Marvel's Spider-Man 2 review: Webs, shadows, and a whole lot of heart

Meet the Spider-Men (Image via Marvel's Spider-Man 2)

For the entirety of this year, as the hype and excitement around Marvel's Spider-Man 2 inched higher, I was pleasantly reminded of the Arkham series. The gaming community also drew a similar parallel with City following Asylum and expected to see a similar trajectory with Insomniac Games’ upcoming sequel. Now that I have sunk my teeth (a Venom nod?) deep into the flesh of almost everything that is on offer—I think I have fairly made up my mind.

Marvel's Spider-Man 2 is a PS5-exclusive title that etches the next chapter of Peter Parker’s and Miles Morales’ web-slinging experiences around the high rises of New York City. We have already seen and heard before launch a number of villains who are part of the proceedings (looking at you, Venom, Kraven, and Sandman), but I can assure you that there’s more to this web than you can fathom from the surface.

Marvel's Spider-Man 2 swings you straight into action

Insomniac Games enthralled both Spidey and superhero video game fans when it released the first title of the series back in 2018. They further expanded on it with the next one, which focused on Miles Morales’ journey. With Spider-Man 2, we have both Spider-Men as playable entities, with the developers providing a near-seamless transition between the two.

Meet the Spider-Men (Image via Marvel's Spider-Man 2)
Meet the Spider-Men (Image via Marvel's Spider-Man 2)

In essence, Spider-Man 2 is indeed a story of two Spider-Man trying their best to lead two lives that are often intertwined. Be it the duality of Peter’s and Miles’ versions of the heroes or that of Spider-Man and Venom, it’s clear that the game is playing off on the characters’ driving motivations. But more on the story later.

Swing, hit, and not a miss

The first series in the title had exceptional combat that perfectly reflected the aesthetics of the webslinger, with quick dodges, webbing up enemies, and other similar abilities.

Spider-Man 2 doesn’t revolutionize these mechanics and instead chooses to simply polish something that is already very close to being perfect. The developers did add parrying, and it is delightful to nail the timing on it when tackling more difficult enemies. I do have to say gameplay and movement, both in and out of combat, felt more fluid.

One thing of note is that having two playable Spider-Men means you can clearly notice the difference in their combat style. Peter’s version relies on abilities with his Iron Arms, whereas Miles focuses more on his Venom powers (not the Symbiote) to take down multiple enemies. The subtle distinctions can affect how you go about clearing an area.

Miles fighting off (Image via Marvel's Spider-Man 2)
Miles fighting off (Image via Marvel's Spider-Man 2)

The variety of abilities is further exacerbated by the fact that you can unlock abilities specific to Peter, to Miles, and to both Spider-Men. There indeed is a long list of them that you can unlock, and keeping a tab on how to perform all of them might be a tad difficult.

I would suggest investing in the kind of playstyle you want to utilize and then simply focusing on it. Nevertheless, the developers do ensure that it never gets overwhelming, and you can choose to layer in the abilities at your own pace during gameplay.

Gadgets are common to both characters, and you can utilize gadgets and then chain them with an AoE (Area of Effect) or similar abilities—like throwing the Web Grabber followed by Peter’s whirling Iron Arms dash or Miles’ Venom chain lightning. While base Peter might not match up in abilities with Miles, the Symbiote powers provide unique new ones that set him apart.

The new abilities and powers stemming from the Black Suit in Marvel's Spider-Man 2 does a perfect job of integrating the aesthetics of the Symbiote. When you use special attacks, it actually feels like the suit is reacting and dishing out the damage. The responsive rumble in the PS5 controller ensures an immersive experience.

MJ sequences (Image via Marvel's Spider-Man 2)
MJ sequences (Image via Marvel's Spider-Man 2)

Another thing to note is the MJ sequences. The character can deal a significant amount of damage in Marvel's Spider-Man 2, thanks to a trusty handgun and Sable training. She can easily one-shot goons that even the Spider-Men take some time to clear.

While I enjoyed the new dimension to MJ's gameplay that shows a more daring head-on side to her, it did sometimes feel too much of a MacGuffin. With that being said, her being chased by Black Suit Peter is one of the most memorable moments of the game, beautifully drawn out through cinematography, the stakes involved, the chiaroscuro of the setting, and the dialog between the two leads.

On that note, the voice actors have done an impeccable job of bringing the script to life. Video games have seen an uptick of excellent performances recently, and Marvel's Spider-Man 2 would not have felt the same without those who lent their voices to the in-game characters.

