Insomniac Games delivers a confident and spectacle-packed sequel that proves heroes are greater together. Our Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 review:
The last time Venom, Sandman, and Harry Osbourne featured together in a single piece of on-screen Spider-Man media – the 2007 film Spider-Man 3 – the results were borderline disastrous (Tobey Maguire dance scene aside). That said, if anyone could make this unique combination of characters gel together perfectly – alongside a bunch more classic Spidey villains – it’s Insomniac. Having already laid the groundwork for a great modern Spider-Man game with 2018’s PS4 original, then nigh-on perfecting it with spin-off title Miles Morales, it won’t shock many to learn that the team has done it again. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 might be a familiar-feeling sequel, sure, yet it smartly innovates where it counts to further deliver on the fantasy of being Marvel’s beloved wall-crawler.
The main difference this time around is the inclusion of two Spider-Men rather than one. And while we got a taste of how unique both handle separately before, it’s only when alternating between Peter Parker and Miles Morales as part of this more ambitious single-player story that you appreciate their uniqueness. Peter, as the stalwart superhero with years of experience behind him, focuses more on the tech side and uses his mechanical arms to deal killing blows to enemies. Miles, meanwhile, takes the more electrifying route with his charged-up Venom powers.
It would have been enough to stick to the power sets previously introduced for both Spider-Men and call it a day. However, Insomniac has been smart enough to layer in further modifications on both characters’ established skill sets to keep the combat constantly interesting. Yanking enemies, webbing them up and deploying gadgets is just as satisfying as it once was to deal with enemy groups, but you’re inspired to maintain combos to deliver truly cinematic finishers. Said finishers that only get more interesting once Peter assimilates with a certain symbiote and Miles taps into a new electric source.
Playing as both Spider-Men might not be drastically different, for the most part, but I came to appreciate this second layer of special abilities for how it could truly change the flow of battle at times. Reverse Flux, which sees Miles pull in large groups to zap them, is excellent for crowd control, for example. Peter has moves to deal with this in his own way, but requires a slightly different approach. The two also have an individual skill tree in addition to a shared one, so it pays to work out which you prefer playing as fairly early on.
One thing that hasn’t changed is how joyous web swinging is as a way to get around. Especially when you consider that Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 makes the bold choice to widen the map with a completely new second island. Luckily, new ways to traverse makes passing between them a pleasure. Wind tunnels help keep you zooming through the air, and then there are slingshot launch pads, and web wings… Similar to combat, it’s yet another page the game pulls from the Arkham rulebook, only here the act of gliding enables you to travel far greater distances than Batman’s cape ever did.
Great combat? Tick. Exploration always a thrill? Of course. These are both aspects Marvel’s Spider-Man excelled at before. Arguably more impressive is how well the sequel manages to merge two of the web-head’s most famous comic book storylines to create a story equally as heartfelt as the first game’s. Though the game kicks off with a cinematic bang, we’re reintroduced to Peter and Miles when they’re still reeling from the losses of their aunt and father respectively, after all, setting both on a journey of growth. Questions such as, “is revenge the best route?” and “how long can one be expected to remain a hero?” are all raised and addressed with a delicate hand.
What surprised me most about the narrative, however, is Insomniac’s restraint when bringing in Kraven and Venom as the dual Big Bads. Much more than tough guys who want to take over the world, time is taken to set both up properly – to the extent that the latter doesn’t make his full appearance until the last third of the game. This might be disappointing for players who have been craving a video game Venom ever since he was confirmed to appear in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2’s initial reveal trailer, but I promise he’s worth the wait.
It’s just a shame that the boss battles with these iconic villains often don’t deliver on the build-up they’re awarded. Most simply boil down to you swinging around an open space with the enemy below, knowing when to dig in and trade close-up blows as you learn their patterns. Rather than dial in to the specific characteristics of each villain’s power set, it all feels a bit boiler plate. This is especially the case with Kraven. As imposing a presence he provides, he really is just an inherently strong dude. Surprisingly, it’s a chase sequence with The Lizard that steals the show in terms of villains – Venom aside.
Then there’s the hit-or-miss nature of the side missions. This is where having a lot more enemy variety, each with their own moves and skills they’re weak to, helps stave off any tedium. Certain side objectives tie into the wider story nicely, telling you more about characters you may have forgotten about or offering context for Miles and Peter’s actions, yet they’re inconsistent. One minute you can be uncovering The Prowler’s secret past by uncovering an archive, yet the next you’re chasing a metal bird in search of tech parts.
My final niggle comes in the resurgence of stealth missions featuring Mary Jane. Though this time she has a way to fight back, the two or three that are here slow the high-speed action down to a crawl. As one of the main people able to pull Peter Parker out of his rut once he bonds with the black symbiote, it’s understandable that Insomniac wants her to have the spotlight. However, there’s just no getting around how draining enforced stealth feels by sapping the power of a superhero from your hands – even if it is only temporary.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 isn’t some grand innovation on the open-world superhero formula. But the slightly revised combat, traversal and emotional story do more than enough to make this a worthy sequel to Insomniac’s 2018 reinvention of the character. With so many villains, two main protagonists and a larger map to manage, it could have all gone terribly wrong, but everything ends up being balanced pretty perfectly. In a world where Rocksteady’s Arkham series is MIA, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 takes the crown as the must-play open-world superhero game. Excelsior!
In addition to dodges and timed counters, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 introduces the ability to parry oncoming enemy attacks. Absorbing the blow comes at the cost of health, but timing it correctly with the red flash means instantly following up with a devastating attack. It’s a small change, but one that brings added combat depth.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is a small but substantial evolution on all the first game’s best elements that does brilliant justice to its cast of comic book characters.