As I hit ‘continue game’ from the main menu in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 and just a couple of seconds later a slighter older, more world weary Miles Morales swoops into view over the sun-tipped skyscrapers of the picturesque Manhattan skyline, his new ‘Webwings’ unfurl, providing our latest superpowered neighbourhood guardian with the sort of speedy airborne traversal that would seem reserved for orphaned billionaires in another universe. It’s exactly at this point that I realise it doesn’t just feel good to return to the concrete jungle of Insomniac’s horrendously detailed take on the Big Apple – it feels utterly *fantastic*.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is everything I think I’ve ever wanted from a modern superhero video game and being something of a demanding sort, I expect *a lot*. With its third outing into the titular web-slinger’s world, Insomniac Games has raised the bar to a seemingly impossible apex for superhero adventures – one that perhaps just a few years ago I would have said only Batman Arkham developer Rocksteady could hope to match, had that studio not seemingly recently embraced the almost terminally dull GaaS framework as glimpsed in its forthcoming (and frequently delayed) DC Comics video game adaptation, Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League.
This would seem to be the main difference between the Insomniac Games of today and basically every other developer that has ever thought of developing a superhero title. In Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 the Californian studio shows a complete and comprehensively rounded understanding of what makes a superhero video game work and perhaps most notably, has brought the considerable artistic powers of its talented collective to bear in what is easily the best PS5 console exclusive since Bluepoint’s Demon’s Souls remake launched alongside the console in November 2020.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 PS5 Review
The Ultimate Superhero Fantasy Bar None
At a fundamental level, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 does not reinvent the wheel and there’s a rationale for that state of affairs – not least because in both 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man and 2020’s Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, developer Insomniac Games arguably had nailed the core open-world action adventure formula with aplomb. This means that if like me (and seemingly millions of other gamers), you’ve been thoroughly engaged with Insomniac Games take on open-world traversal, thuddingly satisfying combat and spectacle-rich set pieces so far, you’ll almost be pre-conditioned to fall head over heels in love with what the studio has wrought here.
Unfolding some ten months after the events chronicled in Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Insomniac’s Spidey sequel (technically, ‘threequel’, I guess?) shows us that not only have Peter Parker and Miles Morales been splitting the duties of protecting New York City down the middle, but so too have they become great friends that rely on one other. New to this dynamic is Harry Osborn, who for the whole duration of the previous two games in the series has been, shall we say ‘unavailable’ due to a chronic, debilitating illness that his father Norman Osborn is trying to cure by any means possible. In Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 though, Harry is back among his friends, reliving past mischiefs and generally catching up on a good chunk of missed time. Thus it’s from this point that the narrative of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 begins to unfurl.
Much like Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales before it, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 wastes little in time throwing the player into the deep end, culminating in a very early, multiphase boss battle with a previously unrevealed character (which I have *no* intention of spoiling for you here) that quite literally changes the landscape of New York City for the rest of the game. Loud, thunderous and filled with fist-pumping, gasp-filled moments throughout – this is precisely how you kick off a marquee, superhero blockbuster sequel like Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. If you thought the ‘Rhino Rumble’ at the beginning of Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales was something, prepare to be astounded at what Insomniac has crafted here.
Once its bombastic opening act has concluded, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 begins to settle into a rhythm where after some gorgeously choreographed real-time cutscenes setup the genesis of the main story beats, we find ourselves in the welcome familiar territory of being able to explore Insomniac’s take on New York City at our leisure and hoo-boy, has the Big Apple come on in leaps and bounds since Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. The work that Insomniac’s team of artists has done here is simply breath-taking. Providing easily the best depiction of New York City ever committed to a video game and one that is so evocative of the real thing, it made me feel like a wayward tourist returning to the fizz and hum of its metropolitan expanse after a three year hiatus.
A Superhero Epic That Is As Much About Heart As It Is Heroics
Akin to being reunited with an old friend, the way in which the city has been updated in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 reminded me of how the district of Kamurocho in Sega’s Like A Dragon titles was seen to gradually mature over time. Except here, with Insomniac Games being armed with a far larger budget, the Californian studio has added two whole new boroughs (Brooklyn and Queens), all the while increasing population and traffic density, together with all-new buildings, landmarks and other such points of interest. It feels like a proper love letter to New York City and perhaps more than any other game world in any other video game I have played, gives me a thirst to return to the real thing as quickly as possible.
