Friendly Neighbourhood Sequel or have Insomniac Webbed the Shark?
Insomniac Games have returned with the latest instalment in their Spidey franchise, it’s the third game but it’s called “Spider-man 2”? Well, lets face it, the Miles game was repackaged DLC, but as when anything comic book related is up for grabs, my spider sense is tingling in excitement to check it out.
Seems like it should go without saying that Spider-man 2 is a Playstation 5 exclusive and I’d be lying if I said this game along side Final Fantasy weren’t my reasons for buying the machine in the first place.
Let’s get things started with the games narrative. Spider-man, we all know his story, some of us know Miles to varying degrees and none of us should be confused by alternate dimensions, so, it’s ‘a’ Peter and ‘a’ Miles but they aren’t the 616 versions, or the ultimate versions, now residing in the prime universe…what did I say about alternate dimensions not being confusing?
Well if you’ve played Insomniac games original Spider-man or the Miles reissue then you’re pretty much up to speed, characters we know and love but set on Earth – 1048 to give Insomniac games some creative freedom, something that they use brilliantly.
I’m going to attempt to keep this review as spoiler free as possible, but the game kicks off with Sandman running rampant through New York City and it requires the effort of both the Spiders to deal with it, not long after this we are introduced to Kraven (a personal favourite spider baddie of mine) and later on Venom. However’ it’s not all new, some drama from the previous game(s) lingers on and Insomniac do a great job of making the games feel temporally connected and it really flushes out the depth of the games universe.
Many of the same old spider-beats are here but just like in the first game, are just different enough from the 616 to feel familiar and yet refreshing. However, the main story isn’t what delighted me during my time on the web. It’s the side missions, and not the random and almost too frequent crimes that pop up in NYC but the Friendly Neighbour missions that pop up.
Almost every single one is heartwarming or emotionally impactful. Other superheroes fight crime, but the spiders, they help people and thats what kept me enthralled the entire time, just swinging though the city, helping in a way only a spider can. Everyone of these missions (denoted by a blue icon on the spider-app) reminded me that just because I’ve not been bitten by a radioactive spider doesn’t mean I don’t have the power to help people, and that as always, power comes with responsibility, and the power doesn’t have to be great, for us to do great things.
Now that may sound ridiculous and cheesy but comic books are about heroic morals at the end of the day and I’ve sat though many a poor comic book adaptation that when it’s done well, it really does hit home.
My favourite moment of the entire game was a Side mission that I undertook as Miles involving tracking down a Grandpa named Earl. Once you find him it doesn’t end in a fight or a puzzle but Miles and Earl having heart to heart as Earl tells you about his life and his love, his wife who passed away. Insomniac get it, they understand that beneath the mask and under the webs what Spider-man, be that Miles or Peter is really about.
While story and world building are fantastic, there’s always one thing that Spider-man games have to confront, and that’s how you navigate that world, well, New York at least
Web-slinging, A Spidey game lives and dies on these little strands of web. I’ll get it out of the way, Spider-man 2 on the ps2 is still the champ, but Spider-man 2 (2023) is a very close second. To begin with the game gives you options for how difficult you want to web-slinging to be, from having every assist on which essentially means Spidey will never hit the ground, will always move in the direction you’re pushing the analogue stick and you may as well stop there as how boring. I immediately switched every assist off and turned fall damage on. Why would I want to give up control of ‘becoming Spider-man’, I want to feel like I’m swinging around, and doing so is fantastic fun.
Unless you’ve missed all the marketing for this game you’ll have no doubt seen that Peter and Miles have a new tool for navigating the boroughs. Web-wings.
Web-wings are new and I won’t lie, initially I hated them, I’m Spider-man, I can web sling, it’s the coolest way of getting around any game and I didn’t understand why Insomniac games would want to take away from this.
At first they aren’t much fun and I refused to use them, but as you acquire new skills and actually start to take in the scale of New York City, I eventually found that rather then replacing slinging it all kind of blurred and just became and awesome and natural way of traversing the city that never sleeps and they are actually a welcome addition. There are a few moments of the game where they are directly tied into completing a mission which in principle annoyed me. Yes, I see them insomniac, you don’t need to force my hand.
Aside from traversal, the core gameplay feels exactly the same, and that’s not a bad thing, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
Combat feels rapid, responsive and it like all games with a skill tree, gets more fun, the more skills you unlock. Miles and Peter have their own individual skill tress and a shared tree, it’s fairly standard but the pacing of unlocking these skills is really down to you. I took time out from the main story to complete side quests and explore so nothing felt like a chore and at no point did progression or development feel like a grind.
Insomniac Games can’t rely on every player being a Marvel Comics geek so they have to cater for people who don’t know every strand on the web of life.
In and of itself this is a great thing, as this could be somebodies first step into the Spider-verse, but at times for me it made some moments feel heavy handed, one such example being the relationship between Peter and Harry. This friendships needs no development for me, but the game needs you to know Harry is important to Peter, so we get forced into these somewhat dull sections of the game that serve to flush out this relationship. The bike ride being the most arduous, however sneaking through the school in a flash back did make up for this at little. The game is also littered with references for us big nerds as well though which is nice, such as Ganke making a reference to ‘The Rand Scholarship’ of the games 2nd post credit scene. So overall the game strikes a good balance between the two.
Speaking of balance, One thing that really stands out about Spider-man 2 is the delicate balance between playing as Miles and playing as Peter. Your own personal taste for this will no doubt depend on how well you like each character. Personally I love both characters, although I do think the game play is more fun as Miles (not counting when Peter has the black suit because all that power is awesome) the game does a great job never letting either character feel redundant and for the most part you can pick who you want to play as. There are missions that require one or the other but these often help highlight the differences between Peter and Miles and flesh both of spiders out into feeling like individuals.
Nothing helps speak of individuality like style and boy is this game stuffed with costumes. Both Miles and Peter have an impressive wardrobe this time around and while my favourite look has to be City Sounds suit belonging to Miles the fact that the Into The Spider-verse suit changes his animation frames to match the style of the movie is too cool to pass up. It’s nice to see a AAA studio putting in A grade effort into something as relatively minor as cosmetics. It speaks to a love of the source material that many of us will share and appreciate.
As always technical issues are as much a part of gaming nowadays as everything else. I experienced few technical bugs, the game soft locked on me during a conversation with MJ at the fair and there’s the odd building that isn’t clipped properly but it’s pretty tight all things considered.
Which given the state the most games release in nowadays it’s a cause for praise when it really shouldn’t be. I thought I’d gotten off pretty lightly but technical issues decided they’d pop up right in the final few missions of the game, be that the game not recognising that a fight was over, or an new ability not triggering on a button press, the former meant restarting a checkpoint, the latter the entire mission. While they weren’t game breaking they certainly added a doe of frustration to what should have been a brilliant climax. In fairness, the narrative still delivered 100% but i’d be remiss not to mention it.