Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 Review: Double the Spider-Men, Double the Problems (PS5)

We've waited five years, but was the wait really worth it?

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Marvel’s Spider-Man launched on the PS4 in 2018 and was met with near-universal acclaim. Many considered it the best video game interpretation of the character, if not in media full stop, and so when Insomniac unsurprisingly confirmed the sequel in 2021, the hype and expectations began to build on a massive scale.

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Between then and now, all sorts of theories, ideas, and concepts have been thrown about, but as of a few days ago, we can all sit down and finally experience one of the biggest games of the year, if not the last five years, and put any questions to bed. Other than those this game conjures, of course.

Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 – Bigger, Better, Fast and Further

Marvel's Spider-Man 2

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For those who played Marvel’s Spider-Man and its spin-off Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, it is well known that the two Spider-Men aren’t exactly in a great place, having had their fair share of pain, trauma, and loss. The game opens in a more uplifting manner though, with Peter starting a new job at Miles’ school, and Miles attempting to find the words, both to write his college entry essay as well as to ask out Hailey, his long-time crush.

Of course, as things usually do, everything goes wrong, and the two Spider-Men find excuses to rush out of the classroom to put a stop to a rampaging Sandman, who, for reasons unknown – at this point -, has returned from a villainous retirement to destroy the city instead.

So starts the best opening of the franchise thus far. Don’t get me wrong, Marvel’s Spider-Man’s opening with Fisk did a fantastic job of not only establishing Insomniac’s version of the character, but also as a tutorial, and Miles Morales’ Rhino opening worked as a great swapping between the two Spider-Men, but Marvel’s Spider-Man 2’s opening is all that, and much more.

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It does the basics, with the tutorials for the new mechanics slotting naturally in as gameplay, as well as offering huge set-piece after huge set-piece. One particular stand-out moment comes when Flint Marko aka Sandman, grabs Miles and throws him. The camera follows Miles as he crashes through and past buildings at a breakneck speed, traveling over districts and a lived-in, realistic-looking, and sounding New York in a matter of seconds. If Insomniac needed a snippet of gameplay to showcase their intentions with the sequel, this was it.

New Story, New Spider-Men

Marvel's Spider-Man 2

The promotional trailers of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 have done a great job of establishing the story of the game, more or less, whilst still allowing for plenty of shocks and surprises. As you’ll know by now, Kraven the Hunter has decided his next (and last) hunt is to take place in New York, which is littered with villains, heroes, and vigilantes for him to hunt, all due to his desperate need to find one opponent worthy of his time.

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Soon enough, the city of New York is full of hunters, all attempting to locate the biggest and best prey for Kraven to hunt. From The Lizard to Scorpion, as well as many others, Kraven doesn’t waste his time, and the game doesn’t shy away from the finality of being hunted by Kraven.

Just like Marvel’s Spider-Man before it, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 manages to weave multiple villains into the story naturally, without it feeling overly congested or out of place. There are appearances from multiple – and some surprising – villains/vigilantes, both in the main story and the side missions, but it never feels like it’s too much.

However, even with the biggest and best of Spider-Man’s rogue gallery present, there are some issues with the story, or more accurately, the pacing of it. After the adrenaline-pumping opening with Sandman, you’ll then spend a little time out of costume, dealing with Peter’s home woes and a special reunion with Harry, previously stricken and ill, now healthy and running about.

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Marvel's Spider-Man 2

Flashbacks and new job offers do a lot to set up not only the relationship between the two – something largely absent from Marvel’s Spider-Man, other than some Research Lab recordings – but it brings the overall story to a relative crawl. This continues for the next few hours, with the game taking its time to really get into the meat of what is going on. It’ll take eight hours before you run into another boss fight, and then after that it is a constant mix of big action pieces and heavy story beats that’ll leave you breathless at its speed. This is one of those occasions where the second half of a story/experience supersedes that of the first half.

Without any spoilers, the story may have some pacing problems, that much is inarguable, but it does feature a truly unique take on Venom and Kraven, with the former being every bit of a monster as he should be. There’s no second-guessing, no ‘bad guys only’ rule, no anti-heroism. Venom is there to be every bit of an evil entity as he was first envisioned to be, all those years ago. Between Venom and Kraven, the two Spider-Men have their work cut out for them, and mixing the two very different villains into one clear direction is a master stroke by Insomniac.

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There is so much more to be said about the story of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 and what it does with the characters, but it isn’t fair to spoil such a momentous story. Is it perfect? No, as I’ve already said there’s pacing issues and some odd choices. However, it is full of heart. It does teach some lessons about love, loss, friendship and family. It does what great video games can do, and makes you think about your own life and actions. Most of all though, it is a story that treats the characters and the source material with respect. It takes creative chances, it changes what needs to be changed to keep it original, but it’s always true to Spider-Man.

New Gameplay, New Ideas

Marvel's Spider-Man 2

Much was made of the announcement of Venom being involved in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, to the point that there wasn’t much discourse surrounding the potential gameplay changes being made. Thankfully, Insomniac took everything from the first two games and simply made it better.

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With the map growing nearly double in size to include Brooklyn and Queens, the need for fast traversal was obvious. As an answer to this, the web-swinging speed has been increased, to the point you’ll regularly cover entire districts in seconds. Along with the addition of web-wings, established during the opening hour of the game during the Sandman segment, you’ll quickly be whizzing around the various districts on offer, or even crossing the river between the boroughs, all with ease and always with a smile on your face. Marvel’s Spider-Man 1 was lauded for how it made you feel like Spider-Man, the sequel doubles down on that.

