When I first played Insomiac’s Spider-Man game in 2018, I believed all my childhood dreams had come true. As a multidecade old fan of the web-slinging superhero, I waited with bated breath for a hint of action after Miles Morales. However, I had tempered my expectations, knowing that the studio could definitely not top their previous creations. But after spending more than 20 hours swinging around New York City in Spider-Man 2, I have been proven wrong. Spider-Man 2 packs more than the deadly Venom, and that’s no secret. However, I just wasn’t prepared for what lay in store for me.
Thanks to the good folks over at Sony and my editor, I could score an early copy of Spider-Man 2 and play to my heart’s content over the last two weeks. What follows is an honest review of a game series that has been decades in the making and how it’s taking shape to bring you more excitement.
Note: The review below contains mild spoilers. Proceed with caution.
Enter, Pursued by Spider-Men
Spider-Man 2 takes place after the events of Miles Morales, which was more like a DLC after the 2018 Spider-Man game. The namesake young Spider is noticeably older now and is struggling with college admissions. Peter, on the other hand, is struggling with managing his personal life along with his identity. However, everything begins to spiral almost immediately as Sandman escapes confinement. As the Spidermen ditched their normal duties once again, I was given the controls in what felt like an amazing chase sequence.
Insomniac has a penchant for creating spectacular scenes, and that is the first thing that came to my mind as I went around NYC pursuing the large sand monster. As expected, and as seen in the gameplay trailer, the fight was littered with some incredibly well-done cinematic cutscenes, quick time events, and a fair bit of navigating through buildings while you fight multiple mini Sandmen and ultimately defeat the big one. While the fight until that point didn’t feel something very new, I was surprised a second later with some new toys.
The new toys in question are Web Wings, making traversing the city easy for the player. More on this later. As the fight wraps up and we send Sandman back behind bars, he warns of impending doom and someone coming for us. This is when Kraven the Hunter, one of the game’s antagonists, enters, and the story unfolds.
A Darker Shade of Black
As Sandman gets tucked away in his prison cell, the story of Kraven the Hunter begins. Kraven is a child of the forest and, as such, ruthless in all things necessary. The infamous hunter roams the wilds, looking for the most dangerous prey. And in this game, he has set his eyes on New York. As Kraven and his Hunters enter the city and begin killing villains, it is our friendly neighborhood Spiderman duo that comes to the rescue.
Between all this, however, we need to turn our attention to Oscorp because it’s where lies an important piece of the story. Harry, who you might have seen in the previous trailers and in the post-credits scene of Miles Morales, is back and is seemingly cured. As part of his new life, the character wants to join ranks with Peter and heal the world. Fast friends as they are, Peter and Harry begin spending time together. This is also when we start to see Peter spend less time with Miles, which also causes the former to withdraw himself. While it was too early to tell, I had an inkling Harry could come in the way even more later on.
This part of the story is followed by a time period where I went through some ‘filler missions.’ While they were still interesting, the pace of the story began to feel a bit like a drag at one point. However, that changed when a certain black symbiote called Venom entered the mix and joined the ranks of villains in Spider-Man 2. Following Venom’s entry, there is a slow unraveling of the spool of yarn that I could kind of see coming. And with Black Cat out of NYC, the task of playing with this spool of yarn fell on our two spidey friends.
Partially Predictable yet Extremely Satisfying
Since the game follows a linear story path, I had already begun to guess what was going to happen. However, this has nothing to do with bad writing or poor storytelling. As a pop-culture fan, I have grown up watching Spider-Man movies for a solid decade. And while my comic book knowledge isn’t top-notch, I had enough help. As such, I could foretell what was about to happen. However, I wasn’t prepared for how Spider-Man 2 went about it.
Insomniac has taken a seemingly simple story and approached it beautifully while taking some creative liberty. As the game moves along, it takes not one but multiple dark turns that make me rethink my entire experience. Call it a change of pace or a different tone, but this game felt like diving into the dark recesses of minds that I thought were all light.
This is also when we see the rift between the two playable characters widen and, at one point, stretch to their breaking point. However, the best part is that this change is gradual and not because of just Kraven or Venom. There is a nice sprinkle of co-relation between Kraven’s interest in New York, Peter, and his changes, and how Venom comes into it all. You might even find yourself doubting your own side at one point.
