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Marvel Studios may be in the midst of a creative crisis, but the Spider-Man brand is still taking big creative swings... and hitting home runs. Sony's animated sequel Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, is among the year's highest-grossing movies; multiple Spider-Man comics titles are charting every month; and Disney Junior's Spidey and His Amazing Friends series is pulling toddlers and tykes into the wall crawler's web.
But the biggest jewel in Spidey's crown as the King of all Marvel Media this year has to be Spider-Man 2. No, not Sam Raimi's 2004 blockbuster — although the love for that movie is still strong — but Insomniac Games's latest PlayStation exclusive that continues the storyline that began in 2018's Spider-Man and continued with 2020's Spider-Man: Miles Morales.
Since its release on Oct. 20, Spider-Man 2 has been burning up sales charts, officially becoming the fastest-selling PlayStation Studios release ever with 2.5 million copies sold in the first 24 hours alone. The dual Spider-Mans, Peter Parker and Miles Morales, are also a social media superstars, with clips from their playable adventures regularly going viral. In fact, for an emerging generation of extremely online fans, Insomniac's version of Spider-lore is rapidly supplanting the decades of mythology created by Marvel Comics.
But don't say that to Bryan Intihar, the senior creative director behind Insomniac's Spider-Man series. "If I thought this was the way that people were coming to Spider-Man, that would make me even more stressed out," Intihar tells Yahoo Entertainment. "That's a surreal idea. It's really cool, but it just increases the amount of responsibility I feel like we have." (Gee... why does that sound familiar?)
Insomniac's expanding Spider-Man universe is still very much rooted in the long-established arcs for both Peter and Miles. Both have had transformative encounters with genetically-altered spiders; both have lost beloved relatives; and both are struggling to juggle the demands of being a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man with their everyday lives. But within that overarching backstory, Insomniac has tweaked and refined character beats and plot points into an emotional, action-packed ongoing narrative that some have described as being better than most recent superhero movies.
"What we've learned is that we've got to look at the characters from all the different mediums where Spider-Man exists, and what the common characteristics are," Intihar says. "We want to respect that DNA, but also look at the ways we can mix it up and make it our own. That's been our journey through Spider-Man, Miles Morales and Spider-Man 2."
Now that players have had over a month to swing, fly and sling-shot around Spider-Man 2's New York City, Intihar took us behind-the-scenes of key moments and memorable missions from the game. Activate those spider senses, true believers — spoilers are ahead.
No Eddie, no problem
Nothing juices a Spider-Man story like a shot of Venom. Spidey's extraterrestrial nemesis was teased in the final moments of the first game, and is at the center of the sequel's version of the classic "Alien Costume Saga" that turbocharged Marvel Comics sales in the ’80s. But this isn't exactly the Venom we know from the comics, animated series and movies... mainly because it's not photographer Eddie Brock under the symbiote.
Instead, Peter's best friend, Harry Osborne, unleashes the long-tongued rage monster with a serious distaste for Spider-Man. That's a big change from existing continuity, where Harry broke bad by assuming the mantle of the Green Goblin, the pumpkin bomb-throwing villain originated by his father, Norman, who serves as New York's embattled mayor in Insomniac's story. (The Goblin has yet to make an appearance in the games, although that seems likely to change in the future.)
Despite Eddie's popularity with fans — not to mention his presence in Sony's ongoing Venom film series starring Tom Hardy — Intihar says it "wasn't hard" to kick the Marvel mainstay to the curb. "I like to tell stories where the relationship can be a little more personal," the director explains. "So we thought, 'What if Venom was Peter's best friend?' That gave us an advantage for starting the emotional story sooner than if we had introduced a brand new character that we had to build up.
"People also love Venom because of his design, his powers and how lethal he is," Intihar adds. "We've already seen the Eddie Brock story in different mediums. What was important to us was telling a Venom story in our own way."
On the knife's edge
Talk about getting into character. Jim Pirri, voices Spider-Man 2's other big bad Kraven the Hunter — who has an epic encounter with Venom late in the game — and Intihar says that the video game voice-over veteran hunted for moments to make the villain his own.
"Jim so embraced the character that he started to tell us what Kraven would do," the director explains. "There's a part in the game where you see Kraven playing with a knife, and that was Jim's idea. He told us, 'I think Kraven should be twirling a knife while he's having this conversation.'"
Pirri was originally supposed to have some competition in the Kraven department from Aaron Taylor-Johnson. The former Quicksilver is headlining Sony's Kraven the Hunter live-action feature that was supposed to have roared in theaters in August, but ended up getting pushed to October 2024 amid the Screen Actors Guild strike. Taylor-Johnson has described his Kraven as being an "animal lover and a protector of the natural world," and Spider-Man 2 emphasizes his elemental nature as well — a contrast with the "science gone wrong" villains that the wall crawler normally tangles with in the games.
