Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 Review – The Dreams We Shed

    Title: Marvel's Spider-Man 2
    Developer: Insomniac Games
    Release Date: October 20, 2023
    Reviewed On: PS5
    Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
    Genre: Action Adventure

Like many aged gaming preconceptions, the notion of superhero video games being automatically maligned has waned considerably. This new reality has, in no small part, been actualized by developer Insomniac. The original Marvel’s Spider-Man and the brief followup Miles Morales received substantial critical and fan acclaim, heightening the expectations for a fully-fledged sequel. And with Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 now released, it’s clear that this is undoubtedly the sequel many were waiting for, yet perhaps it needed more time in the oven.

A Superhero Sequel’s Balancing Act

Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 occurs after the events of Miles Morales, focusing on Peter’s and Miles’ efforts to balance their personal lives and heroics. Unfortunately, that balance is not so easily kept with either Spider-Man, as Peter’s reunion with his best friend Harry Osborne and Miles’ desire to close the book on the aftermath of his father’s death weigh heavily on their minds. Plus, the arrival of Kraven the Hunter has put the city in jeopardy once more, so the heroes have more on their plate to tackle than usual. And then there’s the debut of the Symbiote Suit, so you already know the ambiance will become quite serious.

Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 establishes an impressively maintained balanced focus across both Peter’s and Miles’ stories, which, while feeling initially disconnected, increasingly cross over toward the final act. The two protagonists face severe turmoil that culminates in genuinely earned catharsis, both for the cast and the player. It’s an emotional ride through and through, though some of the gameplay pacing hindered select moments. To elaborate, there are a decent number of scenes and other segments that felt like they better fit the context of only being cutscenes since they don’t shake up the gameplay in welcoming or effective ways. Save for one exception near the end, I found myself enduring these scenarios above all else, whether they were flashbacks or other shifts.

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Emotional Turmoil and Character Dynamics

It’s tricky to get into the specifics for spoiler reasons, but I just found myself scratching my head when presented with some sections because it felt like their messaging and tone could have been far more strongly communicated as cutscenes rather than hollow, padded-out and unfun gameplay events. There’s more than enough variation in the open world for those elements not to be necessary.

Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is a standout superhero adventure with terrific character writing that, at least in my experience, is heavily bogged down by unsatisfactory performance.

Still, despite how egregious some unwanted gameplay shifts in the plot were, only a handful are present. And aside from a somewhat underwhelming finale, that’s the only collective, prominent issue I had with the story. The pacing is otherwise terrific, with the build-up of the Symbiote Suit masterfully woven. Additionally, the voice work, especially from Peter, really emphasizes the unbridled emotive treachery this outing brings to the table.

Internal strife is at the forefront of this experience, and it’s approached brilliantly all around. While Peter’s agony is undoubtedly pushed forward the most, Miles’ initially more subtle self-conflict felt more rewarding to see through to its end. Further, the direction they took Harry’s characterization became one of my favorite incorporations. I was worried his path would be filled with a certain trope right off the bat, but that, thankfully, did not end up being the case. As for Mary Jane, she was more hit-and-miss. While the conclusion of her arc is satisfyingly done, her implementation in particular areas was somewhat poor. And, personally, she and Peter never come across as having romantic chemistry, though that’s just a me thing that I’m not judging critically.

Swinging into Action: Gameplay Highlights

Gameplay-wise, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is at the height of this series thus far. The movement is as pristine as it’s always been, except with some new bells and whistles like the Web Wings, which enable gliding for a period of time depending on accumulated momentum. When you build up enough speed, the Web Wings provide a sense of freedom distinct from the swinging. Speaking of, swinging around feels as stellar as ever, and you can even enable fall damage to make the act of traversal require meaningful attention. At its core, simply moving around has always felt great across these titles, and this sequel continues that tradition.

It’s a shame because, critiques aside, there’s a genuinely addictive gameplay loop here that I’m sure I would have found more compelling if there was stability.

In fact, exploration was so enjoyable that it almost made me want to avoid fast-travel altogether. Almost. To be entirely candid, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 has the most spectacular fast-travel I’ve ever experienced in a video game. When you make enough progress in a district, you’ll unlock the capability to warp there, and if you decide to do so, it’s literally instantaneous. Further, even more magnificent is how you’re brought to the spot on the map you hovered over. It’s genuinely mind-boggling how such a feat was achieved. This also extends to the swift switching between Miles and Peter, enabling a seamless gameplay experience. Well, sort of.

