Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 review: An amazing fantasy
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Featured Image Credit: Sony
When I was seven years old, I built my own web shooters. I should probably clarify that I didn’t have access to the various chemicals needed to create genuine synthetic webbing. Even if I did, I daresay I would have lacked the technical knowledge to put it all together.
So when I say I built my own web shooters, what I actually mean is I wrapped some used toilet rolls in tin foil and put them around my wrists, and grabbed a can of silly string. Close enough, right? That’s what seven-year-old Ewan thought as he climbed to the top of the swing set in his Spider-Man mask, before jumping, firing out a limp line of purple string, and falling flat on the ground with a smashed nose.
Clearly, I’ve always wanted to be Spider-Man. In 2018, that dream came true like never before with Marvel’s Spider-Man. I no longer required silly string and a disregard for personal safety as I pirouetted across the New York City skyline in a game that blended a beautifully written and performed original story with thrilling parkour, combat, and explosive set pieces. Then in 2020, Insomniac Games did it again with Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, a smaller - but no less crucial - adventure that served as the definitive origin story for the younger Spidey.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is, I’m very happy to tell you, a worthy sequel and a brilliant superhero adventure. While it does too often play things a little too safe and suffer from a few of the issues that held its predecessors back from really being able to compete with the Batman: Arkham games as the caped cream of the crop, the sheer heart and humour at the centre of this adventure is undeniable. This makes it easier - though not impossible - to overlook its shortcomings.
Our adventure begins 18 months after the first game’s climatic events. Peter is still mourning the loss of his dear Aunt May, Doc Ock and Mister Negative are in jail, and Miles is struggling to strike a balance between his personal life and superheroic endeavours. Classic Spidey stuff.
A gloriously ambitious opening boss battle with a classic Spidey villain sets the scene in much the same way the first game’s Kingpin showdown did. We get to see how Miles and Peter work together (thanks to some seamless character switching fun) and are shown right away just how much wilder Insomniac Games plans to get with the PS5’s beefed-up hardware. This is a much bigger New York, and the speed at which our Spider-Men can barrel through it with zero pop-in or dips in framerate is nothing short of astounding. From the opening minutes, it’s clear we’re going bigger and faster. It’s a promise Insomniac lives up to for the remainder of the adventure.
As you’ve probably seen in the trailers, the status quo is interrupted when Kraven The Hunter travels to New York in search of glory. It’s not long before Doctor Curt Connors is forced back into his scaly ways and Harry Osborn - fresh from a vacation in a tube of black goo - returns to catch up with his childhood friend.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Insomniac’s take on Spider-Man is my favourite outside of the comic books. This is a team that understands Peter Parker and his supporting cast on a fundamental level. It should come as no surprise, then, that this version of Kraven is utterly terrifying. It’s refreshing to see a character who is so often treated as a joke turned into a major threat, and a seriously sadistic bastard to boot. The Kraven here is relentless, and his single-minded quest for a worthy foe pushes Peter to extremes. I can’t wait to see how the Sony-developed Kraven movie completely ruins this fearsome take on the villain.
Mixed up in all this, we also have the debut of Venom, the symbiote, and Miles dealing with the fact Kraven has busted Mister Negative - the man who killed his father - out of prison. I’ve seen stories buckle under the weight of a lot less, but Insomniac juggles it all expertly and there isn’t a single character beat or villain that doesn’t serve the story. I was concerned Miles would serve as a sidekick in this adventure, but he’s just as vital to the story as Peter and just as much Spider-Man as his mentor. His hunt for Mister Negative, and the shift in his relationship with Peter as he slowly loses himself to the symbiote, is exquisitely done.
That’s about as much as I can say in regards to the story without spoiling anything for you. What I will add is this is, hands-down, the best version of the classic symbiote saga. Watching Peter gradually become darker and more violent as his friends look on helplessly is heartbreaking stuff, and if Yuri Lownenthal wasn’t my favourite Spider-Man before, he certainly is now. Then there’s Venom himself, a towering, terrifying force of nature. The moment he finally makes his debut is a moment we’re all going to be talking about for a long time, I can tell you that much. And the ending? Hoo boy, Insomniac really has done it again.
