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This review features heavy spoilers for Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 and other games in the series.
Spider-Man’s mythos begins with a radioactive bite. For over 60 years now, generations of writers, artists, actors, and animators have encouraged us to wish that we too were bitten. Be it Todd McFarlane’s detective noir run, the animated charm of the 1994 series, Tobey Maguire’s goofy charisma, or the Spider-Verse’s genre-bending Miles Morales, countless incarnations have spun unique takes on the character. Each one different, yet each offering escapism. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, developed by Insomniac Games, riffs on that mythos and re-invents it as something new.
Though before I played Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, I was terrified. Why? Well, my playthrough of the first game had me in tears. In the face of a deadly bio-weapon released in New York, Peter Parker is forced to make an impossible decision: administer the only life-saving cure to his Aunt May now or let it be reproduced to save thousands tomorrow. The scene confronts the core Spidey concept “with great power comes great responsibility and made me realise that perhaps I’m glad to have never been bitten. The devastating burden of being Spider-Man is that when he wins, Peter Parker loses; Spider-Man saves New York, but Peter Parker loses his Aunt in the same breath. The narrative carefully builds the entire game into this unforgettable moment of tragedy, responsibility, temptation, and resistance. So the sequel scared me to no end – any game following in those giant footsteps would be underwhelming, surely.
How wrong I was.
Everything starts at school. Miles settles into class before a new teacher bursts through the doors. Peter awkwardly introduces himself, though before anything can get started, a brewing sandstorm interrupts things. It’s not long before you’re swinging above Brooklyn’s rooftops with Miles Morales beside you. On the way to save New York from destruction, neither can help but worry about the ramifications of slipping up on their first day at a new job, or submitting their college essay in time. Neither character’s anxieties ever quieten, even when fighting Sandman who has turned the Financial District into a desert. You tell the angry behemoth to try Yoga. He hits you with building debris, so you quip that ‘he must be a Pilates man.’ Already Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 teases how personal struggle will be interwoven into cinematic action – and it does so in spectacular style.
Peter and Miles take on Sandman together shifting between playable perspectives seamlessly. Just as much as you are in this moment, they are both Spider-Man too. The fight is cinematic and the epic proportions of the introduction mission set up the scale of the game that follows. You’ll beat Sandman, save New York, and lose your job all in a heartbeat. The game reminds you that you can’t have it all, perhaps a sombre reminder of the first game’s ending.
In between Marvel’s Spider-Man 1 and 2, Insomniac released a Miles Morales story. Already an established character in the first game, you watch as he warms up to the mantle of Spider-Man. Much of this is thanks to Peter’s deliberate absence from New York, with Miles filling in the ensuing power vacuum. The game works nicely thanks to this, however I don’t think I’m playing devil’s advocate when I say the idea of a dual narrative in SM2 worried me. Before playing the game, I had half expected the character to take a slight backseat within the plot and give Peter some breathing space. It seemed unlikely, especially considering the game’s tagline: Be greater. Together. Despite this, I still crossed my fingers that it might happen.From the first few chapters, it seems as though this might actually be the case. That is until Kraven and his band of Hunters are introduced. They break several notorious criminals out of The Raft – Mr. Negative included – and you begin to realise how the game’s narrative web is going to be crafted.
Swinging through New York is better than ever before especially with the playable map now twice the size as the last game. This is complemented by some enticing new additions to the game’s movement mechanics. You spend most of your time catapulting yourself through bridges, pendulum swinging above roof-tops, and gliding through wind-tunnels. If you thought swinging in the first game was the best way to fulfil your Spidey fantasy,wait until you play this one. Peter swings with a swagger that tells you he’s been doing it for a while and Miles will tumble through the air alongside a warning that he’s still new to this. Yet, despite all of this, I couldn’t help but long for a bit more interaction with the city. The core mechanics are pretty much set in stone by now, but stopping into Tony’s Pizza to fill up on a slice or heading over to a workshop to upgrade tech wouldn’t have gone amiss.
New York’s suburbs need their Spider-Men, so Peter and Miles act against emerging villains including The Flame and Kraven’s hunters. Meanwhile, J. Jonah Jameson’s shock jockey conspiracy-nut podcast plays on popular anti-vigilante sentiments, casting doubts on your heroic actions.
