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Members of the Sinister Six stand over Spider-Man, who has collapsed to the ground after getting beaten by the super-villain group

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Spider-Man Remastered PC review: All sparkle, no substance

Looks great on PC and Steam Deck if you are OK with being a tool of the state!

Image: Insomniac Games via Polygon

Marvel’s Spider-Man (2018) already got a remaster for PlayStation 5 back in 2020, and now it’s been remastered for Windows PC as well, with spinoff game Miles Morales to be released on PC later this year. And despite its glossy sheen on two new platforms since its release, it hasn’t aged well. In fact, its celebration of both the police and surveillance states is downright cringeworthy today. Newcomers might expect some twist ending in which Spidey discovers and unravels systemic corruption. But Spider-Man is still just as surface-level as the new coat of paint that this remaster offers up: There are criminals and there are civilians, heroes and supervillains, and nothing in between.

Perhaps the biggest perk of Spider-Man’s arrival on Steam storefronts is that it’s also playable on the Steam Deck. I played it three ways — natively installed, streaming via Steam, and streaming via Moonlight (an app that tends to work better than Steam’s streaming service). Each worked well — even Steam’s streaming option, which hasn’t been as reliable with other games I’ve tried on the Steam Deck since receiving it a month ago.

Spider-Man swings through Manhattan during sunset in Marvel’s Spider-Man on PC
The city’s skyline may be low-res on Steam Deck, but the web-swinging still brings it.
Image: Insomniac Games/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

Most often I opted to play the game’s installed version straight off the Steam Deck, so I could play it in offline mode and not have to worry about maintaining a good connection with my desktop PC for streaming. (The Steam Deck doesn’t have an Ethernet jack, so I use a USB-C adapter, but there’s only one USB-C jack on the Steam Deck, and it’s intended for the power cable.) It will surprise few people to learn that Spider-Man can be a battery hog on this device; I primarily played while plugged in. The game also causes the Steam Deck to heat up quite a bit, forcing its fan to compensate. With headphones in, however, I hardly noticed the fan’s loud pulsating. I also didn’t experience any crashes or significant lag.

What I did notice, both on Steam Deck and on my PC, were issues with audio syncing. I’m not talking about a consistent audio delay; that would suggest an issue with my hardware, not the game. Instead, the audio issues were occasional, but just frequent enough to be irritating. For example, at one point, Aunt May asked Peter to do a chore for her — but she asked after Peter had already responded to her request. In another example, I watched Otto Octavius silently scream in frustration, then heard his voice actor scream a full second later, making a serious moment unintentionally funny. Almost every cutscene had at least one audio hiccup along these lines. The game received multiple updates over the course of the advance review period; the update that was released on Aug. 7 included a fix for “audio sync, stutter, and performance issues in cut scenes,” and I haven’t noticed any issues since then.

Spider-Man facing a glitched-out surveillance tower in Marvel’s Spider-Man Image: Insomniac Games/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon
Spider-Man stands in the sunset next to a non-glitched surveillance tower Image: Insomniac Games/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

Another bug, which I experienced only in the desktop version of the game, involved the surveillance towers that Peter unlocks throughout Manhattan. On three separate occasions, Peter walked up to one of the towers and it wouldn’t trigger the button prompt for me to decode the signal. On the third time, instead of giving up and trying a different quest, I reloaded my save to see if that would help. After the reload, the entire tower glitched out, becoming a terrifying piece of abstract art in the process. When I explored more, I saw that every single surveillance tower was similarly mangled. The only thing that fixed it was a total restart of the game. Luckily, my entire save file wasn’t corrupted by this bug, given that unlocking these towers is a core progression mechanic.

Aside from those minor issues, Spider-Man plays like a dream and looks good doing it. Swinging through the streets of virtual New York City as Spider-Man feels as breathtaking in 2022 as it did in 2018 (and 2020); it’s incredible to visit places I’ve been in real life, re-created in detail here, with just a few fun changes (Fisk Tower in place of the Time Warner building, and so on). On my desktop PC, with all the graphics settings turned up, the city’s skyline sparkles almost as beautifully as the real thing, with sunlight dancing off reflective surfaces and between skyscrapers. The smaller details make a difference, too, like the high-res sweat on Miles’ brow and the tears welling in his eyes during a pivotal scene. (Unfortunately, Miles’ hair doesn’t look as good in this game as it does in Miles Morales, but that remaster is still on the way.)

