Spider-Man has always been a hero of the people, representative and reflective of the general populous. He might have super strength, agility, science-infused webbing, and a sense that warns of danger, but whether Parker or Morales, he’s always been a symbol for the everyday man, struggling with very human problems – money, friendship, family.
His story is endearing and relatable. He’s a complex hero, with multiple facets. Responsibilities, bills, and obligations. It’s for this reason that Spider-Man has endured for over half a century, whether in comic book form, in film, or in video games. Peter Parker and Miles Morales are not flawless supermen. They make mistakes. They miscalculate. Their problems are our problems. In leaning into that fallibility, Insomniac Games provides a sense of balance to the wilder ideas in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, crafting a strong, eye-popping adaptation of the Spider-Man mythos that blends breathtaking cinematic storytelling with softer, human drama.
It finds a heart in Spider-Man’s classic Alien Costume Saga, amongst other comic book influences, and spins a web of intrigue with a delightfully punchy, beautiful tale about the power of friendship, and what it means to be part of a community – even as it introduces beefy monster hunters, alien ooze, and cross-dimensional travel.
Flights of fantasy
It’s easy, when analysing the legacy of Spider-Man, to focus solely on the Amazing Fantasy of embodying a hero with freedom at his fingertips. And in regards, Insomniac certainly allows that fantasy to thrive, with a returning traversal system that allows you to swing, glide, and fling yourself through New York City, the sun at your back, and the wind rushing across your suit.
The feeling of travelling through New York is once again transportive, made all the more impressive by the gorgeous backdrop of glowing sunset vistas, modernist buildings, and glistening shores.
It’s a pure rush, and contributes to such a strong sense of adventure and freedom that it’s easy to get swept up in your momentum as you travel, and forget all your troubles.
But there are certainly troubles, and Insomniac never lets you forget them, with the compelling edges of Spider-Man 2‘s main, alien-infused plot always pushing at your desire to explore further, to let yourself fly free. There are always problems on the horizon, as glaring and beautiful as that horizon is.
The hunt begins
The tale begins with the arrival of Kraven the Hunter, a guerrilla soldier who commands an army of mercenaries through a spectacular, long-awaited hunt – one that may be familiar to those who know the comic source material. Kraven is an imposing villain, and one that pushes both Peter Parker and Miles Morales to their limits, in complex hunts that play out in impressively-scaled, multi-stage battles that combine action and stealth elements.
But Kraven isn’t the only threat facing the Spider-Men – as their quest for peace in New York City is also interrupted by the arrival of a cavalcade of familiar friends and foes. Venom, the alien symbiote, rears his head in unexpected form, spreading his tendrils throughout Kraven’s hunt, pushing wedges between Peter and his closest allies – particularly Miles, who serves largely as a conscience to Peter as this tale grows darker.
In various side plots, you’ll meet a shooting gallery of villains and anti-heroes, each with their own secretive agendas, each part of the fabric of this living, ever-changing iteration of New York.
They each flit in and out of the game’s story, leaving their mark as the hunt between Kraven and the Spider-Men continues, and as Venom’s presence in the story grows from docile and helpful, to sinister – and finally, catastrophic, in ways we’ve rarely seen in Spider-Man adaptations.
Insomniac’s Venom becomes the catalyst for a remarkable escalation in the plot, adding tension to the stakes in ways that feel world-ending, forcing the story through wild, gripping hoops, towards a showdown worthy of any cinematic or comic book epic. The influences on this tale clearly show through – although to dwell too deeply on its excellent inspirations would venture too heavily into spoiler territory.
Suffice it to say, comic book enthusiasts are well served here, with a number of reveals that draw well-earned gasps. Not as fan service – which tends to be over-the-top and winking in too-smug ways, particularly in recent Marvel films – but as earned character developments that naturally unfold, thanks to an incredibly deft narrative.
There are moments where Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 tends towards over-the-top silliness, but Insomniac guides these developments with expertise, taking players with them on the journey, rewarding investment, and patience.
It’s in leaning so heavily into comic book territory that the game achieves its greatest, most memorable feats – and in these moments that Insomniac so cleverly demonstrates the sheer, eye-catching strength not only of its development talent, but of the video game medium as a whole.
With great power, comes…
There is an argument to be made that modern comic book films often struggle to match the ambitions of their source material. We might believe a man can fly, but there is still the occasional element of the uncanny valley in depictions of CGI villains, alien landscapes, and unknowable horrors. Video games aren’t limited by the same budgets as film, or the requirements of physical actors. They operate on a similar plane, but have more freedom in their expression, in their art form.
Insomniac Games has seemingly stretched the capacity of its creative expression to the absolute limit in this adventure, creating elaborate set pieces from the digital realm, painting gooey, oozing monsters to life, reflecting the heightened, bombastic nature of comic book storytelling with phenomenal set pieces, buoyed by solid performances from the game’s main cast, and by a combination of snappy dialogue and a nuanced narrative.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is a believable epic, in every facet. Miles Morales and Peter Parker are real characters, making real decisions, brought to life by Nadji Jeter and Yuri Lowenthal, and supported by some of the most impressive video game graphics of the modern era.
Graphics alone aren’t enough to tell a sweeping story; Insomniac Games has poured soul into the adventure alongside them, fleshing out its world and characters in ways that feel so memorable that Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 lasts well beyond its runtime.
Whether it’s Peter sharing quiet conversations with Mary Jane, looking towards the future, or Miles visiting his local museum to help recover lost history, or even both Spider-Men facing down with the hulking, growling Kraven, Insomniac injects every moment with a sense of care and balance. There are quieter moments in the adventure, and moments so ridiculously ambitious that you’ll lean forward on instinct, wanting to be as involved in the action as you can. The narrative twists, and keeps twisting, but the story never forgets to serve and respect its characters, to involve you in more relatable beats, and to keep the hooks in.
As a sequel to one of the most impressive games of its era, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 was weighed down by expectations. But Insomniac Games has turned these expectations on their head, spinning a Spider-story that brims with confidence, style, and most importantly – an essential human touch.
Five stars: ★★★★★
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2
Platforms: PlayStation 5
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: 20 October 2023
A copy of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 was provided and played for the purposes of this review. GamesHub reviews are scored on a 5-point rating scale.