There is a fast-travel option available, however unlike the first it’s no longer tied to unlockable locations, but rather you can fast- travel anywhere in the district, but only once you’ve done enough activities. Between side missions, collectibles and random crimes, this won’t take long, but the traversal with web-swinging and traversal is so enjoyable you won’t want to use it.

The inclusion of both Spider-Men as playable characters in one game means neither one ever feels played out. The game will automatically switch during certain story missions to the relevant one, and some side missions require a specific Spider-Man, but during the open-world gameplay, you can switch at your leisure. Want to tackle a crime as Peter? Feel free. Want to use Miles and his Venom powers to take down a Hunter’s Blind? Again, go right ahead.

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The combat between is different and varied enough that not only will you find it fresh and interesting, but you’ll naturally have combat routines depending on what you’re fighting and with whom. Towards the end of the story you’ll be tasked with fighting against an enemy that is relatively resilient to Miles, but Peter and a special suit he gets will dispatch them with ease. It’s always worth taking the time to think if who you’re using is the best Spider-Man for the job.

However, it must be said that the two combat wheels, one accessed via L1 – combat moves – and one via R1 – gadgets – can end up confusing, and it’ll take a while to realize what is available and usable and when. This isn’t necessarily helped with the near constant upgrading and changing of the two Spider-Men’s powers, but to say anymore would spoil it pretty significantly.

Marvel's Spider-Man 2

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The skill trees and the upgrading of the Spider-Men’s powers is simple and effective, with far more variance than either of the first two games. You’ll start the game with the majority of powers you’ve accrued previously, but there is still three skill trees to pick from when spending your skill points; one for each of the Spider-Men and then a joint one. I found myself heavily focusing on the skills that benefited both protagonists, rather than specifically powering up one or the other, but with the amount of skills and choices on offer, you can approach it in any way you’d like.

Quite importantly, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 rights the three biggest wrongs of the first game. Firstly, there is no irritating Screwball to be seen. It turns out unlike every other villain Spider-Man faces, she is still stuck behind bars, and not considered big enough or interesting enough for Kraven to break out. Thankfully.

Secondly, there was a lot of complaints about the missions involving MJ in the first game, and rightly so. They were slow, hard to enjoy, unnecessary to the story and affected the pacing of the game quite significantly. Insomniac seem to have taken that on board with the sequel, with MJ’s missions being far improved.

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There are less of them, and they’re all incredibly poignant to the story at some pretty harrowing moments. One particular moment turns the game into a survival horror experience, with MJ trying to find her way to help, yet the entire time you’ll feel she’s the one being hunted. There’s another less believable mission of hers where she manages to sneak around and stealthily dispatch hunters one after another. The same hunters who are supposedly trained to the nth degree and should be difficult even for Spider-Man to beat, but still, it doesn’t get boring taking them out with your taser, and more importantly, it is so fast-paced you’ll barely notice it if you’re still not a fan.

Lastly, the side missions grew a lot of flak and ire for their repetitive nature and how little they offered to the greater narrative experience. This is not the case this time. Each of the side missions are related to the main story somehow, and not necessarily just the story of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, either. The crimes are back, but they have a little, although not much more, variety involved too. And again, there’s no Screwball.

Performance

In the days since its release, there has been plenty of noise from fans and critics alike stating the multiple bugs that are present in the game. With that said, during my twenty-five hours so far, I’ve been lucky comparatively, to only have the game crash once, and other than a few issues with NPCs glitching through my web-head when we’re on street level, there was nothing else prevalent enough to worry about or mention.

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That’s not to say that these bugs aren’t happening, but it is important to say they don’t factor into my experience or review.

The technical aspects of the game are fantastic, with a noticeable jump in graphics, albeit maybe not as much as people hoped or expected, as well as an incredible use of the PlayStation’s SSD to allow the increase in web-swinging, fast traveling and switching between the two characters will blow your mind, and even with the size of the city on offer, it constantly feels lived in and like a real city.

Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 was a lot of people’s most anticipated Game of the Year, and for good reason with the quality of the two previous entries. and I’m glad to say that it doesn’t disappoint. A few pacing issues, some – at times – confusing combat options and the occasional bug does not detract from the overall experience.

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The performances of the cast as a whole are fantastic, but a special shout for Yuri Lowenthal as Peter needs to happen. The path Peter goes on throughout the story is a hard and harrowing one, but every single sentence and every single syllable is performed with such conviction you’ll feel every emotion Peter does. From sad and full of loss to anger and desperate addiction, Lowenthal absolutely smashed it.

I spent the majority of my time with a gigantic smile on my face, followed by a slew of emotions that left me emotionally exhausted. If you’re a Spider-Man fan, be it film, comics, animated TV shows or early video game adaptations, this is absolutely something you should experience yourself.

9/10

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Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 was played on PlayStation 5 and reviewed on a code supplied by Insomniac. Featured on OpenCritic.

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Written by Luke Addison

Articles Published: 437

Luke Addison is the Lead Video Game Critic and Gaming Editor. As likely to be caught listening to noughties rock as he is watching the latest blockbuster cinema release, Luke is the quintessential millennial wistfully wishing after a forgotten era of entertainment. Also a diehard Chelsea fan, for his sins.

Twitter: @callmeafilmnerd