It is September 2018. The Nintendo Switch has been out for a year, God of War came out for the PS4 not long ago, and Red Dead Redemption 2 is just a month away. It is an unprecedented year for the gaming medium. Yet it is also a big year for Spider-Man, one of the most iconic superheroes ever.
He starred alongside other iconic heroes in Avengers: Infinity War early in the year. Later in the year, his character would highlight one of the best-animated films of the last decade, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and in September, he would get a brand-new game dedicated to him: Marvel’s Spider-Man for the PlayStation 4.
It is now 2023, and it is once again a massive year for the gaming industry. Starfield, Super Mario Bros. Wonder, and Final Fantasy XVI are all heavy hitters in the medium that were released within a few months of each other. The standards for gaming are far higher than ever before, with several duds also being released throughout the year. Yet, within the onslaught of massive games released this year, Insomniac has decided to launch another Spider-Man game. So the question is: how can yet another Spider-Man game live up to the daring highs that the year has cultivated? How can it appeal to long-time fans and rein in new ones while justifying the $69.99 price tag?
On the surface, it seems like an impossible task. However, through the mix of other fantastic pieces of Spider-Man fiction being released this year and Insomniac’s expert game design, Spider-Man 2 manages to deliver the ultimate Spider-Man experience, the ultimate superhero experience, and the ultimate PlayStation 5 experience by combining new and old elements from the character’s past to create one of the best games this year.
A Story Fit for the Comics
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is the long-anticipated follow-up to 2018’s hit comic book blockbuster, Marvel’s Spider-Man. In 2020, they released Spider-Man: Miles Morales, a spin-off dedicated to the titular character and Peter Parker’s protege, Miles Morales. When Insomniac announced Spider-Man 2 in 2021, it promised to build off the foundation that both prior games set up and introduce new characters like Kraven and Venom.
The final product does just that. Spider-Man 2 takes place nine months after the events of Miles Morales. Peter Parker is trying to hold a job as a high school teacher, Miles is working on his College essay, Mary Jane is still working at the Daily Bugle, and all of their loved ones are about to be caught in a grand hunt conducted by fan-favorite comic book villain Kraven. Further, after years of a medically induced coma, Harry Osborn is back in the city trying to “heal the world” with Peter and the newly instated Emily-May Foundation.
Several moving pieces make the story shine. From introducing lesser-known villains like Sandman to implementing the “mysterious black exo-suit,” the story is one of the best in the franchise, with several twists and turns that will shock comic book fans and players who know little about the character. Further, despite Miles and Peter being playable, I never felt like one character was given a lesser story in favor of the other. Both characters have different yet similar arcs that wrap up in satisfying ways.
During my playthrough, I invited some friends of mine who knew very little about Spider-Man and its history. Yet, I could see their jaws drop at numerous points as if they had been playing the game themselves. Insomniac’s writers truly knocked it out of the park, and I look forward to dissecting the many easter eggs and pieces of foreshadowing presented throughout the game.
However, the story is only half the experience. Making a good story primarily based on the Spider-Man mythos is easy. The hard part is creating an exciting game loop that feels unique from other Spider-Man and open-world superhero games. Once again, this may seem like an impossible task. Despite that, Insomniac introduced several new features, updates, and concepts, making exploring New York and fighting bad guys more fun than ever before.
If It Ain’t Broke, Make It Better (Spider-Man 2 Review)
Since Spider-Man for the PlayStation 1 in 2000, Spider-Man games have had the same formula for nearly twenty-five years. While games like Spider-Man 2 for the PlayStation 2 and Insomniac’s entries in the franchise have added to that formula and expanded it, nothing has ever truly changed. Every Spider-Man game features players swinging from one corner of New York to the next, fighting crime as needed, and returning to swinging. It was never a formula that people disliked, but it could often feel repetitive.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 changes the gameplay formula in its most significant way yet, improving upon the groundwork laid by not just prior Insomniac games but other Spider-Man games. First, there are the web wings, introduced within the game’s first mission. The web wings add a new dimension to traversal, allowing players to travel across New York within seconds.
Other enhancements to web-swinging, such as the ability to do a loopy-de-loop, slide on the water with enough momentum, and even propel yourself into the sky with a massive slingshot, can be paired with the web wings and traditional web shooters. Mastering this combination of abilities feels more satisfying than ever before, and there were times when I would mindlessly travel from Coney Island to Harlem just for fun.
Of course, traversal is just one side of the greater puzzle that is Spider-Man 2‘s gameplay. The other side is the gameplay. Miles Morales is a joy to control, just like in Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Using his invisibility and bio-electricity “venom” powers to take down petty criminals feels more satisfying than ever before, thanks to the enhanced haptic feedback of the DualSense controller.
However, Peter Parker is the star of the show gameplay-wise. At the beginning of the game, Peter has access to the iron-spider arms from the comics. The gadget gives Peter a new set of abilities that take advantage of the greater power and maneuverability of the extra arms. However, after a critical point in the story, Peter can utilize the beloved “black suit.” Peter’s attacks turn far more brutal from there as he uses tendrils and devastating punches to tear down enemies within seconds.
It is designed to feel like the ultimate power fantasy, not just for the player but for Peter himself, who is slowly impacted by the harmful effects of the suit. There’s even a rage mode called a symbiote surge where the black suit changes to a far more familiar symbol, and audio comes through the DualSense that almost sounds like a group of voices whispering at you.
