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Marvel's Spider-Man 2

Marvel's Spider-Man 2

Written by Eric Hauter on 10/16/2023 for PS5  
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This review is as spoiler-free as possible. I would strongly recommend waiting to read any reviews that might contain story spoilers.

I’ll say this about Earth-1048 – the Avengers in that universe are some damn slackers. Tony Stark and the gang clearly exist in the world of Spider-Man 2, as evidenced by the Avengers Tower standing smack dab in the middle of New York City, but for the duration of the events of the game, they are clearly either off-planet or chilling at a barbecue, because they sure aren’t helping poor Peter Parker and Miles Morales fend off what turns out to be an extinction-level event. Things get pretty dire in New York City by the end of Spider-Man 2, and while our heroes manage to pull through (as they always do), it’s pretty clear that they could use a hand.

To say that Spider-Man 2 goes big is an understatement. The game starts with a bang, with a massive supervillain fight serving to remind players of the controls. But after that, it settles for a bit, allowing players to become reacquainted with the world and its characters through a series of minor – but steadily escalating – adventures. But one should not be drawn into complacency, nor should players fear that this Spider-Man game is just “more of the same”. This is a game that builds upon itself with several seemingly disconnected storylines, just to bring them all crashing together into a dramatic and cataclysmic climax.

By the time credits roll on Spider-Man 2, the game has gifted players with pretty much everything they could ask for. Every moment that I was hoping to see in this game is delivered with gusto, and there were quite a few that caught me completely off-guard, leaving me slack-jawed at the game’s audacity. The story was constantly taking unexpected turns – this Spider-Man’s world is new to us, after all, so the creators here can do whatever they want – and I was pretty floored by some of the narrative choices the game’s creators implemented.

What we end up with is an epic Spider-man story that feels bigger and better than the already spectacular earlier games, which remixes the beats we are all familiar with while remaining true to the core of the characters and lore. The way that this game gets from Point A to Point B is very, very clever.

It’s no secret that Venom appears in this game, and it’s always interesting to see how different iterations of Spider-Man deal with the character’s origin story, given that on most of these worlds, Peter Parker isn’t whisked away to pick up his new suit in the Secret Wars. Spider-Man 2 delivers a Venom origin in an extremely fun and unrushed manner – don’t expect the toothy villain to appear immediately. There’s a narrative at work here, and it finds ways to move through the stages of this familiar story while still being surprising and engaging.

Of course, all of the story stuff in these Spider-Man games only works because of the strength of the writing and performances. It is a very rare game indeed that sees me sitting through every cutscene and line of dialogue, without even trying to figure out what button will skip ahead. But the characters in Spider-Man 2 are so compelling that the thought of disrespecting the game by skipping any of it never even crossed my mind. This is beyond Hollywood-level production value, packing in enough material for five or six fantastic Spider-Man films. 

The Miles and Peter of Earth-1048 are two of the most likable and natural-seeming iterations of these characters, to the point that you almost wish you knew them in real life. They are both forthright and honorable, while being hilarious smart-asses at the same time. If anything, the quips and jokes in this game are improved over the previous two, and I don’t recall ever hearing a repeated clip of dialogue during the game’s many battles. Everything that is said is situationally appropriate and usually pretty funny.

Joining Peter and Miles for a lot of the adventure this time around is a much-less-sucky Mary Jane Watson. The character herself wasn’t bad in the first game, but I found the sections where I had to sneak around as MJ in the first game to be a total slog, to the point where I groaned out loud the first time the game loaded and popped me into her shoes in Spider-Man 2. But I needn’t have feared; the MJ sections in Spider-Man2 are much more punchy and fun, giving the character more agency and making her into a true team member (and one that I didn’t begrudge having around). That said, someone needs to teach this woman how to use the brakes on a motorcycle. Mary Jane must have some serious road rash by the end of this game.

Spoiler: Mary Jane has an army of gnomes that follow her around on her crusade to rid the neighborhood of trees. Facts.

A new member of the gang this time is Harry Osborne, Peter’s rich-kid best friend from high school. I’ll be honest here, I’ve never understood why Pete would be friends with Harry, as the character always seems to come off as an entitled dick (James Franco, anyone?). But in Spider-Man 2, Harry is easy-going and likable, probably the best iteration of the character I’ve seen in any media. I kept waiting to hate Harry, particularly since we all know that the character usually breaks bad. But nope, Harry seems like a genuinely good dude, and is a welcome addition to the game’s cast.

It's to Spider-Man 2’s credit that the game finds time to give every member of it’s sprawling cast a moment to shine. While this is primarily Peter Parker’s arc, Miles and his gang of regulars are all given plenty of time in the spotlight, and it’s pretty clear by the end of the game that without Miles, Peter would have been a goner. The younger (cooler?) Spider-Man saves the day repeatedly, elevating what could have been a supporting role to something greater. While Miles is still playing the protege, he is much more a seasoned equal in this game, and Peter knows it. The dynamic between the two is heartwarming and delightful.

