Insomniac’s original Spider-Man game from 2018 was the franchise’s best interactive entry in 14 years, combining much of what people loved the 2004 game’s traversal system with the emotion and drama of the movies, alongside plenty of references to the comic book material it all sprang from. In doing so, Insomniac created their own original Spider-Man universe, which is now so successful that not only has it had one spin-off game in Miles Morales, but has justified its inclusion in both theatrical Into the Spider-Verse movies. Expectations for Spider-Man 2 were sky high, especially given the announced inclusion of fan-favourite villains Venom & Kraven, and while the adventure the game delivers doesn’t quite manage the lofty emotional heights of Pete and Doc Ock’s match-up in the original game, there are still plenty of biffs and bang-ups to enjoy with Spider-Man 2‘s evolved systems.
Most notably, web swinging, which was the best part of both Insomniac’s original Spider-Man game and the 2004 Spider-Man 2 game, has been the focus of a few upgrades this time around. Not only does the game (relatively) accurately let you pin-point web swings from the corners of buildings and jump between landing points, it also now allows for quickly rounding corners, boosting in mid-air to gain extra distance, and perhaps most impactful, the web wings. Spider-Man’s web-like glide suit wings have been a staple of the comics, but only recently introduced into the movies with Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, and they’re a game changer here, allowing you to unfurl them at any moment in mid-air to glide along the breeze. There are newly added thermals, vents and air currents that are specifically geared towards your web wings, letting you cross vast distances including across the East River, without ever needing to touch a surface. It comes close at times to making this feel more like a Superman game than a Spider-Man game, but it’s also the single most memorable part of the new traversal mechanics, and is so incredibly useful that it almost makes the fast travel system (which has to be unlocked area by area and loads impressively fast) feel redundant.
Visually, Spider-Man 2 could also have been called the ‘Spectacular’ Spider-Man, as both New York and Spider-Man’s suits themselves have never looked better running on PS5. The development team aren’t afraid to have the city undergo some radical transformations as well, from being covered in sand under an attack from a colossal Sandman, to some others that can’t be mentioned for spoiler reasons. Particle effects shine and are frequently shown off with fireworks-fuelled scenes, and the ray-tracing is astonishing, not only reflecting characters in puddles or windows but everyday objects like party balloons. It goes a long way to making the world feel as natural as possible.
This time around Spider-Man 2‘s story is split between the two current Spider-Men – Peter Parker and Miles Morales. While both are facing minor crises in their balance between their home lives and super-powered careers, both also seem to living life as well as you can as a Spider-Person, with fulfilling relationships with friends, family and partners. However, the pressure starts to build as New York comes under threat from a new force in the form of Kraven the Hunter and his well-supplied army, who are using the city as their own hunting grounds for super-powered individuals. The arrival of Peter’s old friend Harry Osborn, recently recovered from a terminal illness, also heralds a darker temptation, in the form of a strange organic black suit which bonds with its host, but also appears to hold a corrupting influence.
With the inclusion of both Harry and the black suit, Spider-Man 2 invokes some of the less-good cinematic adaptations of the source material, namely Spider-Man 3 where Tobey Maguire similarly faces a personality shift while wearing the suit, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, where Harry’s illness and Pete’s involvement with that is also a major plot point. While Spider-Man 2 is able to weave these elements together a little more deftly than those movies, it still can’t quite make the whole package work, shifting from an overly saccharine opening, to a moody middle and an apocalyptic finale. Fans of both villains may also come away disappointed, as Kraven acts much more like the leader of a mercenary army than an expert hunter, while the eventual appearance of Venom is relatively brief, and not consistent with most of the character’s portrayals. There’s no scene as emotional as Peter and Otto’s duel on the side of Oscorp Tower, as most of the personal stakes feel interfered with by the influence of the symbiote. Miles also feels short-changed in the dual-protagonist situation, with most of his concerns stemming from a college application form and unresolved angst over the last game’s villain, Mr. Negative, while Peter is always at the forefront of the narrative’s thrust.
With two protagonists and the inclusion of the black suit, the skill trees for both Spider-Men are a little complex. At the game’s outset, it feels like Peter has become the ‘gadget’ guy, with new power-ups mainly relying on his MCU-esque spider arms which can emerge from his back, while Miles is able to overwhelm foes with the power of his electric Venom abilities. Once Peter gets the black suit, he gets access to some powerful area-damaging abilities as well, but none of these make combat too easy, with the inclusion of several types of Spider-Sense prompts. Different colours and cues indicate whether an incoming attack is melee, ranged, or unblockable, and all require a different button input to counter, which can get pretty challenging when you’re in the fray amongst the huge number of baddies the game likes to throw at you. There are several enemy types to play around with, largely from Kraven’s army, and just when you’re starting to get sick of them, the game does throw a new range which are equally fun to mess with, leading to a combat system which is cinematic, but at times still tough.
On the other hand, other systems seem to have been scaled back in comparison. While there are still opportunities to use stealth for both characters, spinning webs above enemies heads (and, now, able to join multiple ones together in a useful addition) and picking them off one-by-one in a very Arkham-like way, the majority of encounters can be brute-forced through with combat. Sometimes, this is due to an encounter being scripted to result in combat, but a other times it’s due to a dicey awareness of whether you’re safe to take out a bad guy or not. Your gadgets for taking out enemies are also reduced from the last game, with fun options like the Trip Wire and Impact Mine now gone. Mary Jane’s stealth sections also, somehow, make a return in this game, although they do give her a stun gun, and later a gun gun, to help defend herself. This makes these sections slightly better, but doesn’t elevate them much beyond other sections with limited interactivity, such as an extended mildly interesting trip to a fun fair.
One thing the main story does is consistently throw new gameplay ideas at you, often leading to extended optional side quests where you can repeat that activity, from science-adjacent puzzles to chasing drones to spinning discs as a virtual DJ. These range in success, with the most fun side activities often being the ones that integrate well into web swinging around the city, like collecting weapon caches, spider-bots or dropping in on crimes or helping stop a sinister fire-obsessed cult. However, there are slithers of story material in these that often feel a bit more compelling than the main narrative, especially when they touch on the rehabilitation of various villains like Mysterio or Sandman.
Ultimately, while the adventure itself doesn’t feel as impactful as 2018’s Spider-Man, there’s enough ambition in the scope and surprise of Spider-Man 2 to make it a worthy, and vividly enjoyable sequel. It’s a pleasure to simply boot it up from time to time and hang out in New York, enjoying the new web swinging mechanics and busting a few crimes. The ending of this game hints at more to come, and I hope Insomniac are able to build further on what works here to swing to even greater heights.
-Amazing traversal system made better by new inclusions like web wings, nail the Spider-Man experience -Combat changed up to handle masses of enemies with new symbiote abilities -Side activities are plentiful and involving -Amazing, detailed visuals that still run fluidly
-The story's beats feel recycled from the franchise's weaker movies, and lacks the emotional punch of the first game -Both stealth and gadgets feel weaker and less of a focus, when they were some of the more fun elements -Mary Jane's sections still don't justify their inclusion