Editor’s Notes: This review contains spoilers of Spider-Man 2’s Storyline. As such, unless you have already played it, don’t think you will play it, or don’t care either way, we recommend you play the game first before diving into this review.
If you know anything about me at all, you will be aware of my lifelong enthusiasm for Spider-Man. The franchise has played such a huge part in my childhood years, particularly the classic comic book stories and the very famous 90s animated series. Apart from the first 2 Sam Raimi films, the same couldn’t be said for the live-action films and video games.
However, 2018 saw my desire for a top tier Spiderman game be fulfilled. From the gameplay, to the visuals and impeccable storyline, my dreams were realized. The game had everything that I could ever wish for; the pure marvel (pun not intended!) of the game catapulted it into my top 10 favourite games of all time. During the height of the pandemic, a Playstation State of Play revealed the first teaser of a sequel to the PS4 smash hit. This shot up my excitement to a fever pitch.
Seeing the menacing roar of one of Spiderman’s most troublesome villains in Venom amped my giddiness up to a ten. 2023 couldn’t come soon enough! The day eventually did arrive, and now, so has my chance to review the game. I plan to review this through my perceived strengths and weaknesses of the game. If you haven’t done so, go and play the game before reading this review, as I go into full spoilers.
One of the most captivating features of Spiderman PS4 was the gameplay. From swinging around a serenely-designed New York to effortlessly being able to learn advanced combat moves, the gameplay was impeccable. And it was pleasing to see this level of gameplay not only maintained, but improved in the sequel.
There’s just something very satisfying about being able to dance around both regular New York criminals and the nefarious hunters of Kraven and taking your pick between webbing up the menaces or simply taking them down with your fists. And having a plethora of special abilities at your disposal for both Peter Parker and Miles Morales, shared and exclusive, significantly boosts the combat experiences. Moreover, the quick recharge time always keeps you in the fight, no matter how insurmountable it seems.
Visuals and cutscenes
The New York skyline was always a sight for sore eyes even in the first game. However, the game developers found a way to level this up here in the sequel. Swinging around the city itself was also noticeably enhanced. At times, it didn’t even feel like a video game, but rather a high budget film. The special effects in major cutscenes significant to the story (such as Peter’s “death” and Venom’s awakening) were honestly far, far better than some of the poor excuses for scenes the modern MCU has been serving up of late.
For sure, I have a lot of gripes with the actual story of the game (more on that later), but the boss fights certainly didn’t disappoint. Although I will say that the battles weren’t at the level of the original PS4 title, they were nonetheless enjoyable. My personal pick would be fighting a full-fledged Spidey-Venom as Miles, given the high stakes and the moment in the actual story. Plus, it was rather cool being able to have an actual boss fight against Spiderman, the character with whom you’ve been the bane of supervillains with!
The Redemption of Mr. Negative
Again, I will leave my more expansive thoughts on the story for later, but for sure, one of the biggest positives in my view was ironically revolving around a character with the name Mr Negative. In the original, the alter-ego of Martin Li goes from a troubled, yet caring homeless shelter owner to a complicated bringer of electric and dimension-shattering death.
We are able to sympathise with the manner of his fall from grace, but at the same time, anticipate an inevitable mini-arc of Miles seeking vengeance on him, given his direct involvement in Miles’ father’s death. And Spiderman 2 deals with this arc perfectly. Mr Negative serves as a major catalyst for Miles’ growth as a character. And we also get to see Li himself finding peace in a crusade to right his wrongs and become an ally to Peter and Miles. Also, his battle with Miles as part of the mini-arc was an enjoyable experience.
A Lackluster Story
Back when I’d completed Spiderman PS4, I was convinced that I’d just experienced the greatest Spiderman story ever told. So much so, that I truly felt that if this was an actual film, it would be spoken of in the same vein as the Dark Knight.
The story had absolutely everything: a witty and charismatic Spiderman, a great supporting love interest in Mary Jane, an interesting and captivating protégé in Miles Morales, and also a very sympathetic, yet menacing main villain in Dr Octopus. We also had moving parts in the story which complemented the main events, with the morally grey Sable and the antics of Black Cat in the background.
