our list.
Spider-Man has a long and storied history with video games, dating all the way back to the Atari 2600. Next year’s release will be the 37th standalone game, not including the appearances the character has made in countless other titles. Let us know what you think of our list and what games would be in yours!