An excellent story is strung together by a series of stunning setpieces and boss battles that remind us Insomniac Games really is best-in-class when it comes to the PlayStation 5. You’ll zip through portals and face down gigantic foes in spectacular, jaw dropping fights that could start in one part of the city and end up somewhere completely different. And of course, for all the spectacle, each of the game’s biggest and most exciting encounters are always grounded in deeply personal stakes. This is a Spider-Man story, after all. One segment about two thirds of the way through the game is essentially a string of back-to-back boss fights that left me absolutely breathless.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 has also made some significant improvements to combat, with almost every aspect of fighting designed around keeping the momentum going and combos flowing. Peter and Miles largely have the same fighting style, and can blend dodges, web strikes, and parries with a string of gadgets that can be upgraded for some wild stackable effects. The ricochet web, which pings between bad guys to create a sticky mess, is particularly satisfying to use.
Where Peter and Miles differ is in their special abilities, which operate on a cooldown timer. As in Miles Morales, the fledgling Spider-Man can use a series of Venom powers to create powerful bursts of lightning to devastate enemies. Peter can initially use some pretty cool robotic arms, and is of course eventually granted access to a suite of brutal symbiote abilities. With his slimy tendrils Pete can grab enemies and fling them around like ragdolls, and there’s a crucial, crunchy difference in the level of violence and power our hero wields when he’s rocking the black suit. The way Insomniac has worked this vital aspect of the black suit’s story into the gameplay itself is expertly done.
For the most part, then, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is yet another outstanding achievement from Insomniac Games. The studio has delivered yet another gripping chapter in its original Spidey saga, and it all hangs together beautifully on some of the best and most exciting superhero boss battles and gameplay I’ve ever experienced. What a shame, then, that it’s kind of let down by the side content.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2’s New York City is a technological marvel. It’s just as thrilling speeding through Manhattan as it was in the first two games, and the addition of new traversal mechanics like web wings and a slingshot ability are a joy. I can tell you now, you will never get sick of firing out two web lines and catapulting yourself across the city, soaring through the air before deploying your web wings to catch a wind tunnel and zoom from Queens to Hell’s Kitchen in a matter of seconds. Swooping down to stop a crime - and potentially bumping into the other Spider-Man in the process - is never anything less than delightful.
My issue is that we’ve seen this open world before. Twice, in fact. Yes, the addition of Queens and Brooklyn, plus the aforementioned new traversal mechanics, do a good job of keeping things feeling relatively fresh. And I get that taking Spider-Man out of New York would be pretty tricky, given what an indispensable aspect of the character’s mythos the Big Apple is. But after three games in what is largely the same open world, it’s hard not to feel a touch of repetition. It doesn’t help that the side missions - the weakest part of the other two games - are about as engaging here.
There are two genuinely fantastic and in-depth side missions, one of which involves Miles and Mysterio, and the other I refuse to spoil for you here. The vast majority of unlockable suits are also gorgeous, and many of them have extra colour schemes for further customisation. Beyond that? There’s a little too much of the open-world checklist nonsense that plagues so many AAA games. Fortunately, pinging around New York with my spidery arsenal of gadgets is so damn entertaining in and of itself that even after three games set in the same city I’m still mostly willing to forgive the duff side content.
I know Insomniac Games has to hold some stuff back for the inevitable sequel, but when you have access to one of the best rogues’ galleries in comic books it blows my mind that we’re being forced to spend time chasing pigeons and watering plants. Yes, these are things a friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man would do, but if I’m playing as Spider-Man in a video game I’d rather hunt down Shocker than help a kid with their photography homework. And when we compare the side missions here to the kind of incredible extra stories in fellow PlayStation exclusive God Of War Ragnarök, or the cases in Batman: Arkham City? It’s not a particularly flattering comparison, and I really hope Marvel’s Spider-Man 3 can step it up in this department.
And yet, in spite of this shortcoming, it’s hard not to come away from my time with Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 grinning from ear-to-ear. This is an amazing fantasy come to life and realised like never before. Insomniac Games has crafted yet another heartfelt Spider-Man story bursting with twists, turns, and show-stopping spectacle. While I wish it had taken a few more risks in changing up its open-world formula, it’s tricky to remember those criticisms when I’m diving from the top of the Empire State Building and firing out a web line at the last second as I swing away in search of ass to kick.
Pros: A brilliant story, excellent traversal mechanics, and a gorgeous open world
Cons: Weak side missions, not different enough from the first two games
For fans of: Ratchet & Clank, Spidery boys
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 will launch 20 October for PlayStation 5. Review code provided by the publisher. Read a guide to our review scores here.