If there had been concerns of PlayStation spending too much of this year on some questionable hardware pushes and jacking up prices without many big first-party exclusives to show for it, then Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is the superhero game that both the platform holder and PS5 owners have been waiting for.
Many story elements have been building up from both previous installments. There’s a quick and handy ‘Previously on’ recap if you need it). This sequel doesn’t immediately leap into action like the web-slinger did back on PS4 in 2018. Nor does it need to as the familiarity with the world mean it’s simply great to see how these two Spider-Men’s alter egoes have evolved in the 10 months following the events of Miles Morales. Miles is sporting a new hairstyle. Not to mention the most stylish wardrobe whenever he’s not wearing the mask. While Peter remains hopeless at trying to hold down a normal job.
But when New York needs saving once more, swinging into action is as effortlessly amazing as it was five years ago. As a PS5 exclusive, it also gives Insomniac the perfect excuse to deliver one of the finest showcases for the hardware to date wrapped inside this season’s biggest blockbuster.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is the kind of sequel you expect: bigger, bolder, iterating on what made its predecessor so great. As the title implies, you get to play as two Spider-Men, and even though there’s still a bit of a mentor-student dynamic, Miles has graduated from DLC to a deserving co-headliner with Peter.
You’re often free to switch between the two while you explore the open world. And you get a distinction between the Spider-Men, from the background music to their unique unlockable Spidey abilities, though they do also share a skill tree. It’s also quite fun that whichever Spider-Man you’re playing as, when you get into a fight with criminal gangs on the streets, the other Spidey will sometimes also turn up (you’ll even run into other surprise allies along the way).
New York meanwhile has expanded from Manhattan to Brooklyn, where you can find Miles’ school Brooklyn Visions, as well as Peter’s leafy suburban hometown of Queens. The crucial difference to other open world games however is that a bigger map doesn’t mean it’s bloated with more icons and activities (in fact, you’re likely to 100% the game faster than the first game).
There are still of course a wealth of things to do and collectibles to find in the city, which unlock at a steady pace, but the extra real estate simply gives you more room to enjoy the best feeling traversal in any game.
Just swingin’ around
Swinging around the city was already incredible in the original game, and while you can still do Tony Hawk-style tricks in the air or get a momentum boost with Point Launches, Web Wings (the Spidey equivalent of a wingsuit) makes traversing longer distances a literal breeze.
It’s so much fun you’d never want to fast travel (in any case, the feature is only unlocked once you’ve spent time doing more things in each of New York’s boroughs), while visible points of interest in the city or comms chatter from one of your friends or the local competing podcasts means you’re also rarely swinging around idly.
With great (PS5) power
When you do gain access to fast travel however, it is absolutely remarkable because not only can you pick any spot in the given borough to fast travel to but the PS5’s lightning fast SSD means you swing over there within a second. It’s just one of many examples how Insomniac leverages the console’s power and features, including subtle touches of the DualSense’s haptics, adaptive triggers, or microphone, to immerse you in the slick Spidey experience.
Where it really shines is in the ray-tracing, which is always on to some degrees regardless of the visual setting you opt for. If you have a new TV with 120Hz refresh rates, a high frame rate of 40FPS without sacrificing 4K clarity and detail is simply the way to go. We’ve never seen ray-traced reflections look so good, whether you’re swinging past skyscrapers or in an interior location while wearing a new Spidey outfit that just so happens to be especially shiny and reflective.
It’s all used to amazing effect to draw you into the world and story, which Insomniac deftly weaves between the open world and more bespoke sections. These sequences also offer variety, from more stealthy moments to a bit of frivolous downtime that might introduce a one-off mechanic, as well as the kind of action-packed sequences punctuated with the odd cinematic quicktime event that Naughty Dog used to excel at – one show-stopping highlight goes as far as taking a leaf from Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart’s big party trick.
Fights like a spider can
Combat has the same foundation as before, that is dealing fast frantic combos against tons of enemies, the numbers there to balance just how overpowered your Spider-Men are. Webbing up your opponents, making use of objects in the environment, and building up a Focus meter either for an instant finisher or to heal yourself are all correct and present as before.
Except you also have extra powerful abilities, such as Peter’s new mechanical arms (not related to Doc Ock’s), as well as new gadgets that can yank groups of enemies together or send them blasting back. These might all have cooldowns but when you can unlock up to eight, you almost always have one you can pull out that risks making combat encounters a cakewalk.
That said, enemy types do quickly escalate from generic thugs to pyromaniac cultists and hunters armed with military-grade hardware, while you increasingly find yourself fighting against more waves of enemies or facing brutes that can deal a lot of damage with just one hit.
Parrying is perhaps the new mechanic that trips us up initially as Spider-Man’s agility means it’s more intuitive to dodge, so when later enemies are introduced as having attacks that can only be parried, it does throw us for a loop. It’s then a little cruel that after making this adjustment, the late game then introduces attacks that must be dodged. It’s fortunately a frustration that can be adjusted with some generous difficulty and accessibility options, while bosses with multiple health bars also have checkpoints.
This sequel also takes the opportunity to address criticisms of its predecessor, notably how Spidey was a bit of a narc, which felt at odds with the crumbling opinion of law enforcement in the real world. While there’s still a lot of crime to deal with, which quickly escalates from the generic muscle-bound thugs to pyromaniac cultists and hunters armed with military-grade hardware, these alerts are reported by a community-based network. The police are also wisely given minimal screen time, as these Spider-Men instead focus on working with firefighters and ambulances to save people.
There’s an overriding sense of hope, diversity, and resilience in New York’s community on display, which is often at the heart of its side quests, such as one where Miles has to help save a cultural centre in Harlem from closure, or another where you’re in the shoes of a different character entirely. Sure, the city still faces some pretty dire threats over the course of the story, while both our superheroes grapple with their own personal demons – Peter’s more overt since it happens to be an alien Symbiote suit that grants him greater powers at great cost.
Nonetheless, the story never loses sight of optimism and a desire to do better, with a strong theme of second chances and the need to move past hate to heal. These are also themes that are a natural fit for Spider-Man, still the most relatable of superheroes whether through Peter or Miles’ eyes, compared to say the unrelenting bleakness of The Last of Us or the attempted rehabilitation of God of War’s Kratos. In other words, these are superheroes we can all do with right now.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 verdict
Spider-Man 2 continues riding the very high wave that the Web Slinger has been on with both the Tom Holland-starring movies and the game-changing Spiderverse animated films. It’s a triumphant sequel that deftly balances cinematic storytelling with its two Spider-Men and slickly polished gameplay that makes the PS5 sing.
Now with two blockbuster smashes exclusive to PS5 under its belt, Insomniac has proven itself as not just one of the best additions to Sony’s family but a studio that has overtaken Naughty Dog as this PlayStation generation’s hitmaker.