With two games in its Spider-Man universe so far, Insomniac has exhibited a keen understanding not only of the character and how to tell unique and memorable Spider-Man stories, but also how to craft tight and engaging gameplay that feels authentic to the universe. Heading into Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, expectations have been pretty high, and pretty clear in terms of how a full-fledged new sequel can further refine the series’ already-excellent formula. Spider-Man 2 delivers in all of those ways, and almost exactly how you would expect. At its core, with its traversal and combat mechanics, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2’s central loop hits the kind of notes you’d expect it to hit, especially after the series’ first two games, but it also introduces a variety of refinements and tweaks that expand, polish, and build on the framework of its predecessors in several key ways. Similar to what we’ve seen from sequels in other narrative-driven PlayStation first party franchises, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is very much an iterative improvement rather than a massive overhaul, delivering a much more polished and better tuned version of the formula Insomniac introduced in its first Spider-Man game in 2018.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is set about nine months after the events of its predecessors, and by now, Peter and Miles have become a well-functioning duo of heroes as New York’s two Spider-Men. Both are continuing to try to juggle their personal lives with their vigilante activities, and though that’s a struggle in and of itself, things get significantly more complicated (and explosive) when New York City attracts the attention of Kraven the Hunter and his highly trained, well-armed, well-equipped army, all of whom are out on a brutal hunt for the deadliest of prey- and as a city that’s crawling with all manner of super villains, freaks, mutants, and what have you, New York looks like quite the attractive hunting ground. And with the spark that Kraven brings, the city erupts into chaos, bringing Peter and Miles into conflict with some of the biggest threats they’ve ever faced- including the terrifying and mysterious alien Symbiote, Venom.
How those events unfold and how some of those key characters are roped into the story is obviously best left unspoiled, but it’s fair to say that just like its predecessors, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 does an incredible job of telling a story that feels very authentic to the Spider-Man universe, but also puts its own unique stamp on things. From Peter and Miles’ bond and how well they work together as Spider-Heroes to the incredible depictions of both Kraven and Venom, the two main villains; from the introduction of new, major players in the likes of Harry Osborn and Dr. Curt Connors to the continuing importance of familiar characters like MJ and even Mister Negative; in more ways than one, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 continues to see Insomniac showing off its mastery and understanding of the famous wallcrawler’s universe in consistently impressive ways.
That isn’t to say the story is perfect. The final third of the game in particular feels a bit rushed from time to time. There’s still plenty to love here, including some set pieces and gameplay sequences that are among the entire game’s highlights, but after the story hits a certain point, it gathers steam so significantly, that pace almost acts to its detriment, whether that’s certain things happening without enough build-up, certain major narrative developments not being given enough time to breathe, or some major moments ending up feeling unearned. Ultimately, the game ends on a strong note, so personally, I walked away happy with the story, but I’ll definitely say that it’s not quite as effective, well-told, or tightly-delivered as Insomniac’s previous two Spider-Man games. Yes, it ups the ante with its dramatic boss fights and cinematic set piece moments, but though it does have higher highs, it also has lower lows.
On the flipside, one area where the game inarguably and unequivocally makes remarkable leaps is the traversal- which I hadn’t expected, given the fact that traversal had already been among the previous two games’ biggest strengths. The most immediate and instantly apparent improvement here comes in the form of the sheer speed at which you now travel through the city. Empowered by the much more powerful hardware it’s running on, the game is able to allow players to zip through New York at much faster speeds than before, which means even the simplest of webswinging actions – which always felt excellent as it is – feel even more exhilarating.
"Just like its predecessors, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 does an incredible job of telling a story that feels very authentic to the Spider-Man universe, but also puts its own unique stamp on things."
Another major upgrade comes with the new web wings, which can be quickly equipped or unequipped at any time with the press of a button, allowing you to glide mid-air for sustained windows. Meanwhile, in addition to being built as a playground for all your webswinging needs, the game’s map of New York also leverages the web wings in every way possible. Wind tunnels scattered throughout the city give you massive boosts of speed and carry you significant distances, while gusts of rising wind can give you drastic lifts in altitude to help you get higher up as you make your way through the city.
Smoothly combining webswinging with deploying the wings and using the wind tunnels scattered throughout the city quickly turns into a rhythmic dance of sorts, and the sense of sheer speed and unbroken momentum the game encourages you to achieve by chaining together all of your traversal abilities cannot be praised highly enough. Add to that further iterative additions and tweaks – like a new move that lets you use two webs to slingshot yourself forward from a stationary position, or another that lets you do a full 360-degree loop before letting go of your web and launching yourself forward – and what you get is a game that makes surprisingly noticeable improvements in an area where it was already coming off such a strong base that even if Insomniac had chosen to rest on its laurels, no one would have batted an eye.
