PlayStation 59.20
Overall 9.20
The first two Spider-Man games by Insomniac were extremely well-done story driven games that clearly borrowed from the Arkham series but never reached the gameplay depth of Arkham. Is Spider-Man 2 one of those sequels in which every aspect is improved, where it feels the formula is perfected; the answer is yes and no. It’s absolutely an improvement over the first game in many ways but the core gameplay remains mostly unchanged . What sets SM2 apart though is its bombastic setpieces and incredible focus on the main narrative which to me is an all-time great Spider-Man story.

Clearly Insomniac has gone to the Naughty Dog school of making a setpiece heavy narrative-based game. This game has main missions with wild action sequences, it’s everything I want to see from a BIG spider man story and interspersed between those are smaller more down to earth side missions. The player oversees when to keep the main story going or letting the two spidermen take care of requests of citizens in need or do one of the many side quest activities. Certain moments in the main quest do feel extremely urgent so having Spider-Man take a break to help a person take some pictures seems like poor judgement, but there are usually cues given by Peter or Miles as to when it’s better to do the side quests. After a mission they will say “Mary Jane will call me when she has the info, now would be a good time to see what else I can do” a not-so-subtle way to tell the player it’s ok to do side quests now.

Why I bring this up is because the main quest is so compelling, and action packed that if you just take all main missions and string them together I feel you would have an excellent Naughty Dog level linear 12 hour action game. It’s a testament to the side quests that I still loved taking a break, it’s the contrast from half of NYC being blown up to Spider-Man just helping an old man in the park, that works for Spider-Man more than any other comic hero. Spider-Man has always been the hero for the people, down on the streets engaging with civilians and being friendly, that’s his thing and this game captures that trait perfectly.
It also captures the other aspect of being Spider-Man, which is your life must be miserable. Seems like a rule, the moment Peter Parker is happy the worst thing imaginable happens to him, he is cursed. The first game was brutal on Peter, his misfortune is for our benefit as that’s when Spider-Man stories are at their best; this game takes it to the next level. It explores not only how can Peter balance his life but also how being Spider-Man affects his closest relationships. Harry Osborn, his best friend, is a major character here as is Mary Jane, both serve as a glimpse into how a normal life as just plain Peter could be. He could see himself working in a science lab with his friend living their childhood dream, coming home to a loving wife. It’s that temptation for Peter knowing that he can’t have that life that makes his character so endearing. The black suit symbiote of course brings out the worst of Peter, it’s a story we have seen before but the twist here is what they do with Venom and how that affects Peter. I loved Peter’s journey in this and how it all comes to a head during major boss battles and action sequences, that’s when the story is at its best. It feels like a Naughty Dog game in that regard, the story is so rich and intertwined with the gameplay to create a thrilling experience that only gaming can provide.

Miles personal journey is no slouch either, he has to confront the anger and obsession he feels over his father’s death. I really enjoyed watching Miles grow and become more of the prototypical hero than even Peter, but he clearly gets the B side of the story. Filling out the narrative is the main villain for most of the game, Kraven, who I hardly have read any of his stories. Kraven is a formidable villain who is able to defeat other Spider-Man villains easily, he hungers for a worthy foe for his hunt. He never really evolves; he is a one note villain but at least the threat feels worthy of Spider-Man. Venom steals the show at for the final act and it’s one of the most interesting takes on the character I have seen, the campaign does not hold back, I loved the sheer lunacy of the final hours.
Clearly the main campaign and story push this game to new heights but how about the gameplay, well that is more of a lateral move if that. The clearest improvement comes from traversal in the game world, mainly giving SM a glider and more boosts to travel city at much faster speeds. Wind tunnels are located around the city to let you glide through the air for long periods of time. Clearly Insomniac loves testing the SSD because I was in awe at some of the sequences that have you moving through locations at incredible speeds. This game also has the best fast travel ever, you click anywhere on the map, the screen zooms in on the map and instantly you are swinging there in game, its magic. Not many players may experience this but there is an option to reduce swing assist and turn on fall damage which means the player must pay more attention to where SM swings. It doesn’t change the locomotion to something you have to really control, its still mostly automatic but at least you have to be aware of building height when swinging, I liked it.