Each character, including Peter, Miles, and MJ, goes through steady and still interesting developments that render them into new people by the time I am done with them. As I saw my favorite heroes fight amongst themselves and get greedy for power not of this Earth, I began to lose hope of a peaceful resolution and a happy ending.
Fortunately, Spider-Man 2 knew we were suckers for redemption arcs. The final act of the game is all about letting go of greed and coming back to what you were. Seeing those final moments reminded me of 2007’s Spider-Man 3 where MJ tries to help Peter and brings him back to reality, hitting with a powerful quote — “Everybody needs help sometimes, Peter. Even Spider-Man.” While we won’t spoil the end for you, I will say that it perfectly connects back to the narrative undertone that runs throughout the entire game.
However, you might have mentioned the lack of more mention about Kraven the Hunter. Did he fall off the edge of NYC? Not exactly. But to see how all the chips fall in the game later on, you will have to play it yourself.
My overall experience with Spider-Man 2’s story was even more of an emotional rollercoaster than the last one. While I felt excitement and giddy in the first half, it was replaced with sadness and even anxiety in parts later on. The game essentially manipulates players by making them sympathize with the characters while disliking them simultaneously.
The ending is as bittersweet as I expected and even left me with a nice post-credits scene (more on this coming later this week). Spider-Man 2, unlike other games, plays out like a well-done experience that can quite easily be confused for a movie or book. However, since it is a game indeed, I got to enjoy the story while having an active part in how it plays out.
Spider-Man 2 Is Grander than Ever
While the story itself is satisfying, Spider-Man 2 has also doubled its dose of action and exhilaration. There are multiple boss fights in the game that each have their own nuances required to win. Fortunately, Peter and Miles are more powerful than ever and have several new and old abilities. These include old reliable such as Venom Punch and Venom Smash to blow away your enemies to new abilities like Thunder Burst and Galvanize.
Peter gets the bigger end of the stick in the game and has even more abilities to choose from (more on the revamped skills tab below). This, in turn, is because of the multiple suit changes, including with and without Venom powers. As you might be able to tell, Venom abilities are absolutely terrifying and capable of causing some serious damage. These will be extremely helpful to you in the second half when enemies get bigger and badder.
Speaking of enemies, there are many new ones in the game. As I played more and the story went ahead, I faced more terrifying forces that sometimes felt overwhelming. The boss fights, as mentioned above, follows the same fashion. They are cinematic, fast-paced, and involve a lot of action that somehow dwarfs Dr. Ock’s final fight in the initial game.
Regarding graphical realism, Spider-Man 2 looks about the same as its predecessors. While things are tidied up, Insomniac seems to have gone with a tried and tested approach and just made it a bit better. This is evident with some light and scatter effects here and there. Most of my gameplay was centered around the 60FPS Performance mode, and it ran perfectly well on our PS5. However, the Fidelity mode itself looked quite beautiful. A thing to note, though, is that I did appreciate the improved reflections this time around.
However, amidst all this, there are a few bugs here and there that sometimes hamper the experience. Enemies and civilians floated in the air, Spider-Man clipped into buildings, and a few levels crashed the game at times. The final mission for me was bugged, and I had to do it thrice. This was after the latest patch provided by Sony. Still, we can chalk it up to an early build, but make sure to have ample save files to avoid corruption.
Gameplay: Old Recipe, New Ingredients
In its traditional sense, Spider-Man 2 follows almost the same gameplay mechanics we have come to know and love. You still rely on the good old swinging mechanics that got you through the city, albeit with improvements. However, swinging in Spider-Man 2 feels more flexible and more vivid than ever before, at least to me. Or, maybe it had been so long since I swung around in NYC. Zipping to places and point launches will also come as second nature to veteran gamers.
Furthermore, Insomniac has inserted new ingredients in an already winning recipe that still adds variety to the gameplay. For starters, the biggest inclusion, as mentioned above, is the Web Wings that let players fly around the map with ease. All I needed to do was gain enough height and open them up to traverse faster. They made traversing NYC effortless as I flew around like a mini Superman.
Perhaps this is also the reason why fast travel is not unlocked by default and must be gained in every district. This is one little detail that still bothers me, but it’s a game decision. Other additions, like Slingshot Launch that’s shown in the trailer, are useful, but I relied on my abilities to get by naturally.
