Reviewed on PlayStation 5
There have been few sequels as highly anticipated as Insomniac’s Spider-Man 2. Five years have passed since they debuted their take on everyone’s friendly neighbourhood web-head, and only three since the spin-off Miles Morales. Players insatiable hunger for the dual-protagonist led sequel to one of the most popular games of all time has finally been satisfied with Spider-Man 2 delivering an incredibly epic, action-packed experience that players have become accustomed to from Insomniac.
Switching freely between Peter Parker and Miles Morales’ Spider-Men as they explore New York City, disrupt criminal activities, save its citizens and swing high and low in search of the city’s many secrets and collectibles offers more freedom than ever before. A dramatic, cinema-worthy story and incredible set pieces deliver a story that truly stands as perhaps the very best of the superhero genre.
With exciting new mechanics such as the Web Wings that can be seamlessly switched with web swinging, cool new gadgets and abilities for both heroes and an epic variety of suits to don, Spider-Man 2 surpasses its predecessors in every way in what is easily one of 2023’s best and biggest titles.
Spider-Man 2 has arguably one of the strongest and most epic openings of any video game, dramatic set pieces, gameplay tutorials and action packed sequences blend together seamlessly while setting the scene for the primary antagonist, Kraven the Hunter. Following up such a strong opening seems like an impossible task but Insomniac answer their own challenge with consistently exciting, emotional and cinematic action and storytelling without breaking a sweat. Each set piece outdoes the last, every story beat overshadows the one that preceded it and the plethora of cameos and easter eggs add a deeper dimension to the tale of two Spider-Men at every turn.
Despite the biggest twist of the story being extremely predictable ahead of launch, and even revealed in the opening minutes, the payoff still works effectively and plays out with emotion and drama that is meaningful and impactful to the player and the cast of characters they spend the 11-12 hour campaign with. I finished the story at level 30, halfway to the level cap of 60 and with 53% total completion by doing absolutely no side missions until after the credits had rolled. The story clocks in at the perfect length, preventing any fears of overstaying it’s welcome by delivering a tightly paced masterclass of storytelling with regular introduction of new gameplay mechanics to alleviate any sense of it becoming stale.
Throughout the aforementioned excellent story there are a handful of sequences that significantly derail the momentum, albeit for very brief lengths of time. Riding around on a bicycle, the return of the painful stealth sequences featuring Mary Jane, a woeful rhythm based segment featuring Miles as a DJ and a brutally redundant carnival mission pump the brakes on the fun and blemish an otherwise impeccable narrative flow. These aren’t optional side missions, these are unavoidable, story progression missions that add nothing to the core experience or serve any meaningful purpose.
In a few instances the main story can not be progressed without being forced to complete uninteresting side missions with the sole intent of introducing some of the different types, very few of which get more exciting when tackling them voluntarily during or after the main mission path. Luckily they’re brief, though their forced integration still temporarily hinders the pacing.
Further interruptions to the story occur when travelling from one mission to the next in the form of frequent, often consecutive, unskippable phone calls from the various supporting characters. Some of them add to the story or mission at hand in meaningful ways but most could be done without or repurposed into cutscenes that would feel less disruptive.
With all this talk about story it’s time to dive into what else Spider-Man 2 delivers. Epic gameplay. With inspirations rooted in Rocksteady’s equally epic Arkham franchise cantered on Batman, there’s a clear connection to players of both franchises. While Batman’s Arkham titles have a free-flowing combat feel that doesn’t quite hit the same in Spider-Man. The seamless transition from attacking one enemy to the next is still satisfying, it doesn’t quite hit the stride of the Dark Knight’s war on crime. Combat at its core consists of light attacks, web attacks and combining those to create exciting combos. Performing attacks gradually builds a Focus meter and when each bar of that has been filled an awesome takedown can be executed that instantly disposes of foes in flashy Spider-Man style.
On top of the standard melee and ranged web attacks the Spider-Men can use their web mastery to interact with parts of the environment to launch objects at enemies or topple shelves and the likes to crash down and knock them out. Combat is certainly varied enough to prevent it feeling underwhelming, and that’s not even considering the array of abilities and gadgets that can be unlocked and upgrades from the various skill tree systems.
Peter and Miles each have their own skill trees full of abilities that relate to their unique powers, and a third skill tree that awards benefits to both characters allows players to prioritise their skill points earned by levelling up to focus on whichever Spider-Man they prefer or to establish a healthy balance between the two.
Peter’s abilities include the symbiotic powers from the black suit he obtains early in the story and new anti-venom abilities open up with the acquisition of the white anti-venom suit later in the game. These darker, more violent powers complement that darker nature of Peter as the suit begins to consume and control him and introduces a fun dynamic to both combat and the narrative as it unfolds. Miles on the other hand has a style that is largely built around his electric powers which are incredibly satisfying and genuinely set him apart from Peter in a manner that is rewarding to switch between the two and experiment with what each has to offer.
