Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 review: Stellar sequel but it lacks Venom

Patrick Dane
an image of both spideys in Marvel's Spider-Man 2

Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 sees the return of Insomniac to one of the most iconic superheroes in the world. Continuing the story of Peter Parker and Miles Morales, has the long wait for the sequel been worth it, or is it caught in a web of its own hype? 

Insomniac felt destined to make a Spider-Man game. From their clear interest in traversal in Sunset Overdrive, to their generally bright disposition in Ratchet & Clank, this has been a match made in heaven. That bore out with 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man, a game that was a celebration of Spidey while at the same time, opening a new, worthwhile iteration of the character and his world. 

This universe has only grown since then with the release of Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, which acts as a half-point between the original game and the sequel. To follow that on, Insomniac’s latest has you playing as both Peter and Miles, largely interchangeably. Think GTA 5, but more focused on helping the streets of New York, rather than terrorizing a fictional LA. 

And now the time has come, with players waiting five years for this sequel. With the first being so beloved, expectations have only risen. So, does Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 deliver on that building expectation? Well, mostly, though those expecting a perfect knockout, may leave just a touch disappointed. 

Marvel’s Spider-Man 2: Key details

  • Price: $69.99/£69.99
  • Developer: Insomniac Games
  • Release Date: September 20, 2023
  • Platforms: PS5

Caught in a web of its own design

Marvel's Spider-Man 2 gameplay

Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 picks up with Miles and Peter being well-established as the Spider-Men. Peter has been doing this for almost a decade, and Miles has built into his role as a confident underling to Peter Parker. 

That said, as with most great Spider-Man stories, both are struggling to keep things together in their personal lives. Peter quickly loses his job as a new teacher and has money problems affecting his ownership of Aunt May’s house, all while trying to create a life for himself and Mary Jane. On the other hand, Miles is trying to get into college but continues to put it off an all-important essay. 

They don’t have long to wallow in their personal issues though. Quickly, we learn that Kraven the Hunter, a superhumanly powerful man looking for the most exciting game, has come to New York to hunt Spider-Man’s greatest villains as sport. 

Insomniac has attempted to pull together aspects of different comics runs together here. There’s the Symbiote suit, there’s a compelling Kraven story, there’s Venom, there’s Lizard, there’s the return of Harry Osborne and his complicated dynamic with his father Norman, who has his own “will he, won’t he” flirtation with his expected change into the Green Goblin.

There’s a lot going on here, but much of it feels a little too familiar. These aspects are blended in a way that makes sense, but it’s a fairly standard retelling of pretty played Spider-Man elements. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster of various stories, and it functions, but it feels overly recognizable. As the players are set up, it’s not hard to see exactly how this story will play out.

Kraven a little more

Kraven The Hunter in Spider-Man 2
Kraven The Hunter is the best villain in the game

When you compare it to the original narrative of Marvel’s Spider-Man, this one feels like it gets lost in its various stories. It loses some of the heart of that original title, getting so wrapped up in making all these parts work together, that it loses a little bit of the human touch.

There are flashes of it, particularly in one boss fight where it turns into a major probing of a personal relationship for one of the Spider-Men. It never reaches the emotional heights of the first though. 

Also, as someone who considers Venom one of their favorite characters in all of fiction, this iteration is relatively uninspired. Venom is best when he’s a little weird and conflicted with his host. However, a scary, ruthless version of the character can work too – which is what Insomniac has tried to go for. Even with that in mind, it’s a pretty stale interpretation of the character that doesn’t have enough time to shine. Kraven proves to be a far more compelling villain in this story.

Again, none of this is terrible. This is a perfectly good Spider-Man story told over 25 hours. However, it’s a rung below what came before. When it’s dealing with so many beloved elements of the Spider-Man lore, that feels like a letdown. It never elevates itself beyond standard Spider-Man fare. For many fans that will be enough, but I left with the distinct feeling of missed opportunity. 

Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man

spider-man 2 fall damage
Being Spider-Man and saving New York is as good as it gets.

Thankfully just about everything else about Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 excels. In fact, the side missions, activities, and collectibles are easily the best facets of the experience. It’s been a cliche since the launch of Arkham Asylum to say a superhero game makes you feel like the title character. I’d like to spin that. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 makes you feel like Spider-Man, but less in what it feels like to punch bad guys, and more about embodying the spirit of Spider-Man. 