It’s no secret to fans and newcomers that the black suit will eventually give way to Venom, yet despite the danger, the player falls victim to the same addiction that Peter does. It’s a brilliant dichotomy that makes the gameplay more satisfying and the story more impactful. These gameplay adjustments make interacting with the people and city of New York far more rewarding than prior games.
The Wide World of New York City
In several Spider-Man games, New York has often felt like a character in its own right. Nowhere was that more clear than in Insomniac’s prior releases. There was a social media banner where you could see how the people of New York reacted to the current ongoing events in the story; a podcast from J. Jonah Jameson provided a foil to both Spider-Men. If you took the time to walk around, you could even interact directly with the citizens of New York, giving them high fives, taking selfies with them, etc.
Despite removing the social media menu, Insomniac has gone to great lengths to make New York and the broader Marvel universe more extensive and more alive than ever. Several side quests and collectibles require you to take a broader look at the city of New York, even taking inspiration from real-life stories from the city that never sleeps.
Speaking of side quests, the quests in this game are a massive step up from prior games. While some of the quests involve you helping the general public of New York, others will have you help the students of Miles’ school, Brooklyn Visions Academy. The most interesting are the quests where you interact with the broader Marvel universe. From the mysterious spider-bots floating around the city to a cult dedicated to worshipping “The Flame” and “The Crimson Hour,” players will find much to enjoy within the several quests you can pursue within NYC.
Of course, New York is more than just the things you can do in it. It’s the people you interact with, both good and bad. Spider-Man’s supporting cast has always been a beloved part of his mythos. Characters like Mary Jane Watson and Harry Osborn for Peter and Ganke Lee, Rio Morales, and Hailey Cooper for Miles Morales. Each character is at their best in this game, with special shoutouts going to MJ, played by Laura Bailey, Harry, played by Graham Phillips, and Rio Morales, played by Jacqueline Pinol. The vocal and motion capture performances they delivered are some of the best this year.
Peter and Miles are also expertly played by Yuri Lowenthal and Nadji Jeter, respectively, with the former delivering my favorite vocal performance this year, with his vocal range varying drastically between his usual self and the version of him infected by the black suit. Several of Lowenthal’s line deliveries had me on the edge of my seat with its intensity.
On the other side of the spectrum, we, of course, have the villains. No comic book character is complete without a massive roster of antagonists, and Spider-Man has some of the best in the medium. The main two villains, Kraven and Venom, are easily some of the best in this universe. Kraven, played by Jim Pirri, is a menacing force that upends the entire ecosystem of New York within just a few days. Taking on him and his army of Hunters is one of the game’s most exciting and thrilling parts.
However, we can’t discuss villains without discussing Venom, played beautifully by horror alum Tony Todd. Despite how famous and beloved Venom is, he’s only appeared in three games over the past twenty-three, with his last appearance being in 2010’s Spider-Man: Web of Shadows. That said, thanks to Todd’s performance and the massive role that Venom plays in the latter half of the story, Insomniac’s Venom is easily one of the best adaptations of the character in any medium, let alone in video games.
Every character makes exploring the broader world of New York far more meaningful. Plus, with the addition of Queens and Brooklyn, the world of Spider-Man 2 is filled with numerous finer details that make the game shine and fall behind just slightly.
The Finer Details (Spider-Man 2 Review)
Spider-Man 2 is a game that begs you to pay attention to the finer details, from the many easter eggs spread throughout the world to how the DualSense interacts with the player to the gorgeous visuals and New York landmarks. As a result of these details, as I’ve already mentioned, I often stopped and stared at the little details scattered throughout the game. Unfortunately, it is in these details that some of the game’s cracks started to show.
There are several glitches scattered throughout the game. In some instances, Peter’s body completely disappeared, and he was just a head floating in the air. His entire model would vanish in others, replaced by a white cube. My game crashed twice, often after I saw Harry’s neck stretched like a giraffe.
Speaking of Harry, there are some moments in the story where his face looks off due to the lighting. The same goes for Peter, Mary Jane, and even Miles. These issues, combined with a few other unfortunate accidents here and there, often caused my immersion to be broken during moments meant to instill emotion. This is a shame since the game is only twenty hours long, even including the time it took to 100% complete the game.
Don’t get me wrong, these instances didn’t ruin the game for me. The bugs will likely get patched and to be honest, I’ve grown to prefer shorter experiences over larger sixty-plus-hour games. However, the bugs especially did put a damper on an experience I largely enjoyed. Perhaps another week or two in development could’ve given the developers time to iron these issues out and add New Game Plus and Mission Replay. For now, though, I can only wait until the next patch adds these features and fixes some bugs.
The New with the Old, The Old with the New
Despite these issues, Spider-Man 2 is a fantastic game. The story is delivered expertly, the gameplay is the best it has ever been, and the game features some of the best incarnations of characters that have been beloved for the past twenty-five years and beyond. The game is Insomniac’s love letter to the character and his history, with several references to the comics, movies, TV shows, and older games.
These references are delivered with reverence and care and, combined with the brilliant moment-to-moment gameplay, make Spider-Man 2 one of the best superhero games ever. Whether you’re a Spider-Man fan or not, you will find numerous aspects that appeal to you. For me, Spider-Man 2 is a game that reminded me of the importance and power that the Spider-Man mythos command, and more than justified the $499 price point of the PlayStation 5 and the $69.99 price of the game.
I can’t wait to see what Insomniac has planned next, and I look forward to seeing how they continue to push the limits of the medium further and prove how they’re one of the best developers in the entire business.