A hero is someone who doesn’t give up. And if that’s true, then there’s nothing more heroic than Spider-Man 2. Just as with some other recent Sony exclusives, the sequel to Spider-Man comes back in full swing without ever giving up on what made it so special in the first place. It strives to retain the Spidey charm from 2018 while enhancing nearly every other aspect of the experience.
Nearly everything added to the game is a step up, and Insomniac doesn’t waste time pretending this is a brand-new series. We know Peter, and we know Miles. They both had their stories, and now they’re intertwined to cook up what is the best Spider-Man game to date. If we’re really talking about never giving up, though, some of the previous pain points remain as well. There’s no doubt Spider-Man 2 is one of the best comic book games ever created, but does it take the top spot?
Spider-Man 2 is a Paragon of Moment to Moment Gameplay
There are a ton of qualities in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 that deserve plenty of praise. However, none of them deserve more recognition than the moment-to-moment gameplay. Nearly every second spent in New York is as entertaining as the last. If I wasn’t sucked into the ongoing alien drama in Peter’s life, then I was testing out the new ability combos against endless hordes of hunters. When I wasn’t fighting, I was launching myself around the city and gliding at what felt like 100 miles per hour. Before I knew it, I was back to another enthralling story beat.
Aside from a few outliers, dull moments don’t exist in Spider-Man 2. I don’t mean in the cheap dopamine way that you might see in plenty of RPGs. Loot has no place in this New York aside from some recurring materials. The sheer loop and feedback of moving around the city is endless fun on its own. This was true of the first game and it’s twice as good now. Before, it was just the swinging that blew everyone’s minds. Add web wings, a slingshot mechanic, a way to throw yourself in a loop, and now learning how to move like Spider-Man is its own game.
Even when I had completed all the objectives in a district around the city, I still found myself swinging to the next crime marker. There was no loot incentive, and I was already at the max level. I just wanted to keep spinning webs any way I could. Even fast travel felt like I was robbing myself of even more gameplay most of the time. I can’t say that about too many games.
What kept this from being perfect was the need to force mundane quests or Mary Jane into the gameplay once again. The only time I ever felt like the wind had been taken out of my own web wings was when I was forced to take pictures for a school club or learn a new password as MJ. These were complaints in the first game that still permeate the core of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. Missions like these act as speed bumps. I wouldn’t even doubt that they are there to pace the game or let players decompress after a dramatic mission. But Marvel’s Spider-Man doesn’t need that, and it never did before. It only detracts from the experience.
The good news is you can at least skip most of the mundane side quests if you really want to. While the smaller scale stories can be nice, chasing down someone’s grandpa as Peter or taking pictures of an Esports team as Miles is just busy work. I would rather have more strongholds to complete again, where I can push the combat to the limits, instead of doing chores for the sake of more side quests.
Some of the side stories, which are labeled as such, are actually worthwhile. Most side content is under a different umbrella, though. There are also Emily-May Foundation quests where you shoot hologram bees with a drone or solve sequence puzzles. Again, more busy work in a game where I have been zipping around the city as an iconic hero. The game doesn’t need busy work.
Because I loved the moment-to-moment gameplay, I ended up obtaining the platinum trophy. But if you don’t care about trophies, most of the mundane speedbumps can be skipped. You can focus instead on what is a perfect gameplay loop.
Insomniac Continues Their Own Unique and Enthralling Spider-Man Epic
I’ve unfortunately read most of the Spider-Man comics and one of the best aspects of the recent games is how the stories are handled. Insomniac pulls from all the best aspects found within decades of lore and they make it their own. The best comparison of this would be how God of War handles Norse Mythology. Where the inspiration came from is clear. Character motivations remain mostly the same. But how they are painted is entirely different.
Harry Osborn and Kraven the Hunter both exemplify this initiative to make an interesting epic out of the Spider-Man lore. Kraven has always been a fairly boring villain who just wants to hunt for no other reason than hunting is cool. That’s not the case this time. Even Miles and MJ lend themselves to the new perspectives. Miles isn’t some kid from another dimension like he is in the comics. He is tied to the world and gets his powers from a spider owned by Norman in his race to heal Harry.
At every narrative turn, I appreciated the lore and the care given to character design. Yet I was also kept on the hook by what motives might drive each character. I knew all these people and yet I couldn’t entirely tell where the narrative might take them. Insomniac truly succeeded in taking one of the most convoluted hero catalogs and turning it into a genuinely good story on its own. It’s not unlike what Spider-Man 2 was for superhero movies.
Even without the Spider-Man paint involved, the story itself is meaningful. You won’t find the next big thriller here, but there is a well-written classic that allows Peter and Miles to display what makes Spider-Man stories so worthwhile. Failure, drama, and triumph are all tied together by another iconic ensemble of villains and friends alike. We see both of the Spider-Men facing their own struggles that need to be conquered before what seems like the third epic act in the overarching tale.
It also helps that the cutscenes are immaculate. They are even better than they were in 2018, and you won’t find any new Marvel movies giving you better action. Between the story itself and the animation on screen, this is easily the best superhero media you’ll find in 2023.
