Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 Review – An amazing sequel to an astonishing game – WGB, Home of AWESOME Reviews
Which brings us to Spider-Man 2. With the second “main” entry in the series, Insomniac faced a challenge: people know what to expect now. When the first game launched I was blown away by how good it was, from the smoothness of the web-slinging to the way Insomniac stayed true to the comics while adding their own twist to the Wallcrawler, even if I didn’t agree with all the changes like Mary Jane becoming a pale shadow of her comic book brilliance. Spider-Man: Miles Morales was treated as a sort of standalone expansion and so people’s expectations were relatively tame. But this new game doesn’t have the benefit of surprise nor of being a smaller title, so it comes with the weight of expectation resting on its spandexed shoulders. So have Insomniac done it? Yup. While it’s arguably a little too safe at times, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is an exceptional game that brings together Peter Parker and Miles Morales for an adventure filled with cool set pieces, amazing gameplay and the immense fun of swinging through New York as the coolest Superhero ever. Yeah, I said it.
In terms of characters and plot details, I’m only going to directly mention things shown in the trailers before the game’s release. However, Insomniac and Sony did show a little too much in the promotional material, so if you want to go into the game completely blind click off this review right now, safe in the knowledge that Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is a fantastic videogame that improves on the original, though it is certainly not without a couple of missteps. If you don’t mind some small spoilers, let’s get on with it.
Kraven the Hunter has a substantial legacy in the Spider-Man comics but his presence outside of those has been largely nonexistent, so I was pretty excited to see him feature so heavily in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. I feared he might take a back seat to headliner villain Venom but Insomniac does a good job of keeping Kraven in the story, partially by holding off on going full Venom until later in the game. As such, Kraven gets his time in the spotlight as a brutal, intimidating hunter who has travelled to New York in search of someone who can challenge him. Not only is Kraven massive and powerful, making for an imposing presence, but he’s also intelligent and ruthless. As for his motivations, they draw heavily from some of the most famous Kraven storylines and do a good job of fleshing him out as a real threat to Peter and Miles even before a certain symbiote pops up.
Venom. Easily one of Spider-Man’s most infamous villains. At this point, it’s difficult to craft a wholly original origin and storyline for Venom because pretty much anything you can think of has been done. He’s been the subject of story after story, some amazing and some fairly questionable, but throughout them all he’s remained an iconic character that has appeared in various legendary Spidey tales. Insomniac smartly opted not to throw a total curveball purely for the sake of finding some new spin on Venom’s origins and I think that’s smart. Instead, they gave me, and hopefully everyone else, the Venom we all want: a snarling, horrifying monster that takes its hosts’ personality and twists it into something evil, while also finding a solid way to shift away from having Eddie Brock as the first host. When Venom finally gets shown, it’s a real holy-shit moment, the kind that the Venom movies have failed to provide. He’s a real threat, not just to our heroes but to New York and the world, although that does raise some questions about what the fuck The Fantastic 4 and The Avengers are doing in this world. Seriously, their headquarters are in the game, so are they just on vacation or something?
Of course, the trailers already gave away the fact that Peter does indeed get to don the iconic black suit and gets gradually corrupted by the influence of the symbiote, becoming more aggressive. It’s a little tease at what a less morally pure Spider-Man could do, reminding me of the excellent Back in Black comic arc where Peter stopped holding back as much. Putting aside the extra gameplay boons this provides, it gives actor Yuri Lowenthal a chance to stretch his vocal cords and give us a more dangerous, scary version of Peter Parker. His performance throughout the game, from the regular nerdy Pete to the scary Black Suit Spidey to the emotional hero who is doomed to suffer, is nothing short of excellent.
Meanwhile, Miles Morales is settling into his role as the new Spider-Man on the block with Peter as his mentor, friend and big brother. While he was hesitant to embrace his potential in the last game, he’s now much more accepting of his costume and what comes with it. He’s trying to juggle being a hero, writing an essay to get into college and recovering from the loss of his father at the hands of Mr. Negative, just like Peter is still reeling from the death of Aunt May. Miles’ main theme, one which permeates the rest of the game, is one of learning how to move on and how to forgive. Various villains and old characters pop up, all now trying to lead reformed lives or at least be better than they once were, culminating in some very cool moments.
