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Spider-Man 2 - title

In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • Venom's motivation is not simple revenge
  • Themes of reflecting on one's life and works
  • Mary Jane boss rant
  • Rewarding exploration
  • Some of the new traversal options
  • Customization options for web-swinging
  • Map includes Queens and Brooklyn
  • City reacts to events of plot
  • A shared upgrade tree for both characters
  • Symbiote abilities are usable after removing the black suit
  • No micro-transactions for unlockable cosmetics!

WHAT I DISLIKE

  • Spider-Man can just fly now
  • Peter's robot arms
  • Mini-games still suck
  • Lacking end-game side content
  • ADHD quest-givers

Overall Impression : B
Bigger, yet also smaller, than its predecessor

Spider-Man 2 - cover

Developer:
Insomniac

Publisher:
Sony

Platforms:
PlayStation 5 (retail disc or PSN digital download)

MSRP: $70 USD (standard edition) | $80 USD (deluxe edition)

Original release date:
20 October 2024

Genre:
comic book action

Player(s):
single player

Play time:
30 hours

ESRB Rating: T (for Teen) for:
Blood, Drug References, Mild Language, Violence

Official site:
insomniac.games/game/marvels-spider-man-2

I'm not going to hold back on spoilers in this review, so read on at your own risk. If you want my non-spoiler opinion of the game (and didn't already get it from the grade above): it's good. It's not the watershed, lightning-in-a-bottle experience like the first game was though. It makes some smart changes, including some that seem to be based directly on feedback from the first game. But it also undercuts some of those smart changes with other changes and additions that aren't so smart. Bottom line though: if you liked the first game (and who didn't?), then you'll almost certainly also like this sequel.

I always get a little bit worried whenever an adaptation of Spider-Man decides to adapt the Venom storyline. It is usually where an adaptation goes off the rails. And even if it manages to stay on the rails, it's usually one of (if not the) weakest storyline of the adaptation. Whether it's Sam Raimi being forced by Sony to write the black suit and Venom into his 3rd Spider-Man movie, Spectacular Spider-Man depicting Peter and Eddie Brock as childhood friends, or Web of Shadows just being completely bonkers from start to finish, the appearance of the black suit always makes me nervous. Honestly, I think the 90's Animated Series is the only adaptation of Spider-Man that has ever hit the black suit and Venom storyline out of the park. It's Saturday morning cartoon nature means it completely fumbled the ball when it came time for Carnage though...

The black suit and Venom storylines is where a lot of Spider-Man adaptations go off the rails.

Surprisingly, Insomniac's take on the symbiote storyline takes a lot of inspiration from other Spider-Man adaptations, almost as if they think they can take poorly-received Venom storylines and improve on them. It starts off with the Sandman as a prologue villain before setting Harry Osborne up for a turn towards villainy, which closely mirrors Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3. Then it turns Harry Osborne into Venom, as in the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon, before basically turning into Web Of Shadows in the final act. The black suit itself also changes over time to reflect how close it is to taking over Peter's mind, which is an idea introduced in Spectacular Spider-Man. Also, the symbiote is a cure for cancer, and Venom's host being a childhood friend of Peter's are both borrowed from the Ultimate Spider-Man comics (and the Ultimate video game).

So yeah, a lot of Marvel's Spider-Man 2 resembles other adaptations of the Venom storyline, but yet it's still all put together in a way that feels original and works fairly well. It's still nowhere near as good as the Animated Series' Venom arc though, because Spider-Man 2's story and plotting is far from perfect.

Suspension of disbelief

This is a comic book video game. A lot of suspension of disbelief is required. But this game's logic strains my disbelief a bit too much, and I want to get this stuff out of my system before talking about what I like about this game. First and foremost, how can Peter afford to build his own set of robot tentacles?!

Peter still struggles to hold a job and pay his rent or mortgage...

I get that he probably cannibalized the technology from Octavius' work in the previous game, and has had years to develop it, but it still feels too far-fetched. Not because Peter isn't smart enough to build something like this; but rather, because it doesn't make sense that he's able to afford to build something like this -- let alone have the time to put something like this together. Peter's calendar is already stretched thin by his responsibility as Spider-Man, and by his attempts to hold a full-time job and maintain his social relationships. Where the hell did he fit in the time to build robot arms?