Iconic Black Suit (Image via Marvel's Spider-Man 2)
Iconic Black Suit (Image via Marvel's Spider-Man 2)

The enemy types are also more varied than in the previous games. Instead of a few sets of generic goons, we have the Hunters as the predominant nuisance, with several more joining the fray as the game progresses.

Boss fights now have health bars that add to the threat of the fight. Instead of simply mashing a few buttons, you need to figure out how to counter and then take down these beasts. At higher difficulties, you will need to be quick with your movement and decisions, lest you are dealt a fatal blow.

Web Wings let you glide and soar

One of my favorite elements in this latest entry to the series is the Web Wings. Used by both Spider-Men, this little contraption allows you to glide through New York, often at breakneck speed. There are strategically placed streams of wind current that you can use to quickly go from one place to another while maintaining your altitude.

It makes the traversing in the game more fun, especially since there’s not much left to be improved with swinging, which Insomniac Games pretty much nailed throughout the series. Corner webbing and movement have definitely been improved.

Soaring through (Image via Marvel's Spider-Man 2)
Soaring through (Image via Marvel's Spider-Man 2)

The Web Wings mechanic might also remind one of another caped crusader adept at gliding—someone we have already evoked earlier in the review. Nevertheless, this is a breath of fresh air, and I loved soaring about as Spider-Man throughout the game.

More flips and styles add flair to your movement across the city. While the fast travel is as seamless as promised, why bother using it with webs, swinging, and gliding at your disposal?

NYC is a living, breathing character

While the side missions have a bit more flavor and variety than previous chapters, it still pales in comparison to what we got in the latter offerings of the Arkham series. Most of them lack depth, with the core gameplay revolving around catching, fetching, or stopping a crime. The run-ins with other Spider-Man during the latter are one of the only saving graces when it comes to these city-wide activities.

That said, the side-missions occasionally provided little glimmers of what it truly means to be Spider-Man. One of the most well-known aliases of the superhero is the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. While stopping enemies and saving the world is in the web slinger's job description, his more grounded nature is showcased within the game, as you see him helping the world one stranger at a time.

Marvel's Spider-Man 2 is able to reflect this sentiment through a few of these side missions. Be it recovering the stolen works from a Brooklyn Cultural Museum dedicated to Black art or helping a citizen house his pigeons, you are the friendly neighborhood hero—protecting the city at all costs.

The city of Spider-Men (Image via Marvel's Spider-Man 2)
The city of Spider-Men (Image via Marvel's Spider-Man 2)

Amidst the high beats of taking down Kraven, Venom, and other global threats, you will find yourself helping a woman find her lost grandpa or saving the Brooklyn Visions' mascot. Spider-Man embodies the ethos of the community, and that is not lost on Insomniac Games.

In that sense, the city is a living, breathing character in Marvel's Spider-Man 2, especially through the photograph side activity where you need to capture pictures of different parts of the city. You get a slice of New York through the lens of the webslingers, and you should truly savor it.

It has its own personality, brimming with diverse sets of people who are all bustling with life. All this becomes a driving urge in wanting to save everyone when they are finally threatened.

The side missions could have definitely been better across the board. As mentioned earlier, plenty of these are simply repetitive. The main story took me around 15 hours, and completing the game for the Platinum will likely take a dozen hours more.

Yet, I would be remiss if I didn't urge you to play them to come across these little nuggets of gold that the developers have crafted. After all, being Spider-Man is more than just fighting off villains.

The story they tell

Okay, I have talked about gameplay, combat, traversal, the city—what else? Right, the story. I will be choosing my words carefully here, lest I spoil anything (small or big).

Fighting Sandman (Image via Marvel's Spider-Man 2)
Fighting Sandman (Image via Marvel's Spider-Man 2)

Insomniac Games decided to make Marvel's Spider-Man 2 epic, be it through fights, combat, and villains. The game wastes not a single moment and starts off straight with a fight against Sandman. Both Spider-Men are trying to tackle this behemoth who has escaped and grown to the size of a building.

A few cinematic moments and electric punches later, we get our first hint of Kraven coming to NYC. While there's an underlying drive behind his motives, Marvel's Spider-Man 2 antagonist simply wants to prey, and the city teeming with powerful villains and superheroes is the perfect hunting ground. Of course, the Spider-Men won't let Kraven eliminate villains (quite a few do expire), and the confrontations begin.

Who they are (Image via Marvel's Spider-Man 2)
Who they are (Image via Marvel's Spider-Man 2)

Marvel's Spider-Man 2 is as much about the suit as the person wearing it. We see both Peter and Miles struggling with their individual lives and juggling the various motivations and responsibilities that are thrust onto them. The developers also do an excellent job of depicting the grief that drives them.