Tying most of the story together is the arrival of Harry Osborn, Peter’s best friend since childhood. Harry has reappeared after a lengthy absence owing to suffering from the same disease that killed his mother, but he and his father managed to find a cure which has seemingly left Harry fully healed and ready to return to his life – step one is reuniting with his best friends Peter Parker and Mary-Jane Watson. Insomniac are sure to give plenty of time to Harry, Pete and MJ to hang out and getting to just enjoy their friendship, and while this does mean a couple of sequences which slow the otherwise fast-paced story down, they are worth it to build an emotional core to the story that pays off in the finale. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 didn’t have me in tears, but it gave me some proper feels, man.
I do have to say that you’ll probably see almost every story beat and moment coming from a mile off. There really aren’t any big surprises in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, especially if you’re already familiar with the history of the Wall-Crawler. I think it’s fair to call that a problem, but for me personally it wasn’t an issue. While I appreciate the hell out of a good twist, too many stories sacrifice logic and good storytelling purely to make twists that the audience can’t see coming because they don’t make any fucking sense. Instead, Insomniac simply executes the story they want to tell with aplomb, crafting an enjoyable Spidey tale.
From the very start, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 goes big with its set-pieces and drama, kicking off the action with Peter and Miles teaming up to take on a classic Spider-Man villain threatening the entire city with his rampage. Insomniac uses this sequence to show off their tech a little, throwing plenty of impressive moments like being smacked clean across the city in real-time. There’s a feeling that they are flexing their muscles and they don’t let off the gas for the rest of the 10-15 hours of story content, constantly delivering awesome stretches of gameplay and cutscenes that kept me glued to the screen and wanting more. There are some really terrific moments here that’ll stick with you for a while, from chases across the city to boss battles that are an improvement over both the previous games.
With each Spider-Man having got their own game, Insomniac have taken the two Webslingers and tossed them together for the third game. The story weaves both of them together, giving them a combined story and their own arcs while also handing players control of both of them. Having two Spider-Men swinging around and performing tag-team finishing moves is really cool to see, but I think Insomniac made a small misstep in not finding more ways to differentiate the two. Being able to swap between them at nearly any time really highlights how they play the same, even down to their special moves being somewhat similar in their functionality. And in terms of moving around the city, they are both identical, which meant I rarely bothered switching between them except for side-missions and tasks which are locked to one Spidey or the other. It’s not a big issue, but if we see the heroes team up again I’d like a few more unique elements added to each of them.
As the third game in the series to be set in New York, Insomniac was once again able to reuse the same map as before, a handy trick for cutting down development time. So to help keep things fresh they’ve expanded the playground by adding in more districts like Little Odessa, Harlem, Hells Kitchen and Queens. These new chunks of map add a little visual variety to the sprawling city, but sadly in terms of gameplay they really don’t do much to change up how you move around or switch up the gameplay. It’s something I think Insomniac will have to carefully consider going into the next Spider-Man game – how can they keep New York feeling fresh, or will they need to swap to a whole new locale?
Due to the jump to PlayStation 5, Insomniac has made a few tweaks to their virtual playground by increasing the amount of traffic and pedestrians leading to a New York that feels more lived-in and vibrant. When you swing down the streets now it’s a sea of cars and people stretching out before you, and the inclusion of ray tracing on both Performance and Fidelity modes makes a big difference on all those towering buildings covered in glass. It’s honestly a breathtaking game at times, the kind where you could spend hours and hours playing around with the photo mode. There’s heaps of detail, too, like how you can drop down onto the streets and have heaps of unique encounters with residents of New York.
Traversing the newly expanded city is now better than ever thanks to a handful of tweaks and additions, turning the already amazing web swinging of the past two games into something bordering on perfection. Hurtling through the packed streets of New York, feet grazing the tops of cars, feels astonishing, and thanks to this being a PS5 exclusive you go faster than ever. There’s an unlockable skill that also lets you swing around buildings now, opening up room for some seriously tight turns. There’s even a new awesome slingshot move, plus a kickass loop-de-loop.
