In 2018, it was the release of developer Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man that finally pushed me to buy a PS4 console. In 2020, it was Miles Morales, the follow-up title that I derived countless hours of fun from on the day of my PS5 purchase. Now, three years later, Insomniac has managed to capture the same sense of wonder with Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, retelling a familiar story while expanding on the characters, world and mechanics established in the first two games. 2023 has been an incredible year for video games, and Spider-Man 2 joins the ranks in becoming a strong contender for my Game of the Year.
Spider-Man 2 Story and Characters - Predictable, Delightful
Spider-Man 2 adapts one of the more infamous stories from Marvel comics - Peter Parker succumbing to the Symbiote and the birth of Venom, one of the wall-crawler’s most notable nemeses. The game picks up about a year after the events of Miles Morales, following both Peter and Miles as they work together to save New York from new threats, kicked off by the arrival of a new hunter in the urban wild - Kraven. You know Insomniac is making a statement when the opening mission sees both Spider-Men fighting a Kaiju-sized Sandman while being flung across the city. That opening mission sets the template for what to expect for the sequel - it’s faster and hits harder.
Spider-Man 2 balances both Peter and Miles’ stories with finesse, giving each hero time to go through individual journeys in overcoming their personal demons. While the main story sees a slightly stronger focus on Peter for most of it, I’m happy to say that Miles isn’t left behind by the time it comes to a close. In recent years, Miles has slowly become the internet’s favourite Spider-Man. With the success of the Spider-Verse films supporting that, Miles really comes into his own with Nadji Jeter’s energetic performance. However, while the game’s main story sees Miles be, perhaps unfairly, overpowered, I never felt as if it wasn’t earned. Yuri Lowenthal has solidified himself as the voice of Peter Parker in recent years, and it’s exciting to see a darker side to the usually humorous character when he gets the Symbiote. It’s not quite the level of cringe comedy that we saw in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, although I wouldn’t have minded that either. Peter under the influence of the Symbiote is a force to be reckoned with, but I also think that the game holds back on unleashing this darkness. The black suit is powerful, but not designed to feel overpowered like it was in the tie-in Spider-Man 3 movie game or Web of Shadows.
The arrival of Harry Osborne and Kraven has a meteoric impact on the lives of the Spider-Men, and the game has a stronger focus on delivering a more personal story than the first game. While I loved fighting the Sinister Six in Spider-Man PS4, lowering the overarching number of villains was a good call. Dangling threads from the first two games regarding side characters like Yuri or the Black Cat are handled well in side missions, each of which ties into their own, fairly larger-sized stories. Bigger threats such as Mr Negative are handled extremely well by the time the credits roll, and while he remains a hugely influential figure in Miles’ life, it takes a little too long to loop him into the main story.
Perhaps the biggest surprise here is Kraven, wonderfully portrayed by Jim Pirri with an electric performance. The fierce hunter provides a new challenge to Spidey with not just his raw strength, which is kept under wraps for the majority of the plot, but also his conviction to find the strongest opponent he can. Seeing Kraven slowly picking off the villains of the first game is a delightful surprise, and when we do get to face off against him, it’s totally worth the spectacle (and destruction) that ensues. Kraven’s hunters are the new canon fodder for the sequel and are generally more challenging to fight than what we’ve been accustomed to in the previous games. Fighting these goons requires a good sense of timing with parries, and with the game throwing more enemy types (along with the quantity) on screen as you progress through it, it can become overwhelming at times to fight too many enemies. The game doesn’t dive too deep to explore Kraven’s past, which is reserved for side missions.
Since it’s an established Spider-Man universe, skipping origin stories of villains such as Mysterio or the Lizard isn’t surprising. It lets the story fully focus on the action without drowning in exposition and set-ups. That’s not to say that there aren’t relaxing, or even boring, missions. In general, though, I found the pacing of the game to be much stronger than the 2018 original. It also helps that the game constantly adds new twists to villains and mission design to stop it from feeling overly familiar.
Finally, let’s talk Venom. Ah, Rosie, I love this boy! Without spoiling the story, Insomniac makes sure that you feel the power that Venom brings to the table. The marketing for the game hasn’t clearly revealed the identity of the host behind the suit, so I won’t either. However, it doesn’t take much to guess where the story is going with obvious foreshadowing. Venom’s beef with Peter is personal, even more so than the bond between Parker and Doc Ock from the first game. The game features direct references to the cosmic nature of Venom’s origin, with plenty of easter eggs for eagle-eyed (spider-eyed?) fans to find. To put it briefly, Venom isn’t the only Symbiote-powered enemy you’ll be fighting.