I would argue that one of the most poignant moments in the game was not on the battlefield or in the Spidey suit but on the carnival grounds. Peter, MJ, and Harry's relationship and chemistry are explored as you make your way through various rides and games.

The trio comes across Miles and Ganke. After the introductions, we can see Miles is worried that he will lose his mentor as Peter has taken a new job with Harry.

It is humanity and relationships that drive a good superhero tale, and Marvel's Spider-Man 2 gets you really invested before it sets up the scene for Venom.

Venom unleashed (Image via Marvel's Spider-Man 2)
Venom unleashed (Image via Marvel's Spider-Man 2)

The iconic Symbiote hangs upon the characters and NYC as a specter feeding on grief and loss. Beneath the veil of funny quips and one-liners, the Spider-Men are marked by the losses that drive them to protect others. Be it Aunt May or Miles' father, we know what haunts these beloved characters.

When Peter dons the Black Suit, its design grows more ominous as time passes, and the Symbiote gets a stronger hold on the host. You will notice the spider symbol changing in design or the physique looking different. It is these little details that add to the immersion.

Among the webs and shadows of Marvel's Spider-Man 2, what shines is the heart. It is the relationships forged with one another that cements the fate of those involved. You can clearly see the reasoning behind both the heroes' and villains' actions. You may even end up sympathizing with them and their cause once you understand what drove them to such depths.

With the positives spoken for, the narrative did have pacing issues early on. In the first few hours, I felt there were more cinematic scenes than gameplay while doing the main quests. Thankfully, this wasn't a significant problem, and the game thereafter is tightly paced with no arc overstaying its welcome.

Furthermore, since the game introduces multiple strands of plotlines, it might feel a tad overwhelming for some to follow all those initially. Thankfully, the developers are able to weave all of them together soon after and resolve it by the end of the game.

The story can become predictable, especially to those who have been lifelong Spider-Man fans and have gorged upon the comics. Broadly, you might feel that you know what is going to happen. I did, and quite a few times, I turned out to be right. If you are expecting something that will leave you in disbelief and shock, maybe Marvel's Spider-Man 2 is not your cup of tea.

But, truth be told, that takes absolutely nothing away from the game experience. At the end of the day, the narrative is masterfully weaved, with each thread, black or white, making up an interconnecting web. Once the initial pacing issues resolve themselves and the pieces are adeptly set up across the storyboard, it hits all the notes, both highs and lows.

Bugs, but not the arachnid kind

There were a few bugs that annoyed me during my playthrough and not the arachnid kind. Twice, my enemies were stuck behind walls or inside a vehicle, meaning I could not complete the fight and move ahead with the mission.

The Lizard (Image via Marvel's Spider-Man 2)
The Lizard (Image via Marvel's Spider-Man 2)

The same also happened once with The Lizard getting stuck inside a building during a chase. I could crawl all over where he was supposed to be and make out his outlines but do nothing beyond that.

In both cases, I had to resort to restarting from the last saved checkpoint. Technical glitches and bugs like these are not surprising for a game of this size and scope and will surely be patched out in the near future. Beyond these hiccups, my time in Marvel's Spider-Man 2 was an absolute breeze.

The game looks gorgeous, be it during the finishers, swinging across the city at sunset, or looking at the various sites in NYC. My only little qualm would be with the water physics when you fall into it, but thankfully, that's not immersion-breaking.

In Conclusion

Marvel's Spider-Man 2 is a worthy contender for the title of the greatest superhero video game so far. Insomniac Games has built upon the successes of its previous titles in the series and managed to provide something that will be lapped up by all.

Marking a Joycean return, I will come back to what I began my review with—drawing a parallel between the Arkham series and Marvel's Spider-Man. Amidst the gliding, the soaring, and the beautiful story at heart, I think Marvel's Spider-Man 2 is the closest anyone has come to equalling the Arkham series' take on the superhero genre in the video game medium.

On the topic of whether it has surpassed the Batman titles... I will leave it to posterity.

Marvel's Spider-Man 2

Rating Marvel's Spider-Man 2 (Image via Sportskeeda)
Rating Marvel's Spider-Man 2 (Image via Sportskeeda)

Reviewed on: PS5 (Code provided by Sony)

Platform(s): PlayStation 5

Developer(s): Insomniac Games

Publisher(s): Sony Interactive Entertainment

Release date: October 20, 2023

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