But the biggest and best change is a new slider for how much help you want when swinging: keep it at 10 and the game handles most of it for you, but the lower you drop the number the more challenging swinging becomes because it takes into account where your webs are actually attached. On a low assist level, for example, a web attached to a building on the left means you’ll drift in that direction and have to counter that. It brings the web swinging more in line with the Treyarch-developed Spider-Man 2 from 2004. In short, it gives you the choice of whether you want swinging around to be as smooth, stylish and relaxing as possible, or if you’d put in a little more work with the payoff being a higher skill ceiling.
Another big change to getting around town might be divisive amongst fans. Spidey has had web-wings in the comics but they’ve been largely cosmetic, that is until they got introduced properly in the MCU movies and now in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. With a tap of triangle, these webbed bad boys let both Spider-Men glide through the air for miles before petering out. Wind tunnels around the streets and especially over large bodies of water can be used to boost speed, too, blasting you from one end of the map to the other, making it a doddle to cross this newer, bigger New York. Honestly, I wonder if Insomniac put in gliding purely to show off just how fast you can move around New York now that they don’t need the game to work on the slower PS4. Between swinging and gliding you can pick up some serious steam. But the Spidey purist in me does rebel a little at the idea of gliding instead of swinging. Over in the Marvel movies, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man nearly became another Iron Man, and his gliding made the comparison even more obvious. Here, though, it feels believable that Pete would develop the tech to glide around, and despite my comic book purity I certainly can’t deny how bloody fun it is to switch between swinging and flying. It just feels so effortless and cool. It’s cliche as fuck to say, but it really does make you feel like Spider-Man. It makes the little comic-loving kid in me scream in joy.
Naturally, you’re going to be punching a lot of goons in the face, and Insomniac has very much taken the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach to combat. And who can blame them? The fighting system, heavily inspired by the freeflow combat model from the Batman: Arkham games, is still silky smooth and heaps of fun. Key changes are how gadgets and abilities are now mapped to the left and right bumpers, making it easy to pick out what you need and cutting the need for a slow-motion radial menu. Gadgets are limited to just four types, including the Upshot which launches enemies into the air and the Web Grabber which snags everyone, and everything, nearby and pulls them together, so that’s a small downgrade but one that feels right. In terms of abilities, Miles and Peter both get their own distinct skills to bring into battle, like Pete’s focus on his robot spider-arms and devastating symbiote moves, and you can choose which ones to equip for each Spider-Man. There’s also a new Parry system that is used for a certain type of new attack, although by default I found the colours that the game uses to indicate an attack slightly confusing. Thankfully, you can adjust the colour settings and once I did that I found it far easier to read the different types of incoming attacks and react correctly.
Overall, combat mostly feels like it did before but with a few more added complexities. It’s still a lot of fun to dodge attacks at the last possible second, launch thugs into the air, hurl pieces of scenery and generally just kick ass. The new additions are enough to keep the combat interesting, and Insomniac has found a nice balance in terms of beefing up the complexity while not making it overwhelming. And the difficulty seems to have been amped up a bit, mostly due to their being more bad guys than ever coming at you, really pushing you to nail the dodges and parries. Even after snagging the Platinum trophy, I was still having a good time tackling random crimes around the city, although a few more enemy types would have been nice.
But whereas the combat has been improved, stealth has barely been touched. It can be fun to lurk in the rafters using the new webline tool and yank unsuspecting goons off the ground like a more colourful version of Batman, but there’s a lot of disbelief that must be suspended for it to work. The chumps you take out are so blind and so stupid that they will ignore their pals who are webbed to a wall right in front of them. The Batman: Arkham games have clearly been a massive influence on Insomniac’s Spider-Man games, except in stealth, it seems, where they could do with learning a little more.
