Marvel’s Spider-Man 2
October 20th, 2023
Sony Interactive Entertainment
When Marvel’s Spider-Man was released in September 2018 for the PlayStation 4 console, it had been 14 years since the launch of Spider-Man 2. That game developed by Treyarch was long considered to be the golden standard of game adaptations based on Marvel’s friendly neighborhood superhero from Queens, mostly thanks to the excellent web-swinging mechanics and the innovative open world experience for a game crafted for sixth-generation consoles like the PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Xbox.
Insomniac Games (Spyro, Ratchet & Clank, Resistance), a long-time Sony partner, had the opportunity to make a Marvel game as a PlayStation 4 exclusive. The studio picked Spider-Man, having just finished Sunset Overdrive (for Microsoft Studios), another game with a heavy emphasis on seamless traversal gameplay.
The rest, as they say, is history. Marvel’s Spider-Man was a massive critical and commercial success, likely beyond anything the involved parties (Insomniac, Sony, and Marvel) could imagine. It quickly became the fastest-selling Sony game in history, beating even Santa Monica’s highly acclaimed God of War reboot released in the same year; before the end of 2018, it had also surpassed Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham titles as the best-selling superhero game in the United States.
Perhaps the clearest demonstration of the developer’s achievement is that Sony decided to acquire Insomniac Games for $229 million less than a year after the launch of Marvel’s Spider-Man. At the time, the game had sold nearly 14 million units.
The following year, Insomniac already had another (albeit shorter) Marvel’s Spider-Man game lined up for the launch of the PlayStation 5 console. This one, focused on Miles Morales instead of Peter Parker, received similar acclaim.
Three years later, the studio headquartered in Burbank, California, is ready to launch Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, which features both Spider-Men as playable characters. Despite earlier rumors, this sequel won’t have any co-op functionality. However, it is possible to switch between Miles Morales and Peter Parker or vice-versa at any time in the open world environment, a feature that, just like fast travel (unlocked for each district after you’ve completed enough local tasks), shows off the lightning-fast load times enabled by the PS5’s tailor-made storage solution.
Here, the player catches the first glimpse at one of Insomniac’s main goals with Marvel’s Spider-Man 2: weaving the narrative in every little thing. Some of the side tasks are character-exclusive (the EMF Experiments are only available with Peter, while the Prowler Stashes and Mysteriums can only be done with Miles), so approaching them with the other Spider-Man will offer a switch prompt, triggering a quick dialog bit where Miles would thank Peter for spotting this location on his behalf.
While the side missions are more varied than in either of the previous games, often offering a new mini-game or a different puzzle to go through, they’re still not quite as deep as they could have been. The developers have clearly attempted to flesh them into side storylines, but despite the improvement in this regard, most of them feel undercooked anyway. Ahead of the launch of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, one of the main talking points was that a user who got early access to the game could get the Platinum trophy in just about 30 hours. I cannot speak to the exact longevity since I probably encountered a bug with the calculation of in-game time (my PlayStation 5 says I spent 13 hours to get to 96% completion, but that can’t possibly be right), but if the franchise should ever get more expansive in terms of game size, it’s the side missions that would have to get the most attention.
The open world events are similar to those seen in earlier installments, ranging from shop shakedowns to high-speed car chases, various types of assaults, and the like. The main addition is that every once in a while, an injured civilian will need to be picked up by Spider-Man and carried over to a nearby ambulance for medical treatment, a nice touch that helps reinforce the Webslinger’s role as a hero of the people. Also, sometimes you’ll find the other Spider-Man (controlled by AI) already at the scene, making your job much easier.
A few more events are introduced into the mix as the story moves forward, but the repetitiveness of these encounters is ultimately hard to avoid. Even so, the fun of beating up foes with the game’s smooth, satisfying combat system keeps the player entertained at all times.
Much like the rest of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, combat is a direct evolution of the system introduced five years ago. The biggest difference in this area is undoubtedly the ability to parry enemy attacks, which I originally welcomed upon hearing the news.
However, after playing through the whole game, I must say Insomniac made a weird choice here. Usually, games allow players to either dodge all attacks (only avoiding damage) or parry some of the attacks to possibly stun the enemy and open them up for a counterattack, with the caveat that the most powerful attacks cannot be parried. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 splits this very differently. When parry is introduced, the player learns that it should only be used to counter the most powerful enemy attacks, and those cannot be dodged in the regular way even when it is not an area-of-effect attack. All the other attacks should still be dodged, as in the previous games.
In practice, this introduced a slightly confusing element to combat that I only truly wrapped my head around near the end of the game. While it wasn’t much of a problem given the relatively low challenge level, I feel like Insomniac could have implemented parry to better effect more straightforwardly.
However, combat is still extremely fun, doubling down on the Spider-Men’s ability to interact with the environment in an advantageous way. Each playable character also has a separate skill tree, giving Peter and Miles two different vibes when engaging combat, while a shared skill tree unlocks abilities for both characters. On the other hand, gadgets are shared, which is perhaps a bit of a missed opportunity to further differentiate the Spider-Men. Moreover, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 features fewer combat gadgets than the original game, five (web-shooters, upshot, web grabber, sonic burst, and ricochet web) against the predecessor’s eight (web-shooters, impact web, spider drone, electric web, web bomb, trip mine, concussive blast, and suspension matrix). Granted, this time around, the Spider-Men are also able to pick one of two combat abilities for each active skill and some of those abilities include the functionality of the missing gadgets.
There is a new nifty toy called webline. Those who played Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered on PC might remember that it was added with a mod. It makes stealth takedowns much easier, allowing players to craft their own web paths above their foes, but the low amount of stealth scenarios also limits the tool’s utility. The webline would be much more impactful to the overall gameplay if the game allowed more player agency in approaching missions.
