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Marvel’s Spider-Man: The City That Never Sleeps review

Slightly less amazing fantasy.

The City That Never Sleeps, the three-part DLC for Marvel’s Spider-Man, finds itself in an awkward spot. It’s clear Insomniac wanted to continue Spidey’s adventures in a way that felt like a real continuation of the main game, but it’s equally apparent the studio didn’t want to waste too many big story beats or characters when it’s nearly inevitable we’ll see a full sequel. As such, TCTNStakes some half-steps forward for a few characters and ups the ante with tougher combat challenges. Nothing makes it an absolute must-play for fans of the main game, but it’s hardly a waste if you’re eager to spend more time swinging around Manhattan.

A quick note before we go on: I’ve already written about the first and second episodes of The City That Never Sleeps but declined to give a scored review until the full DLC was out. As such, I’ll be focusing on the third part, Silver Lining, and on how the experience comes together as a whole. I’ll be avoiding any specific spoilers, but I’m also assuming anything covered in the official screenshots and trailers is fair game.

Actually, truth be told, I’m not sure there’s much to say about the fundamentals of Silver Lining that I haven’t already said about the last two episodes. From a gameplay standpoint, I found its missions more compelling than The Heist but a little less so than Turf Wars. There’s still a decent sense of challenge here that I didn’t get from the main game, with new enemy types and combat scenarios keeping me on my toes even with a fully powered Spidey and plenty of practice.

Once again, the new suits are nice enough for messing around in, but it’s still disappointing that Insomniac opted not to include any new associated suit powers. It’s also still a bit of a letdown that there’s not a single new gadget or skill to unlock here, especially because the DLC still insists on throwing new unlock tokens at you.

Really, though, you’re playing Silver Lining to experience the conclusion to The City That Never Sleeps’ narrative arc, which centers on hard-headed gangster Hammerhead stealing Silver Sable’s tech in an attempt to make himself indestructible. Filling in as the main side character this time around is Sable herself, back in the city to stop Hammerhead from siphoning off weapons and aid she’s trying to take back to her home country to help stop a civil war. Sable works well enough as a foil for Spider-Man, but the relationship between the two comes dangerously close to retreading the exact same beats it did in the main game without adding much that’s new.

In general, the writing here isn’t as sharp as it was in Turf Wars. Everything’s just a little sloppier, as evidenced by the way this chapter handles Hammerhead. Since we last saw him, Hammerhead has gone from being a guy wearing an exosuit to a Richard-Nixon-from-Futurama-style disembodied head attached to a fully robotic body, and no one seems that fazed by it. Even in a universe with Doc Ock, Rhino, and Scorpion, that’s really weird.

The thing is, as established in the main game, this take on Spidey’s universe does a pretty good job of being grounded in reality, at least in terms of how characters react to the unreal events unfolding around them. Here we get some lighthearted jokes from Peter about it and references to the change on J. Jonah Jameson’s radio show, but they’re reacting to a fairly disturbing, bordering-on-body-horror development in a way that just feels totally unconvincing. If Insomniac’s writers hadn’t already proven it could handle very comicy developments in a more mature and adept fashion, I probably wouldn’t be as bothered, but they set a high bar for themselves in the main game that they certainly don’t clear here.

There’s a similar disconnect with another, more spoilery development. Without saying anything too specific, a character we pretty much directly watched die returns from the dead without explanation and then quickly disappears from the story again, and Spider-Man doesn’t so much as wonder aloud how that might possibly have happened. There’s nothing wrong with saying someone survived something we thought they didn’t. There’s something very wrong with treating a twist like that with such nonchalance and expecting players to swallow it just because.

I said before that all The City That Never Sleeps needed to do was stick the landing, and I’m not entirely sure it did. Combat feels about on par with previous episodes, and there’s at least one true showpiece fight that feels closer to the impressive boss battles of the main game. Some stories wrap up neatly, leaving everyone back where they started. Some move forward by degrees. But it never feels like much has actually happened. There’s not much substance, and everything that changes by the end is stuff that could have easily been implied at the start of any sequel without alienating players.

On some level, I’m fine with that. If nothing else, this half-measure proves that Insomnaic is already thinking about where it can take Spider-Man next, and some of the scenarios it’s setting up seem genuinely interesting. While most of those setups actually started at the end of the main game, The City That Never Sleeps is a kind of mission statement that those big, world-altering changes aren’t going away. This is the DLC equivalent of an extended post-credits sequence with a small story thrown in to better let it stand on its own. This is a 10-hour version of the recently departed Stan Lee saying “Until next time, true believers.” That’s enough for me to stay tuned.

★★★☆☆

Spider-Man’s three-part DLC, The City That Never Sleeps, feels a bit like it’s trying to have it both ways by telling a story set after the main game without changing up too much for the sake of anyone who might not play it. It might not be entirely fair to complain that an add-on doesn’t feel like a true next chapter, and the gameplay certainly remains satisfying and tacks on some welcome challenge, but the full package is an unquestionable letdown after the soaring heights of the original campaign.

Developer
Insomniac Games
Publisher
Sony Interactive Entertainment
ESRB
T – Teen
Release Date
12.21.2018
Spider-Man: The City That Never Sleeps is available on PlayStation 4. Primary version reviewed was for PlayStation 4. Review code was provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of one to five stars.

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