Combat is another area where Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 builds on the strengths of its predecessors in impressive ways. A lot of that is down to the added emphasis the game places on gadgets and abilities. Four of each can be used at any time using L1 (for abilities) or R1 (for gadgets) in conjunction with the face buttons, and each runs on a continuous cooldown. As such, gadgets and abilities become a much more integral part of the combat, which in turn means every fight feels much more dynamic and explosive. The game also introduces a new parry mechanic, which mixes in nicely with the combat’s core loop of dodging and attacking, while on top of all of these improvements, there’s also a greater variety of enemies to contend with, a wider pool of moves to learn and pull off, and foes that generally feel much more aggressive and formidable in how they approach you.
"Smoothly combining webswinging with deploying the wings and using the wind tunnels scattered throughout the city quickly turns into a rhythmic dance of sorts, and the sense of sheer speed and unbroken momentum the game encourages you to achieve by chaining together all of your traversal abilities cannot be praised highly enough."
Of course, in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, you also play as both Peter and Miles, and though both are virtually identical to each other where traversal is concerned, when it comes to the combat, they both play very differently. Miles has access to his bioelectricity, while Peter starts out with his metal spider arms before eventually gaining access to the Symbiote’s Black Suit, and getting to use the different sets of abilities that both characters get access to throughout the experience never stops being a blast. The Black Suit’s devastating moveset in particular deserves a special shoutout. Though I’d still say traversal is by far the best gameplay aspect of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, at this point, it’s hard not to concede that combat is a close second.
However, though the game does an excellent job of doling out new abilities and powers tied to the story to keep things interesting, the act of actually upgrading Peter and Miles’ powers yourselves doesn’t feel quite as satisfying. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 makes plenty of tweaks to how progression works. There are three skill trees now – with one each for both Spider-Men on top of one that’s shared among both – while the suit tech upgrades you unlock now apply to all of your suits, with different suits bringing only cosmetic variations. By and large, however, progression is simple and straightforward, and in my experience, ran out of steam a little more than a dozen of hours into my playthrough. When a game gets to a point where none of the upcoming upgrades you’ll be able to unlock or purchase are even slightly exciting, it’s hard not to be deflated by the progression mechanics, and Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 gets to that point a bit too quickly.
Back to the good stuff though, because though it fails to make meaningful improvements in the progression department, another area where it does feel like a significant leap forward (yet again) is how it structures its open world. The original 2018 game has, over the years, drawn some criticism for feeling a bit too padded with its optional side activities and collectathons, though thankfully, that’s not something that Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 can be accused of. Rather than vomiting out a deluge of icons on the map and giving you a long checklist of repetitive side activities to complete like the first game (and, to a much lesser extent, Miles Moales) did, Spider-Man 2 introduces a refreshing and healthy dose of variety and narrative contextualization into side activities. Yes, there are still activities that you’ll find in numbers scattered throughout the map, but there’s significantly more variety to be found among these different activities, and not only are there far fewer of each of them to do, they’re also tied much more intrinsically to some narrative thread or another. In fact, some of the game’s best storytelling moments come through scenes and characters that you will only find in the optional content.
"Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is exactly the game I was hoping it would be."
It’s worth mentioning that, as a byproduct of trimming the fat that many felt was an issue in the first game, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is a noticeably smaller experience. Not in size, of course, since its map is twice as large as the previous two games, while you also have two Spider-Men to play as here, which inherently means it’s a game with a much wider scope. In terms of how much content it offers, however, it won’t last you as long as the first game. In roughly 25 hours, I was able to finish the story, do every single side quest, fully complete every single open world district, and complete all side activities (barring a couple in the post-game). Those who’re looking to unlock the Platinum Trophy probably won’t have to invest more than 30 hours. Personally, I think 20-30 hours is an excellent length for a game, though I am aware that it might be an issue for some, so take from this what you will.
In the end, for my money, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is exactly the game I was hoping it would be. It meets expectations in almost every way possible- it takes the incredible framework of its excellent predecessors, and builds on it in impressive ways in everything from the traversal to the combat to the open world and the content it offers. It does stumble here and there, particularly with the all-too-frequent peaks and valleys of its final narrative third, but by and large, this is yet another victorious outing for Insomniac and its Spider-Man universe.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
Feels like a simultaneously unique and authentic Spider-Man story, just like its predecessors; Plenty of memorable boss battles and cinematic set piece moments; A largely engaging story; Increased sense of speed and the addition of web wings make an already incredible traversal system even more of a bright highlight; Combat has seen significant improvements to become that much more engaging; Both characters' abilities are a blast to use in combat encounters; Excellent side content with an impressive amount of variety and some solid storytelling; Open world doesn't feel as padded out as the first game.
Simplistic progression mechanics quickly run out of steam; Final third of the story feels a bit rushed from time to time.