Technical Hiccups and Performance Issues

I’ve been holding off on this subject, but now’s as good a time as any to delve into it. My experience with Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 was, at times, a bug-filled mess. I faced multiple crashes, softlocks, and various other oddities that I couldn’t overlook. For instance, in the game’s opening mission against the tutorial boss, a button prompt would initially not display itself and then not work at all, necessitating a restart that fixed it. However, this problem with non-working button prompts continued throughout my gameplay journey. Whether it was side activities or story missions, there were easily well over a dozen instances where I had to restart a phase of an objective, hoping that the button prompts would actually work. I grew mildly exasperated when at over halfway in the story. Regardless of the quick loads, needing to redo scenarios so frequently significantly impeded my time.

Even if these faults are eventually fixed in an upcoming patch, it’s clear that this game should not have been released in its current inexcusable state.

The worst bug I faced, though, was against a plot-heavy boss as Miles near the end of the game. During the boss’ last phase, it was in the air, trying to latch onto the ground, but it got stuck in a tree, resulting in a visual mess. Then, once it eventually slid its way back to the ground, its hurt box was ruined to such an extent that only the second hit of my combo did any damage. I restarted from the last checkpoint and autosave in order to fix this, and I ended up doing so multiple times. At first, the boss was simply not present, and when it did appear, its hurt box was still not functioning properly.

So, I had to reload a manual save I made before the mission began. The boss on this go-around was fixed, thankfully. In hindsight, I got pretty lucky because if I didn’t have that convenient manual save, I would have had to replay a considerable chunk. What makes this even worse is how I played Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 with the launch day patch, so I shudder to think what the pre-patched iteration is like.

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Moving on, the map of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is full of typical activities you’d expect from open-world games, though that’s not a knock against the title itself. Even though nothing about taking down the enemy bases or finding collectibles was memorable as it all blended together, the joy found in the movement made the process constantly enjoyable. There are plenty of side missions, too, yet they’re more hit-and-miss. Some provided meaningful introspection for Peter and Miles or surprising endearment for random NPCs, while others failed at making an impact. One of the most notable cases of the latter is a continual side activity where you take down the bases of Kraven’s followers, rewarding such minuscule brief bits of characterization that, because of their distribution, ended up being forgettable.

Lastly, the combat of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 feels largely the same as the previous outings. The combos and alerts for dodging are as satisfying as ever, requiring one to pay constant attention to their surroundings. Additionally, the abilities and gadgets are enjoyable to play around with, instilling appreciative variety into what would otherwise be a dull combat loop. My favorite feature, though, is the parry. While simple with highly transparent telegraphs, performing parries successfully is arguably the most satisfying battle action.

An upgrade system is also present, with Peter and Miles having their own individual skill trees alongside a merged one. There’s not much more to it than that, as the skill points needed for these ability acquisitions arise from gaining levels. It’s rewarding enough, though you don’t need to ever think about what you learn since you gain levels quite rapidly. On the other hand, the gadget upgrading necessitates more player thought since it uses materials you obtain via exploration. In essence, these straightforward systems accomplish their goal of appealing to all types of players, even if it’s just in a general sense. Still, there’s a bunch of suits you can unlock from mission progression and material utilization, so player freedom will strongly thrive here.

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Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is a standout superhero adventure with terrific character writing that, at least in my experience, is heavily bogged down by unsatisfactory performance. Bugs and crashes drastically ruined segments of progression, even in story-heavy scenarios. If I only faced the occasional softlock or crash, I wouldn’t really care, but these issues being such a constant made them impossible to overlook, doubly so with the launch patch installed.

Even if these faults are eventually fixed in an upcoming patch, it’s clear that this game should not have been released in its current inexcusable state. It’s a shame because, critiques aside, there’s a genuinely addictive gameplay loop here that I’m sure I would have found more compelling if there was stability. Ultimately, bugs are not guaranteed in everyone’s playthroughs, so you may get lucky. But I do recommend being aware of these potential problems and making backup saves should something go awry.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Orpheus Joshua

Random gamer equally confused by the mainstream and the unusual.