Both of these characters are capable of supporting an entire game by themselves, but it’s fun to pop back and forth between them, and even more fun to see them interact. Some of the best moments in the game are when the player swings down to stop some petty street crime with one of the Spider-Men, and the other just shows up out of nowhere, elevating the fight into a visually spectacular slow-motion light show, while Miles and Peter compliment each other on the coolness of their moves. It's pretty great to watch them be impressed with each other. 

As with the previous titles, there are plenty of side activities that unlock over the course of the game, all of which help Spider-Man 2’s world feel more authentic and lived in. Whether it’s helping Ganke wrangle his current science projects or finding an old man lost in Central Park, the game finds small moments to remind the player that these are indeed friendly neighborhood Spider-Men.

The traversal system in Spider-Man 2 continues to be a technical marvel. Along with the base system that carries over from the previous games, this game adds “web-wings”, which allow Peter and Miles to soar for short distances through the city, catching updrafts and wind tunnels between skyscrapers. As usual, zipping and zapping around New York is such a pleasure that I rarely even thought about using the fast-travel system (even though it looks super cool when it loads you in).

New York City gets a similar upgrade, with the base city looking much more detailed – with a few new districts tossed in to boot. Not being a New Yorker, I have no idea how much the city is shrunk down and altered to fit into a video game, but it sure feels authentic and cool. I particularly enjoyed strolling down the street as Miles and interacting with the public, who always seem to have something to say.

The combat system in Spider-Man 2 will be instantly familiar to players of the first two games, but like the rest of the game, it goes into some interesting and unexpected places. Peter and Miles are already ridiculously powerful superheroes, but Spider-Man 2 finds cools ways to give them further upgrades that feel great, are fun to use, and make sense in the scope of the narrative. While some of the best stuff in the game requires a bit of patience, don’t worry, it’s totally worth the wait. One specific improvement that I absolutely loved was the ability to sling web tightropes across open areas while engaging in the game's excellent stealth areas. I would end up creating a giant web of ropes all over warehouse ceilings, leaving scores of bad guys dangling helplessly in my wake. 

The choice to move Spider-Man 2 exclusively to the current generation of PlayStation was the correct one. Visually, this game is a stunning achievement of artistry, and I'm incredibly glad Sony chose not to kneecap the game by releasing it on PS4. Once you see it in action, you'll see what I'm talking about. The Venom effects are spectacular. I mean it when I say this – you can literally pause the game at any moment and construct an awesome scene with the game’s photo mode. I never play with photo mode in games, but I was stunned at some of the cool stuff that I could see when I entered the mode in Spider-Man 2. When you can take time to notice it, all of the sparks and blood and goo flying around in every frame of this game is simply stunning. The fact that the game is rendering all this stuff in real-time is mind-blowing. This game finally shows off what the PS5 is capable of.

I also want to take a moment to acknowledge the very cool ways in which Spider-Man 2 users the DualSense controller. At one point, I loaded up the game without remembering to turn on my system’s soundbar, and it became apparent just how many cool sounds and effects were flowing from my controller that I had just been taking for granted. The trigger stuff is also amazing.

"Sorry, man. Too busy painting the roof to help. - Johnny"

Spider-Man 2 is also one of the cleanest-feeling AAA games I’ve played, particularly given that I played the majority of the game before a pre-release bug patch. They must have QA’d the hell out of this thing, because the only bug I saw the entire time I played was some dude standing in mid-air on the street, bopping to the music in his headphones. It was amusing, and totally non-critical.

So yes, everything in Spider-Man 2 feels like an upgrade from the first games, while still feeling part of a cohesive whole. Remember how the first Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movie was so good, but then the second one dropped, and everybody’s jaws hit the floor? It was the same cast in the same world, but it just elevated everything to a new level. That’s how this game is. Spider-Man 2 takes what was already a 10 and cranks it up to 12 or 13. Unfortunately, our scoring metrics don’t go that high. So, like Spider-Man, we’ll do the best we can under the circumstances.

A stunning achievement both technically and narratively, Spider-Man 2 makes every moment of gameplay feel epic while still delivering a great story with a ton of heart. The creators at Insomniac know and love these characters, and that care manifests both in the quieter moments and in the jaw-dropping cinematic action scenes. Thrilling, gut-wrenching, and visually spectacular, this is among the best representations of Spider-Man in any media. An absolute no-brainer for every PlayStation 5 owner, Spider-Man 2 shows what your system is truly capable of. 

Rating: 10 Perfect

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Howdy.  My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids.  During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories.  I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 and PS VR2 to my headset collection.  I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.

My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then.  I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep.  Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, Series S, PS5, PS VR2, Quest 3, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan.  While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.

When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host the Chronologically Podcast, where we review every film from various filmmakers in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @eric_hauter, and check out my YouTube channel here

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