Sony built the PlayStation 4’s catalog with a host of single-player games like Spider-Man. New York’s famed web-slinger then earned a PlayStation 5 launch title with Miles Morales. Now, Spider-Man 2 pushes this console generation to new heights with incredible technical advancements, excellent gameplay developments like the web wings, and a deep understanding of the Black Symbiote story.
Old Friends and Old Foes Reunite
Ten months after Miles Morales, the Spider-Men are moving to the next stage of their lives. Peter Parker (played by Yuri Lowenthal), struggles to hold onto jobs with his Spider-Man duties, and Miles Morales (Nadji Jeter) struggles to advance his college search. Mary Jane Watson (Laura Bailey), Peter’s girlfriend, and Miles’ best friends, Ganke Lee (Griffin Puatu) and Hailey Cooper (Natasha Ofili), support the two where they can.
Most notably, Peter and MJ’s best friend, Harry Osborn (Graham Phillips), comes back from his treatment plan. That plan used a secret substance to cure Harry which has the side effect of giving Harry extraordinary powers. However, when Kraven the Hunter (Jim Pirri) and his crew arrive in New York to hunt supervillains and superheroes alike, the Symbiote saves Peter’s life and turns into the infamous Black Suit.
Martin Li, a.k.a. Mr. Negative who killed Miles’ dad in the first game, is one such villain. Miles still (understandably) holds onto that grudge, and struggles with coming to terms with it. He is forced to balance this anger and Peter’s personality change from the Black Suit.
The Black Symbiote Reigns Supreme
Spider-Man 2 delivers a narrative that fully understands the soul of the characters and the Black Symbiote’s nature. We see a much darker Peter Parker and the utter horror Venom can be. Some pacing and execution issues leave blemishes, but the game understands the heart it’s going for.
Specifically, it understands the Black Suit story’s appeal. Peter’s dark turn captures how scary even someone who is typically perceived as nice can be. The Symbiote uses destructively isolating tactics to trap its prey inside itself. Over the course of the story, there are particular spoilery moments that perfectly illustrate this growing control over Peter. The suit pushes Peter to more aggressive actions and morbidly dark moments.
Writing takes you far, but a great voice takes you all the way. Yuri Lowenthal earns his top-billing and delivers an instant classic take on Peter’s Black Suit personality. Lowenthal’s web-head delivers angrier and more aggressive voice work the longer he wears the Symbiote Suit. That Peter is not okay. Normal Spider-Man and Black Suit Spider-Man show clear nuances. The exceptional voice work combines with the compelling story to turn this into a showcase.
Insomniac Beautifully Upgraded the Already Fun Gameplay
Insomniac took its proven gameplay formula to the next level. You can switch between Peter and Miles for most of the story, both with their unique features and similar core combat styles. Miles can turn invisible and use an electric blast for his ultimate move, while Peter can go into a rage once the Symbiote Suit is unlocked.
Their unique features revolve around their special abilities. Where Miles uses varying electric-based moves, Peter uses a mix of four extra arms from his suit (a la Doctor Octopus) and the Symbiote powers. Even though Peter’s new skills take center stage, neither feels stronger than the other. The only combat feature that didn’t feel great was the new parry system. Both Spider-Men must parry some attacks, and can’t use the dodge action. You can use the jump button, not the dodge. Parries feel both unsatisfying and out of character for someone known for his nimble and acrobatic fighting style.
Something that Insomniac deserves respect for: they focused on and improved MJ’s stealth missions. Many players detested them in the original game due to instant death situations and extremely limited ways to handle patrols. Now, Mary Jane can take a couple of hits and silently take out patrols. Regardless of your personal feelings about them, props to Insomniac for sticking with, iterating on, and improving the first game’s most criticized features.
Combat, however, is far from the only great addition.
Web Wings Expand New York’s Capabilities
Say hello to the web wings: flaps on the Spider-suits that let you glide throughout New York. Instead of just permanently gliding downwards, players can find ways to build speed and climb higher. Insomniac gives you a handful of ways between level upgrades, launch pads, and wind tunnels.
These wings revolutionize traversal. Players don’t need to just swing through a concrete jungle, they can zip by buildings to their destination with breakneck speed. More importantly, they are needed to navigate some of the new areas.
Players can cross the East River into Queens, Brooklyn, and some surrounding neighborhoods. These new areas feature just as much side content as Manhattan Island’s Districts do. You really need the web wings in some areas over there because they are much more residential, less skyscraper-driven areas. Gliding might feel odd at first, but the speed and fun make it at worst equally fun to swinging.
Bigger New York Is a Flawed New York
Actually exploring New York only feels okay. Insomniac definitely wants players to see the side activity when free roaming, but don’t fully understand how to develop that. Games that nail it give a far off visual sight and don’t appear on the map, like Tears of the Kingdoms‘ many Zonai Shrines.
Insomniac does give these activities markers too, but it doesn’t consistently show up in the camera. Some of these are marked with a hologram that only appears when you scan for it. Additionally, each District has a progression level that reveals the whole district and its side quest locations save for Spider-Bots. Spider-Bots replace the original game’s backpacks and scurry around New York with various designs based on Spider-Man characters. That takes away the fun of searching for them.
Searching high and low for activities gives a tiny reward when you find it. Getting the answer key to those rewards cheapens the discovery.
Fortunately, the side quest content is solid. Many of them have great narrative and reward payoffs with a variety of gameplay ideas. You have straight combat side missions, track a flying object (which feels much better with the web wings), and more. Some soar higher than others, but none of it is bad.
Spider-Man 2 Pushes the Current Console Generation Forward
Before talking too much about the tech, we should mention the bugs. In my 29 hours, I did see minor visual bugs like an errant phone floating in the air and some missing building textures. I even had the game crash once. That was it, and while bugs aren’t good, these were minor in comparison to other launches this year. Bugs aside, Spider-Man 2 makes good on many of Sony’s technical promises for the PlayStation 5. It takes about two seconds to fast travel anywhere on the map, and load times are faster than ever before. One mission in particular capitalizes on this and has you bouncing around the city like crazy.
Those load times also help fill New York. New York feels much more populated and the Spider-Men move much faster than before. More NPCs stroll through the streets. Main roads routinely feel busy because so many cars roll down them.
Another leap is simply visual. This game is gorgeous. I normally go for the 60 frames per second (FPS) setting when I play a game, but this game sold me on the lower FPS Fidelity setting. Reflections and particle effects felt a strong enough step up from an already gorgeous image to warrant that change.
Sony’s best technical advancement, however, still sits in the palm of your hand. The Dualsense controller has such nuanced vibrations and reactions to in-game movement. Everything from simply walking to using your ultimate moves comes to life in your hands.
Verdict: Spider-Man 2 is a Game of the Year Contender
“Be Greater, Together” perfectly captures what this game is about. Miles is instrumental in Peter’s arc with the suit, and Peter guides Miles’ development as Spider-Man. Spider-Man 2 shows how it needs both characters to succeed where it wants to.
Venom ranks high in Spider-Man’s villain gallery, but there’s no Venom without the Black Suit story. Insomniac delivers on that story with great gameplay to match. Even though there are some issues with narrative and open-world execution, anyone who enjoyed Insomniac’s other Spider-Man games will feel right at home.
Above all else, Spider-Man 2’s technical advancement warrants its Game of the Year consideration. Sony moved on from the PS4 and now fully harnesses the PS5’s power.