In the Game: ‘Spider-Man 2’ is a Glorious Experience

I find it pretty difficult to get excited over anything Marvel or DC related nowadays with the over-saturation of superhero movies and TV shows we have been getting. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the classic characters and their powers… but I am just so exhausted. I miss the days where superhero movies were big events that people got excited about. Now it feels like there’s a new Marvel or DC flick coming out every 6-8 months. While the quality of the recent ones can definitely be questioned, their monetary hype cannot be denied.

I am not wild about 90% of the mainstream superhero movies, but I tend to enjoy superhero video games. The Rocksteady Arkham trilogy was a major gaming highlight of the 2010s. The combat system in Arkham Asylum wound up becoming the blueprint for every other third-person action game. Being able to punch and kick with the force of a train whilst zooming all over the room was such a thrilling gameplay loop. Slapping bad guys around with your cape or blinding them with your smoke bombs. Lurking in the shadows and throwing Batarangs at the head of armed criminals. The vast majority of enemy encounters had like 20-30 guys fighting you at a time. Even though you were physically outnumbered, you never really FELT outnumbered because you were well equipped to win most tussles without an issue.

The Batman Arkham trilogy effortlessly scratched the power fantasy itch that every superhero game should. When you weren’t fighting bad guys, you would use your detective work to find out hidden details within your surroundings. Every aspect of the main gameplay loop was pure fun and there wasn’t really a moment to be bored. There really hadn’t been any other superhero game that even came close to what Rocksteady achieved… that’s where Insomniac comes in.

Insomniac is one of those developers that really doesn’t miss when it comes to fun factor. They have one of the most unreal catalogues in the gaming world. You may know them as the creators of Spyro the Dragon, Ratchet and Clank, Resistance, and the super dope cult favourite, Sunset Overdrive. The fact that they have two of the most recognizable names in gaming under their belt is huge. It makes perfect sense to me that Sony and Marvel entrusted them to take their beloved Spider-Man. Given their track record, it’s no surprise that Insomniac knocked it out of the park with Spider-Man in 2018. The developer known for making some of the most fun and beloved classic games was able to give Spider-Man the modern classic he deserved. They followed it up with Spider-Man: Miles Morales. It was a smaller scale experience, but it was still a total blast and highly regarded. Everyone was dying to get their hands on a proper sequel to the 2018 classic. Fast forward to October 2023 and Spider-Man 2 is in our hands and uhhh… spoiler alert… it fucking rules.

Spider-Man 2 brings a lot more than just a big fancy ‘2‘ to the table. It’s a fitting name for the game because it really does provide twice as much content as the first game did. You can swap between Peter Parker and Miles Morales at will. Both Spider-Men have the ability to swing around New York and kick the shit out of criminals. Both protagonists have terrific one liners and fantastic overall delivery. The real standout is Yuri Lowenthal as Peter Parker. His performance in the Spider-Man games have been absolutely tremendous, but he really steals the show here, especially once the Symbiote is involved. Yuri actually gets quite scary and aggressive as Peter and it is some of the best voice acting I have heard all year.

Laura Bailey also kills it as Mary Jane Watson. Mary Jane is an additional playable character in the game’s stealth sections. This time around, the gameplay is way more interesting and fun. I always felt MJ’s sections in the first game were easily the worst thing about it. Now MJ has a super powerful taser gifted to her by Silver Sable. She also trained under Silver Sable and is now super agile and is able to handle herself if caught. There are only a handful of opportunities to play as MJ, but they managed to make her sections actually enjoyable this time around!

If you’ve played the other entries in this trilogy, then you know the combat is fantastic. The open-ended combat system allows you to be as simple or as complex as you want. You could mash square over and over again to get a basic combo string going. But if you want to launch the enemy 15 feet in the air, swing kick them even higher, punch them some more, slam them into the ground so hard that they BOUNCE BACK TO YOU and then throw them right back to the ground, nobody is gonna stop you. I struggle to believe any of these people are actually able to survive the beatdowns they get. It’s pretty hilarious how Spider-Man is always talking about refusing to kill anybody, no matter how evil. You really gotta suspend your belief when it comes to the fate of any one person in this game. Moral ambiguity aside, the gameplay is so much fun.

It goes without saying that Spider-Man 2 is an open world game. I would argue that an open world Spider-Man game is only as good as its web swinging, and luckily for us, the web swinging is very, very good. It feels so satisfying to traverse the various neighbourhoods of New York. Leaping off the Avengers building and diving head first like its Assassin’s Creed and then swinging at the last possible second is thrilling. We also get a new traversal tool, the Web Wings. Before, we only had the ability to jump, swing, and launch. We now have the ability to fly across the city. You can fly at absurd speeds and for a ridiculously long time. The sheer speed and velocity you get from the Web Wings makes traveling around the city an absolute joy. No wonder they doubled the size of the map. They had to, otherwise you’d clear the map within seconds.

