Insomniac Games has always had a penchant for silky smooth controls, and while Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 doesn’t make any drastic changes to gameplay, the new Symbiote and Bioelectric abilities give both heroes (Peter Parker and Miles Morales) more options when taking on groups of enemies. Both Spider-Men are a joy to play as in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. Traversal has also seen minor, but helpful improvements, with the addition of web swings and the ability to swing around corners, which ensure that almost no roadblocks to movement exist while playing as a Spider-Man.
That’s why I was surprised that some of the most memorable moments of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 for me were moments where I wasn’t in control of Peter or Miles — and I’m not just referring to the sequences where I controlled a drone or Spider-Bot. Some of the weakest parts of the first Marvel’s Spider-Man were the ones where I wasn’t controlling the titular hero. That’s not the case in this sequel, though, making that one place where Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is a clear, drastic improvement over its predecessor.
Warning: This article contains major spoilers for Marvel’s Spider-Man 2.
In the original Marvel’s Spider-Man, scenes where players controlled the powerless Mary Jane or Miles were some of the weakest moments from a gameplay perspective. They were light stealth sections that would instantly fail the player if an enemy caught them, which encouraged a timid and boring playstyle that was a far cry from swinging around from New York as Spider-Man. From the moment I started playing as Mary Jane in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, it was clear Insomniac had taken that negative feedback into account.
Mary Jane had mentioned that she’d gotten a weapon during her time in Symkaria with Silver Sable, so it was satisfying when the first thing the game asked me to do as her was take down an enemy with it. This happens as an enemy tries to open a door to a van she was whisked away to one of Kraven’s bases in. From there, she has to find a way to tell Peter, Miles, and Harry where she is and potentially escape.
This gameplay section is still stealth-focused, which makes sense as she’s not a superhero and couldn’t feasibly take on a group of enemies at once. But the simple addition of a weapon makes it a more active experience. Instead of waiting for an enemy to walk away from a specific pattern, I was taunting them to certain spots by throwing rocks before taking them out with a gun to clear my path. It’s still not Splinter Cell, but the couple of times I had to play Mary Jane again in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 ended up being pleasant surprises rather than a recurring frustration. The section where she’s running from Peter while he’s possessed by the Symbiote is also one of the tensest moments of the game.
Still, no moment as Mary Jane had me grinning from ear to ear like I was when Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 let me play as Venom. The standout chapter serves as a grand entrance following the massive buildup the Symbiote had throughout the first two-thirds of the story. Being able to play as Venom was a pleasant surprise, but also an excellent way to establish what a threat the character poses as a villain. While there are lots of enemies and even a boss fight with Kraven while playing as Venom, none of them are that big of a threat.
When I played as Venom, all I cared about was annihilating anything in my path and gleefully watching Oscorp Tower and Times Square be torn to shreds by the power of this Symbiote. This section also wraps up with the most brutal moment in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2: Venom biting Kraven’s head off. As a player, it’s all extremely satisfying, but it also put me in the headspace of the villain. When I had to fight him later in my adventure, I’d remember how I felt playing as Venom and understood the stakes and Harry’s reason for keeping the Symbiote on more than I did before.
Any player who sees Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 main story through to the end will play as Mary Jane and Venom, but the playable character that stuck out to me the most was tied to a single side mission. In Graffiti Trouble, Miles responds to a call that someone vandalized a flower shop with graffiti. Upon getting there, Miles finds out that Hailey, the girl he has a crush on throughout the game, solved the problem first. The game then lets you play as Hailey. She’s Deaf, so the audio and visual design reflects that. Sound is muffled in a way that communicates Hailey’s experience. You can’t hear what anyone is saying; instead, the player sees little emoticons representing what Hailey believes another person (and cat) is thinking or feeling.
It’s a nonviolent mission, with simple graffiti spraying, puzzles, and platforming that eventually bring Hailey to a street artist who’s angsty and struggles to recognize their self-worth. Instead of punishing them as Spider-Man may have, Hailey communicates with them through text and art. Hailey helps them finish their graffiti, turning it into something more colorful and cheerful, and she then invites them to her artist coalition. Even with no dialogue, this is one of my favorite side missions in the game.
Graffiti Trouble reinforces the game’s themes regarding the misunderstanding around criminals and their rehabilitation, and foreshadows that Hailey can fend for herself during the Symbiote Invasion. On top of that, it’s fantastic for representation and hopefully helps some people become more understanding and emphatic in their own lives. It’s rare for a Deaf person to get this kind of respectful depiction in a video game, especially in the AAA space. Even if it isn’t necessarily as “fun” as swinging around New York as a Spider-Man, it’s one mission from the game that I won’t forget anytime soon.
That’s something I would never say about the original Marvel’s Spider-Man. The variety of the five playable characters in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 doesn’t just demonstrate Insomniac Games’ ability to create a compelling variety of experiences for the game, but shows that it took feedback about the original’s low points very seriously. This is seen with the alternate playable characters, improvements to web swinging, and how the game treats its villains. If you want to understand just how much of an improvement Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is over its predecessor, just look at these missions where you aren’t playing as the heroes on the box art.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is available now on PlayStation 5.
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