Despite the fact that they star superheroes enduring tragic losses, Marvel’s Spider-Man and its Miles Morales spinoff aren’t dark games. Both are playful summer blockbusters full of comedic quips, light-hearted teen drama, and colorful action set pieces that even surpass the excitement of the web-slinger’s cinematic outings. They’re open-world playgrounds that allow players to gleefully zip around while foiling the occasional bad guy. When I first sat down with a two-hour demo of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 earlier this week, it seemed like that energy would continue as expected.
The first leg of my demo had a familiar positivity to it as I joked around with Miles Morales’ pals, solved some science puzzles, and stopped some low-level criminals from stealing a drum set. But there was something more sinister bubbling that would rise to the surface by the end of my session – a dreariness that threatened to corrupt its lovable Spider-men like a pitch-black symbiote.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is shaping up to be developer Insomniac’s darkest adventure in years. A fiercer combat system and an unsettling character turn for Peter Parker signal a venomous sequel that lets players indulge in a bit of evil. Even with that tonal swing, Insomniac isn’t doing away with the gameplay fundamentals that have made previous entries so pleasurable. In fact, it’s doubling down on just about all of them.
You want it darker?
My demo began a few hours into the game. Peter Parker, already wearing his new black Symbiote suit, walks into a dark church and has a run-in with the sequel’s new villain, Kraven the Hunter. After a tussle, Parker tosses Kraven into a church bell and the sound seemingly triggers some innate power in the parasitic suit. It was an unsettling moment and one that would properly prepare me for what was to come.
Once I’m tossed into a battle against some foot soldiers, I get to see exactly what that power is capable of. Adding on to the original game’s fluid combat system, both Peter and Miles have a set of extra abilities that can be accessed by holding L1 and pressing the DualSense’s face button. If you’ve played recent Sony games like God of War Ragnarok then you know exactly what to expect, but the system is a particularly strong fit here. The extra powers naturally slot into an already fast-paced system, bringing some added spectacle that looks heroic – or devilish in Peter’s case.
While Miles can use electric powers to shock enemies or knock a group into the air, Peter’s powers call on the power of the Symbiote suit to grab enemies with massive black tendrils and slam them with frightening force. One power temporarily turns me into a sludgy homing missile that decimates everything in my path.
Parker is a force of nature in battle, seamlessly weaving together punches and web shots with powers that feel far more dangerous. All of that comes together in a climactic fight against a newly mutated Lizard at the end of my demo, where I need to parry his powerful attacks and punch above my weight class with the help of the Symbiote. It’s almost an unnerving amount of power, and that’s the point, according to Project Director Jeannette Lee.
“Our Peter Parker is a good guy! He’s got the best intentions, and as a player, you’ve played as our very nice, wholesome Peter Parker,” Lee tells Pro Well Tech. “And then you get to experience the black suit. You feel powerful! You feel strong! Wouldn’t you want to feel powerful and strong? It’s a very tempting conundrum and you get to experience that on the controller in a way I don’t think you get in a movie or comics.”
It almost feels like a moment of self-aware reflection for Insomniac. Attacks in previous Spider-Man games are so impactful that it’s almost hard to suspend your disbelief and assume all the human enemies will walk away from battles alive. Peter’s uncomfortably powerful new abilities, including a symbiotic parry, push that unease further in a way that feels intentional. It’s like you’re supposed to question if his parasitic suit really is pushing him too far. There’s a thin line between hero and villain and I can already see Parker tiptoeing it as he becomes more aggressive towards criminals, the NYPD, and even Miles the longer he wears it.
A tonal balance
Though the story seems to be going in some morally complicated directions, Insomniac hasn’t thrown away the playfulness at the heart of the series. That’s especially preserved with a fully playable Miles Morales, who acts as a perfect foil to Parker here. Where Peter is tortured, slowly morphing into a lone wolf, Miles is still an exuberant teen eager to help friends and community.
One mission sees him foiling a musical heist by sending a remote-controlled spider drone in through the vents, shooting webs at drums and cellos to distract robbers. When they make a break for it in their trucks, I swing after them in the streets. It ends in a bit of slapstick as I defeat one crew by tossing a floor tom at them. It’s classic Spider-Man in all of its friendly neighborhood charm.
Insomniac further doubles down on “comic mischief” with some of its new gadgets (accessed holding R1 and a face button this time). One tool shoots out web streams, sticks to as many enemies as it can, and then retracts them all into one another with a bonk. Other upgrades are more practical than comically cruel. Peter and Miles can now create walkable weblines, which go a long way to help stealth encounters. I no longer have to jump around looking for the right ceiling beam that’ll put me in position to take down a baddie; I can just create my own.
And I only got a small taste of what’s new this time around. Looking through menus, it’s clear that Insomniac has expanded just about every system. Both characters have their own massive skill trees, including one that grants them shared abilities. It appears that I can unlock and equip even more combat abilities to tweak my play style. Though most exciting is its new approach to costumes. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 will feature somewhere around 65 suits, and some of those come with craftable color variants (Insomniac says there are over 200 suits, including variants).
All of those upgrades give me the power to personalize my Spider-Men in a way that wasn’t possible in the previous games. It’s an effective expansion of an already strong superhero power fantasy, putting me more in control of my superpowers and supersuit.
What especially makes Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 work so far is how fluid and seamlessly integrated every new piece of it is. For instance, the open world is twice as big this time around thanks to the introduction of Queens and Brooklyn (only the west side of each is explorable). Perhaps taking some notes from Sony’s Ghost of Tsushimaopen-world activities are signposted visually rather than solely marked on a map. That allows players to more naturally hop between points of interest without jumping in and out of their menus.
With so much ground to cover, players might be tempted to fast-travel more – a slow process that killed momentum in the first game. Insomniac has solved that with almost instant fast travel with no load screens. It’s an astounding tech trick, but one that doesn’t come as too much of a shock. The studio already proved it knew how to leverage the power of the PS5 with Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apartan adventure full of technical magic tricks. Mike Fitzgerald, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2’s Core Tech Director, explains that a lot of the tech used to create Rift Apart was carried over here. It’s an iterative process that explains why Insomniac’s games only seem to push forward in quality.
“When we invest some tech time, we want it to pay off for this game and this game,” Fitzgerald tells Pro Well Tech. “When the Ratchet and Clank team says ‘We want to do this,’ we can say ‘If we do 20% more work, then it’s an awesome Spider-Man 2 feature as well!’ For Ratchet and Clank, we did a lot in terms of the fidelity of those environments, the materials, and treatments … We were like, if we’re making a PS5 game, what should it look like? And how should we bring that into Spider-Man 2?”
This idea of compounding upgrades guides the entire project, as it feels like Insomniac has carefully layered on new ideas and systems that bring out the best in its formula. That’s best exemplified by one small, but impactful change to traversal. In addition to swinging, both Spider-Men now have a fair of web wings that allow them to glide like Batman with a press of the triangle button. It’s an exceptionally smooth addition to a movement system that already felt next to perfect. Fitzgerald and Lee both warn me that it’ll be hard to go back to the previous games after getting used to it.
Every single one of these changes makes Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 feel like a true sequel rather than a third jaunt through a familiar open world; this isn’t just the first game with two playable heroes. The hours I played signaled a top-notch adventure that offers players more power than ever while stopping to question how much is too much. Peter Parker may be reaching his limit, but Insomniac seems unstoppable.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 launches on October 20 for PS5.