Ever since the release of the original Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune in 2007, PlayStation’s first-party lineup has gradually evolved into flashy cinematic affairs. Like tentpole blockbusters or the HBO original series of old, you’re meant to feel the effort that went into these productions, and many of them often have a big technical or storytelling hook attached to reflect that.
In that regard, the newly released Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is no different. Like the original PlayStation 4 game and its standalone adventure Spider-Man: Miles Morales, the superhero sequel is pure bombast, but with more added on thanks to a larger New York and having two Spider-Men on hand rather than the one. Sony’s formula won’t break until it eventually does, but it’s never felt like at its best than in Insomniac Games’ superhero saga.
Spider-Man 2 opens with a brief tease of Harry Osborn’s relationship with the Venom symbiote before switching over to Peter Parker as a science teacher at Miles Morales’ school. Within minutes, the pair are whisked away to save New York from a Sandman rampage, quickly doffing their civilian clothes to jump off the school’s roof to swing into action, set to the game’s hip-hop theme “Swing” from EarthGang. This opening firmly puts the game in blockbuster movie territory as it pulls on recent Spider-Man media—if not recent Marvel film in general—to showcase its two heroes and underline the personal struggles that’ll befall them during the game’s story mode.
The actual Sandman fight itself is a frenetic, chaotic thing as Peter and Miles balance a giant-size Sandman with his sand copies and phone calls from their loved ones checking in and just generally strategizing on how to bring the bad guy down. Both Spider-Man 1 and Miles Morales had fairly big opening action sequences, but this is considerably bigger—it’s meant to show off how the two Spider-Men function as a unit and their new movesets, and it succeeds. After that 20-minute sequence, the game establishes that Kraven’s coming to New York to enact his Great Hunt, and bam, title card: Spider-Man 2.
As a character, Spider-Man has always lent himself well to cinematic spectacle. Sam Raimi’s 2000s trilogy mined this to great effect, with sweeping shots of Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker swinging through New York as grand operatic music played and he pulled off crowd-pleasing stunts and saves. Over the years, as movies have become louder and more expensive, that sensation has never fully wavered: Miles Morales doing his Leap of Faith in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse evokes a different (but still very potent) kind of majesty that’s at once unique to that character but also reminiscent of what came before. The Peter Parkers played in live-action by Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland eventually get their own thrilling web-swinging moments, as does Spider-Gwen, Pavitr Prabhakar, you get the idea.
It’s virtually impossible to make the act of watching Spider-Man swing around look not cool in some form or fashion. The character just fits well in the video game space, either in his own titles or as one player among many. And it helps that Marvel has found a great collaborator in Insomniac Games: the developer has been very good at striking a good balance between the cinematic prestige PlayStation has gradually become known for and still letting their games feel like actual video games. Its early Spyro games have always had a fun kid movie vibe, as have its Ratchet & Clank games beginning with 2007’s Tools of Destruction. Never has this been more true than with 2021’s Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart; the game is openly pulling on animated movies as a source of inspiration and putting its own cheeky spin on things, to great success.
For as much as PlayStation has become synonymous with these cinematic games, it can sometimes feel like they’re being made with as prestige projects first, then games second. Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us gets the most flack for this, but it’s a criticism aimed at other series like God of War or Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima. Being dubbed an “interactive movie” can sometimes be a backhanded compliment, especially as PlayStation’s made it quite clear it’s going to just be turning its works into movies and shows over the next several years. Insomniac’s managed to avoid this, in part because their works are just inherently video game-y: Ratchet & Clank is about a buddy duo hopping through the galaxy with an ever-expanding roster of ridiculous guns, and Sunset Overdrive wears its comic book and Adult Swim sensibilities on its sleeve. If there were any developer that was able to make games that feel like movies while also still being fun to play, it’d be them.
The studio’s been open about the fact that it pulls from all avenues of Spider-Man media as inspiration for its superhero games, so this is hardly surprising to hear. Spider-Man 2 really does feel like a proper superhero movie during its 25-30 hour runtime with set pieces galore, a succession of emotional character beats, and occasionally threatening to buckle under its own weight. What makes the game work is that it doesn’t really have a pretence of grand importance about it, and it isn’t trying to use a big technical or narrative gimmick to sell itself: it just knows it’s got the chops to tell a fun superhero story and goes about doing so with a pair of beloved superheroes and some fun villains for them to go up against.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is out now for the PlayStation 5.
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