Swing off the beaten path and there’s plenty of side content to enjoy, from the substantial to the kind of dumb. Insomniac does a good job of slowly introducing these optional stories throughout the game, sending you to team up with a new hero on the block to tackle a mysterious cult or fighting through virtual reality combat arenas designed by a reformed Mysterio. The best of these tell fun little tales and have rewards that feel worth the work, but there are also quite a few things that are less robust in their design. Do you remember the science experiments in the first game? Yeah, think along those lines. Pete has special science tables that involve flying little bee drones, combining plant DNA and so on. One mission even has him peddling a bike around a park. I’m not sure why Insomniac thinks I’m playing a Spider-Man game to be a cyclist? Some of Miles’ extra missions aren’t any more exciting, either. But for every chore, there’s always something fun and rewarding to do that balances it out.
I do appreciate Insomniac’s restraint, though. The map isn’t covered in a hideous cumshot of icons and tasks. It feels respectful of your time in a way that other games, like the bloated Ubisoft titles, often don’t. However, it would be nice to have a few more organic side-missions and encounters that aren’t plastered on the map. No matter how much I swung around the city, exploring every nook and cranny, I never found much to do that wasn’t advertised. Ah well.
Oh, and the Mary Jane stealth sequences are back and certainly not by popular demand. Insomniac keeps pushing these kinds of segments, presumably as a way to pad out the game a little and involve side characters who don’t happen to have Spider powers in the story. In their defence, they’ve handed MJ a stun gun this time so now she can take down people like she’s Agent 47 or something but these sections are still fundamentally dull. In a game where I can play as a superhero capable of web-swinging and gliding, playing as a redhead with a stun gun is a significant downgrade.
Whether its photographing the sights of New York, tackling Hunter Blinds or collecting the dozens of Spider-bots hidden around the city you’ll earn XP, tech and tokens that can be traded in for upgraded abilities, suits and improved gadgets. Miles and Peter share a skill tree where any upgrades affect them both, boosting their swinging speed or adding in an awesome loop-de-loop. But each of them also has their own unique skill trees with Miles’ focused on his Venom abilities and Peter’s aimed at his robotic spider-arms and his symbiote abilities, too. Skill points are dished out rapidly, and whatever you choose to unlock it feels impactful. There’s no need to worry, either, because if you do everything on offer you’ll be able to unlock absolutely everything.
I briefly mentioned suits, so let’s jump into those. One of my favourite parts of the last two Spider-Man games has been the amount of costumes Insomniac have put into them. As a lifelong fan of Spidey, the effort they put into recreating iconic looks and crazy outfits is impressive. For Spider-Man 2 they’ve given Peter and Miles their own unique wardrobes totalling 78 costumes that can be unlocked via tokens, missions and the story. It’s a solid collection, though for the sake of spoilers, I won’t mention exactly what you can get. A good few of them have carried over from the last two games, to be fair, but Insomniac has added plenty of new ones, too.
Near the start of this review, I talked about how impressive Insomniac’s output has been, but it hasn’t come without a price. This is probably the biggest game they’ve released in quite a while, and although I didn’t personally run into too many issues plenty of other people have. The worst thing I ran into was a bug where the game wouldn’t register my input during a sequence meaning I couldn’t finish it. In the end, I had to restart from the last checkpoint. Aside from that, I’ve seen a few visual issues. But other people have reported fairly big audio issues, falling through the map, some crashes and more. It has sparked some discussion that Insomniac are maybe pushing themselves a little too hard. I don’t think there’s anything that warrants holding off on buying the game, just be aware that the game is a few updates away from being up to Insomniac’s usual standards.
Look, I’m biased. I am. Spider-Man is my favourite superhero. He’s the fictional character I connected most with as a kid and I still love him to this day. Peter’s struggles to balance being a hero to New York with trying to just live day-to-day are a fantastic way of examining how we all have to balance jobs, free time and trying to do good. There never seems to be enough time to give everything the attention it needs and demands.
Insomniac has made an astonishing sequel to an already astonishing game. While it could be criticised for simply being more of the same, I couldn’t care less because more of something brilliant is still brilliant. The refinements Insomniac has made equate to a better experience, just not one that blows my mind in the same way the first game did. Swinging around the city is faster and more engaging, the web-wings are great, the combat has been improved, the set pieces are awesome and the story lands almost every punch it throws. It’s a compact, lean adventure that feels like a summer blockbuster, deftly juggling several classic villains and two lead characters. Insomniac are at the top of their game right now, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.