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Marvel's Spider-Man 2 is one of the best games of the year
★★★★★ | Excelsior!
Everyone has a New York movie they love. For me, the first one, and one I still hold dear to my heart, is Die Hard with a Vengeance. It’s not a perfect film by any stretch, but it is a fantastic movie about New York.
What does that have anything to do with Spider-Man 2, you ask? Like Die Hard, Spider-Man 2 is a big, sprawling blockbuster that swings for the fences, but it’s also a film deeply in love with the city that is its playground.
It’s packed with villains – too many, to be honest – and fun things to do, but there are moments of sweetness and intimacy that surprise the most. For every spectacle involving mammoth-sized sand people or Venom in his full glory, there are tender scenes that focus on the people that make New York what it is.
Every time I felt like Spider-Man 2 was getting to be a bit too much, it was this focus on the human element that drew me back in. It’s what makes Insomniac’s latest such a surprising front-runner for the best game of the year.
Set a few years after the first game, Miles Morales and Peter Parker have settled into a life of two Spider-Men for one New York. It’s never easy, and even with two superheroes, the task of juggling two lives feels insurmountable. But, somehow, they make it work.
Then Harry Osborne, Peter’s childhood friend, returns with a newfound lease on life. His sickness, which claimed his mother years earlier, seems to be in remission. Harry is healthier than ever, in fact, and stronger, too.
At the same time, a dangerous new villain called Kraven the Hunter arrives in New York. For him, the prey isn’t just Spider-Man, but every super villain and hero around. It isn’t long until the big apple turns into a battleground that leaves ruined lives in its wake.
The majority of the gameplay elements remain largely the same as in Marvel’s Spider-Man, and its spin-off, Miles Morales. The playground now expands from Manhattan to the surrounding boroughs, making one of the best open worlds out there that much more vibrant and inviting.
Both Spider-Men have their own unique side-missions, and both are of varying quality. For example, hunting for little Spider bots is tedious no matter who you’re playing as.
Combat has seen minor improvements, most notably in new web-mechanics, allowing for Spider-Man to create even more elaborate traps for villains. New skills have a hot bar for up to four favorites, and a nifty parry mechanic can take down bigger villains with ease.
But combat has similarly expanded with the number of villains on screen, and not for the better. Some of the showdowns are simply too cluttered and difficult to parse. Eventually you just get pummeled by rogue gunfire off-screen without any chance to counter it.
Similarly, boss fights feel way too long, with multiple instances dragging on for no reason - and then ending in forced cutscenes that make them pointless to begin with!
These are minor niggles in an otherwise fantastic whole, but they are noteworthy for the missteps that they are. It’s not like this genre has taken any major leaps since Arkham Knight, and I wish that Insomniac would have tried for something more daring.
The plot sags a bit towards the end, too. Like Spider-Man 3, Sam Raimi’s curtain call for the webslinger, Insomniac’s story has too much going for it to get a satisfying ending. Instead, most of the third act feels like a setup for yet another sequel.
Some side-quests even end with a “we’ll know more in the future!” type of callback. It’s cute in the way that comic books can be, but knowing that any potential sequel is another six years away doesn’t make it any easier.
But here’s the thing: I spent 30 hours with Spider-Man 2, and I completed the game 100%, collecting all the trophies along the way. I still want to go back and just swing around the city. Exploring the nooks and crannies, and trying to see how far I can travel with that amazing new wing suit.
For an open world game to still entice me to go back – and I never used the fast travel mechanic, either – is not a small feat. It’s a testament to how deeply Insomniac loves New York, and how well their meticulous detail to it paid off.
Spider-Man 2 is a joyous experience to play. It’s a delight not just as a Spider-Man story, but as an action-adventure game. It reminds us how great this character can be at his best, and raises the bar for every other game in this genre that follows.