Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is the long-awaited 2023 sequel to Insomniac Games’ 2019 smash hit Marvel’s Spider-Man. As well as the 2020 spinoff Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Third-person open world action games that put you in control of New York’s favorite webslingers.
Both previous entries were met with near-universal acclaim. So trying to create an even better sequel is no mean feat. If you’re on the fence about picking up the game or starting the franchise in general, this list may be of help to you. I break down what I believe to be the game’s five biggest strengths and five biggest weaknesses.
This article will feature full spoilers for Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, including the ending.
Sequels afford developers an amazing opportunity to address issues that arose in the first installment, and fine tune elements people enjoyed to make them even better. It also gives them a chance to mess things up even more, but that’s for later.
Insomniac Games are known for their high quality, so it’s no surprise that there is no shortage of things to enjoy in Spider-Man 2. It’s not the easiest task to consolidate them into five bullet points, but I’ve done just that.
The Fastest Spider-Man Alive
Spider-Man is one of Sony’s preeminent exclusive titles, so it gets the extra special optimization treatment. The game has a graphics-oriented Fidelity mode and a 60 frames-per-second Performance mode. I recommend the Performance mode. You get to fully experience how fast Peter and Miles whip through the New York City skyline. Everything is so crisp and smooth. You will completely ignore the fast travel mechanic.
The first game laid the groundwork for how fun swinging as Spider-Man can be. And Spider-Man 2 shows there’s always room for improvement. However, some may find that certain things move a bit too fast. So make sure your reaction time is sharp before you don the super suit.
New Places, New Faces
Insomniac easily could have simply reused the map from Spider-Man and Miles Morales. A mostly accurate recreation of New York City, with certain buildings missing and other ones added. However, they instead chose to expand it. Adding new areas like Brooklyn and Queens. And new landmarks like Coney Island, Aunt May’s house, and more.
They also took this opportunity to introduce new characters. Chief among them being Peter and MJ’s childhood friend: Harry Osborn. Along with popular villains that were missing or teased in prior installments. It brings a feeling of freshness to what could’ve been a very stale experience.
There is also a variety of side characters that will pop up throughout the adventure. They range in likability, but it helps to make the world more alive. Even if there’s a lot more they could’ve done with that.
Dress to Impress
Insomniac brought back the ability to change the super-suit you have equipped. Not only that, they have expanded it. Kind of. They reduced the amount of suits Peter has, as Peter and Miles each have their own suits. And they got rid of the suit-specific powers.
However, they added different color variations for each suit. So each unlocked suit is technically 4 suits in one. Very few of the alternate color schemes look better than the default, though. I also don’t think any of the suits look better than the base ones. Though having the ones from each film series is cool.
This may be the pros section, but I have to take a second to mention the Adidas ad that Miles is forced to wear in the game’s climax. It looks as awful as his mixtape sounds. Whoever thought it was a good idea to sell out the most emotional part of their game probably shouldn’t be allowed to make these kinds of decisions anymore.
Forewarned is Four-Armed
Peter got jealous of Miles’ venom powers – sharing the name of the villain despite having no connection and never being mentioned – so he stole Doc Ock’s arms and made them his own. Even though the four metal arms are usually reserved for the Iron Spider suit.
It’s all a part of the upgraded combat system. Gone is the gadget wheel that you have to pause the action to access. Instead, there are 4 combat abilities for each character, and 4 shared gadgets. All of which are tied to button combos for smoother action.
It brings you closer to that Batman feeling of utterly dominating nameless thugs with your combat prowess. And the way both characters’ powers grow over the course of the story are very satisfying. Even if Miles’ progression doesn’t really make much sense.
We are Venom
Hopes were high when the teasers at the end of both Spider-Man and Miles Morales teased the arrival of Venom. And, thankfully, it’s the only part of the story they actually did well. Using it to tell a tragic tale of two friends, instead of the more standard Eddie Brock story.
It takes a very long time for Venom to show up, some would say too long, but he steals the show the second he does. Everything he does is intimidating, and you feel the power behind every movement. Thanks in no small part to the fact that you get to play as him for a stretch. Not to mention he’s voiced by the amazing Tony Todd. Which is a surefire way to make your villain intimidating.
Venom isn’t around long enough either, especially for the impact they act like he had on the city, but it just about made all the waiting worth it. Especially with the added personal connection between Spider-Man and Venom, really highlighting Venom as the dark mirror of Peter. He’s not there for a long time, but he’s there for a good time.
A quick honorable mention to some of the character design choices. Peter looks 12 and is supposed to be 25. MJ looks like she aged 20 years and had botched buccal fat removal surgery. Miles gets a new suit that is the physical embodiment of “old white dudes try to write black teen.” There’s been a massive debate on why/if video games especially are intentionally designing characters poorly. And this game is perfect evidence in that argument.
