Two Spider-Men will be swinging through Manhattan again from October, but I could already go on a crime hunt with Miles and Peter.
Whoever gets to use one of the world’s most lucrative hero characters for their game and spin it into an open-world blockbuster that sells millions of copies undoubtedly has some power. But as good old Uncle Ben once taught us, such power also means a lot of responsibility.
With Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 s sequel waiting in the wings, Insomniac must prove that they can live up to the high expectations once again.
Big power, big responsibility, big expectations – but also a big game? To find out, I swung down to London and got my hands on a PS5 controller to take a close look at what could be one of the best open world games of the entire year through my spider lens.
Swinging just doesn’t get boring
While we’re on the subject of big, let’s stick with it. After all, the Open World in Spider-Man 2 is also significantly larger and almost doubled in size compared to its predecessor thanks to new boroughs like Queens and Brooklyn. So much space offers more room for all kinds of activities, which I could pursue in my version of the game as Peter Parker in his fancy black symbiote suit, or as Miles Morales.
However, the greatest strength of the world once again remains Spider-Man himself and his unique way of moving through the urban canyons of New York. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but the swinging in Spider-Man 2 actually feels a whole lot more dynamic and fluid than in the predecessor.
Also thanks to the PS5, it just flows really well, and the amount of different animation sequences just for swinging, wall crawling or, as of late, also gliding, leaves you speechless. Especially since Peter and Miles each have quite different ways of moving. Spectacular!
The gliding fits surprisingly seamlessly into the usual swinging, but is a little impetuous at first. Which isn’t so bad, after all, Spider-Man isn’t supposed to become a flying hero even with forearm wings. Gliding is supposed to complement swinging, not replace it, and that’s exactly what Insomniac manages to do wonderfully. If you don’t want to glide at all, you don’t have to and you can still make good progress.
I could really swing through New York like this for hours, even if there was absolutely nothing to do here. This fact alone has ensured that the open-world design of the predecessor has been forgiven for many sins. Just think of the radio towers, which smelled like Ubisoft design from ten years ago.
Disclaimer: The play-on event took place in London. The costs of travel, accommodation and meals on site were covered by Sony.
New York as an open-world playground
Naturally, there is still more than enough to do in New York, even for two Spider-Men, who, by the way, can actually be active at the same time. I once went after some burglars as Peter Parker, only to discover that the gang had already been roughed up by Miles. I still managed to land a few punches.
If you’re already disgusted by the prospect of checking out the aforementioned radio towers again, I can give you the all-clear: Spider-Man 2 refrains from letting you uncover the entire map via towers. Instead, you’ll actually have to actively scan Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens for activity.
In exchange, the team has made sure to make possible collectibles, side quests or challenges more visible. Of course, I can still simply scan the environment and some activities will then be displayed in the form of icons, but not all of them!
For example, the chief villain Kraven camouflages the hunter bases of his followers. To discover them, I have to watch out for a kind of air flicker. So it can happen that Peter or Miles swing around a bit desperately in search of the last base.
On the one hand, I’m happy about this change, because by now I really can’t see any lookout towers in an open-world game. However, the whole thing comes at a price. Since activities have to be visible, visual phenomena often pop up in the open world, such as air flickering, or sound waves from small spider-bots. This helps with exploration, but disturbs the immersion a little.
There are now also air tunnels all over New York, which Spidey uses to glide through the city at breakneck speed. Fun, actually, but these puffs of air are so frequent and noticeable that, for my taste at least, it becomes distracting in combination with the other visual cues. Especially since New York otherwise looks wonderful.
Cracking fights despite spider-sense
Spider-Man’s greatest advantage in battles with powerful enemies is his spider-sense, the ability to instinctively anticipate impending danger. When I played Spider-Man 2, I regularly wished I had this ability in real life. Because the fights are really crunchy! And I say that as someone who played through the predecessor several times on the highest difficulty level.
In this case, it was made even more difficult by the fact that I was thrown into the middle of the game and had correspondingly little time to familiarise myself with new abilities or gadgets. But the biggest challenge was anyway to keep a cool head with the large amount of different attack forms of enemies.
As before, Spider-Man can dodge melee or ranged attacks without difficulty, but has to be a bit more careful with AoE attacks such as grenades and jump. New in Spider-Man 2 are now enemies that want to be parried. Instead of avoiding these attacks with the circle button, Peter or Miles must parry in time, which is done by pressing L1 at the right moment and enables a counterattack.