Swinging around New York, saving Cultural Museums dedicated to Black art, finding mysterious Spider-Bots, taking a moment to take a photo of people around the city, helping a woman find her lost grandpa or a local man find a new home for his pigeons – these are the things that makes Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 sing. It’s in these moments you feel like Spider-Man.

At the heart of this hero is doing what makes the world a better place, no matter how big or small. For fighting all the space goo symbiotes and thwarting impossible powerful hunters, Spider-Man is as much about making a positive impact in the community. These moments when you swing around, finding out about the people you are helping – that’s what Spider-Man is about. Insomniac understands the heart of the morality of the web-slinger and has translated that beautifully into game form.

It’s the little things that count

Peter, MJ, Harry, Miles and Ganke in Spider-Man 2
Seeing the people of New York makes Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 quite personable at times.

While the main story can feel like it’s missing a little bit of that emotional resonance, the same can’t be said for the various side-missions about helping people around the neighborhood. There’s one scene in particular that has Peter sitting on a bench with an elderly man as he reminisces about his late wife. It’s a really elegant scene that helps enrich the entire experience. It’s moments like these where Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 finds the human element that is so vital to Spider-Man. 

Because of this, I’d suggest sprinkling in the side content and missions alongside your path through the main story. It helps contextualize your journey and why you should care about the city, rather than just a sense that you should save it because that’s where the next waypoint tells you to go. 

Miles per hour

This would all be a chore if swinging around New York was a pain. If you’ve played the 2018 game, you know it isn’t, but Insomniac has ramped up traversal even further now. There are a whole host of traversal updates made here that make the flow of travel even silkier. There is an unparalleled fluidity to the movement that is totally unique to this franchise. It’s the best time you can have in a video game getting from point A to point B. You’ll rarely want to fast travel (Though you should try it, as the PS5 hardware is deeply impressive with how quickly it teleports you)

The important addition of the Web Wings becomes an all-important glue that allows you to zip around. The best way to describe it is it’s like the introduction of the manual in Tony Hawk’s Pro-Skater 2. It ties together your movement through the world. In instances where your flow would be naturally interrupted, the gliding allows you to link sequences of traversal together. It was the missing piece of this delicious movement pie, and Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 sings because of it. 

POW-er full

A glimpse of the Sam Raimi-era Symbiote suit in Marve's Spider-Man 2.
Combat has been significantly improved.

This goes for combat too, which feels greatly improved. This is still the Batman Arkham-style from the first game, but it feels far more diverse and fluid. The biggest change here is your ability to inhabit Peter and Miles. This is where their experience is largely differentiated. 

Miles is far more focused on his Venom abilities (confusingly, not related to the villain), which can chain to enemies and pull them in. Peter on the other hand has various flurries and web-focused abilities. They aren’t wildly different but it’s enough to make them feel distinct. There are also choices to be made on which abilities to bring. Both Spider-Men end up with eight abilities to choose from, but only four slots to use. 

The only real drawback is that this can initially be a little complicated. If you break it down on paper, the combos married with complex button combinations look like they would make your head spin. However, everything is introduced so measuredly, that I always felt ready to add a new wrinkle to my combat flow whenever a new aspect was introduced. While you might be a little stunted towards the start, once you get on that treadmill, finding your style across Peter and Miles is a lot of fun. 

There are also these cool moments when you get a report about a fight breaking out on the map. Sometimes you go, and you find the other Spider-Man already there in the fight. This is a small touch, but helps build this feeling that there is another Spider-Man out there even when you are swinging around on the other side of town. It’s little details like this that tie Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 together. 

In-Spider itself

Venom in Marvel's Spider-Man 2
Venom leaves some to be desired.

Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 at its peak is a loving celebration of this character that many have carried with them throughout their lives. Spider-Man, as an idea, has lived with many of us for decades. Being Spider-Man is about helping your community, in big and small ways. Insomniac gets that and has imbued the love of that ideal through the DNA of this sequel.

That’s why it’s a real shame it stumbles through an overstuffed main campaign. The game bites off more than it can chew with the story it’s telling. While it’s jumbled around specifics, a lot of the elements feel overly familiar. It also sports a relatively lackluster version of Venom and lacks some of the emotional depth of the first game’s closing act that would have gone a long way here. 

Verdict – 4/5

When Insomniac taps into the heart of its subject matter, be that Peter or Miles, it’s glorious. Being a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is compelling. You’re equally important in saving the world or helping someone cross the street, a dichotomy this game understands beautifully. That’s why it’s a shame the main narrative gets tangled in its own web of disparate elements, falling just shy of greatness.

Reviewed on PS5

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