Speaking of NYC, the map in Spider-Man 2 is twice as big as ever. The locked boroughs of the city in the older game are now available and have many new activities to take part in. These include a string of part collection activities, weapon stashes, public app requests, and, of course, Photo Ops. I was a bit sad at the lack of backpacks this time, but there’s more than enough variety to compensate. The in-game map and UI have also been updated to be more visually appealing and easier to understand.
Turn down the Difficulty This Time
Combat is even more fast-paced than before, with AI that just won’t quit. Insomniac has assumed and used the growth of Peter and Miles from the previous games. While I was still able to web up enemies, swing kick, and perform all sorts of stunts, they were smarter this time around. The game expected me to understand that each enemy requires a different solution. So, as time passes, the enemies only get harder to defeat; this time, it takes all you have to defeat them.
This was a pleasant and frustrating surprise with this sequel. If you are the sort of player who played the first one at medium difficulty, you should probably turn it down this time around.
This forced me to think on my feet and gave me a rich mix of challenge and the intense satisfaction you feel when winning. This did involve some raging, too, but nothing I couldn’t handle (I’m a Siege veteran, after all). At its core, Spider-Man 2’s difficulty and AI is a fight you will feel like going through to save New York from powerful, new enemies.
Stealth takedowns in the game largely remain unchanged as the Spiders zip from ceilings to walls in search of prey. So if you are used to it already, you will have no problem this time either. However, the inclusion of the Web Zip helped out a lot.
While Spider-Man 2 amps up the difficulty, the revamped Skills tab helps even the odds. While there are still three different tabs, as in Spider-Man 2018, they have now been divided into Peter, Miles, and a shared one that affects both. Peter’s skills focus on brute force, while Miles is the swifter one. The shared tab focuses on traversal, swinging, and parrying, but I did not invest a lot of points there. Even though Spider-Man 2 maintains its difficulty throughout, the new skills helped me keep the tide in my favor while still being slightly out of breath.
When it comes to a panache, Insomniac gives you plenty of variety there. Spider-Man 2’s Digital Deluxe Edition has 10 exclusive Spidey suits that look amazing. These include the Apunkalyptic Suit, which comes with a low-tech design; the Tactical Suit, which is inspired by Japanese media; and many more. The devs have worked with several artists around the globe to make these possible, so there’s something for everyone. However, don’t fret; even the Standard Edition comes with 65 Suits and brand-new Suit Styles that unlock alternate shaders for some of them. Mods come back in the form of “Suit Tech,” where you can increase your damage health, add another focus bar, and much more.
Spider-Man 2’s approach towards gameplay and mechanics is simple: “Don’t fix what isn’t broken, but add some salt.” And to Insomniac’s credit, it pays off well. The game’s skeleton remains the same, which will help veterans and newbies adapt quickly and get immersed in the story from the get-go. However, simultaneously, you will get amped difficulty, new skills, gadgets, and a few more tricks up your sleeve that add that much-appreciated zest. As one of my favorite games loves to say, “Variety is the spice of life.”
Spider-Man 2: Is It Worth the Experience?
I have been gaming for quite some time now. And as I have gotten older, my faith in AAA Studios has steadily diminished, and the state in which 2023’s biggest games launched hasn’t helped. However, spending north of 20 hours swinging around New York and helping people as Spider-Man, I am left with a mix of emotions. Spider-Man 2, in particular, harkens me back to the days of God of War (2018). The first time I finished that game, I thought the upcoming sequel could never match its intensity. I was proven wrong ten times over.
Spider-Man 2, in its essence, had the same effect on me. After almost two decades of watching my favorite childhood superhero go through numerous comics, movies, and games, Spider-Man 2018 proved to be a definite experience for me. However, as I sit here typing this out, I realize that Spider-Man 2 is what Ragnarok is to God of War.
Whether it is the brilliantly executed and gripping story (albeit with a few flaws but what isn’t), the ever-expansive New York City, the smoother-than-butter swinging and combat, or any number of different things, it’s been planned with meticulous detail. And it is this labor of love that keeps me coming back to a select few studios time and time over to experience these breathtaking stories.
For all those reasons and more, I can happily recommend Spider-Man 2 as your next purchase so you may be Greater. Together.