Insomniac's highly-anticipated Spider-Man for PS4 is right around the corner (it's almost with us!) so we thought it'd be fun to look back at the web-slinger's greatest video game outings. Spider-Man is a media property that's been around for more than 50 years. It's a staple of superhero pop culture and the friendly-neighborhood-hero was already well-established by the time the earliest video games were being made. That's basically a long-winded way of saying that there have been a lot of Spider-Man games. A whole lot.
Not all of them were successful at capturing Spidey's web-swinging, his agile combat, and his fun, quirky persona--see our worst Spider-Man games list for the most offending culprits (link to worst games piece when that's published). The games on this list, however, are games that did capture these elements, understood what made them cool and executed on them wonderfully.
Although the upcoming Spider-Man is (hopefully) going to be among the best Spider-Man games of all time, it won't appear on this list because it wasn't out at the time of writing.
Here are the best Spider-Man games of all time, in particular order.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Look at any list of great Spider-Man games and you'll find this at the top 9 times out of 10. Deservedly, too, as 2004's Spider-Man 2 (or, more accurately, Spider-Man 2: The Movie: The Game) is Spidey gaming at its best. The game based on the Doctor Octopus movie (if you couldn't tell from the game's convoluted title) is simply the best execution of a game that lets you be Spider-Man.
Spider-Man has always been about New York City. Spidey and NYC go together like Batman and Gotham, so having a game where it's fun to swing around and explore the Big Apple is essential to a good Spider-Man game. This is where Spider-Man 2 excelled. Swinging around, climbing buildings just to jump off the top and continue swinging around—it all felt smooth, responsive, and super fun. The city may feel a little lifeless by today's standards, but at the time it was pretty amazing.
The game's combat may also not have aged super well, nor may its mission design, but when it comes to a Spider-Man simulator, nothing beats Spider-Man 2.
Ultimate Spider-Man (2005)
A sort-of sequel to 2004's Spider-Man 2, Ultimate Spider-Man took the basic formula and the excellent web-swinging and refined it into a tighter, more well-rounded game. Gone are the tedious balloon-catching missions and the underwhelming combat, replaced instead with stronger mission design and a bigger and more lively New York City. The game also featured a cel-shaded art style (cel-shading was all the rage at the time,) which has helped its visuals to age better than its predecessor.
Not only was it a more well-rounded game, but the game's story was also original and pretty awesome. Written by esteemed comic writer Brian Michael Bendis, Ultimate Spider-Man is about the conflict between Spider-Man and his symbiotic counterpart Venom and was so good it would later be adapted into a comic series of its own. This also meant that the game had you playing as both Spidey and Venom. You could switch between the two characters whenever you wanted, allowing you to roam NYC as either character, saving people as Spider-Man or causing havoc as Venom. Venom had a mechanic where he had to feed to replenish his health, meaning that you quite literally went around eating people. It was pretty great.
Ultimate Spider-Man is an amazing game. It has the things that made Spider-Man 2 great while also tightening up its gameplay and innovating on its mechanics. It's one of the greatest, or arguably the greatest, Spider-Man games of all time and, unlike some of the other games on this list, it actually holds up pretty well in 2018.
Spider-Man: Web of Shadows (2008)
Web of Shadows feels somewhat like a spiritual successor to the Spider-Man/Venom conflict from Ultimate Spider-Man. It continued the idea of Spider-Man's internal struggle between remaining true and "pure" or donning the evil black suit to utilize its malevolent evil for the greater good. The game made use of the moral choice concept that was the big thing for games in 2008. It tried to capture this craze in the good vs. evil/Spidey vs. Venom conflict but mechanically it wasn't all that great.
There are plenty of things that do make Web of Shadows great, however. The game featured a rich and detailed portrayal of Manhattan—the best we'd seen in a Spidey game at the time—swinging that was as good as ever, some cool boss fights, and awesome combat that reflected Spidey's proportionate power. The game also featured some great cameos from Marvel heroes Luke Cage and Wolverine.
Web of Shadows was underappreciated at the time. It was bogged down by its underwhelming fixation on moral choices, and it was somewhat buried by other great games at the time, like Fallout 3, Fable II, and Far Cry 2. This one is definitely worth going back to if you missed out on it back then.
A fan favorite among many, this late PS1 game was pretty revolutionary for Spider-Man games (and super-hero games in general) at the time. It showed how to do a 3D Spider-Man game, as well as how to adapt comic books into video games. It came out at a time where most games the web-swinger appeared in were flat and disappointing platformers, when fans were starting to wonder if they'd ever get a truly good Spider-Man game.
Spider-Man released in 2000 and, although many things about the game have aged poorly, like the graphics and the combat and the swinging, it was all great at the time. The biggest innovation Spider-Man made was giving Spidey actual charisma. It may not sound like a big deal, but this game was the first time Spidey was put onto a disc instead of a cartridge, meaning there was far more space for cinematics, music, and dialogue. This all gave the game much more character and life than was ever possible before, but the dialogue was the thing that really sold it. Peter Parker was given a bunch of lines that made him funny and likable. There was finally a Spidey game that nailed the character of Spider-Man and not just his powers.
This game may not hold up super great now without that good old nostalgia factor, but it deserves to be on this list because of just how important it was and how it paved the way for some of the other greats on this list.
Spider-Man: The Movie (2002)
The game based on the first movie in the Sam Raimi trilogy is actually pretty solid. It didn't yet have the open-world free roaming that Spider-Man 2 would have, and the swinging isn't quite as fun, but it's still pretty good. Spider-Man was more of a linear affair. It combined decent beat 'em up combat with a good amount of swinging and pseudo-open-world exploration.
The game featured the voices of Tobey Macguire as Spidey and Willam Dafoe as a great version of the Green Goblin. It also included a fun and ridiculous tutorial at the beginning of the game narrated by legendary B-movie actor Bruce Campbell of The Evil Dead fame.
It may not be as good as some of the other games on this list, but it gets credit for a being a solid early 3D Spider-Man game and for being a pretty good adaptation of the movie. The graphics were pretty good for the time, too.
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions (2010)Shattered Dimensions is one of the most unique and "out there" games in Spidey's history. Featuring four versions of Spidey, all playable and all with unique gameplay, it put the traditional Spidey we all know and love alongside Ultimate Spider-Man, 2099's Spider-Man, and Noir Spidey from an alternate 1920s. The four Spideys teamed up to restore the dimensions that were, as the name implies, shattered during a fight with Mysterio.
The game features a nice variety of mechanics and ideas, with each version of Spider-Man having their own unique hook. 2099 Spidey has some cool tech gadgets and can glide, for example, while Noir Spidey sticks to the shadows and shoots his foes from afar. Alongside the rich variety of alternative Spider-Men, Shattered Dimensions featured a nice rogue's gallery of fan-favorite villains and an interesting variety of settings to keep things fresh.
Shattered Dimensions is far from perfect; it can be a little disjointed at times and it's certainly not the best game on this list, but it definitely gets points for trying something new and different and executing on it pretty solidly.
What do you think about Spider-Man's history in games? What are some of the worst experiences you've had with the web-slinger?