While all of this is happening, Peter struggles with the possibility of losing Aunt May’s house – financial troubles caused by his recent job loss. His worries are interrupted by the appearance of Harry Osborn, Norman Osborn’s evangelical son mysteriously cured from a life-threatening illness, who is also Peter’s best friend.
You face off against enemies in fluid action sequences unimaginable on the big screen. Combat, despite tech upgrades and new gadgets, isn’t too far detached from the first couple of games, while stealth sees huge upgrades with dual-character takedowns and new mechanics. Arkham fans, careful. Marvel’s coming for you.
You’re given a welcome break from your Spidey-senses with a welcome return to MJ’s stealth missions. You’ll throw distractions a-la-The-Last-of-Us, running behind Hunters before breaking their knees and taking down their friends with Symkarian technology. It’s pretty brutal, to be honest.
Morales has other moments to shine, most notably in his search for Mr Negative. Plot is carefully rationed between himself, Peter, and MJ, though Brooklyn’s Spider-Man is by no means a side-character. As a side note, I found it pretty amusing that during the game’s dramatic climax – Miles takes a moment to ask his crush out for a date.
Probably not the conventional way of playing the game, but I saved all collections and side-missions for after the main plot. Having finished the main story, I found the post-game content drip feeding Spidey missions to be satiating enough. The re-introduction of Yuri Watanabe alongside Miles’ Brooklyn Visions side missions consolidated the characters’ story arcs well, and at no point did I feel like I was hungry for more.
Major Second Act spoilers from here on out.
Similar to the plot structure of the first game, Kraven, like Martin Li, is the game’s first antagonist, but not the main one. While this did work well for SM1 – I couldn’t help but feel that Kraven was just there because he was needed. While his hulking strength poses a serious challenge for the Spider-Men, there’s not really much more to write about the villain. He’s the big bad two-dimensional means to an end. Surprisingly, this didn’t leave much of a sour taste in my mouth. The slow unravelling of the second act does enough to negate this, and Venom’s introduction later on is what we’re all here for anyway.
At times a buddy cop comedy, at others a tragedy, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 seamlessly shifts between cinematics, traditional stealth, role-playing, and action. The latter parts of the game benefit from this the most, with the visceral strength of Peter’s Symbiote abilities crunching bones and splattering enemies. A combination of sound-effects and haptic feedback make you wish that you weren’t bitten by a radioactive spider, but instead infected with a hive-mind symbiote instead. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 does a fantastic job of seducing you with the same potential for power and corruption that Pete juggles. “I’m the hero here,” Pete will say.
Venom is this game’s primary antagonist. You won’t be underwhelmed by the sensation and spectacle of this character, nor will you be disappointed in his novel identity. You’ll learn this as soon as you boot the game up, but it’s a slow burn as you watch his tense evolution into villain. It’s hard for me to review a game without talking about its best scene, which might be a spoiler for some, but here goes. Playing as Venom for the first time defined the game for me. Fighting as the full Symbiote is addictive and enticing, but like a butter-rich pudding it’s best enjoyed in small doses, and so the game carefully limits your time playing as a God. A combination of stunning sound design, ray traced lighting, and DualSense controller haptics had me thirsting for more. In fact, at times I could have sworn the Symbiote tattoo on my arm began to slither. You’ll obliterate enemies and swallow their heads whole, but try not to get too attached, it’s only temporary.
You’ll find out what this means for a host of characters including Peter, Miles, MJ, Norman Osborn, Mr. Negative, and Kraven. The game’s narrative is, thankfully, best analogised as a web. Threads seemingly random are connected with Venom at the centre, and things get very sticky. You’ll get to the end of the game and its bittersweet ending will remind you that when Spider-Man wins, the man beneath the mask loses.
It wraps up with spectacular precision. Each character reaches a turning point in their development, though circumstances are bittersweet. Through podcasts and street art, New York lives and breathes the mythos of Spider-Man – two characters who have led the city through tragedy despite their own. With electrifying game-play and a plot compelled by dark consequences, Insomniac’s triumphant sequel will no doubt have you hankering for a radioactive spider bite of your own. Reality being what it is, you’re better off playing Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 over and over again.
Review code provided by Sony. 33 hours played on Fidelity mode.