The combat and stealth sections remain mostly the same with a few tweaks. When avoiding combat now you can launch a webline between any two points so that SM can create his own perch from which to web up bad guys. I feel this game didn’t have any forced stealth sections; I don’t know if the first had many but I think it had a few. It’s pretty rewarding to clean out an entire base without throwing a punch but also kind of repetitive, again this game is not deep in the way Arkham is. Which leads to the combat which is that same poor man’s Batman combat. This time the number of gadgets has been drastically reduced, replaced with more special powers that have their own cool down timer. A parry move has been added so now enemies can have unblockable attacks that must be parried, as well as moves that must be dodged, this adds a few more variables to the boss battles which is welcomed.
Peter and Miles each have their own set of power moves but share the rest of the move sets. The different special power moves aren’t all that different either, they kind of share the same outcome, one is a launcher, one a dash attack, one a slam and one an area of attack. It’s a shame this game didn’t allow for more differences between the two characters, but I guess it keeps things simple. Most of the fights are about juggling opponents in the air while dodging long distance attacks and building up all those power meters. By the end it felt like I was just cycling power moves and gadgets, it got really easy even on hard. While I say it’s kind of easy and repetitive, I still always have fun punching enemies in this game, it feels so much like how spider-man would fight that I enjoy swooping down from the sky and laying the smackdown on a ton of enemies without anyone touching me. The boss battles do a great job of pushing the focus of the combat toward the defensive moves; dodging, parrying, leaping out of the way on time. I found some to be pretty creative, a few went on for too long, but the story aspect made it all worthwhile.

The main quests do a fantastic job of mixing swinging, setpieces, combat pieces, quieter pieces all together. Mary Jane sequences return, and they are much improved, this time even giving her more offensive weapons. Her moments feel essential to the game this time where before it felt like hitting the brakes on any momentum the story had. To supplement the main quest are all the side content which is another area of clear improvement. Most of the major side quests tie into a small side story, some with great payoffs and memorable characters. My favorite was the Mysterio side quests where you enter battle challenge illusions, these were a great test of the combat system as each trial had different requirements and a time restriction. One side quest is heavy on the puzzle elements; the main one being one where you have to arrange molecules, it really feels like something out of Ratchet and Clank, almost all of it optional so I found it to be a fun diversion. Miles gets some pretty boring side quests, they are more day in the life of a high school student kind of things, it’s cool character building for him but easily the worst gameplay of the bunch. There are still random crimes occurring around the city but thankfully this game doesn’t require you to complete an absurd amount of them to finish a district, they are totally optional in this game. I feel they nailed the exact amount of side content for a game like this, its varied enough and deep enough to be satisfying and not bloated where it feels like there is padding. Spider-Man 2 is the perfect length to 100% an open world superhero game.
This game does add new areas to NYC, Queens and Brooklyn, but the way Spider-Man game operates the city is not a part of the gameplay, its more the setting. One rooftop isn’t really any different from another, one city street is the same as the other, the few locations that do matter are used very well during the story. A few side quests make use of the wind tunnels and the glider as a sort of mini platforming challenge but again, where you are doesn’t make a difference. I don’t know how to make NYC more of a gamey location for more mechanics to play out, the Batman games turned Gotham into like a weird Zelda like game, that wouldn’t work for a more real NYC. At least its fun to just swing around but maybe this is where the next step for this franchise is, making the locations and movement through them more of a gameplay mechanic.

Visually this game is stunning in motion. Zipping through the buildings at those speeds and being able to see everything clearly in the distance with basically no pop up, we are finally making use of the power of these new consoles. The face models are not the best especially when you compare this game to other Sony first party games. I wish Guerrilla would give them their voodoo magic face tech from Horizon, could have helped. Still NYC is incredibly detailed, it feels populated and lived in. Both fidelity and performance modes have ray tracing on, its not as showy as Miles Morales game was, but it is very nice to always have perfect reflections on every surface. The music and voice acting are top notch, every character nails their role so well, I feel the acting in these games are as good as any superhero movie.

The first two Spider-Man games left me wanting more, I felt there was a good base there but it was just missing something. For Spider-Man 2 that something is the energy and flow of the story and how it rockets the player from amazing set-piece to the next memorable moment. The pacing is perfect, every twist and turn the story has is compelling and the gameplay while mostly the same is still fun enough to for the 30 or so hours it can take to see all the game has to offer. Insomniac has taken their storytelling to another level, this might be their best game… but I still like the gameplay variety Ratchet games offer more, its debatable for me now. For any Spider-Man fan this game is pure magic, it’s easily the best Spider-Man game ever made, and one that can stand next to Batman proudly.
Posted by Dvader Thu, 02 Nov 2023 09:00:35
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