And where the hell did he get the materials? Despite being an older, more mature character, Peter is still being depicted as the same, constantly-down-on-his-luck kid who is barely scraping by. He can't hold a job, and so doesn't have a stable income. Mary Jane's income apparently isn't very stable either. Yeah sure, he inherited Aunt May's house, but she apparently took out a half-million dollar 2nd mortgage (at 7% interest!) to help start up F.E.A.S.T.. Instead of struggling to make rent, Peter is now struggling to make a mortgage, but he somehow scraped together the money to buy the rare metals and circuitry to make robot arms that probably cost millions of dollars?

... but yet he can afford the materials to construct retractable, laser-shooting robot arms?

It was one thing when, in the first game, Peter has some home-made tech in his suit, is running custom software, and has deployed a simple app that allows people to ask for Spidey's assistance. I could suspend my disbelief for that level of tech. But robot arms?! Not to mention the Spider-Men have access to a more advanced mobile app that apparently lets them hack into everything from radio chatter, to government signals, to some random stranger's Fitbit! The tech in these games have kind of gotten ridiculous.

So which is it, Insomniac? Is Peter Parker still a down-on-his-luck kid, barely scraping by financially, and having trouble maintaining work / life / hero balance? Or is he just Iron Man now?!

Having the robot arms the whole game makes the symbiote abilities feel underwhelming.

And that is to say nothing about how the robot arms kind of steal the thunder from the symbiote suit on a mechanical level. The symbiote suit's abilities are just minor variations of what Spider-Man can already do with the robot arms. As such, the symbiote doesn't really feel like it gives Peter (or the player) any new powers or combat abilities that he didn't already have.

A motivated villain

Furthermore, the black suit arc only spans a few in-game days. Sure, this is similar to the comics (in which Spider-Man only wears the symbiote for 8-ish issues, plus a few special issues), but it's also important to note that Peter becoming more aggressive and selfish isn't actually in the original comics either. That is something that was added by the 90's Animated Series, and which has been ret-conned into pretty much every adaptation of this storyline since. Originally, the symbiote simply took control of Spider-Man while he slept, which left Peter feeling exhausted when he was awake. When he found out it was alive and attempting to permanently bond with him, Peter wanted the symbiote off, regardless of any effect it may have been having on his mind and personality.

The black suit changes its appearance as it takes more control over Peter's mind.

That worked fine for an 8-issue comic story arc that takes place over a matter of a few days or weeks. But when you want to also add in the idea of the symbiote altering Peter's personality and behavior, such that he alienates his friends and colleagues, I really feel like it's a good idea to extend this plot arc out over a longer period of time, so that the changes can be more subtle and gradual. It comes off as contrived that people don't take Peter's sudden change in personality as an indication that he is under some kind of alien influence ("alien" as in "unknown"; not as in "extra-terrestrial", since jumping immediately to E.T.s would be a dramatic logical leap, even for a comic character). So I always find it hard to believe that formerly loyal friends can turn on Peter so quickly. Yes, the rushed pacing of this story arc is also a problem in the animated series, even though that version of this arc is my favorite version. But instead of replicating that version's flaws, I would like to see newer adaptations improve on it. One of the weakest elements of the otherwise phenomenal Spectacular Spider-Man is how Eddie Brock is introduced as a childhood best friend of Peter, only to completely turn on him over the course of a couple episodes, and that's kind of how Harry feels in this game as well.

Insomniac's writers do improve on Spectacular's flaws by giving Venom (and Harry) a motivation that is much better than simple hatred for Spider-Man and a desire for revenge. Revenge being Venom's primary motivation just does not work well with such a short duration of time that Peter has the black suit, unless Venom's host is a character who already has festering hatred for Peter and/or Spider-Man (as is the case with Eddie Brock in the original comics and animated series).

