Insomniac’s first web-swing into Spider-Man games back in 2018 with Marvel’s Spider-Man was, rather appropriately, spectacular (“amazing” works too since the subject is Spider-Man). It was my personal GOTY of 2018. The follow-up spin-off, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, was also quite good. It was a shorter, bite-sized morsel of Spidey goodness where the scales were slightly lessened and had up-and-coming Spider-Man Miles take the lead. The gameplay was largely the same but added a couple new aspects to keep things from being too familiar. With Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, I expected the proceedings to be perhaps a slight step up from the greatness of the first game. It would certainly be difficult for the sequel to straight up outdo its predecessor in this case. But Insomniac outdid themselves yet again. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 was incredible…overall. There actually were some issues I had with this game that didn’t affect the previous one, but they were, thankfully, extremely minor. Though your mileage may vary.
Kicking off with a blast, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 has both Spider-Men, Peter Parker and Miles Morales, dealing with a giant-sized Sandman wreaking havoc in New York City. It’s the type of huge, epic prologue one would expect from a classic God of War game, and it certainly starts things out on a high note. Afterwards, however, things kind of slow down quite a bit; almost down to a crawl, in fact. Insomniac did pretty damn well balancing the personal aspects of Peter’s life with his superhero responsibilities in the first game, giving us just enough of the “slice of life” stuff to make us care for Peter and his loved ones but not so much to make players bored and begin begging for the next opportunity to beat up bad guys or start swinging through the city again. But after the Sandman prologue in this game, I definitely felt the pacing was off here. The moments with Peter reconnecting with his returning friend Harry, while well done, felt a bit long and too close together. And after that, Miles had some missions where he helped out students in a university with their issues. These were other examples of those lighter moments offering more of that slice of life stuff to balance out the action, but these were definitely not needed, especially after the lengthy Harry chapters.
There were other issues of a more technical nature as well. Random crimes would pop up on the map, but when I arrived at the designated location, there were no bad guys to stop (though I still heard citizens screaming in fear and saw vehicles on fire). One time when swinging through the city as Peter, a web line remained attached to his foot and stuck with him for a couple of minutes until I started a side activity. The game froze on me once, and a few times I was unable to interact with collectibles since the prompt to grab them wouldn’t pop up. And this one other odd thing that happened quite often, while not a glitch, was still noticeable enough for me to mention here; 9 times out of 10 when I picked up an injured civilian and took them to an ambulance, it was almost always the same civilian: a guy wearing headphones. And a couple of features that were in the first two games were noticeably left out of this one, namely character bios and the option to listen to the J Jonah Jameson and Danika Hart podcasts in the “collections” menu. The podcasts themselves still exist, but you only have one opportunity to listen to each of them, so if you don’t wish to miss any of them, make sure not to run into any bad guys or go near side activities when the podcasts come on, or else they’re gone. Thankfully, most of the previously mentioned issues/glitches I encountered didn’t happen very often at all, and none of them are even close to game-breaking. Some aren’t even “issues”, really, just non-essential features.
Everything else about this game was fantastic. The previously mentioned slow-paced portions of gameplay pretty much end before the halfway point of the campaign, and even beforehand and through the rest of the game, there are some great set-pieces where you switch between Peter and Miles at certain intervals. Speaking of, when free-roaming the city, you can (usually) switch between Peter and Miles on the fly, and the transition itself is pretty damn seamless. Peter and Miles have very similar controls and use the same gadgets, of which there are a smaller, more manageable number to use, but their individual abilities (Peter’s mechanical spider legs/Symbiote powers and Miles’ Venom powers) set them apart and help to meaningfully differentiate the Spider-Men from one another. Gone are the suit mods from the first two games and suit powers from the first one. Instead, both Spider-Men have shared and individual skills that can be purchased with experience points, and they can use tokens and tech pieces earned from completing missions and defeating enemies to upgrade their health, damage output, focus (for healing and using finishers), stealth, and traversal (as well as to buy all manner of purely cosmetic suits for both Peter and Miles). And both Spider-Men have access to “super attacks” that can let them clear a room of many enemies or really put the hurt on bosses.
As in the previous games, the combat flows beautifully, perhaps even more so thanks to the ease at which the Spider-Men can unleash their special abilities and gadgets. The most interesting addition to the combat would be the new parry mechanic. As someone who has played many Spider-Man games over the years and has grown very used to avoiding enemy attacks by dodging and jumping, I will say it took me a bit to get used to the parry mechanic in this game (Spider-Man: Web of Shadows had a block/parry function, but it wasn’t all that crucial to the combat). Both Spider-Men can block and parry basically any attack. Blocking minimizes damage but doesn’t negate it, while parrying, much like in most other games, will cancel an enemy’s attack and throw them off balance, allowing the player to counterattack and get some good shots in. Some enemies unleash attacks that cannot be dodged and must be parried (or avoided by jumping or web-swinging away), but luckily, the window for parrying these attacks is pretty generous…Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, this is not (thank God).
