Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 Review – Built On Top Of Greatness
Insomniac knocked it out of the park with its video game take on Spider-Man back in 2018, and did another home run with the spin-off semi-sequel with Miles Morales two years later. So where do we go from here?
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 sees both two Spider-Men star in the main role, as they fight against new threats and continue their everlasting struggle against work-life balance. The developers have added more and more things on top of the solid open-world sandbox action game foundation it has established, and there’s worry that this new high rise getting wobbly at times.
But for the most part, Spider-Man 2 is a confident sequel that has been built on top of past greatness, with new gameplay additions and that extra sheen of polish only a AAA budget game can afford, making this truly a shining example of what a big-blockbuster game should aspire to be.
Being a PS5 exclusive, for now at least, Spider-Man 2 utilises all of the capabilities of this console, to great effect. Glass buildings have ray-tracing reflections always on. The traffic density in NYC has increased to more convincingly portray bumper-to-bumper traffic jams. The draw distance is so high you could see the city skylines outside of the gameplay area clearly. The crowd density gives the city more liveliness.. if you can ignore some of their awkward pathfinding now and then where pedestrians try to struggle to walk on a sidewalk when there are tables and chairs around. The lighting of the world remains immaculate though the game remains using fixed time and weather for its open world. Understandably, for this game, it makes gameplay sense not to have that. It’s fine.
The character models have got some glow-ups. Peter, MJ and Miles changed up their hairstyles a bit. Peter’s PS5 face, which looked a little uncanny if you’re used to seeing his rendition in the original PS4 game, has looked more fitting on him, if that makes sense. His face looks appropriately aged. The details on the Spider-Man suits (and there are plenty of them, 100 in fact), are worth inspecting up close and see how much effort that has gone to make these. On that note, the variety of assets is also impressive. I don’t think Spider-Man 2 should have that many different food, as ingredients or cooked dishes, on display. But there are plenty.
Spider-Man 2 is undoubtedly a looker, but it’s also cool to see Insomniac flexing with how seamless the transitions between gameplay and cinematic (all done in-engine). There were moments where I didn’t realise the time of day changed. The fast travel feature smoothly drops you to the pinned location, hold that button and before you know it, you’re in another part of the Big Apple.
Other examples of Insomniac flexing can be seen in the animations. There’s one scene where a bed sheet is seen being pulled over. There are more instances where you see Spider-Man smoothly removes and puts on the mask.
But that’s not to say the game goes all-in on realism. There are good uses of artistic camera pans and cuts that’s satisfying to see.
I’ve been playing the game exclusively on Performance mode and it’s able to maintain roughly 60 fps in most occasions. No major performance hiccups.
The voice performance here is impeccable, all the VOs, from the main cast to the pedestrians and evil goons all delivered their lines well. And while I am not familiar as much with American Sign Language, to have it represented in this scale, like how it was in Miles Morales, is incredible. That big game budget is used for good.
The soundtrack is fascinating. Marvel’s Spider-Man had the typical heroic orchestral soars you would expect from a superhero media post-MCU. But with Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales, the familiar orchestral score was infused with trap beats to fit that game’s protagonist better. So for Spider-Man 2, the two Spiders have different music played when you are in control of them. Peter’s backing track is vanilla, while Miles’ music has a different mix.
On that note, it’s incredible to see the two heroes in action. They may be confusingly share the same superhero name, but they are not the same person. Peter and Miles express their shared moveset differently, which isn’t a surprise if you already play the previous two games, but definitely cool to see retained and be seen in the same screen this time.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is one of good examples of realistic graphics that work well, using the most it can with the hardware provided. There’s not enough flair or pizzaz to really make its aesthetic stand out, but for this relatively grounded take of Spider-Man, the presentation here delivers what it sets out wanting to be.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is set a year after the events of the past games. At this point of time, Miles is now a fully-fledged Spider-Man working together with Peter. While the two are not out at their superhero work, they struggle with their life. Peter is still in between jobs, Miles need to ready his university application and MJ has a tough boss to please at work. And all of that change when Peter and MJ’s childhood friend Harry returns from his “trip in Europe”.
While you don’t need to necessarily play any of the past two games, there’s a recap that catches you up with the story so far, the plotlines teased in Spider-Man PS4 are continued into Spider-Man 2, more than from Spider-Man Miles Morales. The two heroes have their separate personal journey, though with how the main villains are set up, Peter’s struggles takes a more center stage. But fret not, Miles’s more low-key, introspective arc has strong payoffs that makes him just as important as Peter is. Even if Miles’ inner circle of family and friends only are not as integral to the central plot. They do get adequate screentime in side content, however.
