2023 is shaping up to be another fantastic year for Spider-Man fans with the arrival of the long-awaited second Spider-Verse film as well as Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, a huge blockbuster game tasked with saving PlayStation 5’s first-party offerings this year. These two tales about our favorite web-slingers have wildly different approaches to the source material, proving that New York’s friendliest superhero is more alive than ever.
The Spider-Man 2 demo we’ve just witnessed was quite impressive, packing a carefully crafted set piece that reminded us that the devs and artists at Insomniac are some of the best in the business and promising new abilities and struggles for both Peter Parker and Miles Morales. But personally, I was more interested in the villains we got to see in the demo: Kraven the Hunter, the Lizard, and… Parker’s Symbiote suit. While used as part of big and loud scenes in the showcase, they suggest Insomniac’s third Marvel rodeo may be more than your average Empire Strikes Back-esque darker sequel.
The influence of Rocksteady Studios’ Batman: Arkham games can be felt all over the two previous Marvel’s Spider-Man games, nearly as much as the DNA inherited from older Spidey efforts. The combat is faithful and stylish while putting accessibility above all, and gadgets are nearly as important in the huge late-game kerfuffles as webbing and smacking goons around. Moreover, the stealth sections are just a couple of gargoyles away from feeling like a really good Arkham mod, and I say that as praise. I’ve always defended the common back-and-forth of solid ideas that happens in gaming as long as genres don’t stagnate, and Insomniac knew what to gun for and how not to miss.
However, we’ve yet to feel scared as Spider-Man, whether it’s Peter or Miles. Stressed? Sure, how can a good Spider-Man not be stressed? But each major foe that we’ve faced so far has led us to a different kind of big action scene, so I have to wonder whether the big sequel has a few tricks up its sleeve when it comes to boss encounters. We already know Insomniac can channel the big Marvel Studios blockbuster energy, so it’s time to expand the tonal canvas. My faith in Insomniac (as well as my Spider-Sense) tells me we’re gonna experience some scary bits in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, but allow me to explain why and how hair-rising sequences could work in the game.
First up, we’ve got Kraven the Hunter, who perhaps wasn’t that interesting if you only knew him from the ‘90s cartoon, but the comics have proven several times he’s among Spidey’s most interesting enemies. Longtime fans will surely be thinking of the famous 1987 storyline Kraven’s Last Hunt after watching that exciting demo. The prologue told us Kraven is looking for the ultimate adversary, and that takes him to New York, where he comes across two Spider-Men as well as the Lizard. The perfect hunting ground.
The presence of the Symbiote suit has the potential to be a villain on its own in spite of the cool gameplay opportunities it appears to offer. However, it also raises some alarms for fans of the aforementioned comic book arc, since Peter was wearing a black suit quite similar to the classic design of the Symbiote outfit. We already know the whole Venom arc that Insomniac has been preparing is mostly doing its own thing, but I must wonder if we’ll see its own version of Kraven’s Last Hunt here, especially with Peter riled up.
As I said before, dealing with Kraven — at least during some of the earlier encounters — without resorting to direct combat could be interesting and as tense as some of the best bits from the Arkham series. He’s supposed to be hunting the Spider-Men, and I’d like to feel threatened and helpless early on. I really hope he won’t be limited to the average set pieces that literally any other Spider-Man rogue could be used for. I keep returning to the Scarecrow sequence in Arkham Asylum that made us believe our hardware was screwed. That’s far too inventive for a more physical adversary, but I’d like to see some of that playful energy applied to Marvel’s Spider-Man 2.
Secondly, the whole Symbiote suit arc — which we already know won’t take up the entirety of the sequel — could inject a good dose of psychological horror into the overall experience, if Insomniac is willing to slow down and use the suit as more than a new toy for players. Hey, I loved the Prototype games and was happy to witness the return of some of those vibes in the Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 demo, but I believe the whole Symbiote suit thing has more value for the narrative than the gameplay here.
The Lizard is kind of a wild card, to be honest. If I had to guess, I’d say Peter will be really fixated on saving Dr. Curt Connors, especially with how his relationship with Otto Octavius went. That’s also an extra point on Kraven’s “you might have fucked up” card once the Symbiote suit comes in. How far is Peter willing to go to protect those he cares about, especially when he’s not himself and can be dangerous?
As for the “scary gameplay” opportunities, the obvious homage would be to replicate the memorable Killer Croc sequence from Batman: Arkham Asylum. Hell, even 2012 film The Amazing Spider-Man tried to do something similar. With the current tech and Insomniac’s bag of magic tricks, a boss encounter that puts terror and even jump scares over chipping down a health bar is completely plausible. Furthermore, limiting the Spider-Men’s movement inside a sewer or underground-like section would spice things up for sure.
We haven’t even scratched the surface of what Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 will offer in its gameplay or narrative, if its predecessors are any indication. And I don’t dare to make predictions around Venom, who might even be a third playable character, much like in 2005’s Ultimate Spider-Man. Maybe Insomniac will be able to give us a bit of the Venom horror story that the 2018 film originally wanted to be.
As SIE’s new favorite AAA studio embraces its Marvel-centric future and moves into the more mature Wolverine game, we can only hope chunks from its Resistance past have made it into the next two projects. Insomniac is mostly known for its cheerful and vibrant roller coaster rides, but it went truly dark during the PlayStation 3 generation — and this Spider-Man sequel could instantly distance itself from the competition by making Peter and Miles shit their pants and run out of jokes at least twice.