“Both of these guys are at the height of their powers.”
Just a few weeks away from the launch of Spider-Man 2, we’ve gone hands-on with the Spider-Men – both of them – to find out how each character plays in Insomniac’s highly-anticipated sequel. Both Peter Parker and Miles Morales now have more for players to master – with Peter enhanced by his newfound symbiotic powers, while Miles still finds his feet with explosive bio-electric venom powers of his own.
You can see more of our time with the game in our video below, as we webbed our way through new areas of NYC, paid a visit to the home of Curt Connors, tried out some of the new mini-challenges dotted around New York, tried our hand at some stealth sections and went up against not only the forces of Kraven the Hunter, but the fearsome Lizard himself.
Combat is just a whirlwind – it was always a satisfying rhythm-action dance, but now has more options. Parry is a new mechanic for both Spider-Men, where incoming undodgeable, unblockable enemy attacks must be met with specific, equal force at the right time so that you don’t take damage yourself. Merged with the symbiote, Peter’s new combat style is highly aggressive, filled with tendrilly Symbiotic Blasts, grabs, slams, brutal ground pounds and angry combos, exhibiting not just an evolution of his fighting style but narratively how much of a hold the Symbiotic has on Peter. Where once Peter only sought to disarm, his attacks now are really meant to hurt.
Once a gauge is filled, you can press L3 and R3 to activate a Symbiotic surge, when you’ll enter an intoxicating series of aggressive attacks, punching, kicking, hurling enemies by their heads. You really feel the corrupting influence of that little bit of extra power, made all the more tangible by the PS5 Dualsense controller’s haptic feedback and adaptive triggers. Your controller almost seems to actively play the role of the symbiote’s power – slowly taking control of Peter, influencing him and you as it rumbles and surges. It feels good, even as you see how it’s changing the happy and heartfelt Pete we know and love into someone darker, angrier.
“There’s a little bit of your heart that breaks…”
Even Peter’s quips and one-liners while fighting bad guys have changed – the jokes and witty remarks replaced by irritated growls and savage snappiness. Given that that lightheartedness and lovableness was something fans really loved about the original game, did the team find it difficult taking Peter to that nastier place? “I’m gonna say no,” senior narrative director Jon Paquette told Eurogamer, “and I’ll tell you why. One of the things we wanted to do in this story was to show him losing that joy of being Spider-Man when the symbiote comes along. And there’s a little bit of your heart that breaks… Playing it you’re like, ‘oh, no’. Because you know how good of a heart that he has.”
Miles, by contrast, wears his heart firmly on his sleeve and brings everything to his role as Spider-Man, still looking to and looking up to Peter for help and guidance even as he sees Peter start to lose his way. We played one section where Miles is asked to check in on a local museum by his mum and Councilor Rio, where he ends up foiling an attempted break-in by controlling a stealthy spider-bot to override security shutdowns and stop the bad guys. In a later stealth section we got to use some new gadgets, and enjoy some very satisfying stealth takedowns.
Where Peter’s gameplay is now frenetic and forceful, Miles is careful, considered and almost elegant. Miles tidily works through enemies, webbing them to surfaces or efficiently taking them down in electric AOE attacks, while Pete just slams them through a wall.
Our time with the game culminated in an explosive chase and showdown between both Spider-Men and Lizard, AKA Curt Connors – here a hulking monstrosity with no control over himself who Peter in particular is keen to save for the sake of his estranged family. An earlier sequence in our preview saw us visit Connor’s house in an attempt to track him down with a synthesised antidote before Kraven’s lackeys arrive on a deadly hunt, and its a reminder of how even the quieter moments in these games are so well-realised and paced. You explore the home, piecing together how Connors has been hurting since his wife and son left – exposition shown through player exploration, not told through a non-interactible cutscene.
After some light detective work and tracking, we eventually come face to snout with the humongous lizard, now roughly the size of a T-Rex. A battle sees brute force pitted against brute force, until the fight spills into the streets of New York where you must use both your webbing and your wingsuit to keep up, while the lizard throws everything at you from land and air – all while Kraven’s hunters also give chase. Miles also joins the fight, and the two Spider-Men, with help from Genke Lee in the form of a hacked Talon Drone, team up to try and minimise the damage from all sides – though it’s clear that while Miles wants to help protect innocent bystanders, Peter is only interested in shutting down Connors.
Switching between the two Spider-Men and seeing how their goals and worldviews are rapidly diverging, it’s clear to see a potential Spidey versus Spidey showdown in their not-too-distant future – particularly as the return of Harry Osborne is also putting something of a strain on their relationship too.
Insomniac’s first Spider-Man game was about mentorship and sacrifice, while follow-up Miles Morales was about community and taking responsibility. What is Spider-Man 2 about? Balance, Paquette told us. “There’s two Spider Men – both of these guys are at the height of their powers. They both have their own stories within this larger story, and the player can switch between them.” The two Spider-Men need to find balance between themselves, then, just as Insomniac juggles the overall experience so fans enjoy playing as either.