I went into Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 thinking it would just be more of the same. That’s not a bad thing – with only 1.5 games in the series to date, developer Insomniac knows that this formula ain’t broke, so there’s no need to fix it. And I was largely right; if you’ve played both Peter’s and Miles’ take on PlayStation Spider-verse, there’s very little here that’s going to shock you. It’s gaming comfort food, a safe summer blockbuster, your favourite band’s familiar encore.
But there are small differences, and they serve to underline the whole experience. The biggest change to the setup of the game is the dual-character setup. Story missions will have scripted moments where you hotswap from Peter to Miles, and the open world segments will allow you to do so on a whim. In action, as you whoosh from one hero to another – like GTA 5 did 10 years ago, but better – you really start to realise that this, finally, is a proper new-gen game.
“The PS5 fast loading is something that really helps us,” explains Ryan Smith, senior game director at Insomniac, in an interview with VG247. “Especially with the open world switching – we can swap between Peter and Miles quite quickly. And these transitions give you a chance to see fun animations, too – these transitions have been a place where our animators have been able to get really creative.”
He’s right. Thanks to the chaperoned nature of my preview, I didn’t get to see too many of these instances, but what I did see impressed me – it made the game feel more guided. More curated. More intentional.
“So, by using the PS5 hardware, the animation team can really let this cinematic idea of [playing as two Spider-men] come to life, and it also lets you really feel the city – more so than even in the last games, right? Because it’s one thing to swing and hit those viewpoints, but when these cinematically-crafted transitions kick in… it’s really fun,” explains Smith.
Because so much of Insomniac’s Spider-Man experience is player driven (think about how you explore the open world, how you follow breadcrumbs to get to missions, how you decide when and where to shoot off the ‘golden path’ and tangle with a side mission), the studio really relishes in taking the reins back for a moment when you swap between characters.
My favourite instance was a scripted flip from Miles to Peter, as the camera pulls back as if on a Kubrick-esque dolly shot and takes to the sky, whipping you off on a quick, direct tour of New York before seamlessly landing just over Parker’s shoulder. If the world of Marvel’s Spider-Man is one big video game theme park, these lush transitions are the rollercoasters. But this isn’t the only part of the game Insomniac has managed to enhance with these quick, painless swaps.
“Because of the PS5’s quick loading, we’ve also been able to integrate character-switching into our set-pieces, too,” Smith continues. “We can quickly transition between interior and exterior locations, show what each of the heroes are up to, and just get really creative – it lets us come up with some really epic moments in the game.”
This was best illustrated in a set-piece battle with The Lizard – or Dr. Curtis Connors as he’d probably prefer to be known. After about an hour of tracking down the over-grown reptile, sneaking through gutted fisheries and using Miles’ stealth and Peter’s academic know-how to stalk Connors to a hidden sewer lab, the pressure valve was released and the boss fight began in earnest. This hulking enemy – rendered with beautiful reflections on his scales by that gorgeous Insomniac Engine – eventually bolted, and so began a setpiece that was the talk of the event once the pads were down.
Miles and Peter join forces to puruse Connors, and the game deftly palms each of the characters off to you in sequence. As they bark directions to each other (“you get the speedboats, I’ll take the helis” or “you go high, I’ll go low”), the camera magnetizes to the character experiencing the highest quantity of what the movies like to call ‘mild peril’. You swing, dodge, dive, jump, web up massive obstacles so they don’t kill civilian onlookers, and push forward. The momentum is impossible to resist – the previous Spider-Man games really understood how to make you feel like Spider-Man, but this… this absolutely nails making you feel like Spider-Men. It’s an uncanny feeling.
And Smith doesn’t want that feeling to outstay its welcome. “Spider-Man 2 is in the same ball-park as the first game in terms of overall play time,” he explains. “And we really thought about how to make each of the moments – moments like The Lizard fight you played – a little more epic, or a little deeper, or a little more story-integrated. We don’t want this to be an 80-100 hour game, that’s not where we want to be. We want to tell amazing stories, the best we can. We want to make every mission really, really memorable. That’s our goal, rather than going super, super broad.”
Before my interview with Smith, I doubted Spider-Man 2 could keep up the momentum for the whole game; it felt like this whole Lizard section had been extracted and dressed specifically to make the game look good (when you do enough of these preview events, you get to see how the sausage is made, so to speak). But, in our chat, he made me genuinely believe that the whole experience will be like this – that Spider-Man 2 really does have what it takes to be the most exhilarating game of the year.