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Spider-Man 2 PS5 review – the superior superhero simulator

Spider-Man 2 PS5 review – the superior superhero simulator
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 – two Spidey’s for the (very expensive) price of one (Picture: Sony)

The biggest PS5 exclusive of the year features Venom, two Spider-Men, and some of the best comic book action and visuals gaming has ever seen.

It does seem odd that the most popular superhero in the world is themed around the most commonly reviled animal but, thanks in no small part to their changing fortunes in movies and video games , Spider-Man has long since eclipsed rivals such as Batman and Superman. It’s also a vitally important property for PlayStation, as the original Spider-Man game on PlayStation 4 is Sony’s biggest seller – while also being the only Marvel-related game to match the success of the cinematic universe.

The games exist in their own continuity though, the original having spawned half-sequel Miles Morales in 2020 and this being a direct continuation of that. You don’t have to have played either of those to enjoy this, as both of their plots have already been wrapped up very neatly. Although the fact that both Miles and Peter Parker call themselves Spider-Man is a little strange and seems like it would be very confusing in real life.

As well as the whole sticking to walls thing, Miles also has additional electricity powers, and the ability to briefly turn invisible, so we’re not quite sure why he’s not called Electric Spider or something, but the important point is that playing as both of them does result in two very different powersets… and possibly the best superhero game of all time.

The story set-up is very simple, perhaps too much so in terms of villain Kraven the Hunter, whose motives are only gradually alluded to and his powers never fully explained (we think it’s just super strength but it’s not entirely clear). To be honest, he’s a fairly dull choice of villain but seems to have been picked because he has his own private army and has decided he wants to hunt Spider-Man(s) and various supervillains for sport.

The secondary plot involves Peter’s friend Harry Osborn, who is being healed by a mysterious symbiotic suit that fans of Spider-Man – or anyone that’s had any contact with pop culture in the last 35 years – will recognise as the origin of the supervillain Venom. The two plots have surprisingly little connection, and Venom only turns up in the last quarter of the game, but while some may see that as a weakness it all flows along well, with the two very different antagonists offering some useful variety.

The obvious problem with anything Spider-Man related is that all of the most popular concepts and characters have been done a hundred times before, which is another benefit of using the comparatively obscure Kraven. The average gamer has probably web-swung around an open world New York City multiple times, fighting the same collection of bad guys, and while in the comics and movies Spidey gets up to plenty of globetrotting that’s not an option here.

Spider-Man 2 finds two ways to mitigate this, the first being the exceptionally good graphics, which are easily the best representation of a major metropolis in gaming. The level of detail at ground level is stunning, especially the density of traffic and pedestrians, but also as you’re swinging past at 80 storeys and just notice some random person doing their aerobics.

What also helps is that both characters now have little wings under their armpits, which is a thing from the comics, and can glide for extended periods. It’s so effective that they can essentially fly and you can go almost the whole game without web-swinging, if you want. Or, if that thought appals you, you can instead make use of a new web zip move that drags you horizontally towards objects at high speed, making swinging through areas without high buildings easier.

A lot of effort has been made to add new abilities and features but we’d almost forgotten how shamelessly the game rips off the Batman: Arkham titles . With all the new moves, the combat is a little more distinct now but the stealth is functionally identical, right down to the idea of yanking up villains from the ground to tie them to lampposts and the like. Spider-Man 2 even introduces a new webline ability which is exactly the same as Batman’s line launcher, in allowing you to create a horizontal strand across wide distances (and which we used maybe twice in the whole game).

It’s not that the stealth or combat isn’t fun but it’s highly derivative, in terms of this franchise, Spider-Man games in general, and another completely unconnected series. However, as well as Miles’ electric and venom abilities (which are nothing to do with Venom the character) Peter also has the four mechanical legs from Infinity War/Endgame, although their sudden presence is never explained.

Both Spider-Men also utilise a range of one-shot gadgets, that do things like automatically web up bad guys or launch them into the air, so there’s a lot going on in terms of moves, abilities, skill trees, and unlockables (the game is also fixated with unlocking new suits for both characters, but they only provide a cosmetic difference – and the cut scenes keep forgetting you’re wearing them).

There’s so many abilities and moves that it’s easy to forget half of them exist. We don’t think we used Miles’ invisibility outside of the initial tutorial and constantly forgot the two different rage moves each has. The movesets are impressively broad but they’re also unfocused and because there’s ultimately only one attack button it all feels increasingly interchangeable.

Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 – the initial fight with Sandman is a great way to start the game (Picture: Sony)

The game is not overly easy but on normal difficulty the key skill to master is crowd control, with the means you use to fight opponents being of secondary importance. This stops the game from just feeling like a button masher, as instead of rote learning of complicated button presses the trick to succeeding is good situational awareness and prioritising targets – although that’s not always helped by a surprisingly incompetent camera, that can get very confused near walls.

Mechanically speaking, the only other problem is that there’s no manual lock-on. The game gets it right maybe 80% of the time but given the large crowds you’re fighting it’s too easy to start wailing on a minor enemy when there’s another much tougher foe standing right next to them, a problem that is especially evident when fighting long range.

We also experienced quite a few bugs, including more than once falling out the bottom of the world, but these seem to have disappeared with the most recent pre-launch patch, so hopefully they won’t be an issue by the time you play the game.

