Marvel’s Spider-Man on PS4 is still the best depiction of Peter Parker
Marvel’s Spider-Man came out in 2018, and has essentially claimed the throne for Spider-Man games in one swift blow. One of the reasons that makes Insomniac’s iteration so successful is how it perfectly captures the essence of Peter Parker. For a character that’s existed for nearly 60 years, there are a lot of different versions and takes on the character. Despite this, there are still staples to the character that define him. Not only does Marvel’s Spider-Man highlight all of them, but it blends them together so well that it easily shows why people love the character. Arguably, it’s the best version of him, even across comics, movies and cartoons. If you haven’t finished the entirety of Marvel’s Spider-Man (including The City That Never Sleeps DLC), you may want to avoid the spoilers below.
While Marvel’s Spider-Man doesn’t do an origin story for the hero, a lot of those origins still resonate within his story. We know that origin. Peter Parker uses his powers for greed, but fails to save his Uncle Ben in the process. The story varies only slightly in different mediums, but it always comes down to Peter deciding to use his powers for good. He dedicates himself to help people as the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man we know and love. We’re often reminded of Uncle Ben and Peter’s morality in the game, and that’s all we need. It’s important to the character, but without retreading old ground.
While being Spider-Man is a big responsibility, Peter is still very human. He’s still very relatable as a person, and we see that time and time again in the game. Despite having all this power, he still struggles financially, sometimes unable to even afford rent in a tiny apartment. Considering his source of pay in the game comes from working as a lab assistant to Dr. Otto Octavius, you can likely see how that wouldn’t end well for his source of income. It even comes down to a point where Peter is evicted in the game, mostly due to repeat occurrences with late rent. Despite these problems, Peter still continues his life protecting the city from harm. He does it because he has to.
Finances aren’t Peter’s only issue, as he also tends to have girl trouble. Mary Jane Watson has been a longtime flame of Parker, and that continues in Insomniac’s story. In the game, we pick up after the two have a falling out, and while they remain on speaking terms, it takes some time for sparks to reignite. Peter will often find himself thinking about MJ, not only due to her safety, but simply because he loves her. He wants her back, but he struggles with not knowing if she wants him back. The thought of if he’s good enough for her is always in the back of his mind, despite being an amazing hero. This goes on constantly in the game as Peter answers text messages from her. He looks for any hope in her responses that he might have a future with her again.
This is one of the things that many relate to Peter for. Relationships aren’t easy, and being a vigilante super hero won’t make it any easier. He’s not a bad person, but being with him is a tough predicament for Mary Jane. Unbeknownst to Peter for the majority of the game, she still loves him, but being with Spider-Man comes with immense baggage. She knows of his secret identity, which is essential for the dynamic between the two in the game. It’s because of this knowledge that she sort of manipulates Peter, though not in a malicious way. She knows that he cares, and she knows that he will do whatever it takes to keep her safe. This makes her take bigger risks to get information during her gameplay segments. She sort of lives for the danger.
Now, Mary Jane isn’t the only love interest that Peter has had. In his career as Spider-Man, fighting crime and saving citizens, he’s come across one Felicia Hardy. For many people, when it comes to relationships, temptation often rears its ugly head. When we get to The City That Never Sleeps DLC, Peter reunites with Felicia, AKA the Black Cat. After rekindling his relationship with MJ, of course Felicia finds the perfect moment to jeopardize that. While Peter manages to maintain his faithfulness, we as a player can still see the challenges within. This especially comes as an issue when the possibility of a child comes into play. Even so, Peter is begrudgingly honest with MJ and tells her about it. He knows the risks of how she would feel, yet being truthful to her is more important.
Lucky for Peter, the son that Felicia mentions turns out to be a deceptive trick. It’s a big relief for Peter, who isn’t against having a child, but he wants to be a responsible father. The thought of him having a kid scares him, but mostly because he just got back together with MJ. It’s a delicate struggle to balance priorities, and Insomniac tells this kind of story perfectly. This kind of situation happens to Peter all the time in the comics, and not just with these two women. It’s great to see Marvel’s Spider-Man explore this side of Peter while still maintaining his morals.