Miles’ eyes well up with tears during a pivotal moment in Marvel’s Spider-Man Image: Insomniac Games/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon
Otto Octavius looks over the city skyline, wearing his goggles, which reflect the lit-up building in front of him Image: Insomniac Games/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

Even with the few bugs I ran into, this remaster of Spider-Man is easily the best way to play it, especially on Steam Deck. Outside of main story missions, Spider-Man is an overwhelming collect-a-thon, with markers all over the map denoting side missions, collectibles, and enemy strongholds associated with various Marvel villains competing for dominance in an extensive criminal underworld. I fell deep into the collection rabbit hole, deferring on crime-busting in favor of collecting all of Peter Parker’s backpacks around the city. These are the perfect quests to do while lying on the couch, half-watching television or socializing with roommates between each in-game task. It may be odd to imagine swinging around Manhattan via the Steam Deck’s low-res screen — if you’re doing story missions, the desktop version will make those cutscenes shine — but in between the high-drama episodes of Peter’s life, clearing out the superheroic to-do list feels just as satisfying on a handheld.

Insomniac Games will likely clean up the few unpolished aspects of Marvel’s Spider-Man on PC. But there’s one big part of this game that won’t change – and it might take newcomers by surprise. Allow me to quote my former colleague Tom Ley, who wrote a blog post at Deadspin back in 2018 titled “They Turned Spider-Man Into A Damn Cop And It Sucks”:

Spider-Man doesn’t just help the cops by catching armed robbers and putting deranged super villains in jail, he helps them maintain a high-tech, citywide surveillance network. […] This is a game mechanic that will be familiar to anyone who has played an open-world RPG in the last decade. What the towers functionally do is reveal areas of the game map to players so that they can find additional missions and collectibles. But it isn’t strictly a game mechanic, it’s also a narrative choice, and one that comes with some pretty obvious real-life parallels. The NYPD buying cutting edge equipment and software from a shady tech company owned by a billionaire with, uh, maniacal tendencies so that it can monitor and collect data on citizens is a dystopian yet sensible video game plot point. It’s also literally something that happened in the real New York City.

When Ley wrote this post, he’d only played the game for a few hours, so he didn’t know how much of a thematic throughline this aspect of Spider-Man would be. It’s not just a side mission or a throwaway gag (although there are plenty of gags in which Peter pretends to be a hardscrabble police veteran who calls himself “Spider-Cop”). Spider-Man works with the police throughout the entire game, and the cops’ widespread surveillance of the city is presented as a useful resource. Spider-Man isn’t a do-gooder kid from Queens helping out his community so much as a willing tool of the state. This was weird in 2018, and critics pointed it out at the time — then four more years went by, with even more public scrutiny and criticism of police forces in America. In 2022, Marvel’s Spider-Man feels even more out of touch with any real version of an American city.

Also, people keep calling Peter on the phone. On the phone! In 2018! Anyway.

Miles Morales (left) and Mary Jane Watson (right) talk to their buddy Spider-Man (center) Image: Insomniac Games/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

Although its crisp new coat of paint is an undeniable upgrade, Marvel’s Spider-Man can’t help but show its age. It reminds me of Brooklyn Nine-Nine — cute, funny, and ultimately propagating a series of comfortable lies about the NYPD. It’s why, as I play, I’ve spent so much more time on my Steam Deck doing chores around the city, rather than advancing the main story. I’ve been visiting every single one of Harry Osborn’s research stations, which give Peter the chance to use both his superpowers and his scientific know-how to clean up chemical spills and right environmental wrongs.

More than once, I’ve wished the entire game could be as satisfying as those research stations. But these little side quests don’t advance the plot, and they offer barely anything in the way of story tidbits or character development. They don’t even put a strain on my graphics card. But they do offer a glimpse at what could have been — a version of Spider-Man who helps out where and when he can, not using the power of a massive surveillance state, but rather his own eyes, ears, wits, and web-shooters. It’s a lot easier to maintain this illusion on the Steam Deck, only halfway paying attention to the plot as I swing through Central Park and rescue a homeless man’s pet pigeons. Spider-Man should stay small. He’s a friendly neighborhood type, after all.

Marvel’s Spider-Man will be released Aug. 12 on Windows PC. The game was reviewed on PC using a pre-release download code provided by Insomniac Games. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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