Arkham Won’t Be Winning A Fist Fight With Spider-Man 2
Combat has been entirely upgraded this time around. In 2018, the combat was a ton of fun and I had plenty of praise for it. Even now, I would say it does the job. With that said, it was good in the same way that Arkham Knight is good. They had incredibly similar combat systems with a few changes sprinkled in. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it does rob the game of combat that feels special or upgraded. Spider-Man 2 managed to escape the same fate.
Instead of iterating on the Arkham combat, Spider-Man 2 manages to blow it out of the water. Many of the same systems remain from before. Combos are roughly the same, and the focus bar is still integral to survival. However, both Spider-Men have access to eight different combat abilities that define their character. Miles has access to different types of Venom or Lightning attacks, while Peter has mechanical spider legs on his back or the super strong Symbiote attacks.
These attacks are entirely separate from the focus bar or the gadget system, which has also been overhauled for fewer options with more powerful outcomes. Many of your skill points will be dedicated to these skills on each character, and you can choose between four at a time. Combat becomes a game of managing your attacks to build more ability points for some massive combos. Shocking enemies with Chain Lightning or slamming ten goons at a time with Symbiote arms never gets old.
Now add a parry system to the game, and you have a recipe for combat that feels like a new experience. What made it fun in the first place wasn’t removed. It was simply built up to have more depth and allow boss battles to truly shine. Each combat encounter became more than dodge spamming and I was able to pick some parts of my skills that encouraged certain defensive playstyles. Like so many other aspects of the game, boss battles were a major step up from 2018 because of these changes.
Spidey, Where’s My Super Suit?
Where did they all go? Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is lacking in the suit department when compared to 2018. It’s not an issue that ruins the game, but it’s worth mentioning. In theory, the game has plenty of suits, and many of them even have three additional color variations. It would be fantastic if all those suits were worth using.
Spider-Man 2 tries to even out the suit number for Peter and Miles. Let’s be honest for a second, though. Peter has more than a few decades of stories on Miles and far more to pull from in terms of suits. Yet nearly half of his suits in the game are just variations from the movies. Do I really need six different ways to dress as the MCU Spider-Man, especially when they don’t even have color variations? The worst part is that 2018 had a better variety for Peter to choose from, with far more history.
Meanwhile, Miles is struggling to reach that same level of lore to choose from for the suits, so even those feel like they’re lacking. Why does Miles have three different Symbiote suits when Peter was the one narratively tied to it in the game itself? Suits were needed to match the same number for both.
Add this to the fact that suit powers were removed, and I was a little let down by the suit system in Spider-Man 2. I get those abilities replaced that, and they are much better for gameplay. I can’t deny, though, that trying all the powers and unlocking suits was an amazing part of the first game.
Spider-Man 2 is a True Sequel
Too many games release a second title that is far too different or the exact same thing. Spider-Man 2 understood how to reach that middle ground, making the game special. As soon as the game begins, we are introduced to the use of Miles and Peter as two main characters. They work together against Sandman, and the story swaps perspectives when needed.
Even out in the open world, you can choose between either Spider-Man for most activities. They both have their own themes, and they have some decent side narratives that offer reasons to explore New York as either one. I loved the use of two characters in Spider-Man 2, and it made significant fights even more exciting when the two Spider-Men I’ve been following for hours intersect yet again.
On top of the use of two main characters, the iteration on all the core systems really makes a difference. Even activities such as crimes were altered. We no longer have to spam square to stop annoying cars, and the game respects our time. And in return, both traversal and combat have been completely beefed up. Even the upgrades system has been separated from skills so that there is a better way to progress in the game.
New York itself has been increased in size, and the fast travel system is one of the quickest I’ve ever seen in a game. I use it once, maybe every four hours, but it’s still cool to have when Spidey is getting tired of backflips over and over. I only wish that more care would have been given to the side quest content. Despite that, everything else is familiar and much better than it was before.
Whether you’re a fan of Spider-Man, Sony, or Action-Adventure games in general, you don’t want to skip this. Insomniac has managed to bring back all the gameplay we loved from the first game and upgrade nearly every aspect of it. The side quests are still a chore but they don’t detract from the main experience or the moment-to-moment gameplay. Enhancements to the game far outweigh some of the boring quests.
Along with the upgrades to Marvel’s Spider-Man, you add the ability to swap the Spider-Men, and there’s a brand new adventure to be had. While I’ll still be a fan of the 2018 release, going back is difficult to even think about after playing all of Spider-Man 2.
With the gameplay, you won’t find a more cohesive Spider-Man story that manages to weave a meaningful narrative inside of decades of lore. Each character is an iteration of the canon with genuine motivations. It’s easy to see that this is supposed to be one self-contained spidey epic, and I can’t wait to see where it takes us next.
Marvel's Spider-Man 2
Spider-Man 2 manages to one up the first game in every way while retaining an exciting Spider-Man story.
- Combat and traversal around the city are second to none.
- The story is full of fantastic set pieces and a narrative that makes Insomniac Spider-Man unique.
- Miles and Peter working together makes this a true sequel.
- Moment to moment gameplay is perfect.
- Side quests are still dull in many cases.
- The game is lacking in Suit variety for Peter compared to the first game.