Back in 2018, when I reviewed the original Spider-Man, I was incredibly happy with how the game turned out, thanks to the incredible take Insomniac Games did of one of Marvel Comics’ most popular brands. On the other hand, I was somewhat turned off by its combat, which borrowed from Rocksteady’s Arkham Asylum, and that feeling permeated when I checked out its spin-off game, Spider-Man: Miles Morales.
Now, both Spider-Men join forces to star in the sequel, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, and to my chagrin, the very same issue I had previously is back in this one. Granted, there are a number of improvements in the form of new skills and powers to invest points into, as well as the overall traversal through a much expanded version of New York City, not to mention the incredible use of the PlayStation 5 inherent technical capabilities.
Spider-Man 2 is by and large a game that those who had a good time with both of its predecessors who absolutely eat up, while others, who had some qualms with aspects of what was previously done are bound to dredge them up again with this one. Let’s get what it does well out of the way first: it’s far and away the best Spider-Man game that’s ever hit a home system. Its story, which now deals with the advent of the symbiote, is equally as fantastic as its bethren’s. And there’s a metric ton of references to the comics and even the memes involving Spidey that are an absolute blast.
New York is yet again a character of its own in Spider-Man 2. It’s even more detailed this time around and the technological bump with the jump to PlayStation 5 is obvious right from the get-go. There are more districts to swing around in, like Queens, and lighting and weather effects are second to none in this game, showing off its immense production values every chance that it gets, with ridiculously gorgeous vistas that are sure to make those who have been to the actual metropolis double take more than once while playing.
Swinging around is also tremendously satisfying, even more than it already was in the previous games, with the added benefit of having a wingsuit, which adds an extra layer to movement as well as speed. With it, you can take advantage of drafts and glide just about everywhere, and it comes in handy when trying to cross the bodies of water that divide the map, something that sometimes got in the way of the fun before. As you explore and gain district XP, you are also given the opportunity to fast travel all around NYC, and boy, it is fast – instantaneous, in fact, thanks to the PlayStation 5’s SSD. It’s a time-saver in case you’re in for a quick session, for sure.
Then there’s how you can now switch between Peter Parker’s Spider-Man and Miles Morales’, both of which hilariously refer to themselves as Spider-Man, something that’s masterfully explored in the game’s sensational script. They both factor into the story in their own unique ways, and it’s especially fun to switch between them when out and about. Sometimes they even work together organically, jumping in to help their buddy out, something that’s never not awesome to just see happen out of the blue.
Each of the heroes has their own unique skill tree, which is as expected a little smaller given that there are two characters to level up, but are not at all limited by that fact, since both share one that contains all the skills that will benefit them as a team. If you remember Miles Morales, you’ll recall that the Spider-Man in that game, even though has the same core abilities that Parker has, can also handle electricity and go invisible, skills that evolve along with the new game’s story and the further you invest into their trees.
As the Spider-Man 2 moves, the more the two Spider-Men grow into their own as characters, both in terms of writing and of gameplay, even if after the fact, they both come from the same origin as powers-wise. Insomniac’s done a bang up job making them feel sufficiently unique and at the same time, highly enjoyable to switch between, which can freely and instantly be done with the press of a couple of buttons.
Then comes the story, which if you’ve paid attention to the first game’s post-credits, you’ll know that it has something to do with Venom. But there’s plenty of other baddies to contend with, chief among them is Kraven the Hunter. The star of one of the darkest comics I’ve read as a wee lad with “Kraven’s Last Hunt,” penned by J. M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck back in 1987, he’s a character which by and large is rather ridiculous in concept, a big game hunter who targets the most challenging of catches.
With other villains taken care of in the older games, most of them trying to turn a new leaf in life – like the Sandman, who goes berserk during Spider-Man 2‘s opening sequence and features somewhat prominently as one of the game’s collectibles – Kraven’s obsession turns to tracking them down, and eventually gun for both Spider-Men. His forces are a sub for Hammerhead’s from the first game DLC and Roxxon’s from Miles Morales and are the main thorn in your foot throughout the game.
It’s no spoiler or surprise that eventually Peter runs into the symbiote and becomes something else entirely, but the way that it happens veers quite a bit from the comics and is very well done, as well as his relationship with Harry Osborn, and how that guy was “away in Europe” for the entirety of the first game, only for us to learn that a more insidious reason was at play the whole time. Fans of the source material have plenty to enjoy comparing the game’s approach to the comics, but those who have never touched one or only know of Spider-Man because of the movies will also get a kick out of the game due thanks to such a host of compelling characters, not just Miles and Peter, the protagonists.
Then again, some of my peeves with Spider-Man 2 have to be addressed. The first is the aforementioned combat, which is intact from the previous two adventures, an expanded version of the combo/counter system found in the now old Arkham games. You are vastly outnumbered throughout the game and have to rely on the two Webheads’ agility and sheer strength in order to pick away at enemies, as well as their powers and gadgets. If you had issues with the way the original Spider-Man handled multiple enemy types and having you fumble with distinct approaches to defeating them, slowing the pace of the excellent traversal down, you’ll also run into this with Spider-Man 2.
This time, though, there are added benefits like more crowd control-focused abilities such as Miles’ electric shock and Peter’s drones, that help alleviate the absolute chaos that encounters turn into the more you play the game, but sometimes things get a little too out of hand, resulting in dumb deaths and having to redo fights from the very beginning. Thankfully, this is another aspect of the game that the PS5’s capabilities handle extremely well, loading instantly for you to retry, so I guess there’s a silver lining after all.
Another slice of gameplay that returns is stealth sections, not only ones with Spider-Men, but with characters seemingly not equipped to partake in, like Mary Jane. A reporter armed with a stun gun, she’s back trying to get the scoop the same way that she did in the original and its DLC. It’s equally as much of a trial and error affair this time around, but you’re gonna have to contend with it since sections like this are integral parts of the story and not just side content.
Speaking of side content, it comes into play to give you something to do between story missions. As you zip around New York, random events pop up for you to do, and they’re basically of the same flavor as the previous games, with plenty of thugs to beat the crap out of, speeding cars to stop, and pictures to take for extra XP points, split among a variety of currency that’s spent buying gear upgrades, new skills, and of course, suits to don and fight crime with.
In terms of references, the latter are the cherry on top of the cake for those familiar with Spider-Man in the many pieces of media he’s been a part of in his illustrious career, and now you can even pick from different color palettes for each of them. Sure, a few are scandalously weird looking and others downright ugly, but man, Insomniac went well and above their digging into the characters’ lore, even more than the first game, which already took a deep scoop of his past endeavors when offering outfits from him to wear when out and about.
As previously touched upon, Spider-Man 2 is a technical showpiece for the PlayStation 5. Not only is it programmed to make use of the system’s signature features like the SSD and controller haptics, but it’s also a downright feast for the eyes when in motion. As with other releases, there are options that take into account performance or picture quality, but even when playing with the former, the game looks bananas.
Character animation-wise, the closer artists get to picture-perfect, the more we step into the uncanny valley, and this game is no exception, with some facial movement looking a tad off, enough to notice but not break immersion. It still feels like you’re playing a game, but it’s definitely getting there and if there’s a studio that’s bound to nail it eventually, it’s Insomniac Games.
With Spider-Man 2, the PlayStation 5 finally has a feather to hang on its hat for this year’s big releases. It’s more of what was simply awesome about the previous games as well as its faults, which are purely subjective, as your mileage may vary when it comes to combat and open-world shenanigans. As a complete package, though, the pros more than outweigh the cons, resulting in a game that anyone with Sony’s latest console should have in their library.