One of the parts of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 that I found most improved is without a doubt the open world New York City and how the Spider-Men traverse it.
As covered in the news reports, there isn’t just the Manhattan borough anymore. Brooklyn and Queens have been added in this sequel, providing a vastly bigger, not to mention more diverse and convincing, rendition of NYC. However, the updated traversal is even more exciting than these new boroughs.
One of the key aspects that Insomniac needed to deliver in the original Marvel’s Spider-Man was the web-swinging mechanics, since it had remained unsurpassed in Spidey’s games following Treyarch’s work. While Insomniac handily delivered, the 2018 game was largely held back by the PlayStation 4’s inability to keep up with fast traversal through the open world.
2020’s Miles Morales PS5 version made some strides in this area, but it was still a cross-generation game that had to be designed to be playable on the PS4, too. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 has none of these concerns, having been made only for the PlayStation 5, and the result speaks for itself.
Web-swinging around NYC is much faster, especially when fully upgraded. But the true upgrade is the addition of web swings, which allow the player to feel as if they were actually flying at exhilarating speed through the open world. Even mobility is much better, arguably making it a superior traversal method compared to web-swinging. Moreover, Insomniac placed air currents and updrafts all across the city, which can be used to fly much faster and to go higher, respectively. There’s also an element of skill involved, as you need to stay in the green rings to maintain the speed boost. When you’ve got the hang of it, traversal feels incredible in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. Sure, there’s the blink-and-you-miss-it fast travel feature, but why would you use it when traversing the actual world is already so fast and fun?
Besides, New York City looks fantastic in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. It is no exaggeration to say this is the best rendition of the Big Apple ever witnessed in a videogame. Insomniac Games once again impress with their in-house engine thanks to vast draw distances, non-existent pop-in, great lighting, and highly detailed ray-traced reflections implemented in all available fidelity modes.
Having a 120Hz display at my disposal, I chose the ’40 FPS’ mode with Variable Refresh Rate enabled and set to ‘Smoothed’. This mode aims to deliver consistency in both image fidelity (without dynamic resolution drops) and frame rate, succeeding in both regards. It was such a pleasure to finally play a game with no frame pacing issues whatsoever after so many recent releases made stuttering an annoying yet constant presence for gamers.
The only downside is that the PS5 capture system is limited to 1080p resolution when you enable the 120Hz mode, so the captured video doesn’t really display the image fidelity and sharpness you get when actually playing the game.
As with most first-party games made by Sony, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 gives its best in the story department. Without giving anything away for obvious reasons, it’s fair to say the plot cleverly remixes themes and story beats already seen in comics and other Spidey adaptations.
The spotlight is taken up by Peter, his best friend Harry Osborn and his beloved fianceé Mary Jane Watson. The three share a strong bond that is tested multiple times by Kraven the Hunter (who dominates the first half of the plot) and Venom (who takes up much of the latter half), the two big villains featured in the sequel. Meanwhile, Miles grows up a lot, both as a person and as a superhero, never failing to rise to the occasion when needed. Ultimately, fans will find a highly emotional story in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, albeit one with an ending that is likely to be predictable for anyone familiar with these characters.
The pacing of the story is also masterful. At the same time, I couldn’t help but feel bits of ludonarrative dissonance creeping in at times when the urgency set by the narrative mismatched the open world design of allowing players to postpone the next story mission as much as they want.
A couple of final notes. Insomniac deserves plenty of kudos for its industry-leading accessibility options, which are further expanded in this sequel at the request of the community. Users looking for a much more realistic traversal experience can now enable fall damage and even reduce the swing steering assistance from the default 10 all the way down to 0, where physics plays a much bigger role in how you traverse the city. The aforementioned combat webline can even be made to bend under the weight of the Spider-men, thanks to a dedicated option. Moreover, players can even tweak the game speed, reducing it from 100% to 70%, 50%, or even 30%, although I cannot fathom why anyone would do that. Even at 70%, it feels like moving through molasses. If anything, I would like to see higher speed options, like 110% or even 120%.
On the flip side, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 locks the Ultimate difficulty behind completing the story. By that point in time, though, you’re bound to have leveled up to the 60 cap, at which point the extra difficulty isn’t that much of a challenge. Sure, you can start a new game plus playthrough with Ultimate enabled from the beginning, but let’s face it: most gamers don’t even finish their titles, let alone play through them twice, especially in this genre where there is no great incentive to do so. Still, even with this shortcoming, such levels of customization are extremely rare in a console game.
While the game as a whole is extremely polished, I did encounter a few crashes and even a couple of bugs. Specifically, when going to an open world event, there would be no enemies despite the mini-map indicating otherwise. Sony is about to release a new patch with some bug fixes, though.
As much as I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, I can’t help but think a greater shake-up will be needed for the inevitable Spider-Man 3. This sequel feels like the perfection of the existing formula, so going beyond that will require both an expansion and an overhaul to ensure the franchise doesn’t get stale.
Reviewed on PlayStation 5 (code provided by the publisher).
Products mentioned in this post
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 feels like the perfect, albeit safe, evolution of the formula first introduced with the 2018 game. With a highly emotional story, much-improved traversal, great visuals and performance, and industry-leading accessibility, this sequel is very likely to win over most fans of the original. However, a bigger shake-up may be needed for the inevitable Spider-Man 3.
- Fantastic visuals and great performance
- Highly emotional story with masterful pacing
- Excellent traversal
- Industry-leading accessibility
- The addition of parry is more confusing than helpful
- The challenge level remains low for an action game
- Ludonarrative dissonance creeps in at times
- No significant innovations to speak of
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