Screenshot: Kotaku (Spider-Man)

My favorite part of the new downloadable addition to the new Spider-Man on PS4 involves a hungry and exhausted Peter Parker eating a pizza on the roof of an apartment building with the city skyline behind him. Warring mob families, stolen art, a love triangle between the Black Cat Mary Jane can all wait. Everybody’s gotta eat. Even Spider-Man.

The scene stands out in this first chapter of The City That Never Sleeps, a three-part paid extension to the game that begins with this week’s installment, The Heist. It is a break from an expansion that is fun but repetitive, one that repackages ideas from the main game but doesn’t introduce anything new and packs few surprises.

The Heist occurs after the events of the main game. New York’s crime families have resurfaced to fill the void left behind by the villains defeated at the end of the campaign. Mary Jane gets a tip that one of them is planning to break into the Manhattan Museum of Contemporary Art, and Spider-Man goes to check things out. There he finds Felicia Hardy, aka the Black Cat, attempting to steal a particular painting and apparently in league with a crime family called the Maggia led by Hammerhead. Black Cat, Spider-Man later finds out, has her own motivations. A gang war and love triangle ensue.

Looting museums was probably not where this guy saw himself in 20 years when he originally signed up to be a gangster.
Screenshot: Kotaku (Spider-Man)

The whole adventure is cordoned off in a seperate part of the menu screen so when you’re playing the DLC you’re playing the DLC. Everything takes place at night, with the main game’s spontaneous crime events replaced with Maggia related ones, most of which will be familiar save one that includes defusing car bombs with the spider-drone.

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Much of it plays out in a pattern: go to the checkpoint, beat up the bad guys, learn a little more about Black Cat and why the anti-hero thief has suddenly decided to slink back into Parker’s life. As someone who enjoyed the main game’s combat and web slinging a ton, that routine still provides a welcome list of additional to-dos. As a fan of Spider-Man’s penchant for trying to do the right thing but somehow pissing everyone off in the process, watching him clumsily try to navigate simultaneous working relationships with both MJ and Black Cat was immensely satisfying.

The opening mission is a good example of how the DLC’s moment to moment proceedings often feel indistinct. The museum it is set in is large, including side galleries and a main room that’s large enough for web swinging, but nothing on the scale of the main game’s more memorable locations, like Grand Central Terminal for instance. It has ventilation shafts and perches you can silently string webbed enemies from, but everything feels a little thrown together and chaotic, not unlike the expressionist paintings lining the walls. 

The Heist is full of forgettable mafia bros with weird haircuts.
Screenshot: Kotaku (Spider-Man)

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Enemies are strewn about the lobby and second floor hallways across such long distances that at times you can quickly take down small groups without provoking a larger brawl. The encounters aren’t precisely orchestrated or make good use of sight lines and ventilation shafts. Clearing out waves of bad guys, which you end up doing several times in-between collecting fingerprints and reviewing security cam footage, doesn’t feel like interrupting a heist so much as crashing a convention. By the mission’s end, you’re tasked with stopping enemies from fleeing through the front door with stolen works of art while others fire rockets at you.

The rest of “The Heist” feels similarly discombobulated. Maggia hideouts, crime scenes, and street brawls all blend into one another. Plot developments with the Black Cat involve an intriguing secret that has little bearing on the stuff you actually do as Spider-Man, which hasn’t changed in any way from the main game. Compared to the super-villain intrigue involving the Sinister Six, beating up mobsters feels pedestrian, especially when you’re bringing over your complete arsenal of gadgets and status enhancements from the original campaign. 

Most of “The Heist” reskins the base game. Instead of collectible backpacks, players retrieve pieces of stolen art hidden throughout the city by the first Black Cat, Walter Hardy. The Maggia grunts you fight are all variations on guys you’ve tussled with before. There’s a gangster holding a Sable gun instead of a Sable mercenary, a guy with rolled up sleeves and a vest breaking into a jewelry store instead of random street thug doing the same. There’s one new type, an over-sized strong guy who carries around a gatling gun, but he is defeated with a focus meter takedown or lots of webbing and punching, the same as a lot of the other strong enemies in the main game.

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The two characters have the most chemistry of any pairing in the game by a long shot, thanks in part to the contrast between Parker’s oblivious naivete and the way Hardy pities him for it.
Screenshot: Kotaku (Spider-Man)

“The Heist” doesn’t introduce any new abilities or suit powers. There are three new suits—the Resilient Suit, the Spider-UK Suit, and the Scarlet Spider II Suit—but each is purely cosmetic. There’s no boss fight, either, and no villain with the charisma of Doctor Octopus or Norman Osborn.

The saving grace is that the combat and movement in Spider-Man is still amazing. I reviewed the game, completed all of the side-content, got every trophy, and still came into “The Heist” enjoying every second of web-induced acrobatics. While there aren’t any truly new ideas here it’s still a fun time. It took me about five hours to finish everything playing on hard. Now that the game’s ultimate difficulty has been added, anyone who wants to really prolong the experience and find some challenge in it should probably play it on that setting.

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“The Heist” ends on a cliffhanger that leads into November’s “Turf Wars” which will be followed by December’s “Silver Lining.” I hope Insomniac Games has been saving its best tricks for these later chapters.“The Heist” proves they don’t need to reinvent Spider-Man to make it worth still returning to, but I’d prefer to experience something that feels new.