In all other respects you can see the game’s obviously sky-high budget in every pixel, from the gorgeous visuals to the inclusion of licensed music at unexpected moments. It’s all conveyed masterfully well by developer Insomniac, who we’ve never been great fans of before, as we’ve always found titles like Ratchet & Clank to be too shallow and one note, and always running out of new ideas by the halfway mark.

Whether by accident or design, Spider-Man 2’s story structure manages to largely avoid that problem, with everything conveyed with a sense of consistent cinematic grandeur that is highly impressive. Many of the action sequences are quite linear, with a lot of Crash Bandicoot style chase sequences and QTEs, which gives the game a surprisingly old-fashioned feel, recalling the best blockbusters of the Xbox 360 era.

It absolutely works though, with some great boss fights, unexpected segues, and a constant sense of forward momentum and uncertainty about what will happen next (even if, in broad strokes, you know exactly what’s coming). More than once we ended up being reminded of Naughty Dog’s work on the Uncharted series, which is the high water mark for narratively driven but mechanically simple action adventures. There’s nothing quite as good as the Madagascar chase from Uncharted 4 but the action sequences in Spider-Man 2 come very close a number of times.

In terms of game length, which has become a key issue prior to launch , we beat the story campaign and a little less than half of the side quests in 25 hours. That seemed exactly right for the plot though, especially given how bloated and aimless the original often felt. Almost all the side quest templates in Spider-Man 2 are interesting, although they didn’t take more than another five hours or so to finish off.

Value for money is in the eye of the beholder but it’s a clear concern here, especially given the lack of replayability, with no New Game+ and only an unlockable extra hard mode. Perhaps it would’ve been better to have a Resident Evil 2 style A/B route through the game, where you first play as Peter and then Miles, to make it seem more like two games in one.

As it is, and except for a few key story moments, you just switch between them whenever you want, like Grand Theft Auto 5. More distinct scenarios for each protagonist would also have helped to justify why exactly there are two Spider-Men, as in gameplay terms it’s not entirely warranted. There’s no co-op or multiplayer of any kind and you very rarely fight together – and even when you do, team-up moves are handled automatically by the AI.

There are conceptual issue with Spider-Man 2 but examined solely on its own terms this is an excellent game: easily the best thing Insomniac has ever done and arguably the best superhero game ever (we’d have to replay the first two Batman: Arkham games to be sure). Our biggest issue is with the story, which while much better orchestrated than the original we didn’t enjoy as much as Miles Morales.

Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 – Peter never says where he got the extra legs from (Picture: Sony)

One of the key problems is the same as that game, in that both Miles and Peter are so morally perfect many of their scenes are close to nauseating. It’s a good job saccharine isn’t carcinogenic or the game would be a health risk, as Miles, Peter, MJ, and Harry (at least for the first half of the game) do and say absolutely the right thing at every moment, with almost no internal conflict. That’s fine and good for characters like Superman and Captain America but we’ve never thought of Spider-Man as being that unconflicted.

Peter wearing the black suit makes him angry and unreasonable for a bit but it’s clearly not his fault and it doesn’t last long anyway. Meanwhile, Miles’ desire for vengeance against Mister Negative (whose powers we still don’t understand) is so brief and understated it’s a wonder it was brought up at all. Importantly, the drama that is supposed to result from these events barely registers, especially when you compare it to the cheesy melodrama of the movies.

More: Trending Spider-Man 2 is so expensive I’m giving up gaming - Reader’s Feature Activision Blizzard has made me start to hate Xbox and Phil Spencer - Reader’s Feature Sony and Nintendo should join forces to combat Microsoft Xbox - Reader’s Feature

The Spider-Man 3 film, whose plot has a number of similar moments, might be reviled for being too silly but at least it’s funny and memorable, whereas everything in this video game equivalent is very flat and comparatively characterless. The way Venom is introduced, and how he’s portrayed in general, is infinitely better though, and fans should have no complaints in that regard – even though you can predict the entire story, from beginning to end, just by watching the story trailer.

Spider-Man 2 can be criticised in terms of terms of originality and storytelling but as a piece of blockbuster gaming it’s a hugely enjoyable experience, that does its level best to introduce as many new elements as possible and present them in a way that is both cinematic and fully interactive. Sony’s output of first party games may have slowed to a crawl lately but Spider-Man 2 is a definitive example of no-expense-spared AAA gaming at its crowd-pleasing best.

Spider-Man 2 PS5 review summary In Short: The best Spider-Man game ever and probably the best use of Venom in any medium outside of comics, with the stunning visuals and slick gameplay overcoming a certain overfamiliarity.
Pros: State-of-the-art graphics and solid action with plenty of options. Some fantastic set pieces, that prove linear action is still viable despite the open world environment. Good pacing and varied and enjoyable side quests.
Cons: Unavoidably unoriginal in some ways but the steals from Batman: Arkham remains shameful. Often flat storytelling and characterisation. Some minor camera and lock-on problems. Relatively short, with little replay value.
Score: 8/10

Formats: PlayStation 5 Price: £69.99 Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment Developer: Insomniac Games Release Date: 20th October 2023 Age Rating: 16

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MORE : The original PS5 Spider-Man was not a great game but perhaps Spider-Man 2 will be

MORE : All the unlockable Spider-Man 2 suits have already leaked online

MORE : A second, cheaper PS5 Spider-Man 2 console bundle is out this month

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