This past week has been a good one for Spidey fans. With just over a month until Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 swings onto the PS5 console, we’re getting a clearer idea of what we can expect come October 20. Insomniac Games has given us a closer look at the Super Hero and Super Villains cast with new character posters. Little under 24 hours ago we enjoyed a tour of the expanded Marvel’s New York (and a look at new suits) at State of Play. And today, you can get a deeper dive into the game’s combat, activities, story and more thanks to an extensive hands-on we had with a preview build of the game, bolstered by further insight from key staff who worked on the project – Senior Creative Director Bryan Intihar, Senior Game Director Ryan Smith, and Senior Narrative Director Jon Paquette.
This extended slice of gameplay took place some way through the story, a tense cutscene face-off between Kraven and a symbiote-encased Spider-Man serving as opener and concluding where the gameplay reveal earlier this year began. Between volatile science experiments and community exhibition break-ins requiring Super Heroic fists and smarts to solve, new activities to test Web Wings with, crimes to halt, tough boss fights to tackle, laughs to be had, and great character work to enjoy.
In the days prior to the event, I fired up the previous games to retrain my muscle memory and more accurately compare against what was to come. By the time I had to reluctantly set down my DualSense controller, initial impressions were overwhelmingly positive: Insomniac Games is firing on all cylinders with a Super Heroic sequel that’s richer, denser. One that packs in a ton of heart. Here’s why.
A tale of two Spiders: After being the focus of a game apiece, Peter Parker and Miles Morales have equal billing in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. Outside main story beats that guide you to play one or the other, you’re mostly free to quickly swap between them (the PS5 console’s SSD zipping you nearly instantly to either Spidey at a button press, with the studio promising some fun character moments as perspectives shift). They share a chunk of side activities, Spider gadgets, and base upgrade paths but also have unique storylines, missions, and skills to unlock. Button layouts are identical (suit gadgets mapped to R1, unique skills to L1, four of either active at one time and activated in conjunction with a face button), and similar abilities means you’re never stuck relearning moves come a character switch.
Evolved move-sets with backstory: The game’s reveal trailer had Peter utilizing his four mechanized Spider-Arms to defeat foes. What was just one of many customizable suit powers in the original Marvel’s Spider-Man is now – until the symbiote comes into play – his default loadout, for reasons that Insomniac are tight-lipped about but say will be explained in the game. The same is true of Miles’s two distinct colorings for his bio-electrical Venom powers, also shown in the trailer and evident in my playthrough. Intihar hints that this evolving powerset plays into Miles’s story arc. Both mechanical and electrical powers have their own skill tree, XP gradually unlocks AOE attacks, multi-foe launchers, and more. An early favorite is Spider Shock, Pete’s mechanical Spider-Arms stabbing directly forward with the speed and grace of the arachnid they’re based on – and firing off an electrical cascade that fries anyone caught in its web. I’m delighted when I activate Wall Smash, reliving a moment from the gameplay reveal sequence firsthand as Peter balances on one hand and rapidly kicks a thug against a nearby wall with both feet. There’s a multitude of additional options to standard combat options as well.
The studio continues to incorporate learnings from its previous PS5 games like Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, with the DualSense controller communicating a wealth of situationally-accurate feedback in its haptics, hinting at what it could feel like to wear and wield the Black Suit.
Crowd-controlling Spider Gadgets: The iconic web-shooters are still tactically sound to web up a single enemy with a rapid tap of R1. Their capacity is doubled to twelve slots, and recharge quickly. I had two gadgets at my disposal in the demo. One – Upshot – deploys a drone that peppers web shots at nearby enemies, knocking them into the air. Web Grabber was the firm favorite, though, firing out webbing from all sides, then yanking anything attached back in rapidly, primed for an AOE strike takedown. And I mean anything: triggering the gadget during a back-alley scrap with robbers pulled not only criminals but a nearby sewer drain cover which launched into the group with the power and accuracy of a missile. Unexpected and hilarious.
The savage symbiote: It’s been a headline addition since announcement, and the hands-on did not shy away from letting me get to grips with the awesome power of the Black Suit. Pete’s already wearing it at the demo’s beginning, and like his mechanical arms, it has its own skill tree, with a foursome of attacks already mapped and primed come my first scrap with a pack of Kraven’s Hunters. As seen in the gameplay reveal, you can toss out tendrils that’ll auto-grab and lift enemies in the vicinity, before powerfully slamming them back into the earth. Symbiote Strike has the suit envelope Peter into a writhing mass that shoots forward, momentum and additional extruding spikes catapulting an enemy backwards, whereas Symbiote Punch is an all-powerful launcher leaving enemies stunned and airborne, ready for follow-up combos. The word that kept coming to mind during Peter’s fights was “brutal”, with punchy audio, visual spectacle, and controller feedback working together to convey a powered-up Peter leaning into his symbiote-assisted strengths. This suit’s L3 + R3 special Symbiote Surge is a savage, whirling, fast-paced grab-and-slam attack that lets you manually target and permanently ground enemies. Its debut comes at the climax of an escalating lab fight that closes out the demo’s first story mission and leaves me open-mouthed.
The demo offered a sample selection of side activities and incidental opportunities. Aside from still being able to interact with civilians or snap photo ops, you can pick up Spider Bots (each’s paint job cutely emulating a specific Spider-Man suit from across the years), deploy Web Wings and chase Talon Drones, using their own slipstream to catch up, or discover reappropriated Underground armory crates. A quick tap of the analog stick will activate your visor to visually highlight nearby activities.
