Insomniac captured the hearts of all Spider-Man fans in 2018 when it managed to set a new standard for superhero games with Marvel’s Spider-Man and managed to do it again two years later with Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. I too instantly fell in love with these games, so I couldn’t wait to see what Insomniac would do with Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. Could they top themselves again, or will this sequel be more of the same? After fiddling with the main mission and the bulk of the side quests for about 20 hours, I can say that Insomniac not only outdid themselves, they once again set a new standard for superhero games.
Before I dive into the review, I want you to know that this review will not contain any spoilers. I will only name the outline of the story and only use information that has also been shown in the game’s trailers.
An emotional story
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 largely picks up where Miles’ story left off. Peter and Miles are now two very well-trained Spider-Men who have both respectively gone through a very big adventure to save the city. Miles is transitioning from high school to University, while Peter is trying to build a life with his beloved Mary Jane Watson. He is trying to do this as a teacher at the school Miles has another year to attend, but soon finds that the life of a Spider-Man is not a good fit for being a teacher. In the process, he constantly worries about his childhood friend Harry Osborn, who is still fighting for his life.
That, in very broad terms, is the outline of the story and the beginning of all the relationships in the game. Insomniac uses the first few hours of the game to set this scene well and prepare you for the roller coaster ride that follows. Because of this, the first few hours are a bit of income and the Spidey’s will begin by solving some minor problems around town, you’ll all go to the carnival together and see some flashbacks to indicate how long Peter and Harry Osborn have been best friends.
This beginning of the game, after a very impressive opening sequence with Sandman, feels fairly slow and I have to be honest with you that at one point I thought, “if this goes on for the whole game, this isn’t going to be very good,” but from a major event in the game you get into a story that you don’t want to get out of.
The game continues to reinvent itself
The Main Quest of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is even more grand, impressive, beautiful, emotional and explosive than ever before. I am actually short of superlatives to describe this adventure. With this story, Insomniac managed to surprise me on all fronts, and it’s hard to describe this without giving spoilers, because I’d rather shout from the rooftops how horribly this was made. What I can safely say, however, is that the game will surprise you with the powers Miles and Peter gain, the characters you can play with, what all happens to New York and its inhabitants and how emotional you will get from all the surprises in this story. The game continues to constantly reinvent itself with the main quest and has exceeded all my expectations. As such, I can’t wait to see how this continues. For that I can say, this story will have a tailspin.
There are some challenging battles in this game.
I am still most impressed with the fantastic boss fights that the game ends up presenting you with in rapid succession. In beautiful arenas that don’t just cover the concrete jungle of New York, you have to fight challenging super villains that sometimes really push you to your limits and will surprise you immensely. The battles in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 are generally a lot harder than in its predecessors, as now you will really have to learn attack patterns in order to defeat a boss. For example, there is a system where a blue spidey sense indicates you should kill and a yellow spidey sense means you should use a parry. If you don’t get this right, then you are definitely not going to be able to beat a boss and believe me, there are some challenging battles in this game. I loved smashing myself to pieces on some fights, as this fits well with the menace the game wants to convey.
In fact, in large parts of the game you feel like you are not playing a superhero game, but a horror game. The symbiote, and with it Venom, is very scary, and Insomniac manages to convey that very strongly with its set building, sound and level design. The horror segments of the game were therefore my favorite, because it contrasted so strongly with what I expected and was used to from Spider-Man. In doing so, Kraven the Hunter was also a much better villain than I expected. At first I thought Kraven wouldn’t be that interesting, but the way he was written by Insomniac makes him an already iconic supervillain. In fact, this can be said about all the characters in the game. Even the enemies you horribly dislike eventually manage to evoke empathy for. This is really cleverly done and fits well with what Spider-Man stands for.