Given the vast, almost abyssal well of source material that Insomniac Games has to draw from, it feels refreshing to discover that the studio has provided something of a kaleidoscope of tone within Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. Though the story does give plenty of oxygen to its darker themes – Venom, Kraven the Hunter and the symbiote do feature prominently after all as narrative centrepieces – Insomniac hasn’t forgotten that any fable featuring your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Men should have some, well, friendliness in it.
This tonal intention also seeps into the game design to welcome effect too. As in previous entries in the series, side activities feature once again in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, but rather than merely existing as a distraction to the main story, they actually serve to meaningfully fill out the character development of both Spider-Men into the bargain. Whether you’re tracking down missing grandpas, aiding students with some high-school projects or helping a local neighbourhood artist rediscover their groove, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 has a real wholesome heart to it that separates it from its peers. Certainly, I soon discovered that I appreciated these slower, more quaint and even seemingly mundane moments equally as much as the darker and more serious overarching story. I found it just as enriching to see Harry, Peter and MJ all catch up on a heart-warming trip to Coney Island together, as I did watching Peter Parker face off against Venom with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. I wish more superhero video games were able to peer behind the masks of their protagonists like this.
Switching between the two Spider-Lads couldn’t be simpler either. Simply swipe on the touch pad and then by pressing and holding down the square button at any time, you can pretty much instantaneously swap to the other friendly neighbourhood webslinger, with the new Spider-Man becoming immediately playable after being caught doing a handstand on some buildings or playing with his Spider-Bot. In a way, it reminded me of the character swap dynamic that Grand Theft Auto V has where after swapping to that new character you catch them in the middle of activity, lending the mechanic a nice bit of amusing flair. It’s also worth making clear that some missions can only be tackled by one Spider-Man or the other – luckily a handy prompt reminds you of this and allows you to swap out to the correct Spider-Man in decent time.
As much as it’s fun to beat up on criminals, conquer supervillains and soar above the New York City skyline, so too does Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 captivate you for doing regular good deeds and just letting Peter Parker and Miles Morales live their regular lives. It’s a proper tonal tightrope as I’ve already established and Insomniac walks it better than it ever has done with Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. Quite simply, the side activities of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 feel much more handcrafted and bespoke than the relatively ho-hum and somewhat generic tasks which littered the previous two games in the series.
This is arguably one of the best things about Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, in that much like the dynamic that exists between Venom and Spider-Man, so too do the story and missions possess an almost symbiotic relationship in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, with the latter always feeling like it’s a meaningful part of the former, rather than some turgid afterthought to keep your eyes and fingers busy while you’re off trophy hunting.
You Haven’t Seen Anything Yet
And what a fantastically surprising story it is too. I would posit that even if you happen to possess an encyclopaedic knowledge of the sprawling source material, you’ll still be taken aback by what Insomniac’s story scribes have crafted here. Not only does the narrative in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 give us fresh glimpses at our favourite characters that realise them in ways that we’re unfamiliar with (Harry Osborn in particular, is given a substantial amount of time to shine as Peter’s best friend and closest confidant), but so too does the story balance darker and lighter moments masterfully. The whole affair never fails to remind you that you’d root for the characters and their plight in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 as readily as you would for those in the comics, or even in the film adaptations such as Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and dare I say it, even Avengers: Endgame.
The comparison with Avengers: Endgame feels apt too, not least because the stakes in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 feel surprisingly global and all-encompassing, lending Insomniac’s latest a real sense of scope and sweep that wasn’t really there in the previous two games. Likewise, many of the struggles which form the backbone of the plot in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 are those that come from within, with just about every character in the game showing marked character development from the beginning of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 to the end credits. Speaking of surprises, I can also confidently say that both Sony and Insomniac Games have been extremely conservative with what has been shown from Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 to date – there’s so much here that hasn’t been touched upon that it almost beggars belief.
Brilliantly, Insomniac Games has also given equal attention to the character development of both Miles Morales and Peter Parker, with each going on their own transformative journey along a clear character development trajectory. On that note, fans should be also happy to hear that neither character is given short shrift, too. In fact, I’d go as far to say that both of the primary protagonists in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 showcase far more complex and nuanced character development than anything we’ve seen previously in either Marvel’s Spider-Man or Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Not least because we see how Peter suffers from the symbiote amplifying the worst aspects of his nature, while Miles struggles with his almost single-minded hatred for Martin Li, the man who took his father from him. Most commendably for a game about superheroes doing superhero things, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is as much about the lives of Peter Parker and Miles Morales, as it is about the Spider-Men saving the day.