There are seemingly random moments during combat encounters in free play, outside of main story missions, where the other Spider-Man will suddenly drop in and help fight off the enemies, leading to exciting double-team takedowns and a grander feel to the overall Spider-Man experience that makes for an excellent design choice to punctuate the fast paced, web-slinging action.
Spider-Man 2 improves on many aspects of its predecessors but fails to escape the sense of feeling like more of the same. The combat has some new bells and whistles but it’s still largely the same experience as before, the same too can be said for the quality of the side missions and smaller crime activities. Insomniac haven’t managed to make these smaller missions more interesting, with most feeling like a chore rather than an exciting distraction. Aside from a few cameos, the side missions add little value in terms of variety or exciting, meaningful deviations from progression to the end credits.
Exploration of the Spider-Man 2’s larger New York City is made even simpler and more enjoyable with the addition of the Web-Wings. Seamlessly activating these before, during or after a web swing allows the player to glide at great speeds, and when capitalising on the abundance of wind tunnels to gain extra speed without losing momentum, traversal has never felt this good in a Spider-Man title. Blending wall running, web swinging and the Web-Wings is incredibly satisfying and has already resulted in multiple viral clips of players who have absolutely understood the assignment and mastered the flexible and varied combinations of the three core mechanics.
The final act of Spider-Man 2 features some exciting, if not predictable, gameplay sequences that certainly add an edge to the already epic host of offerings thrown at the player. Turning the tables on the hero dynamic is something Insomniac capably delivers throughout the experience and the thrilling final act is absolutely no exception. The absence of a New Game + or chapter select is sorely felt here as players are likely going to want to revisit the explosive action without having to start a brand new save without any of their hard earned upgrades, abilities and rewards.
An impressive array of suits for each Spider-Man to wear is available for players to unlock with story progression, as rewards for completing specific side mission chains or to be crafted using the various materials that can be collected or earned. There are of course several duds for each hero but those are far outweighed by some excellent styles based on their comic book and film source materials. Style plays a huge part in Spider-Man 2, be it play style, outfits or the flair the player likes to showcase while swinging and gliding throughout New York.
There are a number of technical issues present that significantly impact the experience, some minor, some larger and less forgivable and it is certainly worth noting that these don’t seem to affect everybody, but are rather impacting players on a seemingly random basis. On two occasions I had to reload a checkpoint because an object couldn’t be interacted with to progress the mission, the game crashed to the dashboard on multiple occasions and I experienced several instances where my character would disappear.
This didn’t impact gameplay however, I was still able to fight, move and progress but either Peter or Miles, whoever I was playing as, would be invisible. As you could imagine this shattered the impact of cutscenes, requiring me to close the game, reload it and in most cases this worked, in other instances I had to restart my console. There were many times where I would run or swing into a building, or try running up it, and I would find myself trapped inside it with a checkpoint reload being my only salvation.
My screen was constantly spammed with an error prompt “Can’t open FNSM app right now”, regarding an in-game phone app that allows players to see what missions they have avaible by swiping the touch pad. This would occur constantly even though I was making no attempt to use that feature, there was nothing to stop this from happening and it persisted throughout my entire experience. In the final scenes of the game Miles appeared as simply a floating head, this was more amusing than annoying though it lessened the emotional moment playing out in the cutscene somewhat drastically.
Perhaps the best technical issue I experienced was immediately upon completing the main story, after watching the final cutscene I appeared as a white cube. I could still do everything as intended, just as a tiny white cube instead of Peter or Miles. This was amazingly amusing and admittedly this has been patched recently.
As a story first player the biggest technical issue I experienced was poor lip syncing. These shattered the immersion of the cinematic cutscenes and dampened the emotional tones that were often on display with character dialogue being delivered out of sync with the facial animations. Of all the issues I experienced, console crashes and restarts required, the lip syncing ruined the immersion the most. Hopefully this can be addressed down the road but the damage to my first experience can’t be undone and for this issue alone, the incredibly epic experience I had otherwise experienced will forever be tarnished.
Visually, Spider-Man 2 looks incredible. It is admittedly not the giant leap forward from Miles Morales that we had anticipated but still a gorgeous game to look it. Stunning environmental detail, jaw dropping lighting and shadows, sharp character models and cinematic presentation capture the big screen feel and that classic Spider-Man magic we’ve come to adore from Insomniac’s trifecta with iconic heroes. Sound design too is excellent, with all of the web action and abilities sounding fun and satisfying. The character performances across the board were phenomenal, with incredible depth added to each of the main cast of characters as the emotionally charged story unfolded.
+ Incredible story
+ Gorgeous visuals
+ Fun suit variety
+ Introduction of Web-Wings
+ The final act
– Numerous technical issues
– Poor lip syncing
– Monotonous stealth missions and tedious side quests
– General sense of more of the same
Developed by: Insomniac Games
Published by: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: October 20 2023
Platforms: PlayStation 5
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All digital photography captured in-game by Games of DAYNE