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Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 review: The best superhero game I’ve ever played

They say two heads are better than one, and it turns out that’s true when it comes to Spider-Men, specifically.

Spider-Man, in the famous black suit (powered by Venom), beats off some would-be attackers.
Image credit: VG247 / Sony

Spider-Man is about balance. Right back to the earliest days of the Ditko and Lee comics, this has always been the case. Your friendly neighbourhood arachnid has always struggled to find the balance between his personal life, his duty as Spider-Man, the weight of his community, his power, and – as you might remember – his responsibility.

Whether it’s Maguire, Garfield, or Holland, the movies have always walked this tightrope, too, and in his Amazing, Ultimate, Superior or whatever-other-adjective runs in the comics, Spider-Man has had to interrogate the balance of his life for over 60 years. You wouldn’t think there’d be anything left that could surprise you, that could show the tension in Peter Parker’s life in a truly new and effective way. But, with deft, artisanal ease, Insomniac has made it look easy – delivering one of the best Spider-Man stories I’ve ever seen.

Going into Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, the developer made NYC its oyster, introducing Mile Morales as Peter’s ward, and establishing the universe and setting with aplomb over 1.5 previous games. And what a sublime use of that potential Spider-Man 2 is. From the off, in an introductory mission that shows off the scale and power of what the PS5 is capable off, the game astounds. And if you think one villain tearing through downtown NYC is as big as it gets here, wait until you play the next 20 hours. Setpieces just seem to get bigger, better, deeper, wider, prettier, more spectacular.

Whether it’s a huge glass skyscraper splintering into shards, reflecting the city around it in a devastating fractal as it tumbles to the street, or a ‘now you’re thinking with portals’-inspired nod to the Multiverse of Madness, the game will surprise you. Constantly. At the heart of that is the PS5, of course, uninhibited by technical constraints of generations past. The result is Insomniac showing off what this machine can do – more so than God Of War Ragnarok, more so than Ratchet & Clank Rift Apart. Seamless transitions between the two Spider-Man, incredible feats of engineering when it comes to flipping from one asset to the next, absurd visuals that coax you into painterly scenes and nudge you in the ribs, as if saying ‘phwoar, look at that, eh?’ Spider-Man 2 does it all, and then some.

Park(er) Life!

Pre-release, game director Ryan Smith told me in an interview that Insomniac had been brutal in cutting the wheat from the chaff, refining every experience in the game. “We really thought about how to make each of the moments a little more epic, or a little deeper, or a little more story-integrated,” he explained. And it’s not lip-service. Even more so than the first two titles, absolutely everything you do here plays into the narrative: there’s no open world bloat. It’s lean, smart, and compelling, even when you’re collecting the 20th Spider-Bot from a building on the outskirts of town, or lassoing in the final drone you’ve been chasing around the Brooklyn Bridge.

Aptly, Insomniac has the balance right. Like Peter weighing up his personal responsibilities and his obligation to the city, the developer has weighed up the pressure of its story and the grandeur of its setting. Insomniac dances across that tightrope, never doubting itself, matching every story beat (coming at you at breakneck speed) with a couple of bonus objectives – neatly placed en route, usually – that offer you enough freedom to feel like you’re in control, but never enough web to hang yourself with. Other developers could learn a lot from Insomniac’s pacing.

Art imitates life.

But what’s a superhero game without the combat? We’re not here to talk through our problems and settle the score with empathy. This isn’t Steven Universe. Iterating from the previous two projects, Spider-Man 2 plays like a dream. Gadgets and powers are on separate cooldowns, each bound to a shoulder button, and your usual smorgasbord of attacks, dodges, web-bullets, jumps, and throws return (with their butter-smooth animations). No matter what’s happening in the fight – no matter how many hired goons are swarming you, who’s shooting at you from on high, or what boss is making a mockery of your Spidey Sense – there’s always an option. This, in my eyes, is the single biggest improvement from the last game. It makes the Arkham combat system feel primitive.

There’s a parry, too. It’s not as satisfying as getting that big ‘dong’ in Bloodborne, or instantly withering a whole stamina bar in Sekiro, but it’s useful, and watching a hulking 7-foot brute bounce of you and hit the deck like a sack of screwdrivers when you time a nice little parry for the fourth time in a row… it makes you feel invincible. Amazing. Superior. Or whatever other adjective you’d like to use.

You've got punk on you.

It’s a shame, then, that Insomniac feels the need to interrupt the flow with some non Spider-Man sections. I won’t say too much more here, but when it happens, you’ll know. All that momentum you’ve built up ricocheting around the city, diving from the Avengers Tower, gliding alongside the metro… it smacks into a wall. Stopped dead. Frustrating and feckless, these sections undermine the power fantasy and your player agency in one fell swoop. They’re more dangerous than any of the assembled rogue’s gallery for your health. Thankfully, they’re brief. Unthankfully, they’re alarmingly frequent – one even hobbling any sense of excitement in the final act of the game, just as things start to get to their most breathlessly tense.

But when your boots are taken back off terra firma and you’re soaring through the air on your fancy new web wings again, this is all forgotten. Deploying lines of your own webbing to silently tie up a whole facility of bristling henchmen, deploying Spider-Bots to recon museums for you, solving goofy little laser puzzles to get to know your uncle better (yes, really)... it’s everything Spider-Man should be – caught beautifully between slightly silly and deadly serious. The Peter Parker special. Everything perfectly in balance.

More than 19 inches of Venom, here.

Spider-Man 2 is exceptional. In your hands, it’s the best a superhero game has ever felt. On your eyes, it’s a pure tour de force of what the PlayStation 5 can do. On your heart, it’s heavy, enticing, exciting. The open world is a tonic, the characters are a riot, the villains are unbelievable in the best way. Suspend your disbelief in a neat little web above your head, dive in with your mask pulled tight over your face, and prepare yourself for the daftest, most earnest action game of 2023. It’s a 20-or-so hour hoot you’re not going to be able to put down until the post-credits scene has rolled.

Marvel's Spider-Man 2 launches October 20, only on PS5.

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