The game starts strong with a major set piece (it sure comes out swinging), and from there, you’re free to free roam. Marvel’s Spider-Man’s NYC is more hustling and bustling than ever, with impressive crowd densities, rooftop parties and gatherings, and the usual crime activity needs stopping. And bigger too. The map expands beyond Manhattan and now covers parts of Brooklyn and Queens. Not the full boroughs- anything beyond that one train track, acting as a border, is off-limits. But you can now cross the East River and explore the more industrial and suburban side of the Big Apple. The scale is a bit off if you compared this interpretation with the real map of New York, but this is Marvel’s New York, Manhattan isn’t an island in real-life even, so it can get away not being 1:1. If it’s for better gameplay, that’s fine.
And with a bigger sandbox to play in, there’s now a wingsuit. If swinging was not enough, you can now glide as either Spider-Man. I always joked that Insomniac has been creating open-world traversal methods by expanding on gadgets seen in Ratchet & Clank. Sunset Overdrive is “Grind Boots the Game” whereas Spider-Man is “Swingshot The Game”.
Now they’re adding the Momentum Glider/Robo-Wings. But maybe a way better callback would not be a Ratchet & Clank gadget, but Spyro The Dragon. You can fly like that little purple dragon could, there’s even rings that you can fly through, but you won’t hate the controls as much. There’s a bit of stiffness when gliding with the wingsuit, but the game auto-correcting your trajectory to stay on course if there’s rings, either as objectives or to gain boost during free roam, need to be flown through. It’s not Superman 64 awful, or Spyro The Dragon levels of frustrating. The wingsuit works and is brilliant fun when you get used to it.
The addition of the wingsuit makes sense considering how vast the body of water you need to cross to get to the other side of the map, and that Brooklyn and Queens have generally less tall building to comfortably swing around perpetually. What seemed like an odd gimmick addition is actually an interesting tool with justification of why it exists. With the new wings, traversal is even sicker. Dive and freefall from a skyscraper, bring up the wings and catch some air currents, glide across the river and then start swinging around doing tricks like you used to do. Just taking the time covering the kilometers to reach a waypoint for a mission is so fun that I didn’t feel like I need to fast travel.
Heck, fast travel isn’t unlocked from the get-go. You’ll need to spend time navigating the concrete jungle doing activities at your leisure before you are allowed to fast travel in that one particular borough. And it is literally fast travel, Pete and Miles ditch the subway altogether this time, you hold that button from the map screen, and the screen zooms in to that particular part of the map all loaded and Spider-Man probably mid-swing.
Spider-Man and Spider-Man has all their moves from the previous games, but not all the gadgets. The OP webshot from Spider-Man PS4 that can web an enemy in one shot- insta-KO-ing them, is gone. Now you have only four gadgets but all of them are equally strong from the get go.
On top of that both Spider-Man can parry and execute abilities. For Miles, players of that 2020 game should be familiar with his Venom powers. For Peter, he now has mechanical spider-arms that can turn his tide. Later on, you’ll unlock more abilities for Peter and Miles. You probably know by now Peter gets Symbiote powers, but Miles got a glow-up too. Some abilities share the same slot, so you need to pick and choose to see which abilities works for you better.
The combat has evolved far and away from those Batman Arkham comparisons. There’s so many moves you can pull when fighting against goons and mooks. Too many. And it can feel overwhelming in the first few hours. As you can expect, some enemy types are immune against certain moves, so you have to constantly adapt on the fly and not rely on the same few moves. Sure, you can float indefinitely in the air with gadgets and web yanks. But the enemies also have anti-air moves to punish that.
I’ve played the entirety of Marvel’s Spider-Man and a good portion of Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales earlier this year. But coming to Spider-Man 2 I still feel like I needed training wheels. Maybe there’s one too many occasion where I want to pull a sick move that I know only works with regular goons like the yanking them up in the air where Spider-Man is catching air but it keeps landing on Brutes that are immune to that. Maybe there’s one too many occasion where I am just dialing the bread-and-butter combo but have to back out early as a range enemy is taking aim, disrupting that flow. Maybe it’s a skill issue on my end. But I do struggle to find the rhythm, that flow of the combat on a regular basis. It didn’t quite clicked for me as well as I wanted.
On a similar note, Spider-Man 2 uses an RPG-style progression where you unlock skill points and earn tokens for upgrades. It’s a familiar system, but I do feel like it’s a bit overstuffed with choices that has only minor consequences. It’s not flawed, but you can feel that it’s being crammed with so much stuff. I wasn’t as bothered before in past games, but there’s too much going on those skill trees and upgrades that I’m not sure what should I invest in. While some unlocks are clearly essential and easy picks, there are plenty of skill and upgrades that make me question if it’s a useful thing that I would use or I would notice in gameplay.
