Game of the Month: Marvel’s Spider-Man 2

PUBLISHER Sony Interactive Entertainment
DEVELOPER Insomniac Games
RELEASE DATE 10.20.2023

With 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man, Insomniac Games delivered one of the best superhero games in recent memory. The studio proved it understood how to deliver on the central power fantasy of its web-slinging hero, both through acrobatic, hard-hitting gameplay and a story that remixed familiar elements into something new. When it followed up in 2020 with Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, it showed that success wasn’t a one-off, delivering an equally great experience centered on a new character. To say expectations for the third game—when the two Spideys would finally team up against one of their most iconic foes—were sky-high would be an understatement.

Despite that no-doubt daunting pressure, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 successfully keeps up Insomniac’s hot streak—at least for the most part, and at least where it matters most.

The biggest strengths of this latest entry come from the developers’ mastery of the PlayStation 5 hardware. It’s not just that the game looks good—though it does look phenomenal—but that the studio has also carefully considered how they can use the extra horsepower to improve gameplay. With a bigger, more detailed New York City to explore (including, for the first time, parts of Brooklyn and Queens), faster web-swinging, and jaw-droppingly speedy and seamless fast travel, Spider-Man 2 is the best showcase yet for how Sony’s current-gen console can deliver experiences that wouldn’t be possible on previous hardware.

And Insomniac certainly isn’t resting on its laurels when it comes to the action, either. Nearly every aspect of the combat system has been iterated upon or reconsidered, with brawls that feel familiar but much deeper than anything in the first two games. Surprisingly, one of the additions that proves to be the most fundamental is actually also the simplest. Instead of dodging enemy attacks, you can now choose to parry them, too, and some attacks can only be parried. It’s an option that allows you to push more aggressively during combat, upping the skill ceiling and challenge level without relying on cheap new enemy gimmicks.

Would a Metallica joke be too obvious here?

Of course, one of the biggest selling points of the game is also the inclusion of an iconic villain, Venom, courtesy of a retelling of the symbiote saga. For those not up on their comics lore, that’s a storyline in which Peter Parker gets a new alien suit, realizes wearing it is having some pretty not-great side-effects, and eventually rids himself of it—only for its new host to become the sinister Venom.

It’s an ambitious storyline to tackle in a game, and Insomniac ups the challenge factor by putting a fresh spin on the characters and events from the source material, sprinkling in more villains like Kraven, the Lizard, and Sandman into the tale. And that’s not even mentioning the biggest change, in that the game features two different playable Spider-Men—Peter and Miles—interwoven throughout the game, each with unique abilities and their own side stories.

Because Insomniac has been so ambitious, the narrative proves to be the weakest aspect of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2—even if it only seems weak in comparison to its sterling predecessors. There’s a lot going on here, sometimes at a breakneck pace, and you may find yourself missing the more grounded approach of the previous two games. We won’t get into spoilers here, but the climax in particular is amped up to such an extreme level that it loses sight of what makes the original Venom story so compelling. Don’t get us wrong: Spidey fans will no doubt appreciate seeing a lot of what unfolds. They just might also find it harder to care about the characters than in past games—and that’s a shame, because that heart was a hugely important part of the series.

Still, there’s no question that Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 ups the ante on every other aspect of the experience, improving upon its already amazing superhero fantasy in ways we never expected. That’s enough to make it worth your time—and then some.

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