Of course, the heart of the story is Peter and Harry’s friendship. Now, I’ve always liked Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, despite having its flaws. You know what was one of its strengths? Peter and Harry’s friendship and rivalry. The same can be said for the Sam Raimi-directed films, where that relationship is tested heavily with a beautiful narrative arc through the trilogy. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 keeps things familiar in that department, with Harry suddenly resurfacing making for some funny and heartfelt moments. Insomniac has nailed the dynamic between Peter, Harry and MJ, and you don’t need any exposition to see how much-shared history these characters have.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 tells a familiar story with expanded mechanics & character work that set apart Insomniac’s universe as something special, but you knew that already. The addition of new, faster traversal and more challenging combat increases the fun factor exponentially. pic.twitter.com/IQ63IPVeeg— Rahul Majumdar (@darthrahul) October 16, 2023
Swinging Around Never Felt Better - Traversal and Combat
Insomniac Games is well known for its mastery of traversal, and Spider-Man 2 adds new twists to gameplay that make it even more fun to swing around or, in this case, fly across an expanded New York City. In the sequel, both Spider-Men now have the ability to use web-wings to glide across distances which when coupled with wind tunnels across the city, make traversing New York a breeze. Swinging in these games has always been therapeutic, and it’s much, much faster here. And yet, while NYC has nearly doubled in size, it still never feels small or insignificant with plenty of secrets and collectables to find. The web wings, while showcasing the speed of the PS5’s hardware, are also utilised well in mission design, with certain side missions requiring exclusive use of the feature. In case you aren’t a fan of the heavy automation in swinging, the game lets you change the swing assistance to keep it more physics-based. You can also turn on fall damage to keep things interesting, which is what I did right at the start of my playthrough. There are plenty of accessibility options, though not as extensive as those found in God of War: Ragnarok or TLoU2, that you can tweak to make your experience comfortable.
While the main story keeps switching between Peter and Miles, the open-world free roam gives players the flexibility to switch between the heroes at will. Even outside of this fun mechanic, the game keeps the player aware of the presence of both Spider-Men, like finding the other Spider-Man already engaged in combat in open-world activities when you arrive at your destination.
Comparisons to GTA V can’t be avoided, but that’s not a bad thing. Side missions in the game will require specific Spider-Men, so you can’t really stick to either Peter or Miles outside of the main story. Speaking of side objectives, they’re similar to those in the first two games but are now diversified in terms of switching up environments. A mix of combat arenas and science-based puzzle solving keep the Spider-Men busy in between missions, and while it can get repetitive it’s the main story’s pace that keeps the momentum going, never letting any hour of play session feel boring.
Spider-Man 2 is a PS5-exclusive title, and it takes advantage of the hardware in ways that weren’t possible on PS4. The jump in visual fidelity isn’t as blindingly large as it was in generations past, for example from Uncharted 3 to 4 or between The Last of Us games. Insomniac Games have taken a similar approach as other first-party PlayStation Studios in recent sequels such as God of War: Ragnarok and Horizon: Forbidden West - take a working formula and iterate on it as much as possible to derive the most fun possible in the moment-to-moment gameplay. Comparing the game to Miles or Spider-Man PS4, the changes are more subtle. It’s the way in which Insomniac maximises immersion through the DualSense controller’s haptics, directional sound cues, geometric details in the environment and increased workload per frame that signify that it’s built for new hardware. Gone are the blurry reflections on buildings with the same interior copied and pasted over across New York’s skyscrapers, and in their place the new ray-traced reflections and fully modelled 3D interiors add more immersion. Stand on top of an air vent, and you feel the rhythm of the machinery beneath you with the DualSense controller’s haptics. Swing around Brooklyn after the opening missions and you find certain chunks of the borough buried under sand, with lively NPCs helping each other. The sound system sees new boosts, with perfect reverberation and bounces of dialogue depending on your distance from the character. It all adds up to make New York feel more alive than ever.