Further afield, it’s also notable that the supervillains have seen a makeover too. While Venom looks broadly similar to his comic book and movie incarnations on the surface, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 reimagines the symbiote brute in a markedly different way and much of that is down to Tony Todd’s inspired and somewhat understated performance. If Tom Hardy’s big screen take on the character was that of a rambunctious, violent child, Todd’s take on Venom feels much more intellectual and layered by contrast. Don’t get me wrong, Venom is still an absolute force of nature that can wreak havoc on par with the Incredible Hulk, but in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 he also knows how to slyly weaponise both the hopes and fears of everything that he comes into contact with, deftly waging war on a psychological level as much as a physical one.
Other big bads are similarly evocative too in their representation within Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. This version of the Lizard for example, is a particularly horrific creation that comes across like a mini-kaiju rather than a slightly large reptile-man in a torn lab suit – and boasts the respective capacity for carnage and destruction to boot. Elsewhere, the towering Kraven the Hunter likewise cuts a terrifying figure – a literal giant with a knife as big as a regular person’s entire arm, his fearsome, snarling presence also belies motives that are surprisingly sophisticated and unexpectedly complex.
There’s also a theme of redemption running through Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 too, with some of Spidey’s most sworn enemies looking for ways to reform them in ways that are totally unexpected and yet also emotionally resonant at the same time. This is just one more string in the bow of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2’s cast of characters, in that nobody really feels cookie-cutter or one-dimensional and I only wish that other superhero video games would follow this example.
The Best Superhero Video Game Ever Made
Working in perfect unison with its sprawling cast of characters and superbly woven narrative, the gameplay systems which underpin the peerless superhero theatre glimpsed within Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 has also evolved greatly over Insomniac’s previous takes on everybody’s favourite web-slingers. First of all I need to be clear – the fundamentals of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 have not changed from the previous two games in the series, Marvel’s Spider-Man and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Of course, as anybody who has played those two previous games in the series can attest, this is absolutely not a bad thing at all.
Starting with the traversal side of things, making your way around New York City feels as satisfying as ever. Depressing the right trigger allows our Spider-Men to shoot out a line of webbing, automatically hook themselves onto a surface above them and swing like a pendulum through and around the various structures in their local vicinity, while web shoots, web launches off of various surfaces and every acrobatic trick that you’ve learned from the last two games are here in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, present and accounted for (including the ability for both Peter and Miles to rack up small amounts of XP by doing a variety of airborne flips, rolls, spins and dives). And just like before, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 makes swinging through the hustle and bustle of New York City feel effortless, allowing players of all skill levels to pick up the controller and feel like Spider-Man in that very instant.
Additionally, it also turns out that the new Webwings prove to be transformative when it comes to how it affects the traversal in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. Essentially allowing both Miles and Peter to effortlessly swoop and glide their way through the world, Insomniac has catered for this new type of movement in the very environment itself, not only by placing up drafts that can send you high into the sky, but also by creating special wind corridors that when entered can you send across the map at very high speeds. To say that it feels good using these Webwings to dive and swoop around New York City is a gross understatement indeed.
Furthermore, there are also a number of massive slingshots that have been positioned around the city, allowing both Spider-Men to quite literally yeet themselves from one side of New York City to the other in a matter of seconds. In case you’re wondering, fast travel is still very much a thing in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, with fast travelling from one district to another occurring in about two seconds and looking appropriately stylish as Miles or Peter literally swoop into the fast travel location from the sky.
Worthy of note though, is that fast travel to each of the various districts in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is locked behind a progression system whereupon you must complete a number of activities and missions in that district to level up sufficiently to unlock the ability to fast travel to it. Normally, this would prove to be a substantial annoyance, but considering the wealth of ultra-fast traversal elements has made available elsewhere (not to mention how alluring it is just to explore New York City and see the sights anyway), the frustration of not having fast travel immediately is pretty much entirely mitigated – though I can understand why some players might baulk a little at this all the same.
It’s not just the traversal side of the equation that has seen such marked improvement either, the superpowered fisticuffs in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 also represent a huge step up from what was previously accomplished in either Marvel’s Spider-Man or Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Again, Insomniac’s rule of thumb appears to be maintaining the essence of what worked so well before, while also meaningfully iterating on it in such a way that the advancements feel befitting of a grand sequel like Marvel’s Spider-Man 2.
