Being the sequel to two excellent games is not a guarantee of success. But it does set strong expectations. Thankfully, Spider-Man 2 meets and exceeds those expectations, providing uniformly stellar superhero action characterized by blazing-fast combat, smart mission design, and regular injections of thrilling set-pieces. Behind all that excitement, it also houses a fervent and heartfelt commentary on second chances, rehabilitation, and redemption. As a result, even in its dark moments, Spider-Man 2 delivers a wholesome and optimistic adventure rooted in joy.
After two preceding games establishing the two leads on their own, Spider-Man 2 weaves back and forth between the two wall-crawlers, with unique relationship threads and powers that set them apart, but core story beats and central abilities that unite the experience. Rather than a distraction, the switching dynamic (sometimes dictated by story, and sometimes by player choice) keeps things fresh and often provides exciting cliffhangers or action change-ups at critical moments. The tag-team dynamic is rewarding, and both heroes get the chance to shine.
Insomniac’s take on web-swinging and traversal through New York City has always been a high point, but it’s given new life here through several additional tricks, including wingsuits that let you glide at high speed across rooftops. Exploring the city is great fun, especially given the vast scope of the urban sprawl and the dozens of discoverables hidden along the way.
The intensity of Spidey’s combat is always a surprise, whether you’re new to these games or returning after some time away. The smoothness of animations, tight camera transitions, and responsive button play keep the speed from feeling overwhelming. I loved experimenting with different powers and gadgets to gain the upper hand against stacked odds. Slotted abilities for each character provide a measure of flexibility to your playstyle, adding at least some minor customization to the flow of battle. Even with that flexibility, Spider-Man 2 is a lengthy game, and the intensity of its frequent conflicts begins to lose its luster after a few dozen hours of punches, kicks, and web throws; it’s always good, but the fading thrill of the minion battles is eventually a victim of the game’s own sprawling scope and size.
Countering any eventual tedium in minor encounters, Spider-Man 2 also features some of the most climactic and cinematic action sequences I’ve encountered in a game, easily matching the grandeur and chaos of even the most exciting scenes in Spider-Man’s film outings. These technical showpieces revel in the power of the PS5 hardware; step back from the exhilarating scene, and it’s easy to ask: “How in the world did the developers do that?” High-speed chases, sudden, instantaneous scene changes, and titanic dynamic shifts to the game environment are common and exhilarating – and that’s just in the game’s first 15 minutes.
In between the action, Spider-Man 2 tries hard to find novelty in smaller moments and simpler gameplay loops, to varying levels of success. It’s odd to say that some of these minor moments would be spoilers, but it’s best to discover them for yourself, as each is inserted to change things up in a way that surprises the player. It’s enough to say that a few sequences of stealth, non-powered locomotion through the city, and memorable evenings out with friends all act as palate cleansers. While these sequences often serve the story well, I’m not always sold on the accompanying gameplay.
The best comic book stories have often planted real-life societal and personal stories into a backdrop of over-the-top exploits, using the frequent violence to accentuate the themes. Spider-Man 2 takes that idea to heart, constantly challenging the notion of heroism and villainy and coming down on the side that most people are complex and struggling more against their situation in life than it might first appear. Peter and Miles each have challenges to confront. Still, they’re united in a belief about the good in those around them and their willingness to go the extra mile to protect even the most seemingly irredeemable individuals. Spider-Man 2’s storytelling digs into questions about returning from a dark place and having another chance, no matter past mistakes. And while there’s nuance in the answers, the generally optimistic conclusions fall on the side of hope.
Insomniac has nailed that rarest of video game development feats. The team has landed a trilogy of games that all stand strong on their own merits but unite into a sweeping saga made better by experiencing its entirety. While more Spider-Man games will inevitably expand this mythology in new directions, there’s no need to wait. With Spider-Man 2, the developer has found what makes superhero stories worth telling (and retelling) and given its likable heroes the journey they deserve.