The stealth bits got some improvements too. Spider-Man can create his own tightrope out of web to walk above enemies, so the rooms don’t need to have too many rather convenient ledges and perch points. It’s robust, and allows players to carve their own path, allowing more dynamic and strategic play.
On that note, MJ is again playable in specific missions, and yes those are still stealth segments. But these don’t have inta-fail moments. MJ is more proficient with wielding that stun gun this time, and you’re allowed to take one hit should things go south. There are parts of these segments that made me feel like Insomniac is doing its best Naughty Dog impression.
And if you just don’t like stealth gameplay, it’s optional. Even the MJ ones in some aspects. And if you just don’t like the not-controlling-Spider-Man bits, don’t be afraid. There are not as many as in Spider-Man PS4. These segments are just more fun to play in general while still serving as a break from the usual Spider-Man action.
All in all, every aspect of the gameplay has gotten more features and refined. The open-world traversal is still one of the best in the business, the stealth section has a few shake ups though the additions in the combat may have made it a little bit too unwieldy for some.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 should take about 15-25 hours of your time to complete. The main story is decent, and there’s a substantial amount of side content to keep you busy and playing long past the credits roll.
The main story is decent, as touched upon earlier. Like past games, Insomniac has put their own spin to this adaptation of Spider-Man, so even if you’re a die-hard fan of the comics or movies there’s still some fascinating surprises for you to experience. But rest assured that the devs treat the Marvel IP with care and respect. Kraven and Venom, the main baddies in this game, are appropriately menacing as fans would expect them to be.
There’s plenty of activities to keep you busy in Spider-Man 2 and thankfully most of them don’t’ feel like cookie-cutter, cut-and-paste, checklisting-clearing experiences. The puzzles, where Peter does science stuff while Miles find hidden objects to grab and pull, are bespoke and filled with story bits to make you invested in doing them all.
And I appreciate that its usage of the adaptive triggers, something you’ll encounter in the main story but a lot more in the side content, doesn’t feel too phoned in. There are prompts where you press down the two triggers to essentially crack a stone, which is more or less silly/pointless as Final Fantasy XVI’s use of the triggers to open doors and gates. But there is another variant where you need to hold down the triggers at a specific level while the triggers rumble and fight back against your fingers which is some of the better use of the triggers I’ve seen yet. Gimmicky? A little. But it sure beats opening doors or cracking rocks.
The side-quests allows for more of Spidey’s rogue gallery and minor characters to have some screentime. The collectables are a challenge to find if you’re looking for them but easily ignored if you could care less about it. These don’t feel like padding or fluff if you decide to engage with them.
New Game+ isn’t available at launch.
I’m a long-time fan of Insomniac’s games, though not much of a Marvel person (I say as the person who had a Marvel game as his personal game of the year last year). But really, I’m not the guy that gets excited when a character casually reveals themself in a Marvel game trailer. When Kraven was revealed I was like “who?”. That’s how uncultured I am in the Marvel lore.
But playing Spider-Man 2 from the perspective of a regular video game enjoyer is still good fun. Great fun, even. The freedom of moving around an urban landscape by elegantly swing and glide, in style. The hectic combat encounters. The stealth segments that empowers you to hunt prey with meticulous planning and strategic maneuvering. And all of these gameplay aspects are in service of a good story of people figuring out life. The story has strong emotional moments for sure, the set-pieces are breathtaking and thrilling, and there’s definitely plenty of material for Marvel fans to speculate or be excited about. But as for me? I had fun being in control of a super hero effortlessly navigating their home turf and defending its people.
No really, I had the most fun just swinging around and then stop by at a random crime to help out the citizens. Call me basic, but that basic gameplay loop is so good. The core gameplay loop is like a good white bread that’s so good that you can eat it on your own. And thankfully, you’re not getting just two slices of bread with what you’re paying for this game. It’s full, decadent sandwich made with premium ingredients using the most sophisticated techniques sandwich making has to offer. Maybe a bit too stacked for my liking but it’s till a great sandwich. I happen to be big fan of the bread, rather than the protein.
In short, you don’t need to be a webhead or a Marvel fan to enjoy this video game.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 expands on every direction and the result is a refined sequel built on top of established greatness. Traversing NYC is great fun, the story will take you on a ride especially for Marvel fans and there’s plenty to do off the beaten path. The combat can feel a bit stuffy, but it’s not a dealbreaker.
How in the world will Insomniac top Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 after this? I don’t know. But I sure know that they know. Marvel should keep let these folks continue to do their magic.
Played on PS5. Review copy provided by the publisher.