Superhero Combat Evolved
Akin to both of its predecessors, the combat in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 has that same snappy, evasion and combo-based design bedrock that developer Rocksteady arguably pioneered all the way back in 2009 with Batman: Arkham Asylum. Making full use of the acrobatic combat prowess and bespoke skills of both Spider-Men, including stringing together combos, air juggles, using items in the environment to pummel enemies with, performing takedowns and unleashing a storm of hostile gadgets onto your foes, the combat in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is still endlessly satsifying. And though the formula remains largely intact, Insomniac has implemented some great additions to the formula that newcomers and veteran Spidey-pugilists alike will appreciate.
Perhaps the biggest of these is the most understated – the new parry system. Now, before you start having traumatising flashbacks about Isshin the Sword Saint from Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, know that in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 the parry system is magnitudes more forgiving (though this can also be adjusted in the options menu, if you’re that way inclined). Here, if an enemy is about to leap into attack and your timing is right, not only will a successful parry absorb much of the incoming abuse, but it’ll also damage and momentarily stun the enemy too, setting them up for a barrage of additional Spider-violence in the process. Though it seems like a small thing, the addition of a parry system in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 actually serves to make combat more satisfying, not least because it imposes that extra degree of skill and the sort of satisfying risk/reward that you wouldn’t normally have had in the previous two entries in the series.
Of course, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 makes the most of the fact that there are two Spider-Men swinging around New York City, smashing up bad guys and Insomniac has parlayed that into the game’s super satisfying combat system. Not only can you be in a fight only to see Spider-Man (or another character *cough*) show up and fight alongside you mid-scrap, but so too does Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 let Miles and Peter unleash tandem takedowns on their opponents, alongside a range of cinematic attacks that are unique to that duo. It really is fantastic stuff and after a fight has been won, you get the opportunity to high five your partner in fighting crime in a nice little touch that reminds you that in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, New York City isn’t the lonely place it has been for the past two games.
As one might expect, Miles returns with his electrifying venom abilities from the last game – newly augmented with all new skills allowing him to chain-lightning into groups of enemies, create a massive tempest of lightning and even more as the game progresses on. Peter meanwhile, not only leverages his Spider Barrage abilities to tear into enemies (think how the Iron Spider suit works in Avengers: Endgame and you’re basically there), but when he gains access to the symbiote, an entirely new skill tree filled with all new abilities becomes available to him.
When you take control of a Symbiote-possessed Peter Parker, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 effortlessly puts players in control of the sort of raw, destructive fury which tells you that the studio will have no problem rising to the occasion for its forthcoming Marvel’s Wolverine adaptation. Quite simply, using the symbiote makes you feel unstoppable as Peter roars, tearing through his opposition, slamming them face first into the ground, punching them across the room and generally devastating everything in the local vicinity with savage glee.
Intriguingly, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 presents players with a scenario that hit me harder that I expected, where the power of symbiote becomes intoxicating, allowing Peter to make short work of his foes all the while all I wanted was for that sensation to continue on and on, making me feel like I was becoming something of a villain myself in the process for enjoying the spectacle of its destruction. In reality, this is just one more avenue that Insomniac have used to make its latest superhero offering come across as more than just some rote, high-powered brawler. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 makes you feel.
Sitting atop the seemingly endlessly creative combat that Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 prescribes is the progression system, though perhaps out of all aspects of this overwhelming package it is the one that has evolved the least. As was the case with its predecessors, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 offers up all manner of new suits, suit upgrades and upgradeable gadgets that can be owned and improved by looting tech caches around the city, completing side missions, stopping the crimes that pop up randomly around the city and of course, progressing through the main story.
While the selection of suits on offer are pretty awesome for the most part (yes, you can collect and wear the superb Bodega cat suit again from Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, in case you were wondering), perhaps the biggest changes to the way progression is handled here once again involve the Spider-Men as a functioning, crime-fighting duo. Not only is the XP which you earn from completing missions and activities shared between the two Spider-Men, forcing you to choose in the process which of the two you favour, so too do they not only have their own skill trees as well as a shared skill tree which allows you to augment their traversal and combat prowess yet further still.
With progression in mind, it took me around 28 hours to complete the main story, all side missions and additional activities – which also included maxing out all of the available skill trees in the game. Though bear in mind I spent probably about a good two hours or so just aimlessly walking around parts of New York City, admiring the digital splendour that Insomniac Games has brought to bear, I think that the sheer quality of many of the handcrafted missions and side activities on offer, mean that Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 feels the perfect length – never outstaying its welcome or feeling overly bloated. A blessing in 2023 where many open world games can be tediously exhausting; offering you more than a hundred hours of identikit stuff to do in a big, largely empty world.
