Review: Spider-Man 2 game does more than whatever a Spider can, despite repeating mistakes of Spider-Man 3 film

I'm surrounded by a gang of criminals, viciously attacking me as I attempt to save a group of innocent New Yorkers from their evil clutches. Repeatedly smacking them about the head and launching them into the sky with aerial combinations, I seem overwhelmed and doomed to be beaten to a pulp.

Seconds later, I launch one into the air in a desperate last gasp attack - and then my buddy swings by and delivers the killer punch, rendering the baddie unconscious before turning knowingly to me and nodding, leaving me alive for the next fight.

It could be a moment from Mortal Kombat 1 or a wrestling match, but this latest tag-team scenario comes courtesy of the highly-anticipated Marvel's Spider-Man 2 by Insomniac Games, which lands exclusively on PlayStation 5 this week. (October 20 to be precise).

The game heads back into the world of Spider-Men Peter Parker and Miles Morales again as they juggle the great power and great responsibility of being the Big Apple's guardians, and the eternal problems of daily life.

In Marvel's Spider-Man 2, Yuri Lowenthal's Peter Parker (rendered much like a younger Tom Holland on screen) is back to team up with Nadji Jeter's Miles Morales as twin threats arrive in town in the form of alien symbiote Venom and mysterious fur-clad tough guy Kraven the Hunter.

While Peter's trying to keep his family house afloat but financially struggling, Miles is clutching at words needed for an essay to apply for college to assure his future - in other words, both of them are desperately wrangling more mundane matters before the comic book villains come crashing in.

Very much following a narrative laid down by Sam Raimi's 2007 Spider-Man 3 (including the inclusion of numerous villains), Marvel's Spider-Man 2 is both an energetic and enjoyable slice of Marvel mayhem that has doubled down on the combat and chaos - for better and for worse.

Review of Marvel's Spider-Man 2 on PlayStation 5
Miles Morales is one of the joys of Marvel's Spider-Man 2. Photo credit: Marvel / PlayStation

Embracing many of the flaws of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's over-stuffed narratives and stupendous CGI carnage inflicted on cities, Marvel's Spider-Man 2 is extremely combat-heavy in its main story and at times, loses some of its more emotional edges and subtleties amid the hordes of enemies one must dispatch.

Combat is fluid and has embraced a series of new moves, showcased in many trailers, but adapts the flaw of many AAA games in forcing you to relearn some of the skills you had hard fought for in the previous game. It's a real frustration, given that even on the easiest level of gameplay, Spider-Man 2's fighting offers a harsh learning curve and can be overwhelming early on. Meshing in conversations and back-and-forths into the fight sequences is a bit of a mixed bag, as players barely have time to take their eyes and ears off the gameplay to cast an ear over other sometimes more informative and vital proceedings.

But in terms of pushing the PlayStation 5 to its extremes, the fight sequences are fantastic, with no sign of the tech struggling with hordes of bad guys coming at you (certainly in the latter part of the game) as loads is going on around you while it plays out.

Marvel's Spider-Man 2 star Venom
Let's hope this guy brushes his teeth regularly. Photo credit: Marvel / PlayStation

In fact, the way Insomniac Games has pushed the technology to its limits is one of the real highlights of PlayStation 5 experience thus far.

New York has been expanded and has more regions than before, and while the addition of web wings and slingshots helps hurtle you through the skies, the swing's still the thing as the simplicity of the Spider-Men heading to various missions and distractions through the skies can't be beaten. This is not a game to be rushed, it's a world to savour and revel in. Streets are teeming with life, locations bustle with busyness and the game's deeper world is one to explore.

The main story will take around some 20 hours to complete, but that doesn't give the game its 100 percent completion. There's plenty elsewhere to do that meaningfully adds much to the experience, and also gives you a break if you want to take some time away from the punishing confrontations. 

Of course, many of the diversions also end up in fights, leaving you wishing for some of the more innocent side quests like chasing pigeons in the first game. But there are still some sweeter side quests, from helping a high school student to ask his beau to the prom, to collecting Spider-Bots that are scattered around New York, the quieter moments shine out among the game's bombast.

There is an argument to be had though that many of these are simply variations of what 2018's Spider-Man 1 offered.

There are many inevitable parallels with Insomniac Games' Spider-Man debut - from opening sequences that throw you straight into a major conflict to returning characters and cameos, the developers are doing much to both deepen the engagement of players with the heroes and also spend a bit of time teasing out an expanded gaming universe for potential trilogy cappers.

Much like Morales and Parker, it all adds up to a lot for the developers to juggle too - but for the most part they succeed. It's worth noting that the review build of the game had some bugs that were noticeable in parts - from random bottles that showed up floating mid-screen after fights to some NPCs stuck mid-air, there are some issues that this Spider will need to snare to avoid claims it's broken. Dishearteningly and very occasionally towards the end of the main story, the game also got stuck and required a couple of hard restarts before it could be continued.

It's not game-ending material, but it is a sign that perhaps in pushing the tech to its limits, some of the smaller details may have gotten lost in the wash.

One of Marvel's Spider-Man 2's antagonists, Kraven the Hunter.
One of Marvel's Spider-Man 2's antagonists, Kraven the Hunter. Photo credit: Marvel / PlayStation

But when it all comes together, it's a great superhero game that is on par with many of the best of its cinematic cousins.

From the DualSense controller's speaker coming violently to life when Venom overtakes Peter Parker's Spider-Man to the HUD's expansion of skills via both the L1 and R1, the game simply gets what it's like to be Spider-Man.

Effortlessly switching between the pair is flawless - it's only upon writing this I think about the lack of any loading screens except for the start- and the game's strength lies in how simple it makes it to slip on the mask and become the Spider-Man.

But it also has so much heart. A lot of the emotion is delivered within the core relationships - from Peter and Harry Osborne's long term pals, to Peter and Miles' mentorship, through to Peter and MJ's relationship; there's been much that's been poured into the writing. And Lowenthal and Jeter's vocal performances deliver much of that heft too.

Witness Jeter's Morales feeling hurt when Parker's Venom-possessed and snarling Spider-Man snip barbs at him - the writers just seem to get what friendships and relationships are. Although, much like Spider-Man 3 suffered from too many characters and villains, there's also a feeling here that some of the game's main arcs feel lesser than they should be.

Marvel's Spider-Man 2's writers just seem to get what friendships and relationships are.
Marvel's Spider-Man 2's writers just seem to get what friendships and relationships are. Photo credit: Marvel / PlayStation

It's these quieter moments within the core group that help Marvel's Spider-Man 2 soar - there are enough of them scattered about the narrative to balance out weariness the constant combat may inspire.

Marvel's Spider-Man 2 is a game you'll want to play for hours set in a world you'll be happy to reacquaint yourself with, despite it being overstuffed, suffering from bugs and having repetitive combat.

Those problems aside, the way Insomniac Games has expanded Peter and Miles' world while staying true to the core tenets of a Spider-Man story makes it a thrilling game that does more than whatever a Spider can.

Rating: Four stars.