Another Fun Web-Slinger Adventure
It’s hard to remember now, but Peter Parker was definitely having a case of the old “Parker Luck” when it came to video games not so long ago. There have been great Spider-Man games in the past, but there has been a run of mediocre titles. But then Insomniac, the studio behind the Ratchet and Clank series, gave their take on the web-slinger in Marvel’s Spider-Man back in 2018. The rest, as they say, is history. Even in a year filled with winners, Spider-Man was a standout, with great, fast-paced combat, butter-smooth traversal, and a story with more emotional depth than most movies about the character. Its follow-up, about a new Spider-Man, Miles Morales, was also a great time, with all the same strengths.
Now, in 2023, Insomniac has released, at long last, a follow-up to both of those games starring both Spider-Men: Spider-Man 2. And, while at times it struggles to live up to the lofty standard of the previous titles, it’s still a captivating adventure that’s easy for any fan of the characters to get swept up in.
Not Broken, But Not Fixed Either
Spider-Man 2 is, without question, a great time. Swinging and zipping through New York, or using the much-advertised Wing-Suit, is still one of the best open-world traversal systems in recent years that calls to mind one’s first-time free-running in Assassin’s Creed. Combat has also been deepened, with both Miles and Peter getting lots of new abilities. That’s not even touching on how seamlessly the player can switch between both characters and the almost Grand Theft Auto V level of interaction with the world. For example, playing as one Spider-Man, you can intervene in a crime, only for the other Spider-Man to show up for help. It sounds almost perfect, doesn’t it? There is, however, one fly in the ointment. Even though the developers give the player a few new toys and mechanics, the actual gameplay does not feel different enough.
The map, as advertised, is twice the size of the original game, but none of the new districts feel distinct from what was here before. It’s just bigger, not better. This extends to the side activities, which are all variations of what players were already doing in the last two games. It doesn’t matter if Spider-Man 2 calls them hunters, symbiotes, or sandman remnants if all you’re doing is clearing an outpost. This is most disappointing when one of the many great villains in the Spider-Man canon is added, only for them to get nothing to do. Mysterio is given his own type of side quest, but it’s just a slightly dressed-up version of the Taskmaster challenges in the first game.
This isn’t true across the board. One area in which this game excels is in enemy variety. There are many different types of foes both Spider-Men will be fighting, with unique strengths and weaknesses. Also, even if none of them are new and groundbreaking, the side missions remain fun. It’s not any less fun to swing through the city or web up an opponent and punch them up into the air in 2023 than it was in 2018, but if Insomniac is going to continue this series further (and that certainly looks to be the case) more new ideas are sorely needed.
A Tale of Two Spider-Men
While the game may not be mindblowing from an Open World perspective, its story is nothing short of world-class. Insomniac has a great handle on what makes comics, as a storytelling medium, really pop. It’s a combination of go-for-broke imaginative ideas infused with real heart and emotion. Like the original game, Spider-Man 2 is a showcase for two main villains, and both of them are pulled off wonderfully. First, there’s the intimidating hunter Kraven, played by Red Dead Redemption 2’s Jim Pirri.
Already one of the most iconic original villains, this game’s take on him brings to mind Tom Hardy’s Bane. Pirri’s performance is spot-on, and the arc he is given, without going into spoiler territory, feels at once deeply faithful to the roots of the character and also takes him to places not touched on so frequently in other media. He’s a great foil to Peter specifically, in that both characters are starting to feel their mortality and are pushing themselves to extremes to keep going.
The other, whom Sony has seen fit to plaster all over the advertising, is Venom. Once again, a win for casting, as Candyman himself, Tony Todd, is providing the voice and motion capture for the character. To be fully transparent, this version of the character is much closer to a full-blown reimagining than an adaptation, but that doesn’t make him any less effective as an antagonist. Once again, without going too deep into it, the character here is a visceral and often terrifying version of the iconic Spidey villain. It probably doesn’t need to be said how much Tony Todd works in the role, either. Anyone who has heard his voice before could attest to it fitting the monstrous form of Venom.
Both central antagonists represent great foils for the two Spider-Men, who themselves are each given riveting arcs as well. Though it must be said, the story focuses a bit more on Peter than Miles, which is the one complaint to be had with the central narrative. It’s not that the other Spider-Man is given nothing to do. He has some pretty emotional moments, but for a whole generation of people, Miles Morales is their Spider-Man. And coming off the awesome megahit that was Across the Spider-Verse, it’s weird how often he takes a backseat in this story.
There’s a lot to like in Spider-Man 2. Most of the game is easy to like. But there are a few moments that show clear signs of the aging formula of this series. The story is emotionally affecting but not without problems. The gameplay, largely recycled from the last two titles, is still satisfying. So even with that, it’s still a great game and one of the few recent titles that actually justifies a $70 price point. Anyone with a PS5 Should give it a look.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 (2023) Official Insomniac Trailer