Hunter’s Bell: While I fully expect Insomniac to find new approaches and bring us unexpected surprises when it comes to the Black Suit, they’re retaining a key element of its mythos: it’s hypersensitive to sound. A tense church-set cutscene that opens the demo not only spectacularly reveals (and sells) the former imperfection – and communicates the unpleasantness far too well through DualSense controller’s feedback – but also, in a single encounter, cements Kraven as an intriguing, self-assured presence (Intihar calls him “unpredictable”) as he comes face to face with his adversary. Insomniac reminds me he’s a relative anomaly in the Spider-Man food chain: he’s not driven by revenge, nor has any entwined personal histories with the core Spider cast. Paquette pegs a key part of his personality is the need to find someone “bigger, better and stronger” than him. He’s an intriguing addition.
Monsters and transformations: It also speaks to a thematic shift in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. The majority of villains in the first two games, as well as Marvel’s Spider-Man: The City That Never Sleeps narrative, were tech-based. Insomniac have purposely leaned away from that for this sequel, looking to villains – to monsters – that can offer something different both narratively and gameplay-wise. Lizard and Venom are monstrosities that also tap into the theme of transformation: even Mister Negative, one villain making a return, embodies that not only in his own changes, but how he transformed Miles’ life with the death of Miles’ father, Jefferson Davis. And who better to tackle monsters than a hunter like Kraven?
The Friendly Neighborhood Spider App makes a return. I didn’t get to delve into it properly, but occasional on-screen pop ups would alert me to crimes reported by those nearby.
Hunted, meet Hunter(s): Any fear of being criminally overpowered against criminals are laid swiftly to rest in my multiple tussles with Kraven’s Hunters. These packs are consistently large in number, boasting multiple waves with a hellish diverse range of enemy types. Airborne, mechanized Talon Drones will snipe from afar, while their four-legged counterparts emit large nullifying fields that lock out your skills until they’re knocked out (and surprise! They explode shortly after being downed). Explosives are also practiced by certain human Hunters who launch multi-ground mines or poisonous grenades from afar, while others shoot electrified nets or blanket the area overhead with an electrifying field. Add to this shield carriers, gunners, and those that like to launch at you with twin daggers, and your work is cut out. There’s a distinct sense of escalation and a richer palette of enemy encounters here.
Parry: Dodging fists, bullets, claws, and more is still a tingle of the Spider-Sense and Circle press away. But now both Peter and Miles have the option to parry, those particular attacks denoted by a yellow circle turning red around an advancing enemy, tapping L1 correctly repelling them. The demo tested my timing in a mini-boss encounter, a brutish Hunter wielding an axe near the end of the lab fight, the parry stagger proving the quickest way to defeat him. Some attacks cannot be parried, requiring quick moves to escape their reach.
Web Wings: a quicker way to soar across low rise areas, rivers and Central Park. A tap of Triangle in the air will deploy your web wings, letting you dip and soar with the left stick. Chain these with swings and wind tunnels strategically placed around the city to get to your next objective quick (or just enjoy some aerial maneuver combos).
Harry and friendship circles: Story spoiler territory here, so if you’d rather go into the game’s narrative arcs blind, skip to the next paragraph. Our heroes don’t only have to juggle escalating crime sprees, but also the complexities of fresh friendships and familiar faces meeting. The game is set nine months after the events of Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. In the world of Marvel’s Spider-Man, Harry Osborn is Peter’s best friend since high school. They’re as close as brothers, bonded over a love of environmental science. Absent for a while (to friends, traveling Europe, in truth, isolated from the world by an unknown disease), the preview reveals the new equilibrium of their friendship: Harry knows Peter is Spider-Man (and knows Miles is as well), Peter has the Black Suit, and they’re trying to find a possible cure for Harry’s illness. The studio’s playing into the awkwardness of overlapping friendships and mutual connections, be it teased in the recent story trailer or sharply thrown into focus through a stilted call between Harry and Miles while the latter is swinging above the city.
Puzzles, precision and gizmos: As mentioned at the preview’s start, Peter and Miles need to use smarts as well as fists. An early puzzle has me cleansing a DNA strand by zapping corrupt atoms without damaging healthy ones. Shortly after I’m crawling inside a mammoth particle accelerator resetting misaligned magnets, carefully pulling my DualSense controller’s adaptive triggers to align correctly on a different pressure point each. Much later, as Miles, I’m controlling a Spider Bot through vent shafts and distracting would-be robbers to reactivate security doors of a locked down community exhibition. Such interactions offer a nice counterpoint to fists and traversal tricks.
J. Jonah Jameson: the unique voice of the (skewed) news didn’t make an appearance during my preview time, but I couldn’t help ask Jon Paquette about him, and given his new position as owner of the Daily Bugle (as teased at the end of the prequel comic), whether they intended to bring any nuance to the character. The answer was short, and to the point. Fear not true believers: Brushtop’s signature bluster ain’t going away any time soon.
Spider-quips: While there may be some darker themes to the game, there is tons of humor and funny remarks. During the lab sequence, there are three or four moments that elicit a hearty laugh from me. Be it Harry quietly and rapidly intoning “no black holes no black holes no black holes” as he activates the particle accelerator, Pete whispering to an imposing, ax-wielding and bearskin wearing Hunter “but I’ve no honey” before being slammed through a window, the Parker humor is represented and pitch-perfect.
A story with heart: The voice cast is nailing their lines as gravitas demands. You can feel Kraven’s resolution in every word Jim Pirri utters. Our brief hints at Tony Todd as Venom heard thus far in trailers are hair-raising. In my preview time, a scene that sees Miles at his father’s grave has the teenager uttering the words, “I’m Spider-Man – I can do everything myself.” A beautiful subtle mix of strength, hope, and uncertainty in the line sold by Nadji Jeter’s delivery. I’m as much excited to see what’s next for the characters behind the mask as for the unexpected twists and turns that happen while they’re wearing them.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 will launch only on PS5 October 20.