Instead of simply wanting revenge against Spider-Man for rejecting the symbiote or for committing personal offenses against Harry, this version of Venom taps into Harry's underlying desire to "heal the world" by curing diseases, fighting climate change, and saving the honeybee populations. It does this by making Harry believe that he can heal sickness and injury by turning everybody into hosts for Venom's offspring symbiotes. Since the symbiotes are violent, malevolent entities that suppress their hosts' free will, this puts Venom into fundamental, philosophical conflict with the Spider-Men -- no mindless revenge plot necessary. Furthermore, Venom's motivation is thematically aligned with Kraven's motivations, and with other larger themes of the game, such as facing one's mortality and reflecting on your life and accomplishments. If future adaptations of this story are going to avoid the route of having Eddie Brock hating Peter for one-upping him at newspaper photography, then Insomniac's approach to giving Venom a real motivation is probably something that all future adaptations of this story arc should look to for inspiration.

Venom isn't seeking revenge, and his motivations put him in philosophical conflict with the Spider-Men.

I also really like how later in the player's time controlling Symbiote Spider-Man, the story missions start to come in rapid-fire. There is one point where there is no opportunity between missions to do any side content. The player finishes one mission, and is immediately given the next mission. All the side content disappears from the game map, and (as far as I can tell), the player stops getting alerted to ambient crimes. I really like how this gives the feeling that the symbiote is close to taking over Peter's mind, to the point that it is even controlling the player's behavior. The symbiote's desire for revenge against the bad guys takes absolute precedence, and not even the player can choose to ignore it (in an open world game).

This is part of the reason why I wish the black suit section of the game lasted longer. It would be real cool if the game slowed down a bit and included more segments in which the symbiote takes control away from the player, thus making the player sympathize further with Peter's lack of control and free will while under the symbiote's influence. If I could go back in time and give Insomniac suggestions, this might be the number one suggestion on my list. Have more missions that block the player from doing open world side content while controlling black suit Peter. Maybe also force the player into a more aggressive play-style. Perhaps there could be a chance, while wearing the black suit, that the black suit overrides the player's stealth takedowns, and instead just throws Spider-Man into combat with the opponents. Maybe, when this happens, it could also recharge all of the symbiote abilities, so that it doesn't feel completely like the game is just randomly punishing the player. This sort of stuff could have helped make the player feel just as uncomfortable with the symbiote as Spider-Man is.

A larger world, with less to do?

When Marvel's Spider-Man 2 was letting me free roam and explore the open world, I discovered that this game actually does let the player explore the world! Side missions and collectibles are not just instantly marked on the map. I actually have to explore the map and uncover them organically. I'll be swinging along, and notice a flash of bright blue light on a building top, and that's a currency for upgrading abilities and tech. This changes side content from feeling like a burden of chores to check off a list, and more of a reward for thorough exploration and observation -- and also serves as an excuse to just aimlessly web swing around the city.

The map does not automatically reveal side activities; they must be discovered organically while web-swinging.

Though, I feel like there's less to do in terms of side activities this time around. There's a much greater emphasis on finding collectibles such as tech crates and spider-bots. The tech crates seem to respawn, which means that there's an infinite amount of stuff to find on the map. But the tech crates award currency that is used to unlock upgrades, abilities, and new suits, of which there is only a finite amount. So once everything is fully upgraded (which I managed to accomplish in a single playthrough), there's no reason to keep looking for tech crates. Same goes for the ambient crimes. Once all the abilities and suits are unlocked, there's no reason to keep fighting random crimes either.

There's a couple ways that Insomniac maybe could have made the currencies useful beyond the end game, but I bet a lot of players probably would have complained about an endless grind. They could have made it so that switching styles (color combinations) for a given suit would cost currency. There's also a few abilities that are mutually exclusive with each other. The player can switch between them at any time, but maybe Insomniac could have made it so that switching also costs a small amount of currency. This way, there would always be something to potentially use the currencies for. Maybe the currencies could also be used to recharge web-shooter abilities.