Get to know New York
In addition to the impressive main quest, the map is of course again full of icons for smaller missions and some larger side quests to complete for Miles and Peter. Some missions can be completed by either hero, while others are made specifically for a particular character. For example, Miles has a series of quests related to his school, such as rescuing the school mascot who has been kidnapped by another school, and Peter has more adult quests. Peter’s quests in particular managed to touch me and made you get to know the people of New York a lot better. For example, there is a quest where you have to help a woman find her father who has Alzheimer’s. These are not the spectacular quests where you fight impressive enemies, but they do make you feel a little more about the random NPC walking down the street.
So there are definitely some side quests that I find worth going through, especially the Flame ones, but as with the first games, you also have a large portion of quests that feel like homework. Especially after you complete about 50% of the Main Quest and it really gets going, you won’t care about the side quests. I personally don’t mind this too much, since after completing the main quest I still enjoy sweeping the city, but compared to what the main quest offers, the level difference is very large with some of the content. For example, you are often engaged in small puzzles, you have to defeat a group of enemies that are not very challenging, and Insomniac uses some features of the DualSense to make the puzzles still somewhat unique for PlayStation users.
Miles and Peter learn some gruesome attacks
By the way, switching between the two Spidey’s works very well and quickly, with this Insomniac clearly shows the power of the PlayStation 5’s SSD. If you want to switch between the two you do so with the press of a button and without loading you will see Miles or Peter chilling out somewhere in the city, then after just a few seconds you will regain control of your character. These animations are very nicely done and it makes you constantly feel that when you are not controlling the character, he is actually experiencing adventures of his own.
Something that did stand out at the beginning of the game, though, is that both Spidey’s were miraculously unaware of many of their powers and skills. The game does not explain if something happened to cause them to no longer have the powers from the previous games, but probably this was done simply to provide a you again with new attacks and skills to learn in this game, many of which are slightly different than you know from the previous games. I personally didn’t find it very disturbing that Insomniac chose to do this without explanation, but I do know that some players are bothered by this.
You don’t have to worry about not getting enough cool attacks, both Miles and Peter learn some gruesome attacks that you can make even more awesome using your talent points and Peter in particular gets a lot of different attacks throughout the game which makes the combat feel fresh and never boring.
The combat goes through an evolution
In doing so, I noticed that the battles in this game are a lot spicier than in the previous games. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t get really hard if you play on normal difficulty, but harder it certainly is. Insomniac throws much larger groups of enemies at you in this game, so you often have to tactically use your special attacks and gadgets to mow down large groups in one go. Taking everyone down one at a time takes too long and you’ll end up being shot at from a distance and just dodging. Especially the battles against the Hunters of Kraven, who not only use weapons, but also come at you in large numbers with both robot birds and dogs, make for quite a challenge. Therefore, the game also invites you to lean more on the stealth gameplay and silently defeat much of the camp first, before going into battle. I personally found that this was really necessary, and it was genuinely fun to string lines and figure out how to tie an entire camp to my line without being noticed.
Not to mention how gorgeous the game is. Insomniac manages to reach new heights on that front, too. Marvel’s version of New York has never looked so beautiful. We already saw in the previous games just how talented the Insomniac team is, and they’re adding to it in this one. From the high roofs of the city’s skyscrapers, to the sunny suburbs where Peter and MJ live, the detail, beautiful colors and lighting effects are stunning. In the dark, the city is possibly at its best. It is almost a magical experience to meander through the city as the moon lights up the city and you can see the people of New York sitting in their apartments or offices. In fact, every little room of every skyscraper has furnishings and sometimes you can see people sitting there. That they have even thought of that and that it is possible to make that, shows that Insomniac has thought of every possible detail.
Insomniac stands out again with Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 as one of the best studios of our time. The game’s story is of an unprecedented high level and manages to surprise you again and again, both with the characters, as well as the locations, the boss fights and the whole horror atmosphere that eventually takes over the game. It’s incredibly clever that they choose two main characters and still manage to keep it a coherent story, where you find both characters equally interesting to follow and this all comes together perfectly in the end. The boss fights are great, the combat keeps reinventing itself constantly and the game looks beautiful. In short, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is one of the best, if not the best superhero game of all time and must have been played.