The ability to swing and fly across the city and stopping crimes along the way is the bread and butter of Spider-Man 2. If you ever find yourself thinking you’ve reached the end of things to do, you’d be wrong. There are so many collectibles spread across the map. Most of them you find organically as you play and explore the world. As you collect the items and do little missions, you’ll gain experience and level up. Each level can be spent on your skill tree to make your combat and traversal abilities even better. You also get to unlock an insane amount of suits for both Peter and Miles. It’s this natural progression that makes Spider-Man 2 so hard to put down. I often spend my lunch breaks just swinging around the city and hoping I find a collectible or two along the way. Somehow, getting from point A to point B through basic traversal is not only a blast, but arguably the best part of the game.

It’s hard to talk about the story without going into any spoilers. However, if you were like me, and thought that Kraven would be a lame villain, then prepare to be surprised. Not only is Kraven actually well written and performed, but he’s also quite scary. There is a great deal of care put into Kraven’s backstory, and I found myself sometimes rooting for him. His reasons for invading New York were not what I expected, and overall his inclusion exceeded my expectations. I won’t mention any of the other villains for fear of spoilers, but trust me when I say that every single villain is handled with respect.

Some of these characters have never been portrayed better than they are here. Not only are the characters great, but the story is just as fantastic. While it may not hit the same emotional highs as Spider-Man (2018) it exceeds in every other aspect of its narrative. The tension, anger and jealousy that the story surrounds is palpable and exciting to see unfold. This is my second favourite Spider-Man story outside of the comics since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. (I think it’s hilarious that my favourite Marvel movie is Spider-Man 2 and my favourite Marvel game is Spider-Man 2.)

Spider-Man 2 isn’t perfect, however. There are a few glaring issues to me that have only been magnified now that there’s a lot more of everything! The biggest issue with Spider-Man 2 is the enemy AI. Many segments of the game allow you to approach scenarios with either stealth takedowns or full blown ass-kicking. I like tackling these rooms with stealth a lot of the time because it feels real good to clear a room of bad guys without being seen. The issue is that the enemy AI is so nonobservant that they literally cannot see their friends dangling two feet above their heads after I’ve strung them up. This is obviously intentional game design to fuel the power fantasy I had mentioned earlier. Don’t get me wrong. It works. However, I often feel like it’s a little too trivial for my taste. Stealth sections only work if there’s tension of being caught or somebody stumbling upon a body you’ve gotten rid of. That doesn’t really happen in Spider-Man 2. It takes away a lot of the joy I get from those sections, which is a real bummer. The incentive to be stealthy just isn’t really there.

Another major issue I have is that Miles and Peter handle a little too similarly. I had hoped that their gameplay would be different enough to where I’d feel the desire to play one character over the other. I was hoping it’d be akin to GTAV where each of the three main protagonists have their own special ability that changes how they play in combat/traversal scenarios. I would often free roam as Michael because he fit my playstyle. That isn’t present in Spider-Man 2, and I really wish it was. Both characters control and play like a dream, but I just wish they had a unique ability or mechanic that made them feel like two unique entities. Their personalities and suit designs are so much fun, I just wish they had more individualized gameplay.

It’s been 5 years since Insomniac brought Spider-Man to the PlayStation 4. I have many fond memories of losing myself in that game, and here I am, in 2023, losing myself yet again in Spider-Man 2. It’s hard to find games that are this much fun to play. It’s a nice reminder that some games are just so easy for a super casual gamer to pick up and play. There a skill ceiling when it comes to both the combat and the movement, but the game does stop you from playing or succeeding based on your skill level. It’s nice that Insomniac made such an approachable game that not only works for the hardcore gamers, but also the less involved gamers. You could breeze through the story in 16-20 hours if you want. I wouldn’t recommend doing that. I think this game is much more of an enjoyable experience when savoured. I think you should take your time with this game. Take time to smell the roses, and kick some ass. The fantastic story will be there for you to complete when you’re ready. I think the longer you spend with this game, the more you will enjoy it.

Usually video games get a little stale after you’ve spent a good chunk of time with. I’d argue the polar opposite is true in this case. That is a sign of fantastic game design, and helps prove that Insomniac really is one of the best developers we have in the business. We are nearing the end of 2023 and there is no shortage of great games being released. Spider-Man 2 is absolutely one of those games. Even though I have a few gripes with this game, I cannot argue its overall quality. This is clearly a passion project that is ridiculously well made. Insomniac and Marvel is a match made in heaven, and they continue to prove that sentiment again and again. I cannot wait to see what they do next with the Wolverine game! Spider-Man 2 is not only one of the most fun games you can play on the PlayStation 5… it’s also one of the best superhero games ever made.

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