Review : Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 : Be Greater-er

Insomniac Games is back with the latest in its acclaimed Spider-Man series and this time it’s a proper sequel to the game that swung the beloved studio to the top of everyone’s AAA blockbuster tier list. However, with big sequels comes big responsibilities, especially when the original stuck the landing so well. If Insomniac simply delivered more of the same it would surely get spider-fans a-tingling. But more of the same would ultimately be considered a step back for many of us who want our sequels to be greater.

Thankfully the folks over in Irvine are well versed in the art of the sequel and instead decided to double down with Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 in more ways than one. Doubling the map size, doubling the Spider-Men, and doubling the heart. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is a triumph for super hero games, as well as challenging all mediums for the best Implementation of the world’s most popular hero we have ever seen.

Be Greater-er

In what may be surprising to some the game picks up right after the events of the City That Never Sleeps DLC from the first game and spin off title Spider-Man: Miles Morales. It’s not marketed heavily but Insomniac is very much developing its own pocket spider-verse here. Miles is settled in as the “other” Spider-Man, and he and Peter are trying to cope with past events, while also attempting to normalize their lives outside of being friendly neighborhood Spider-Men. The decision to build the stories in all of these games as an interconnected universe allows the weight of previous titles to act as a strong narrative foundation to what transpires here. I won’t be getting into any story specifics in this review, but it is worth talking about its fantastic structure.

You see, the game has you play as both Spider-Men interchangeably, and impressively I might add, but It also has you learn who these men are, as people, just as impressively. This is evidenced immediately as the game opens with both characters out of suit as themselves. A move that is in direct contrast to the original game which had you web swinging faster than a Joe’s Pizza delivery.

The original game also followed the modern superhero trend of skipping over the heroes origin story. The set of defining events that act as the basis of any heroes identity. In general this is skipped over in modern superhero stories, because we all know what happens to uncle Ben. What’s impressive about Spider-Man, and to a greater extent Spider-Man 2, is that because of Insomniac’s uniform distribution of characterization between Peter, Miles, as well as their alter egos, we end up with deeper characters overall.

These out-of-suit character moments never overstay their welcome, though, as there is always someone to save or a villain to thwart. In fact not long after the opening sequence you are thrust right into one of the coolest set-piece spectacles of this entire generation. The leap to next-gen is put on full display here as you effortlessly swap from Peter to Miles, through both small and grand scale fight sequences. In fact this entire opening sequence, from the charming human moments shared between our leads, to the heroic feats they accomplish together and the bombastic and captivating spectacle of it all, really is a microcosm of what you can expect throughout this entire 20-hour adventure.

It’s a Friendly Neighborhood, Man

The city that never sleeps returns from the previous game, with even more of the famous (infamous) Boroughs of New York this time around. The first game’s traversal was excellent. In fact, the final trophy I unlocked before achieving the previous games platinum was for using the games fast travel system once. I had so much fun traversing through New York City that I had no idea there even was a fast travel system because I never felt the need to check which is quite surprising for an open-world game with hundreds of way-points to travel to-and-from. Surely expanding the map size by nearly two times would finally make me lean on fast travel right? I mean there is literally an ocean separating one half of the map from the other.

The answer is yes, I did fast travel in Spider-Man 2. Once. I had heard that it was impressively fast, thanks to the speed of the PS5’s custom SSD, and so I wanted to see for myself. I can confirm the speed at which you can fast travel across the entire map is exceptionally fast but equally unnecessary as Insomniac has somehow leveled up traversal here. I’m sure Insomniac themselves were confident that this feature would be seldom used as you have to complete a fair amount of the activities within each district in order to fast travel to them.

To make up for the larger amount of ground to cover the game quickly introduces a wing suit that lets you fly as long as you have the momentum to carry yourself: Momentum that can be quickly obtained by web swinging or by making use of the several strategically placed wind tunnels throughout the city. The mechanics come together beautifully and continue to expand as you progress through the game and level up your suit’s abilities.

It’s not mechanics alone that keep you from pressing that fast travel button though, as, like in the original the game, you are continuously bombarded with interesting character interactions via voice-over from the games excellent cast, including the return of JJJ’s hilarious podcast ramblings. On top of that you have lots of dynamic events, landmarks, side quests, and collectibles that show up as you swing from story beat to story beat. All of these have been drastically leveled up from the first game both in terms of the game-play variance they provide but also in terms of how you are rewarded as a player for partaking in them.