Kraven A Better Story
Insomniac Games did not learn from their first Spider-Man game. As this one has the exact same plot structure. The first 75% of the game is dedicated to a mostly boring villain plot while the actual interesting plot builds in the background, occupying the last 25%. And, somehow, they did it both better and worse than before.
Kraven the Hunter is the main villain for most of Spider-Man 2 and he isn’t anywhere near interesting or dynamic enough to be in that role. All he wants is a worthy opponent to kill him. That’s it. The most interesting part of his section of the game is the symbiote. You know, the thing people actually wanted the game to focus on.
Hiding away the best part of your game under hours and hours of way less interesting plot is just bad game design. And they’ve made that same mistake twice. And it doesn’t have to be this way. Take the Arkham games for example.
Each game in the series has a main villain that is set up early in the game, and persists to the end. However, the plot is structured in a way that gives focus to other villains and storylines at the same time. Like Batman having to save Mr. Freeze from The Penguin so he can make a cure for Joker. There’s a way to balance your stories, and Insomniac has yet to do it.
The Big Empty
This game falls into the most common pitfall of big open world games. The world feels barren. There are so few important landmarks in this version of New York City that the game could’ve taken place in a regular town and felt no different. They fail to capitalize on the added scope of the wider map.
There are a few cool explorable locations like the Emily-May Foundation and Coney Island, but the rest is just a blob of boring buildings. Which, yeah, is accurate to New York. But accuracy does not always equal fun. Even the side activities feel way less involved.
The only one that has any sort of strong narrative throughline is The Flame missions. But even those don’t get interesting until literally the very end. The rest are easily forgettable with no real satisfying conclusion. This was their chance to really expand on the world they had established, and they missed the mark completely.
Mary Sue Watson
Can people please stop pandering to audiences they do not have? I dare you to go out and find me one person who said or thought “Oh boy I hope the MJ stealth sections come back in the sequel!” Like Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas,” they came back with a vengeance to the dread of many.
Not only did they come back, but they’re actively worse this time around. Now MJ can do stealth takedowns with her Symkarian shock pistol. Meaning both elite-level world class hunters and alien monsters that two superpowered Spider-Men struggle against are done in by a reporter with a stun gun.
The Resident Evil-esque sequence with MJ in the final mission is one of the most laughably nonsense sections of any game I have ever played. The game director even admitted that MJ is overpowered and doesn’t care in an interview with IGN. Saying “if she’s a little OP, I don’t give a sh**. She’s fine. I don’t care.” That’s not creating a “strong female character” or “showing that MJ is a hero too.” It’s bad writing.
The best thing MJ contributes to this game is when she turns into Scream. She vents her frustrations with herself and Peter in a way that shows she isn’t this perfect paragon she’s presented as the rest of the time. Lean into that and show that she’s just as flawed as the main two heroes, and more people might actually start to like her.
Missing in Action
Spider-Man 2 doesn’t repeat a single villain from the first game. With the small exception of a Mister Negative boss fight, but he doesn’t do anything until that point. And I applaud them for trying to use new characters; however, it came at the cost of a cohesive universe.
There’s no Shocker, no Doctor Octopus (until the end credits scene), no Rhino, and no Kingpin. Vulture and Electro die off screen. Scorpion gets killed on screen. Tombstone is a regular dude now. And Black Cat uses Doctor Strange magic to teleport out of the game as soon as she enters it.
The only villains we get are Kraven, Venom, Sandman, The Lizard, and Mysterio (kind of). They set up The Chameleon and Carnage but they don’t actually do anything. And that’s not even mentioning side characters like Silver Sable who easily could’ve returned in some capacity.
Spider-Man 3 is shaping up to be all about the Green Goblin and a returning Doc Ock. They are two of the greatest Spider-Man villains, but they’ll need a good supporting cast to back them up. Hopefully there are more returning characters. Or else they’ll have to rely on characters like Big Wheel and Big Man.
Trailing Miles Behind
Insomniac said Spider-Man 2 was going to be Peter and Miles’ story. They lied. What is actually the case is that this is Peter’s story, and Miles happens to be there for some of it.
Pete gets his best friend back and hope for the future. infected with an alien parasite that alters his personality and drives a wedge between him and his friend. And ultimately loses his friend and the hope they had together to said alien parasite, leaving him no choice but to destroy it. Miles has to write a college essay.
Okay, that’s not really it. Miles also struggles with Mister Negative being free from prison. But Martin Li is only seen about two times before he and Miles fight, and then he isn’t seen again until he’s redeemed and loses his powers. Miles’ plot could’ve been an email.
His biggest contributions to the main plot are assisting Peter. Helping Peter get the symbiote suit off. Helping Peter defeat Venom. He rarely ever has any agency or does things on his own.