Marvel's Spider-Man 2 - Miles Apart (Review)
Marvel's Spider-Man 2
Released: October 20th, 2023
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Insomniac has undoubtedly become to Spider-Man what Rocksteady was to Batman - the Developer of the comic book icon’s games with a capital D. So long as Insomniac doesn’t slide down the slippery slope that leads to churning out utter garbage like Arkham Knight, it’ll enjoy a long reign at the top.
Spider-Man 2 certainly maintains the high quality of the original, providing largely more of the same at a point in the series where its gameplay has plenty of mileage left. That said, it doesn’t do anything to surpass its predecessor and, having had the experience already with the 2018 original, it’s a little harder to look past the unaddressed continuation of those few creative setbacks I’d have like to see improved upon.
Kraven the Hunter serves as the primary antagonist this time around. He’s gotten bored of killing bearded men in the jungle and pretty much jumps at the chance to start murdering supervillains in New York the second a henchman randomly shows him their glamor shots on his Sci-FiPad.
Kraven is a gigantic baby, by the way. Just his whole deal, it's bloody childish.
So it is that Kraven and seemingly an entire nation of his "Hunters" move into New York under the radar and do murdering. Meanwhile, Miles Morales is coming into his own as a new Spider-Man and Peter Parker tries to balance adult stuff with superheroing. Then the Symbiote happens, Parker turns into an angry gloopy boy for a minute, and we get Venom for the conclusion - something I don’t mind “spoiling” since he was plastered all over the game’s marketing.
You get to control two Enspidered Men this time around, able to switch between Peter and Miles at will barring a few distinct story moments. They both fundamentally control the same, with an identical combat style and access to one set of gadgets between them. Their inherent powers differ, with Parker using his retractable metal leg-claws to cut through enemies and Morales relying on electrical Venom (not that one) and invisibility powers.
Initially, these powers fill similar rolls - both have moves that fling them forward like missiles, both have a juggle maneuver, etcetera - but over time, abilities start to differentiate, especially after Parker’s Symbiote powers kick in and Miles essentially gets some Emperor Palpatine shit.
There’s also the odd stealth section with Mary Jane - these Directed Stealth portions were largely considered dull in the previous game, but I’ve always liked them, and they’re a nice occasional change of pace here too.
Insomniac needed to do very little with the basic gameplay, and that’s exactly what it did - this sequel knows what a winning formula is and sticks to the blueprint. Combat is fast, fluid, and ever-expanding with new Spider tricks, taking the dodge-centric combo scrumming of the Arkham games and simply doing them better, making for visually thrilling, responsive fights that maintain a high level of intuitiveness.
There are a few cool boss fights, though not quite enough of them, and I appreciate how they largely follow the same rules as regular combat - big baddies don’t shrug off Spidey’s litany of gadgets and powers, which is a nice switch from games that do otherwise. It does mean, however, that if you’re doing all the optional stuff and consistently upgrading yourself, climactic fights run the risk of falling on the easy side.
I don’t mind that personally - I play a superhero game expecting to feel like a superhero, not like a wet paper bag full of eggs.
It’s good, is what I’m saying. Fighting is simply a lot of fun, as are more stealthy approaches that the Spider-Men can take, continuing the breeziness of the action oriented stuff. Naturally, a range of enthralling setpieces punctuate key moments, leading to some memorable chase sequences and explosive face-offs.
As usual, story missions are surrounded by some open world busywork. To the game’s credit, few of the side objectives overstay their welcome - there’s a humble number of repetitive tasks, so completing them all won’t take a dozen hours of grinding monotony. Sadly, few of the side stories are actually all that interesting, nor do they lead to a significant payoff.
This is where we get to Spider-Man 2’s weaker elements, of which there are a few, all in a similar vein.
First of all, that lack of payoff permeates many of the game’s plot arcs. As with the first Spider-Man, Insomniac doesn’t seem keen on providing many recognizable supervillains to battle, leaving vast chunks of evildoing in the hands of generic masked thugs who are into everything from selling illegal guns to stealing bees. It actually gets rather funny, the variety of crimes all culminating in a showdown with generic masked thugs.
In fact, Spider-Man 2 doubles down on the villain scarcity by unceremoniously killing off a bunch of them, often completely offscreen with only passing reference. While I understand wanting to make a legitimate threat of Kraven, the way in which he bitches out so much of the rogue's gallery without us even seeing it just feels rather sad.