While girl trouble is often an issue with Peter, he still has his resourcefulness. Peter is known to have a genius level intellect. He creates his web shooters to swing around town, and the game takes it a step further by giving him various gadgets. It’s this intellect that gives him the job with Otto Octavius, but we also see him utilize it in various missions. The circuit board and spectrograph mini-games also provide credence to this. Better yet, we even get to see a more tactical side of Peter Parker, watching him plan how to infiltrate various hideouts. Of course, even as smart as he is, he still makes mistakes. He gets caught by Otto Octavius almost right from the beginning with the Spider-Man suit. Caution isn’t always Peter’s strong suit clearly.
We also get the photography aspect of Peter Parker. While he’s no longer providing pictures of Spider-Man to the Daily Bugle, we get glimpses of this past in the collectibles. He’ll find various possessions around the city that he webbed to a wall somewhere while scouting as Spider-Man. In one instance, this includes his old camera for taking the Daily Bugle pictures. Even though that’s his past, the game makes a perfect utilization of his photography skills by providing an excellent photo mode. While technically not part of the characterization, the fact that we can take selfies as Spider-Man practically anywhere in the game feels genuine to the character.
With all of these aspects of Peter Parker, one of the best things we see from this depiction is his emotion. Not only is this due to fantastic writing, but a large part of it comes from Yuri Lowenthal’s voice performance. Lowenthal is no stranger to emotional performances, but his role as Peter Parker may be one of his best to date. It’s also keeping these emotions in check that make Peter such a strong hero. He is often confronted by his greatest enemies while not wearing the mask. He’ll sometimes know this, but he has to hold back his feelings to keep those he cares for safe. This happens multiple times in the game, both with Otto Octavius, and Mister Negative himself, Martin Li.
Part of what makes this difficult for Peter is that he still sees the good in these people. He doesn’t want to accept that they’ve fallen down a dark path. When he sees the good that Martin Li has done with F.E.A.S.T., then turns to see him leading the Inner Demons, it hurts him on an emotional level. A man who is capable of doing great things, only to use his power to cause turmoil. Of course, this has nothing on Peter’s relationship with Otto Octavius. Bonding with the scientist is a big part of the game, even if we know who he is to become. We feel this bond between Peter and Otto, and it’s what makes the later moments even more painful.
When we’re in that final moment against “Doc Ock”, Lowenthal’s performance really shines. Octavius and Parker reminisce on their father and son bond. Peter looked up to him and wanted nothing more than the both of them to help people with their research. That makes it even more upsetting when he sees what Octavius has become. Tears down his eyes, a mix of anger and sadness of seeing his father figure turn spiteful to the world around him. Peter wants to help him, and this is a moment where you can see even Spider-Man feel truly powerless. He can see that the man he worshiped is likely lost for good, and that is a blow that hurts more than any punch.
Of course, that emotional blow gets cranked up to the limit when it comes to Aunt May. In one of the most powerful scenes in the game, Peter watches the last moments of Aunt May’s life. After helping her out throughout the entire game, many times just playing as regular Peter Parker, seeing her on her death bed is a big deal. We feel it as a player, and we see that devastation in Peter too, again lifted by Lowenthal’s amazing performance. What makes this scene even better is that Peter is wearing the mask, and May request that he removes it to see her nephew. This reveal that May knew Peter was Spider-Man is the kicker, especially to him.
Peter Parker does whatever he can to save not only those he loves, but those that can’t defend themselves. He’s a hero through and through, and Marvel’s Spider-Man captures that essence perfectly. Insomniac takes care to do the character justice every step of the way, and even as a mentor to Miles Morales, he continues to do what a spider can and more. I look forward to seeing more of him in a supporting role in Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and hopefully his story continues to thrive in the eventual Marvel’s Spider-Man 2.