evan's thoughts

Spider-Man 2 is fine

I did it again; it’s been a few months since my last post. I promise there’s a reason for this, and his photo is at the end of this post. Also, this post will be spoiling Spider-Man 2 on PS5, so do not read this unless you’re into that.

Anyways, I have been playing Spider-Man 2 on my PS5, and I just finished the main story, so I figured it’s time to share my thoughts. I think this is a fantastic tech demo for the PS5, but to me it lacked the narrative cohesion and dedication to the character of the previous entries in the series. I also found myself enjoying it quite a bit less than the previous Spider-Man games, mostly due to the changes in the combat that de emphasize Spidey’s acrobatics for insane lightning / robot powers. This is not to suggest that the combat in the previous games was necessarily complex, but the original PS4 game, in particular, focused on immersing you in the experience of being Spider-Man while fighting enemies. This sequel to its credit does try to change things up. You have Doc-Ock’s arms as Peter, later the symbiote, and you use them in combat to stun people with electricity, throw them up in the air, and dash forward. Unfortunately, this just made me feel like I was playing a generic spectacle fighter rather than a Spider-Man game. Peter used gadgets in the original, but here he feels more like Iron Man, which clashes with the image of a guy who we were introduced to with pizza boxes on the floor of his apartment. This change in his combat style also makes him play a lot closer to how Miles does, which made the combat feel stale even though you switch between the two of them. About 80% of the way through the game, there’s a 15-minute section where you get to play as Venom, and it’s the absolute highlight of the game because it’s the first time I felt like I was playing something new and different. Tearing through a building with this tank-like character was a bunch of fun, and it kinda made me wish we got a Venom game instead.

The story is also pretty average. The first game had some decent writing; Insomniac was obviously trying to prove their love and respect for the character and wrote a fun and unique story that balanced fan expectations. As someone who hasn’t read a ton of comics, it was cool to see an older portrayal of Peter and a more human side to the antagonists associated with him. Mister Negative/Doc-Ock were great, well-characterized, and interesting antagonists for Peter. Miles Morales’s solo story had its moments but was overall pretty flat and uninteresting because they didn’t have much to draw from in terms of antagonists, but it was short enough, and the gameplay was fun, so I powered through it. Spider-Man 2 decided to make the main antagonist Kraven, who just sends a bunch of Bass Pro Shop wannabes running through Manhattan in their Humvees and annoying dogs. You fight these guys for most of the game until Venom suddenly enters the plot 12 hours in, shows up, and kills Kraven. Kraven felt like a character that existed as a placeholder to explain why Spider-Man has to fight an army. His entire motivation is that he has a deadly disease and wants a powerful enemy to kill him. This isn’t compelling or interesting because it has no relation to what either protagonist is doing. Peter is trying to save Harry, a guy we’re introduced to for about 30 minutes as part of a stealth tutorial, and Miles is trying to write a college essay and has some conflict with feeling useless or something, and this comes out of absolutely nowhere. He also wants to kill the antagonist from the first game, out of absolutely nowhere (he had his own game where this wasn’t mentioned once) until he doesn’t. It’s not compelling to me. To the game’s credit, the story significantly improved after Venom entered the narrative, but by that point there were 2/3 hours left. Anyways, it’s time to take this post off the rails a little.

One thing I often find really frustrating about people reviewing video games is how they still aren’t treated as forms of artistic expression. When someone reviews a film like “Killers of the Flower Moon,” they judge its acting, visuals, writing, and how it affected them. The creative decisions of the work itself are factored into play here. Anytime the technical aspects of a film are exceptionally good, it’s more of a bonus than something that actually makes the film exceptional. On the contrary, when a film’s technical aspects are bad, it becomes a laughing stock. The technical aspect of it being a competently made film is expected. Meanwhile, in games, we constantly praise bug-free games that look pretty, run well, have smooth anti-aliasing, big worlds, pretty reflections, etc. Games are judged as products rather than pieces of art or expression. Does the game have enough content to justify the price? How saturated is the world with things to do? Very little focus is put into why this game even needs to exist, what it accomplishes, etc. This is not to suggest that a game having almost no content does not deserve criticism, but judging the financial value of games as products is often the focus of major critical outlets. This is not how films work. If they did, James Cameron’s “Avatar” would be up there with “The Godfather Part II,” but I doubt you can even remember the name of more than one character from it. This is frustrating to me, especially because games have incredible potential as tools of human expression. They reverse the mental model of a person watching a film or reading a book, forcing the player to work as part of the text rather than looking from the outside in. This is incredibly powerful, and it’s frustrating whenever a game seems to be doing its hardest to simply emulate other mediums.

Spider-Man 2 is an incredibly well-made video game. It has a big, beautiful world, it is a technical achievement for its platform, and it proves the competence of its developers. Ultimately, though, I do not think that matters anymore. Games as an artistic medium, especially AAA games, have reached a level of maturity where this should be expected rather than praised, and critical analysis should focus more on its status as a piece of expression and how the player interacts with it. Does Spider-Man 2 have a justified reason to exist other than financial? Not really. It’s sort of the same thing again, sometimes better, and sometimes far worse. Maybe it doesn’t need to in order to achieve its goals, and perhaps the reason that the critical analysis of games still treats them like products is because that’s the way consumers treat them. I think big budget cinematic games are valid and have their place in the industry. Two of Sony’s efforts in building blockbuster single player narrative focused games, God of War (2018) and The Last of Us Part II are among some of my favorite games ever made. Maybe I shouldn’t be comparing a second Spider-Man game to those, but when it’s all Sony has released this year I feel like it deserves that spotlight / scrutiny. I thought the game was just OK, and I’ll buy Spider-Man 3 anyways when that releases i’m sure, but it’s frustrating to see these games drift even further from what made me enjoy the first.

Here’s my cat

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