Oct 16, 2023 - Technology

Review: It's a bird. It's a plane. It's Marvel's Spider-Man 2.

Miles Morales glides over New York City in Marvel's Spider-Man 2. Sceenshot: Insomniac. (Captured by Axios)

The biggest PlayStation release of the year may star Peter Parker and Miles Morales, but its best attributes — a stunning metropolis and the ability to virtually fly through its skyscraper canyons faster than a you-know-what — make it feel like, secretly, the most exhilarating Superman game ever crafted.

Why it matters: Since the days of the first Super Mario Bros., some video games have exhibited their excellence in how you move through them.

  • That's the case with Spider-Man 2, the third web-slinging adventure from Sony's Insomniac Games.
  • Their new game offers some thrilling super-hero escapades and a decent (if overstuffed) story, but is at its best in harnessing the PlayStation 5's hardware to deliver breakthroughs in interactive high speed super-hero travel.

Details: Marvel's Spider-Man 2, the first of Insomniac's Spidey games to require the PlayStation 5, debuts on Friday, Oct. 20, and is the primary exclusive for Sony's console this season.

  • The sequel lets players alternate between control of Parker and Morales. It's an intertwined tale of two Spider-Men, an open-world adventure that lets players freely explore New York City to fight crime and high-five citizens.
  • The main storyline sees the elite hunter Kraven arrive in New York with a battalion of goons to capture and kill heroes and villains. Parker also discovers a sentient black costume that Spider-lore experts know he will regret putting on.

The best parts of the new game are the Spider-Men's expanded maneuvers and a winning mix of boisterous and quieter missions.

  • In Insomniac's two previous Spider-Man games (the first starring Parker, the second Morales), the heroes moved through virtual Manhattan by swinging on webs, like so many vines in an urban jungle.
  • Now, they can release their web at the apex of a swing, spread their arms and glide. Spider-Man isn't quite Superman, and flight requires active, enjoyable acrobatics. Players harness their hero's inertia to drift, ideally into wind tunnels that shoot them through a map that now stretches across the East River to Brooklyn and Queens.
  • The game offers a satisfying range of Spider-heroics, from a thrilling high-speed villain chase through the city's waterways to a gentler challenge to find a home for a flock of birds.

Yes, but: The combination of two Spider-Men in one game is less successful, feeling like a forced crossover laden with too many missions that devolve into extended fight scenes.

  • The game often feels like two largely unrelated tales smushed together, as our heroes live largely separate lives with little reason to interact until the game's final act.
  • The hint of a more sophisticated story involving the many Spider-Man villains from prior games attempting to reform is disappointingly under-developed.
  • Pacing also takes a hit thanks to Insomniac's zeal to let players extensively use the game's deep combat system. The fighting moves are fine in theory, but too many missions devolve into fisticuffs against tediously large crowds of enemies.

Between the lines: The game's best achievements are closely tied to Insomniac's mastery of the PS5's tech — specifically how swiftly it loads the game's data to let players breeze through a vast and detailed city.

  • Spider-Man 2's New York stretches to the horizon, with no fog hiding any limitation of what the hardware running it can render, even when the player moves through it briskly. The PS5 is able to keep up.
  • For decades, games have let players "fast travel" from one spot in a game's map to another, but that's always involved loading time of at least several seconds. Not so with Insomniac's game, which feels like it's performing a magic trick as it instantly zooms players into any spot of the map they select, with Spider-Man in mid-swing, ready to be controlled.

The bottom line: Marvel's Spider-Man 2 is an enjoyable, if uneven, adventure that is also one of the most impressive displays of video game technology. It's fun to swing through, but even better if you're ready to fly.

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