Spider-Man 2 doesn’t waste any time showing you all of the ways it’s bigger and better than the first two games. The result is one of the best video game openings ever.
If you plan on playing Spider-Man 2 and haven’t finished the first half-hour yet, you should go do that first.
Spider-Man 2 stars Peter Parker and Miles Morales, so naturally the first mission features both of them working together like a well-oiled superhero machine. Miles is a high school student and Peter is teaching his class. When dust starts coming in the windows and an emergency breaks out downtown, the two bounce out of the building and strip down to their uniforms as the game’s hip-hop theme (“Swing” by Atlanta-based duo EarthGang) plays.
The opening cleverly makes use of Spider-Man 2’s bigger New York City map, which adds t Queens and Brooklyn on the other side of the East River. The first thing Peter and Miles do is web-swing across the Brooklyn Bridge to get to Manhattan’s Financial District where another villain is once again on the loose. It’s immediately clear just how much more expansive the game looks and feels, with glistening skyscrapers in full view across the shimmering water.
The villain in question is none other than Sandman, probably my least favorite entry in the Spider-Man rogues gallery. His shoehorned inclusion in 2007’s chaotic Spider-Man 3 did little to help that. But there’s no origin story here, just Flint Marko transformed into a 40-story-tall sand monster rampaging through the Financial District. He’s massive, but not so massive the Spider-Men can’t web his eyes shut and punch him in the face. It’s absurd but immensely gratifying.
The initial slugfest is just the start. The fight also takes Peter and Miles inside a nearby building, battling armies of mini-Sandmen while they run through the halls saving civilians and scrambling to get to the water tank on the rooftop as everything around them breaks apart. It’s an incredibly elegant sequence of real-time action and quick-time cutscenes that’s visually stunning and feels seamlessly stitched together.
This intro alone, topped off with a final boss fight sequence that looks better than most Marvel movies, would be enough to make it one of the best setpieces ever in a first-party PlayStation game. But then there’s something Insomniac does just because it can: fling Miles halfway across Midtown and back again in a 20 second shot that never cuts.
The entire encounter feels like some of the best tricks from Uncharted and God of War blended into Insomniac’s unique spin on cinematic comic book choreography. It even uses the action-packed chain of events to introduce the web wings, Spider-Man 2‘s best new trick which lets Peter and Miles glide through the air like Batman.
The opening scene takes less than 20 minutes and succeeds at both reminding players how to play a Spider-Man game and proving why Spider-Man 2 is more than just more Spider-Man. Some games start with drawn-out conversations or extended cutscenes. Others have you rigidly go through a tutorial bogged down in explanations and button prompts. Spider-Man 2 is like getting dropped into a rocket that’s just started counting down to lift off. More games should do that.