The enemies the Spider-Men face are also tougher than ever. The usual thugs and criminals abound in the open world of New York, but later on, Kraven the Hunter and his army of disposable hunters and robots enter the fray, and these guys certainly kick things up a notch. Aside from the hunters with guns and whatnot, other hunter types make it essential for players to remain on their toes and on the move, like archers that can perch themselves high up and fire explosive arrows or use net launchers on you, or larger brutes that can wield battleaxes or a spear and shield combo; these dudes can put the hurt on the Spider-Men if you’re not careful. Other cultist enemies who like to use fire-based attacks also keep the combat feeling fresh. And while the bosses in the previous games were mostly good but not great (or especially challenging), some of the bosses in this game are very well done, particularly in the latter portions of the campaign. And we all know Venom is in this game. All I will say on that subject is this: Insomniac did Venom right. I mean, HO-LEE-CRAP, they did him RIGHT.
Traversal is just as buttery smooth as before, whether you’re running, jumping, web-swinging, or gliding through the city. Yes, I said gliding. Peter and Miles have functioning web wings that allow them to glide long distances, and these can be used in conjunction with web-swinging to cover some real distance in no time flat. The web wings are especially useful in areas with no skyscrapers to swing from, like the residential areas in Queens. Speaking of, the open world of New York is almost twice as big as before, with the Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods being added in along with Manhattan Island. Somehow though, the world doesn’t feel too big despite these additions, it’s actually just right.
And there’s plenty of fun side content as well, some of which can only be completed by either Peter or Miles but not both. There are enemy bases to take down like before, but there’s more to them this time, such as first taking down outposts dotted around the city before you can find and access the main bases, and this time they can be cleared out completely through your choice of stealth or direct combat (in the first game, direct combat would always be required at some point). There are combat challenges set up by Mysterio (or some version of him, at least), and they are ONLY combat challenges with special modifiers to keep things interesting (no stealth challenges this time, for better or worse). And there are traversal challenges that require you to use the web wings and follow a flying drone by staying in its wake as you wait for a download to complete, which I rather enjoyed (I expected them to be annoying and difficult, but I guess I’m a pretty good pilot). Many collectibles dot New York as well, from photo op locations to crystallized remnants of Sandman scattered across the city, to research areas where you splice plant genes through new puzzle mechanics and use drones to shoot at hologram animals (I’m sure that sounds very random, but it makes sense in the context of the game). Doing special favors for people, like finding a lost elderly man in the park and such, can be accessed through the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man (FNSM) app introduced in the Miles Morales game as well.
And as much as I liked the story and characterization in the previous games, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 outdoes its predecessors. Again, the earlier parts of the game do, indeed, drag, I’m not denying that, but it all gets better before the halfway point, and there were a few genuine surprises that I was simply not expecting. Peter and Miles both get about the same level of screentime and focus in the game’s story, with MJ also playing a pivotal role again. And yes, the MJ stealth segments from the first game return here. I admitted to not hating the MJ and Miles stealth segments when playing the first game, and thankfully, they were mostly short and weren’t great in numbers. In this game, there are even less MJ stealth segments, but they are noticeably longer. Furthermore, they’re more exciting and expanded upon since now being spotted by enemies isn’t an automatic game over. This time, MJ can still knock out alerted enemies with her high-tech taser, but facing off against two or more alerted enemies is a losing battle, so caution is still required.
I also have to add in my thoughts on the game’s graphics and presentation. This game looks great, plain and simple. The character models and environments all appear top-notch. Even details I normally don’t notice or keep an eye out for in most games made themselves known in this one, chief among them the fact that you can see through most of the windows of almost every building in the city AND see people moving and walking around in these buildings as well. Even when swinging around the city and touching down on the street, I occasionally saw the doors on the sides of buildings open up and an NPC walk out of it before heading down the sidewalk. This is nothing big in the grand scheme of things, but given the number of open-world games I’ve played throughout my gaming career, seeing NPCs actually walking out of buildings in real time was pretty impressive to me and made the city of New York feel more “lived in”.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 blows its already great predecessor out of the water, so if you liked that game and the spin-off, then there’s basically no way you won’t like this game. I have high hopes for the third and final entry in this series, and in the likely case there’s some DLC planned for this game, I look forward to seeing which open storylines Insomniac will choose to close out.
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: 20th October 2023