The handful of villains that actually appear do so with missing context and very little memorable impact. Mysterio, for example, is presented as reformed and trying to move past the villainy we haven't gotten to see in this particular continuity. One supervillain exists just to tease a sequel, while another is built up to and never met in-game, instead leaving a few voice messages for Kraven.
That last one would have been cool in a game that had lots of other baddies to enjoy.
What’s worse, these storylines are crushingly predictable, especially if you have even a passing familiarity with Spider-Man in other media. The truth behind Mysterio’s slide back into the villainy we never saw is obvious from the get-go. The secret target of Kraven isn’t hard to guess once you’re told multiple names on his hit list have the same DNA.
Could you predict what ominous word would show up in the final speech of the nihilistic redhead who’s known for killing a ton of people? Of course you could. It was clear the second you saw his hair.
The predictability of these plots would be fine - welcome in a fanservice sense, even - if their conclusions were in any way satisfying, but they’re not. They’re all either anti-climaxes, cliffhanger teases, or would have been better with past in-universe experience of these characters. As it is, none of the side stories are worth pursuing outside of the in-game rewards you get.
In fairness some of those rewards are great. Morales’ "Smoke & Mirrors" suit you get for wrapping up Mysterio’s otherwise irritating challenge arenas is just plain cool.
Spider-Man 2’s main narrative suffers from some poor pacing at times, with evocative and exciting moments pivoting harshly to boringly inconsequential character plodding.
While downtime can be important to a story, things simmer a bit too much here. This is most evident in the opening hours - so much time is dedicated to long playable flashbacks and sentimental filler while you’re begging for the action to happen. Such moments later on are just in the wrong place, changing things from super fast to super slow at a whiplash rate.
Again, I think simmering is crucial to certain stories, but it’s really hard to go from punching bad guys in high octane battles to dreary puzzles where you “gene splice” by playing a glorified game of dominos. There’s a lot of ponderous fluff that could’ve been safely cut.
I mean this criticism to come in a roundabout positive manner - it’s only because the game has so many genuine high points that the lulls can be brutal. It’s not a bad place to be in when your combat and your energetic parts are so damn strong that a player’s desperate to get back to the action. When Spider-Man 2 hits its stride, it offers some of the best stuff you could hope for. I just don’t need a long playable section of a teenage girl doing wall art inserted in the middle of it for no valuable reason.
Extra care has been taken to build upon the tight traversal mechanics seen the first time around. Like then, it’s an absolute pleasure to swing from webs as one navigates the city, with simple controls and sublime physics. Alongside a bunch of upgradeable stunts and slingshots is a web glider that can have Peter and Miles soar through the air at impressive speed - for the most part it’s a joy to handle, though I did experience moments where it seemed to randomly disengage, and during important chase sequences, one just can’t beat the reliability of the ol’ web.
Spider-Man 2 also has the distinction of being the first game to use the DualShock 5’s adaptive triggers in a way that doesn’t make me want to chase whoever first imagined the pretentious ableist things with a fork. There are moments where you hold the triggers to keep two moving markers in place on a pair of targets - the triggers tense up as you do this, and the sudden release of pressure upon completion is such a tactile relief.
That's not a euphemism.
I absolutely detest the unwarranted resistance some games put behind those triggers with zero relevance. This is the one and only time that resistance served as a means to a gratifying end.
The graphical achievement of the game is hardly surprising, but that doesn’t make it any less breathtaking. It’s difficult not to feel awe at the sight of New York whizzing by around you, bathed in sunlight or electronically lit up at night. At times I used the inbuilt photo mode just to stop and appreciate how lovely things looked. As with prior installments, voice acting is top notch. Soundtrack isn’t too memorable, but it’s not offensive.
From an art direction point, the aesthetic is incredibly pleasing. Both Spider-Men can unlock a vast number of cosmetic suits, and each one is terrific to the point I was changing costumes constantly. Visual designs for the villains we do see are really cool, even though Mysterio looks like he stole his coat off a homeless guy.
Oh, and that smooth transition from map to environment when you fast travel? Spectacular.
Spider-Man 2 continues the high level of slickly presented entertainment seen with Insomniac’s first jaunt to Manhattan. Playing as the Spider-Men is yet to be anything other than beautiful, both figuratively and literally. Great as it may be, it's held back by some dodgy writing that fumbles its payoffs and dips too often into waffle. Between those moments of deflation, however, there is a truly gorgeous and absorbing game packed with delightful action where simply moving feels good.
And since they've established him as canon... who do I have to blow to get Paste-Pot Pete in these games?