The PS5 sequel ships with two baseline graphics modes - Quality mode and Performance Mode. Both modes look incredibly clean and sharp on a 4K display while targeting 30 or 60fps gameplay. You can increase that frame rate target if you have a VRR display. Either way, the presentation is crisp and clean with fancy effects such as ray-traced reflections in all modes. At no point did I have any issue with the game’s visuals, with highly detailed character models and, especially, animation that all come together for an extremely polished presentation. If I had to complain then I’d bring to attention the shimmering on edges of objects far off in the performance mode, but that’s mostly a non-issue. Beyond running well, it’s also a very stable game. Throughout my playthrough (which at this point is just around 25 hours) I encountered just a handful of bugs that include clipping through trains and random crime activities bugg
Similar to traversal, combat also sees new improvements with a higher overall difficulty. There are now more enemies on screen at once with an increased variety of subclasses, and special abilities play a larger role in the sequel. The stand-alone Miles Morales game seemingly outclassed the titular hero over Peter by giving him special abilities that were frankly more fun to use, and the sequel levels the playing field. Peter and Miles may have different abilities but they’re equally strong, with access to the same gadgets. What’s new here are switchable abilities, so both heroes, throughout the course of the story, get access to multiple special abilities that can be swapped at any time. Switching between Peter’s mechanical spider arms and symbiote abilities, or Miles’ various electric powers, helps with mitigating the repetitive nature of regular combat scenarios. A new parry mechanic is put to great use in ramping up the general difficulty and complexity of battles, with the risk-reward payoff perfectly balanced to keep things moving. One of the main criticisms I had with the first game was that boss battles often got quite repetitive, and the same applies here with the various phases each boss goes through.
A Spider-Man game with a Symbiote suit is the perfect playground for innovation in combat, and Insomniac delivers well on its promise of showcasing the rage of the alien parasite. The black suit offers new abilities that tap into Peter’s rage, with impacts that feel stronger despite having similar damage output. Once you’ve hit enough enemies and your surge meter is full, you can unleash surge mode which lets you pretty much one-shot enemies with extremely cool finishers. However, while melee combat sees huge upgrades with new options, the same can’t be said for the gadgets. The number of gadgets in the sequel is restricted to 4 of the most common ones from the first 2 games - web shooters, ricochet webs, trip mines and sonic bursts. While I personally didn’t miss the other gadgets, your mileage may vary. The same goes for certain abilities from the first game such as the ‘Web blossom’ AoE attack which is absent from the sequel. Sure, the new, swappable abilities make up for it in spades, but I would’ve liked it if they retained some of the abilities and gadgets from the first two games.
Stealth remains mechanically similar to the first game, but with the ability to attach web lines to any surface to perch on, you get more options by creating your own vantage points. You no longer need to keep zipping between the same, static perch points in a stealth arena. Dual stealth takedowns make a return with both Spider-Men now able to knock out multiple enemies at once. The spider-bot missions also make a return albeit with more agency, and in lesser quantity which keeps the pace up. There are still plenty of random crime scenes to crash across NYC, with tried-and-tested scenarios like car chases making a return - only this time, thanks to the web-wings, they’re infinitely more fun. Insomniac also relies much less on cinematic quick-time events this time around, with them being present in only a handful of sequences. In case you were wondering, yes the MJ stealth missions return, but this time the environmental storytelling and spectacle around those missions are strong enough to make you forget you’re not playing as a superhero. Even then, MJ’s arsenal gets a significant upgrade to the point where she may as well take on Venom in a one-on-one fight, which makes for some unintentionally funny moments that scream Resident Evil more than Spider-Man. Similarly, there are more missions that explore Peter’s early years right out of college as the wall-crawler where the humour makes up for the slower pace.
Bonus features such as the ability to unlock new suits return, and boy are there suits to choose from. While the game consists of about 60 suits to choose from between Peter and Miles, it’s the new suit styles system that adds a fresh coat of paint to the system. For certain suits, you can craft different styles that are variants of the base design. Less than half of the craft-able suits offer 4 different suit styles, so you can customise Spidey the way you want to. The upgrade system for abilities and base stats for both Spider-Men is handled well, giving enough flexibility to invest in the specific Spider-Man you like. For skills and abilities, there are 3 skill trees, one for Miles, one for Peter and one that’s shared between the two. Base stats such as health, damage output, and traversal speed are also shared between the Spider-Men with their own sub-menu, and the same goes for gadgets.
Much like Insomniac’s previous games, Spider-Man 2 is immediately accessible but now comes with a steeper difficulty curve. I seldom failed combat encounters in the first two games, but here I died multiple times to not just bosses, but also the canon fodder that arrived before them! It shows that Insomniac is more confident in giving players more control over scenarios, and with more vicious enemies this time, you might want to complete the side objectives in exchange for upgrading your abilities before tackling the harder story missions. Or just learn to parry properly, which is what I did.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is a worthy follow-up, combining Insomniac Games’ mastery of in-game traversal and storytelling to deliver a superhero spectacle that I’ll keep visiting over the years. It’s a sincere, original take on Peter Parker and Miles Morales’ collaboration as Spider-Men, with strong villains, a bombastic, if familiar, story, and a lively New York City that’s a joy to explore with what are perhaps the best traversal mechanics in gaming right now.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is out now for PlayStation 5 with the standard edition available for Rs. 4,999 and the Digital Deluxe edition for Rs. 5,599.