I have to say: the first few minutes of Spider-Man 2 were tough for me. At an event in London, Sony provided a good hour and a half of the new Insomniac game, which was somewhere in the first third, but not right at the beginning. And so in the first few fights I asked myself whether the Spideys had always been so overpowered.
There’s just a lot going on with Spider-Man taking down the bad guys, dishing out Venom and symbiote moves to opponents with well-mixed talents. And when you’re overwhelmed by separate skill trees and movesets for two Spider-Men, gadgets and suit modifications in the menu, you first have to sort yourself out. I’m glad I’m not thrown into the deep end for the test, but as a reminder of what’s possible in this game, it was a little enlightening.
The good news: It only took a good 20 minutes before I was back in and playing was as easy for me as it was towards the end of Miles Morales, three years ago. Because Insomniac simply knows how to make even a more complex set of movements become second nature to the player. All the better, because Spider-Man 2 expands the repertoire of Peter Parker and Miles Morales, between whom you can switch almost immediately at almost any time – once again substantially.
I particularly liked two things because of their playful effects. I should probably say: I’m not necessarily a fan of how open-world games like this compensate for the power gap between protagonists and the henchmen by sheer quantity. For me, this often just drags out the less important fights unnecessarily. Two things could be of great help in this regard in the final game:
On the one hand, the Spideys can now counterattack and parry, which with the right timing not only thins out the enemy’s ranks more quickly, it also loosens up the familiar rhythm of “hit, hit, hit, dodge” in which one is so often almost killed Enemy still rolls away. With the block you just have to roll away when there is a threat of fire, it looks like. And in general I like the additional option. In fact, a Spider-Man Miles Morales that I started again in the aftermath of the event feels a little strange without a block. I’m really happy about this change.
The other thing that made me shake off some of the combat baggage was the extremely cool new webline. You can now shoot ropes that stick to the level and that you can balance on. This makes stealth a more valuable option both in the missions and on the streets, in the random crimes. In a mission in a large warehouse I was able to take out all the guards without a fight (after two or three attempts). Afterwards I was happy about all the covered bats that were dangling under the ceiling of the hall, which was hopelessly covered with nets. Another great new mechanic that I now sorely miss in Miles Morales.
And yet, it’s probably another feature that most people will be talking about when Spider-Man 2 is released on October 20th: Both Peter and Miles are now in disguised wingsuits and can, in a sense, fly because of the web wings under their arms. The mechanics are comparable to sliding in the Batman games. Perfect for covering routes that are less suitable for web shooters, or simply because it’s a lot of fun to break up the normal swing mode with a few breakneck flying moves.
What’s nice is that wind currents that are clearly visible from afar tempt you to leave the adhesive wire stuck and carry the spider boys a good deal further than their momentum and web wings alone would allow. Funnily enough, these currents work both ways. Under a bridge over the Hudson, a wind blew me from Manhattan to Queens. When, shortly before reaching the mainland, I pulled out under the bridge and up, swung myself to the other side using the web shooters, only to dive back under the bridge towards Manhattan, I had to smile quite a bit. The wind was now blowing me in the opposite direction – physically impossible of course, but from a game design perspective it made sense and was fun.
As far as the gaming side is concerned, there is enough new stuff to discover, not to mention the expansion of the map from Manhattan to Queens and Brooklyn. This will be good for the spider and will provide visual and gameplay variety, even if I’m not quite sure what the missing skyscrapers in these areas will do to movement. Exciting in any case.
The missions that I was allowed to play also offered a wealth of variety: in one scene, you had to act as Miles’ spider bot to thwart a break-in in a museum and redirect the intruders by deliberately creating noises on musical instruments or a toilet flush. Nice break that lightened up the usual goings on. A scene with Peter in the symbiote suit was actually downright creepy, as a subtly altered Dr. Conners follows up. The tonality fluctuated quite a bit and since Sony emphasizes that Spider-Man 2 is the first Spider-Man that is released for ages 16 and up, you can expect an overall darker tone.
Of course, a lot of this is due to Peter’s transformation by the alien parasite that lives on his suit. After a truly spectacular sequence on the heels of the giant Lizard, the original Spider-Man saves a civilian from being crushed by rubble, but tosses him aside as if he had just saved a crate of apples from existence as puree. A nice little detail that stuck with me even more than the clearer, superficial signs of Peter’s transformation.
When I spoke to Insomniac’s Senior Narrative Director Jon Paquette after the demo session, the first thing I asked him was whether it was fun slowly turning Peter evil. Was it fun to slowly make Peter evil. “Oh yeah,” Paquette replies with a grin. “The first two scenes in which Yuri [Lowenthal, Sprecher von Peter Parker] Being able to show Peter’s dark side, I was surprised because I had no idea that Yuri had something like that in him. He’s just such a lovely person, but also a great actor.”
“I don’t know where he had to go to find that darkness, but he was there and unearthed it.” Paquette continues: “That’s what I love about him. It feels authentic. If you ask me, when I see what’s happening with Peter’s relationship with Miles and MJ, I find it heartbreaking because you just know what a good person he actually is.”
When asked about the passer-by who had been carelessly left aside, Paquette’s eyes sparkled. “That’s an example! And by the way: I’m not sure that was in the script. I always like to say: everyone at Insomniac is a storyteller. What we do as a writing team is set the table for everyone else, tell them ‘this is the story we want to tell’. And then everyone else on the team comes in and contributes. That little moment you mentioned was something that an animator put in because he thought, ‘I think Pete would do it this way in this situation.’ And man – little details like this really make a difference.”
The question that still remains is how Insomniac perceives the currently rampant Marvel fatigue. Paquette doesn’t see the avalanche of films and series as a problem for the new Spider-Man. “I think what makes Spider-Man unique is that we see him not just as a hero, but as a human being. We focus on personal stories. And I think that’s timeless. People will always be interested in watching other human beings like yourself deal with their human problems. We rely on this and create greater identification with these characters. This allows you to see yourself in them. I think that’s one of the reasons why Spider-Man is one of the most popular characters ever.
Another thing that was memorable is the mixing of the two heroes’ respective environments. Paquette has been looking forward to this merger for a long time. “I think in the story trailer you can see Miles meeting Harry in Ganke’s presence and MJ is there too,” says Paquette. “I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time, having everyone together. Of course, it is also a challenge to make all of these characters a living part of the story. But yeah, that’s great to watch their dynamic. Because Miles and Ganke have a great friendship, but their relationship is different than that of Miles and Pete or Miles and MJ. This is just great fun. It is a great privilege to be able to let off steam in this playground.”
Spider-Man 2 will be released on October 20, 2023 for PlayStation 5