Outside of collectibles and tech crates, there's only a few side activities to do, and they are all easily do-able while playing through the main story. Yes, NPCs are constantly calling Spider-Man to tell him to do new main campaign missions, and don't leave players with much breathing room to go out and do some free-form side content. But there's never any real urgency to do these missions, so it's easy to put them off as long as you want to go do side content. Like, I think it's silly when an NPC says "I need some time to prepare", and Spider-Man tells the player "I should check on the city" (implying that now is a good time to go do some random crimes and other side content), but then as soon as I start swinging around (before I've even found a single ambient crime event), that NPC calls back and says "I'm ready, come meet me at the place ASAP!". It's like the main campaign has ADHD, and it can't go more than 2 minutes without throwing a new mission at me. I really think that these situations should have some kind of trigger that requires either a certain amount of time to pass, or for the player to complete a certain number of random crimes or side content before unlocking the next campaign mission.

The main campaign has ADHD, and can't let the player have more than a minute without a new mission.

As for that side content itself, there's a handful of shorts quests available through the "Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man" app, but not nearly enough. And there's also small outposts for Kraven's hunters, and symbiote nests (which are similar to the gang bases in the previous games), but I finished all of these while playing through the main story, and no new ones were added to the map after the main campaign was over. I thought for sure that there would be at least a few "straggling" hunter bases and symbiote nests that would pop up after the end credits, but no.

Lastly, there's the Mysteriums, which are all short enemy guantlets along the lines of the Screwball and Taskmaster challenges in the previous games. Except that they're way easier. I got a gold medal in most of them on my first try thanks to the surge abilities and finishers.

Long story short, content dried up very quickly after rolling credits, leaving me with Platinum trophy that feels like it was too easy to obtain (for a big-budget game like this), and absolutely nothing meaningful left to do. I guess I could re-install Miles Morales or the first Spider-Man game if I start jonesing for Spidey. Personally, I don't mind shorter games that resist overflowing their maps with tedious copy-pasted content. But if you're the kind of person who judges the value of a game based on hours played, then this sequel might disappoint in that area -- at least until the inevitable DLC expansions start showing up.

Physics is optional

While the player is swinging around the city to get to all the campaign missions and side content, you may find that Insomniac also seems to have responded a bit to previous criticisms that web-swinging is too easy. The previous games have been criticized for the web-swinging being a bit too automatic, and not requiring much effort, thought, or strategy from the player. Insomniac's justification for this has also been criticized. Insomniac's designers say that they don't want this experienced and mature Spider-Man face-planting into buildings or the ground, nor do they want to interrupt the player's momentum and flow. So they don't want Spider-Man to face-plant because the player mis-times a web-swinging input, but they are absolutely OK with Spider-Man taking a rocket to the face and restarting a level because the player mis-timed a dodge input. Seems a bit hypocritical, if you ask me...

Check out my older video essay about web-swinging in Spider-Man games.

This time around, Insomniac actually has listened to this feedback. There are now a few more settings and customizations to make web-swinging a bit harder for players who would prefer to have to work a bit harder or smarter to get to where they want to go. First of all, there is now a setting to enable fall damage, which means if you jump off a skyscraper, you will die if you hit the ground. The other major customization option is a slider for adjusting the strength of the web-swinging assist features. The assists default to the maximum setting, which will shift Spider-Man's position to prevent him from bottoming-out on the street at the bottom of a swing, and it prevents him from smacking into buildings as he swings.

With the assist setting at 0, gravity will quickly pull Spider-Man into the side of a building, and you will often hit the ground if you start a swing too low. Personally, I found that an assist setting of 2 or 3 is pretty comfortable. It means that I have to be more mindful of how far off the ground I start a swing, and to make sure that I alternate every few swings between buildings on opposite sides of the street in order to keep in a straight line. Sadly, there's still only 1 button to shoot a new web line. Pointing the analog stick left or right just as I press R2 will usually cause Spider-Man to shoot a web line out in the corresponding direction, but it's not entirely consistent. If I point to the right, but there's a much easier anchor point on the left, the web line will still shoot out to the left, against my wishes.