In case you’re wondering whether or not Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 has a New Game Plus mode, allow me to put your mind at rest – it does not, at least not yet. When you finish the final story mission, you instead unlock ‘ultimate difficulty’ which not only makes the enemies more durable and hit harder, but also so too is the level of stealth awareness made more challenging. Sadly, you cannot take your gear, abilities and upgrades with you in ultimate difficulty – that, I would assume, will feature in a potential New Game Plus when/if it eventually drops but as of right now, once you’ve finished the game, the only other challenge available to you is that higher difficulty (and the additional trophy hunting attached to it).
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 Is A New Technical Showcase For PlayStation 5
Rounding out the tremendous offering that Insomniac Games has manifested for us is here is the fact that Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 also manages to convincingly make its case as an all-new technical showcase for Sony’s still potent PlayStation 5 hardware. Though I’ve already gone into depth about just how evocatively Insomniac has managed to recreate the Big Apple within Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, there’s so much else that the studio has done here to make its latest effort one of the most visually impressive video games – on any platform – to come along in a good long while.
Following in the footsteps of both Marvel’s Spider-Man: Remastered and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Insomniac’s latest Spider-Man adventure provides a choice of 60 fames per second performance and higher detail 30 frames per second fidelity modes. This time though, ray-tracing is always enabled in whatever mode you play – the difference being that the technique is used at higher resolutions and more frequently in fidelity mode than in performance mode. On that note, Coney Island proves to be an especially eye-opening test of the game’s shiny ray-tracing implementation, with gorgeous reflections of neon draped rides and attractions beautifully reflecting from every puddle and other reflective surfaces, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is perhaps one of the best examples of console ray-tracing I have seen to date.
As a note, if you happen to be lucky enough to have a 120hz capable television, experiencing Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 in fidelity mode and at 40 frames per second is truly the way to go. This is because not only do you get the full benefit of the visual presentation running at the highest resolution, with maximum pedestrian and traffic density coupled with the full array of ray-tracing effects, but so too do you get the benefit of a 40 frames per second cap which makes Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 feel much smoother and responsive than the 30 frames per second that the fidelity mode would normally have and also without the visual cutbacks that the performance mode would normally demand.
As I have previously touched on in this review, Insomniac’s hallmark penchant for flamboyant, over-the-top boss fights and real-time cutscenes thankfully remains fully intact, seemingly now emboldened by the fact they are no longer chained to 2012-era hardware. In Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, boss fights always feel like screen-shattering exhibitions with often so much going on screen at any single time, but where the power of the PlayStation 5 is really brought to bear is in how the SSD is put to work.
Between the Webwings, the web catapults and the events which occur in one particular mission that I’m absolutely not going to spoil, I feel like it’s also accurate to say that Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 stresses the PS5’s still formidable SSD like nothing else, simply because there are so many occasions where Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is streaming in interior and exterior environments so quickly, it just would not have been possible on Sony’s last-gen console. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is easily one of the most impressive demonstrations of the PS5’s SSD so far and demonstrates that Insomniac has clearly learned from what it accomplished in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart in this regard. Make no mistake – this is Insomniac absolutely showing off its mastery of the PlayStation 5 hardware.
If there was any sort of dent in the presentational armour of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, it would be that some non-key character models, particularly those that you might encounter in a side activity or mission, just don’t boast anywhere near the level of fidelity seen in the main characters, which is to be expected from a game of this scale. Nonetheless, they’re animated well enough with appropriate lip-synching, so it’s not that much of an issue.
Full of emotional highs that will make you get out of your chair and cheer at the screen in a way that few games have managed to achieve in recent memory, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 represents Insomniac Games operating at the apex of its considerable powers. Spectacular and amazing, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is a superior, spectacle stuffed action adventure that provides players with the ultimate superhero fantasy. Full of surprising heart and delicate moments that balance beautifully with the sort of blockbuster superhero bombast that its developer has refined to a fine art, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is a toweringly polished, unparalleled masterwork that redefines the superhero video game genre at large and is better than the previous two games in every way imaginable. This is exactly what you’ve been waiting for.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 releases for PS5 on October 20, 2023.
Review code kindly provided by Sony PR.