In all the chaos of spider webs, bullets or laser bolts, it is easy to miss the exact moment to parry. Accordingly, Peter got dented in the jaw by Kraven’s hunters and later the lizard much more violently than I would have liked.
Moreover, in Spider-Man 2, healing is no longer possible at any time. Healing is only possible when the focus bar is at least a third full. At least I was able to upgrade it so that the superhero’s normal web shot also triggered a small health boost.
Villains in Spider-Man 2
Bigger, stronger, faster, better
But even though I got punched in the nose more often than I would have liked, the fights rocked tremendously, as they did in the predecessor. The new parry is challenging, yes, but it also makes the combat system feel a bit fresher.
Only disappointing at first glance is the decision that Spider-Man can no longer use all his gadgets at any time. Instead of the gadgets wheel from the predecessor, which allowed me to choose which web tool I wanted to trigger with R1 at any time, I now have to go specifically to the abilities menu and put special attacks on L1 or gadgets on R1.
Sounds annoying at first, but has a good reason: holding down L1 or R1 now makes me use one of four pre-determined abilities or gadgets with square, circle, triangle or X. This allows for more spontaneity. This allows for more spontaneity without slowing down the action by opening the gadget wheel. The only difference is that the number of gadgets is reduced to four, plus four special manoeuvres that did not exist at all in the predecessor.
The special manoeuvres can be one of two unique abilities for both Spider-Men. With Miles, I choose between yellowish bioelectric fist blows or more chaotic blue electricity charges, which can also be fired, for example. With Peter, there is even more variety.
He chooses between slimy, brutal symbiote attacks or manoeuvres with four mechanical spider legs that burst out of his back. Some fans know these legs from Superior Spider-Man, a version in which Doc Ock controls Peter’s body. But that doesn’t happen in this case. Luckily, Peter’s mind is already clouded by the evil symbiote.
The symbiote attacks are of course directly related to Peter’s black suit, which he wore throughout the gameplay demo. I was able to change the costume, but in some cutscenes Peter then automatically puts it back on. There are supposed to be over 65 suits in total.
Symbiote attacks as well as spider legs and Miles’ electricity powers can be upgraded in a quite respectable talent tree. There is also another skill tree for abilities that both Spider-Men use – mostly their web attacks and counter options.
Gadgets can also be upgraded and so can suits. However, there are no longer special finishers for each suit. Miles now has his own ultimate power blast and Peter has a kind of berserker mode in which he hits particularly hard.
An almost guaranteed open-world spectacle
Of course, no one can conclusively assess whether it will all actually be good before the final release of a game. Not even with two hours of play time yet. But in the case of Spider-Man 2, I’m still very sure that this PS5 exclusive will stand out even in the already unusually high-quality year 2023.
Sony simply has a unique track record and Insomniac in particular can’t be accused of anything after Spider-Man, Miles Morales and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. A lot has to go wrong for Spider-Man 2 to be a disappointment. Especially since I’ve already seen in the two hours how sensibly the team complements the predecessor.
All areas have been cleverly expanded and optimised. The battles crash even more violently, the movement through the Open World elates even more euphorically. Even the Open World relies much less on stale design, even if the new solution certainly doesn’t belong to the very high art of player guidance either.
In any case, I can hardly wait to finally take on Kraven, Lizard and above all Venom, of whom there was still no trace in the demo for obvious reasons, without restraint from 20 October 2023 onwards.
What do you think about the new Spider-Man game? Are you looking forward to another journey through Manhattan or have you had enough of Peter and Miles by now? What else do you hope to see in the game and are there any criticisms of the predecessor that the sequel doesn’t address? Feel free to write us your opinions on this in the comments!
2023 … what an insane year. After already feeling completely taken care of after Hogwarts Legacy, Jedi Survivor and Baldur’s Gate 3, now Spider-Man 2 comes along and promises to deliver top notch entertainment as well. I actually don’t expect this game to shake up the gaming world like Baldur’s Gate 3 did. It doesn’t think the open-world concept far enough for that. But it doesn’t need to.
Exploring the world with Spidey is just plain fun. As long as you don’t get fed up with the joke-tearing spider from the neighbourhood, you’ll have a great time with this game. Because everything fits here: the visuals are to die for and, above all, the gameplay will keep you glued to this spider’s web of good humour. If the story keeps up the level until the end and the motivation spiral doesn’t break, Spider-Man 2 is guaranteed to crawl onto the pedestal of the gaming blockbusters of 2023.