These assist settings make a huge difference for chases, such as random car chase crimes or the occasional mission that requires chasing a supervillain through the city. They become much more challenging to complete, since the player will have to use the X and O buttons more to make minute adjustments as you swing. You'll likely have to do more wall-running and parkour to keep your flow going, instead of just pointing in a direction and spamming R2.

There are settings to customize web-swinging assists, but they are buried at the bottom of the menu.

Unfortunately, I somehow skipped past this assist adjustment when I was initially going through the options. At the start of the game, I explicitly looked for difficulty adjustments for the web-swinging. I found the fall damage toggle, but somehow missed the assist slider. Was the assist slider maybe added later with a patch? Anyway, I didn't realize that setting was there until after having completed the campaign, which means I played through the entire game with the easier, max-assist web-swinging, which is kind of a bummer. I would have liked to have played the whole game with the assists sets lower. It would be nice if these settings were next to the combat difficulty settings, or if they were listed in the New Game setup options, instead of buried down at the bottom of a lengthy gameplay settings screen.

In addition to most players probably playing the entire game with the assist features at maximum, web-swinging is even further trivialized by the fact that Spider-Man can now just fly now! And that's if you're not using the super-quick, streamlined fast travel that has zero load times thanks to the PS5's solid state hard drive. I get that expanding the map to include Brooklyn and Queens means that players need a way to cross the river between Manhattan island and Queens, and the gliding flying ability certainly does that. But there are already multiple bridges, as well as places where Spider-Man can web-slingshot across the river from the rooftop of certain buildings, not to mention boats and buoys that can be zipped to and point-launched across. I feel like there are more than enough options for navigating the map, and the web glide is totally not necessary.

Being able to just fly makes web-swinging feel unnecessary and inefficient.

You'd think that being able to glide on some tiny little "web wings" underneath Spider-Man's armpits would be pretty limited. Maybe it should allow the player to glide across a street, or down a city block if you jump from high enough. Or maybe it should just be a way of gracefully landing, instead of splatting on the pavement and suffering fall damage or an instant death. It could have been a tool that offsets an increased challenge in web-swinging, but instead it is mostly just a tool for trivializing it.

If you do resist just flying and fast-traveling everywhere, the traversal mechanics and broader open world design have both been improved. There's a few new moves that I like a lot more than the web glide. While swinging, the player can push a button to make Spider-Man shoot a horizontal web line to one side or another to steer around buildings. It's basically the same move that you can do in the previous games when turning a corner while wall-running, but now you can do it in the air too. This allows for more precise maneuvering through the tight streets and alleyways between the buildings.

I like the ability to use webs to make sharp turns, and to create tightropes between walls.

There's also a point-to-point web tightrope that Spider-Man can create. This is primarily used during stealth encounters to create your own overhead perch for stealth takedowns (which sometimes feels like blatant cheating!), but it's also useful for navigation and traversal, and can really help with collecting some of the game's collectibles that might be hidden on the side of a building wall.

There is no multiplayer,
despite the presence of multiple hero characters.

For those who can't get enough Spider-Man

Overall, Spider-Man 2 plays it very safe. It's basically just more of the Insomniac Spider-Man action that we got from the previous 2 games. As I mentioned earlier, the symbiote doesn't dramatically change up the gameplay, since it feels like minor variations of abilities that the player already has access to. The web-swinging is largely the same as before, but with some customization options. Being able to leave the island of Manhattan is probably the single biggest change-up to the gameplay formula, and that's not even necessarily a new or novel thing in Spider-Man video games, since Ultimate Spider-Man on the PS2 and XBox also allowed players to cross the bridge into Queens.

Considering that there are 2 playable characters, I'm really surprised to not see any kind of multiplayer co-op. Even if it were limited to certain missions or side content, some kind of co-op seems like a no-brainer. Honestly, I'm surprised that the entire campaign isn't playable in multiplayer, with each player being able to free roam around the city and then meet up to do main missions together. There's even other hero characters like Symbiote Harry, Wraith, and Black Cat who could potentially have been playable by a second player for certain missions. Instead, the other heroes are just NPCs who occasionally pop in to help beat up the bad guys then fly off into the ether. And it isn't like Insomniac didn't think of ways to make other characters playable, since there is a lengthy section in which the player gets to play as Venom, with his own modified control scheme, rampaging through Oscorp and fighting a boss fight against Kraven.

