Insomniac Games and Playstation Studios’ Spider-Man 2 swung onto shelves on October 20, 2023. The highly anticipated sequel to Spider-Man (2018), and Spider-Man: Miles Morales (2020), had a lot to live up to, and it still delivered. Spider-Man 2 took the formula established by its predecessors and improved upon it, offering the most fun, action-packed, and dramatic entry in the series thus far.
The latest entry breaks new ground, expanding the world map from just Manhattan to also include Brooklyn and Queens. This larger map is still jam-packed with things to do, but those things being spread out over a wider area makes completing them all feel less tedious compared to previous games. It also introduces a new movement ability, the web wings, which allow you to cover a lot of ground in a little time. This makes the series’ notoriously fun traversal mechanics even more addictive and immersive. Customization was expanded as they added new unlockable suits, brought back fan-favorite suits, and even gave some suits multiple colors to choose from. The gadget system was simplified so you no longer have to break the flow of combat to select which type of web you want. Everything that could’ve been improved, was improved. Perhaps the largest upgrade made with this game though, is that you get to play as both Spider-Men instead of just one.
By far the most anticipated aspect of the game was the ability to switch between Miles and Peter, which was done incredibly well. They each have their own unique abilities to unlock, and their own skill tree, while also sharing a third skill tree and the web gadgets. A lot of missions locked you in to playing as either one or the other, as they each have their own personal storylines unfolding, but a lot of them also had set points where you would switch back and forth in order to perform a synchronized plan, which proved to be insanely fun. The missions where you play as Mary Jane also return in this game, but have seen a complete overhaul, making it so that stealth isn’t MJ’s only option for dealing with enemies. While these still aren’t the most fun segments of the game, they are vastly improved from the ones in Spider-Man 2018.
In the open world however, you can play as whoever you want, with the exception of certain tasks that can only be completed by one of the two Spider-Men. This helps encourage you to switch regularly as you play, which is already easy since both characters are equally fun. The open world is also where you get to go on a real superhero-level power trip, especially after getting to around level 40 (the max level is 60). With all of the skills and gadgets at your disposal, basic enemies don’t stand a chance. This could be frustrating if you find joy in difficulty in games, in which case the story missions (especially on the game’s higher difficulties) will still offer a challenge. I, however, found it incredibly satisfying, as it really allows you to feel powerful as Spider-Man.
All of this is perfectly captured in this clip from my actual playthrough, where I slingshot over to stop a crime using the web wings and seamlessly destroy the thugs using the gadgets and abilities, all in a matter of seconds.
Spoilers ahead for the main story:
At the heart of this game, beyond the bold gameplay and graphics, is the story. We follow our heroes while they’re each experiencing turning points in their respective lives. Miles is going through the college admissions process, and is struggling to find what makes him himself aside from being Spider-Man. Peter is adjusting to life without his aunt, and since he lost his job he is struggling to pay off the mortgage he inherited; he knows exactly who he is, but is so hyper focused on being the best possible Spider-Man that he isn’t thinking about how to be a good Peter Parker. His unhappiness with his work-life balance is emphasized in the portion of the game where he gets the symbiote, causing all of his negative feelings to be amplified. It’s at this point in the story where Miles needs to be the one to step up to the plate and get the symbiote off of Peter in an epic boss fight between the two that was my personal favorite moment of the entire game.
It’s through this moment that Miles realizes that being himself is what makes him a hero, not the other way around. For Peter, seeing how far his student has come allows him to finally learn to share the load he bears in order to spend some time helping himself for a change. This all culminates with Peter essentially passing the torch to Miles, leaving the city in his hands while promising to always be there if Miles needs him. This is extremely satisfying as the player has watched Miles’ journey from before he was ever bitten by the spider, and also because the player has seen everything Peter has had to sacrifice in his personal life in order to help others. It’s a well deserved ending for both main characters.
Still, a Spider-Man story isn’t complete without its villains, of which this game has plenty. However there are only two main villains, the first of which is Kraven the Hunter. After running out of challenging prey in the jungle, Kraven turns to New York as his hunting ground due to its high concentration of super-humans. It’s revealed later on that Kraven’s motivation is to find someone (or something) capable of killing him. I found this to be a very unique character motivation, especially when placed against Spider-Man, who is diametrically opposed to killing. It was also foreshadowed early on that Kraven, due to his vast experience as a hunter, had the ability to make himself hard to sense, something that would directly counter the player’s spider-sense. None of this came to fruition, as through most of the game you are fighting his minions with him nowhere in sight. When you get your climactic fight with him, he is able to escape after you incapacitate him, only to be killed off later by the next main villain, so in a way, he got exactly what he wanted. Overall, I found Kraven to be unique and memorable, but a bit underutilized.
The character with the honor of killing Kraven was none other than Venom. However, while the usual host of Venom is Eddie Brock, in this story, the host is Peter’s best friend Harry Osborne. Harry didn’t start as an evil killer, the only reason he came in contact with the symbiote is because it cured his terminal illness, but over time it plagued his mind just like it did to Peter earlier in the game. This caused him to believe he was healing the world by spreading the symbiote’s reach when he was in fact destroying it. This allows him to remain a sympathetic character, as it’s painful to watch Peter and Mary Jane lose their friend to this monster. The only downside to Venom was that his connection to Miles was virtually nonexistent, with a storyline tacked on at the very end about Harry feeling jealous of Miles’ friendship with Peter. This would’ve been an interesting idea to explore, but the complete lack of interaction between the two characters made it feel forced. Still though, Harry Osborne as Venom was an emotionally gripping villain because you knew you had to stop him, but still wanted to save him. It was a great creative choice that put a new twist on one of Spidey’s most iconic comic villains and allowed Peter to have personal stake in the story.
Spider-Man 2 is bigger, better, and bolder than the games that came before it. There is never a dull moment when swinging around the streets of the newly expanded New York City, as all of the new tasks and features keep you busy as you experience Insomniac’s best story yet. With this latest entry, the Spider-Man series is already cemented as one of the best of the decade, so it will be interesting to see how much farther Miles and Peter can go.