There are upgrades, XP, and many cosmetics up for the taking outside of the main quest with some of the suits being exceptionally cool to see. For me though, the main motivator for me seeing every quest line in the game through to the end was something else. It was the strong narrative payoff by mostly everything on offer, from great character moments to surprising teases at what the future of Insomniac’s Marvel-verse may bring. I highly recommend any Spider-Man fan to see these through to the end, even if they start off with something as mundane as helping a few firemen clean up after the events of the games intro.

So while technically very impressive, fast travel is something I never felt the urge to use. That being said, the exceptional speed of the fast travel system is not entirely wasted, as the game allows you to near-instantly swap between heroes, even if they are on opposite sides of the map. Something that is a godsend, as Spider-Man 2 is very much a dual-protagonist affair.

A Tangled Web

Having two protagonists is one of the most obvious differences between Spider-Man 2 and its predecessor. Although common in film, having more than one protagonist, simultaneously, in video games is definitely a rare occurrence. It’s hard enough for developers to thread the needle on giving the player control, agency, and convincing them to care about one character, let alone two. You end up spinning a lot of plates as you want each character to have the same narrative stakes in the eyes of the player at the same time. You want the player to feel excitement when the perspective switches, a switch that needs to happen constantly if both protagonists are to remain at the game’s narrative forefront.

It’s a balancing act that Insomniac has performed near perfectly, as each protagonist has their own story-line that intertwines with one another. The game also employs several techniques to ensure that not too much distance is created from one thread to another. For instance, they ensure a narrative connection between the two sets of supporting casts from the past two games, leading to a generous portion of banter between the entire spider-family during the downtime between missions.

They also have character specific side quest-lines requiring a specific Spider-Man to complete. All of this foundationally supports the main course which is the expertly told, perspective swapping, main campaign. In the end it truly feels like this was a journey embarked on by both Miles and Peter, with neither ever once feeling like a sidekick. It’s a triumph.

Packs a Wallop!

The final piece of the puzzle within Spider-Man 2 is the combat. By the end of the first game and Miles Morales, both heroes have a lot of options to lay the hurt on the bad guys. So my fear with Spider Man 2 at the onset was that the game would find some way to remove all of that power and have me start from scratch, like so many sequels before it. Thankfully the game for the most part picks up right where those games left off, giving you a strong sense of power even from the games first set of encounters. That doesn’t mean there is not a lot of room to grow though as Insomniac has not rested on the laurels of those past games, adding a lot to the combat sandbox.

There are new moves to unlock a plenty with each hero having their own skill tree and distinct abilities. As well as a third shared skill tree with abilities that apply to both heroes. Personally, my favorite addition though was without a doubt the game’s new parry system. While dodging as someone as acrobatic as Spider-Man never gets old, the parry system adds just the right amount of additional depth that the series needed.

This is especially evident when pitted against some of the game’s many new antagonists from new elite units to the game’s spectacular boss encounters. Bosses in the first set of games were highlights for sure, but they are taken to another level here both in number and in design. Once you get into the flow of combat utilizing the new powers, gadgets, and mechanics, the combat really is satisfying. Although, I would recommend playing on the game’s “Spectacular” difficulty in order for it to fully shine.

It’s not all fisticuffs though as the stealth elements from previous games make a return along with some great improvements. Most notably is the ability to create your own web lines. This allows you to essentially build new pathways to get in position for silent takedowns, providing a lot more flexibility to these encounters. The much maligned Mary Jane missions also make a return here, with some notable upgrades I won’t spoil in this review. What I will say, though, is one of these sequences was one of the most impressive moments in the game for me, which is high praise considering how many impressive moments their are.

Finishing the Web

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Spider-Man 2 is more of a marriage of two games than simply a sequel to one. All of the elements fans loved from Spider-Man and Miles Morales are carried forward, along with many improvements along the way. The combination of which was handled wonderfully by the skilled hands at Insomniac Studios. They have shown a level of mastery over this IP that is not replicated by many, across all mediums, and the future is bright for the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Men.

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By Eric Bezanson

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