There are even several boss battles in which our hero characters fight against each other. Miles fights Peter in the black suit. Peter fights Yuri. And there's even a boss battle against Mary Jane! If these boss battles could have been player-versus-player, that could truly have been something spectacular. Or it could have been a dumpster fire, sine the game isn't designed from the ground up for competitive multiplayer. Who knows? Insomniac played it too safe, so we'll never find out what could have been.

A PvP battle between the 2 Spider-Men would have been cool...

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Silent Hill: Shattered MemoriesSilent Hill: Shattered MemoriesSilent Hill: The Short MessageSilent Hill: The Short Message
Silicon DreamsSilicon DreamsSillent Hill DownpourSillent Hill Downpour
SimCity (2013)SimCity (2013)SimCity BuilditSimCity Buildit
SomaSomaSong of HorrorSong of Horror
Spider-Man: Edge of TimeSpider-Man: Edge of TimeSpider-Man: Shattered DimensionsSpider-Man: Shattered Dimensions
Star Trek ResurgenceStar Trek ResurgenceStar Trek TrexelsStar Trek Trexels
Star Wars Battlefront IIStar Wars Battlefront IIStar Wars Jedi Fallen OrderStar Wars Jedi Fallen Order
Star Wars SquadronsStar Wars SquadronsStellarisStellaris
Stellaris mod: New HorizonsStellaris mod: New HorizonsStranded DeepStranded Deep
StrayStrayTacomaTacoma
The Amazing Spider-ManThe Amazing Spider-ManThe Amazing Spider-Man 2The Amazing Spider-Man 2
The Callisto ProtocolThe Callisto ProtocolThe Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimThe Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim DLCThe Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim DLCThe Evil WithinThe Evil Within
The Evil Within 2The Evil Within 2The Last GuardianThe Last Guardian
The Last of UsThe Last of UsThe Last of Us Part IIThe Last of Us Part II
The Outer WorldsThe Outer WorldsThe SaboteurThe Saboteur
The SwapperThe SwapperThe Twilight Zone VRThe Twilight Zone VR
The Witcher 3 expansionsThe Witcher 3 expansionsThe Witcher 3: Wild HuntThe Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
This War of MineThis War of MineThis War of Mine: the Little OnesThis War of Mine: the Little Ones
Tomb Raider (2013)Tomb Raider (2013)Total War: AttilaTotal War: Attila
Total War: Rome IITotal War: Rome IITotal War: Shogun 2Total War: Shogun 2
Total War: Shogun 2: Fall of the SamuraiTotal War: Shogun 2: Fall of the SamuraiTrineTrine
Tropico 5Tropico 5U-BoatU-Boat
Ultimate General: Civil WarUltimate General: Civil WarUncharted 3: Drake's DeceptionUncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Until DawnUntil DawnVirginiaVirginia
VisageVisageWhat Remains of Edith FinchWhat Remains of Edith Finch

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

Check out my YouTube content at YouTube.com/MegaBearsFan.

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Without Gravity

And check out my colleague, David Pax's novel Without Gravity on his website!

Featured Post

The Humanity of NCAA Football's In-Season RecruitingThe Humanity of NCAA Football's In-Season Recruiting08/01/2022 If you're a fan of college football video games, then I'm sure you're excited by the news from early 2021 that EA will be reviving its college football series. They will be doing so without the NCAA license, and under the new title, EA Sports College Football. I guess Bill Walsh wasn't available for licensing either? Expectations...

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Defending 'Silent Hill 2''s voice actingDefending 'Silent Hill 2''s voice acting05/15/2012 With the Silent Hill HD Collection being lambasted by fans and critics (my review now available here!), I thought I’d take a moment to discuss exactly why I feel it was so important for the original voice acting of the games (Silent Hill 2 specifically) to be retained. And it isn't just a matter of personal preference based...

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