The events of the game were genuinely heartfelt (particularly with the death of Aunt May, the fall from grace of Otto Octavius), yet generated hype for all players (formation of the Sinister Six). Given the experiences the first game had gifted me, I was so excited for what the sequel would have to offer. But right from the beginning, something really felt missing.
In comparison to the first game, where Kingpin’s arrest setting off a malevolent chain of events, Sandman seemed only to provide the player with a long, but decent opening boss fight, but really had no narrative purpose. Kraven’s role was meant to be that of a badass and intimidating figure hellbent on fighting strong people, yet felt very one dimensional as a character. And despite this, I felt his character was disrespected, in that his ultimate goal of death was not granted through a warrior who’d out-trained and overpowered him in an epic battle, but by an alien symbiote possessing a sick young man.
Speaking of this sick young man, nowhere did the story make me feel the same amount of sympathy and complexity for Harry Osborn as I did for Doc Oc. In fact, his character arc and descent into Venom-induced madness felt rushed and a little unengaging. And after the dust settles, Harry ends up in exactly the same situation as the reveal at the credits of the first game: in a vegetative state hanging onto dear life.
Sure, Miles is a relatively charming and interesting apprentice to Peter Parker, but that’s all I really see him as. Not the actual heir to the webslinger.
I see him as no different to Robin from the Batman Arkham series, a more than competent sidekick to the main character. The game definitely tries hard to push the player to feel the same as we do for Peter. I’m sorry to break it to them, but Peter Parker is Spiderman. Miles Morales is Miles Morales. He should be a character who charts his own path, much like the Dick Greyson Robin transitioning into Nightwing.
And speaking of sidekicks, the game also tries way too hard to make MJ more a sidekick rather than the charismatic, journalist love interest for Peter. Her stealth missions in the first game made much more sense than her being able to shoot down and tackle actual hunters trained by Kraven. And coming to Norman Osborn, the first game made him feel like an overarching villain of this game series, given his role in Otto’s descent into Dr Octopus.
Here, we just saw him merely as a helpless father seeing his son falling down the Venom-induced abyss. The ending does tease his future role as the Green Goblin, but Peter’s step away from his webslinging activities at the end creates a major inconsistency. Will Peter have to come out of retirement to face his historically biggest nemesis? Or will it be up to Miles, with whom there would be no genuine reason for a hero-villain dynamic? With this in mind, why are the developers so insistent that Miles will be the main Spiderman going forward, given the possible appearance of the Green Goblin in Spiderman 3?
Other issues included an appearance from Black Cat that seemed completely shoehorned in, without which the game wouldn’t have lost anything at all. Also, the sequence at the theme park with Peter, Harry and MJ was boring and dragged on for way too long.
One of the best features of the original Spiderman game was the cool and stimulating side-quests on offer throughout. However, apart from the Mysterio-related side quests, what we had on offer this time were several levels below that standard.
Missions such as controlling Miles’ girlfriend and uniting one of Miles’ class fellows with a lover were clearly only there to score ESG points for diversity sake rather than providing the player with an engaging side quest away from the main action.
In all honesty, after one or two side quests, I had no real desire to pursue anymore and felt it better to continue towards finishing the main game.
Uninspiring Character Designs
Apart from a handful of characters, the overall character designs were, to put things bluntly, appalling. MJ’s design has been so widely maligned, that there need not be anymore for me to say.
Peter’s design was inexplicable changed before for the PS5 version of the original game, and perplexingly, the game designers chose to disregard the fan criticisms and persist with Peter’s inferior redesign. Furthermore, NPC character design in this game was horrendous, so much so, that their eyes felt like then were never looking straight ahead.
I’m really not sure what Insomniac Gaming were thinking when approving such abysmal character designs!
Overall Verdict and Rating
The game certainly wasn’t terrible. The gameplay, the Spiderman suits and cutscenes were, like the game’s predecessor, top notch.
I had a blast playing as both Spidermen, who had their unique set of skills, and the combat was still one of the best experiences I’ve had. However, the story fell miles short of the standards set by the 2018 title, along with the side quests. Coupling this with the less-than-stellar character designs, the game unfortunately attains a slightly above mediocre rating of 6/10 from my end.
Disagree? Let me know in the comments!
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