Spider-Man 2 reviews dropped earlier this week, and ever since I’ve been indulging myself in gameplay clips ahead of the game’s launch this Friday. I fell in love with Insomniac’s take on Spidey after replaying it in PC Ultrawide last year, and I’m excited to see how the sequel pushes the series forward. And, as a tech enthusiast, I can’t wait to see what kind of new and inventive ways Sony can pull performance out of the PS5.
Insomniac has a knack for using The Power Of The PS5 ™ in prominent, eye-catching ways. The portals in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart are a perfect example. They would be a gimmick if they weren’t baked into the gameplay so well – and if they weren’t so damn impressive to look at. The original Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered had its own visual processing tricks, like its incredible ray-traced reflections and per-pixel motion blur in cutscenes. There’s plenty of studios that make cutting-edge games, but Insomniac might be the best at showing off what the PlayStation can do.
Since the first previews were published, much has been made of Spider-Man 2’s impressive new features. The one that’s received the most attention by far is the instant fast travel, which allows you to select any arbitrary point on the map and fast-travel Spider-Man there without any cutscenes or load screens. I’ve also seen some impressive transitions in which the camera travels from one Spider-Man’s perspective, across the entire city, and connects to the other Spider-Man, all without a single cut. The reflections are better than ever, and I’ve even seen some praise for the game’s puddles, believe it or not, since ray tracing is now active across every mode, and can’t be turned off. No more PuddleGate.
Those technical achievements are all impressive, and I suspect each of them will get a lot more praise from players once the game launches this week (even the puddles), but the thing that has impressed me the most from what we’ve seen so far is something I haven’t seen anyone talk about yet. It’s not as flashy as portals and instant-fast travel, but I believe it to be the most important new addition to the series. It may sound trivial, but the massively increased population density throughout New York is quietly the biggest improvement I’ve seen between Spider-Man 2 and its predecessors.
I do not enjoy exploring dead worlds. Unless it’s a meaningful part of the game’s text, like Death Stranding, Arkham City, or Fallout, walking through a barren landscape or exploring a lifeless city doesn’t interest me. It’s something that bothers me about the Horizon games, and it’s one of the original Spider-Man’s few flaws too.
With nearly nine million residents, New York is one of the ten most populated cities in the world. Manhattan, where the first Spider-Man takes place, is the smallest and most densely populated of the five boroughs in the city. When you picture the hustle and bustle of New York in your mind, Manhattan is what you think of. It’s Wall Street, the Empire State Building, and Fifth Avenue. Virtually nowhere in the city is free from crowds and traffic, 24 hours a day. It’s part of the city’s identity, but playing the game doesn’t give you that sense at all.
The Manhattan of Marvel’s Spider-Man isn’t so post-apocalyptic wasteland, but it’s certainly not a realistic representation of Manhattan either. Just think about all those high-speed chases where Spidey has to pursue a criminal, disable their car, then have a brawl in the middle of the open street. It’s a great action sequence, but there’s nowhere in Manhattan where something like that could happen multiple times a day, not with the kind of traffic jams they’re dealing with.
When I look at Spider-Man 2 footage. I see crowded streets and people piled up at crosswalks. I see bumper to bumper traffic that goes on for miles. I see a city that’s full of life – one that Spider-Man has dedicated his life to protecting. It takes significant processing power to create that much activity on screen all at once, but it’s such an important part of being Spider-Man and experiencing New York through his eyes. It’s not as sexy as fast travel, but brings such a strong sense of reality to Spider-Man 2.
Realism isn’t the only measure of quality of course, and there are limits to how much it can improve the experience of a game. I don’t need to smell a piss-filled subway station or feel rats brush against my ankles to get the true New York experience, but a Spider-Man story, especially one that takes place in an open world, is in some part a story about New York, too. With Spider-Man 2, Insomniac has made the city come alive in ways we haven’t seen before, and I think it makes all the difference.
Next: It’s Time For Insomniac To Explore The Weirder Side Of Spider-Man