"Kraven was a hard character to get right, because you look at him and think, 'How is he going to fit in this world?'" Intihar admits. "We realized the more mysterious he can make him, the better. He's driven by this need to prove himself, and we put a twist on it where he's not just going after Spider-Man — he's going after anybody who he thinks is a worthy challenge."
Besides new villains, Spider-Man 2 also brings a new vigilante to town. Just like Harry, it's someone Peter already has a history with: Former NYPD officer Yuriko "Yuri" Watanabe. Yuri was Spider-Man's main ally on the force in the first game but has since gone the "independent crimefighter" route as Wraith. In the sequel, she reluctantly accepts Spidey's help in tracking a group of cultists calling themselves the Crimson Hour. That side story culminates in the introduction of Cletus Kasady, who becomes the crimson-colored psycho killer Carnage in the comics and seems poised to make the same transformation whenever Spider-Man 3 lands.
Yuri's own evolution into the Wraith is comics-accurate, but it also speaks to a notable difference between Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2. The first game has multiple missions where Peter aids New York's police force to the point where some critics accused it of "copaganda." In contrast, the NYPD is barely involved in the sequel and Yuri seems to prefer her vigilante existence.
i really hope this whole Yuri/Wraith and Carnage stuff continues in DLC to really end the symbiote saga properly before the next game, especially considering how big Yuri was in the first game and the DLC that came with. @insomniacgames #SpiderMan2PS5 pic.twitter.com/DbDcDVvHs5
— ThatCanadianRaccoon (@ThtCanadRaccoon) November 23, 2023
Asked if the inclusion of Wraith was, at least in part, a reaction to the copaganda criticism of the first game, Intihar says that it was more a case of ensuring that the major characters in Spider-Man's orbit never stay "stagnant" as the story progresses. "If you're with us from the beginning, you can see how the characters are evolving and changing. We want to keep the wheels going."
Intihar also notes that having Miles as a full-time Spider-Man — plus the core group of helpers they both share — means that Peter doesn't have to depend on the police for backup. "We wanted to create a story and experience that requires two Spider-Men. That was the focus more than anything; we led with that and all the decisions followed that track."
Wakanda forver... but for Peter, never
Avengers Tower has been part of Insomniac's Manhattan skyline since 2018. Flash-forward five years, and Peter and Miles have several more Marvel-ous spots to visit, including the Hell's Kitchen offices of Nelson & Murdock, the Baxter Building and the Embassy of Wakanda. The latter stop allows Miles to pay tribute to the Vibranium-rich African nation with the Black Panther-popularized "Wakanda Forever" salute. But as many players have noted, Peter just kinda... stands there.
Fun little easter egg in #SpiderMan2PS5:
If you go to the Wakandan Embassy as Miles Morales, a prompt will show up to give the Wakanda salute in front of it.
Of course I wore this specific suit to do it.
P.S. This won't work for Peter Parker (for obvious reasons). pic.twitter.com/5BIj29nzA8
— Ryan Cortero (@ryan_reflects) October 24, 2023
Wait no im actually cryinf WHY CANT PETER DO IT 😭😭 pic.twitter.com/munOsgCe5G
— Zay (@BlueBerryIceZay) October 22, 2023
Finding out that Peter can’t do the Wakanda Forever salute but Miles can has me in tears 🤣🤣🤣🤣 pic.twitter.com/GiVmX28t46
— Capricorn’s Cha-Cha Slide (@StrongestEvangr) October 26, 2023
"We tried to make sure there were things for Peter to do, and things for Miles to do," Intihar explains. "Obviously, we have open world content with some stuff for both of them, but we just wanted this to be for Miles. We felt it fit well for him, and there's plenty of Peter stuff in the game."
Speaking of that "open world," players have also been testing the boundaries of the game's version of New York, and occasionally running into metaphorical (and literal) walls. Case in point: the subway system. To the frustration of some gamers, Spidey can't take a break from swinging and ride the A train uptown instead. (On the other hand, those frustrations have also been mocked in hilarious fashion.)
— JayRock (@JAAY_ROCK_) October 21, 2023
lotta people talking about “bad game design” in regards to Spider-Man 2 don’t know jack about game design 😭
‘uhhh why can’t i go in the parking garage? why can’t i go in the subway? why can’t i enter random apartments?’
WHY DON’T YOU PLAY A DIFFERENT GAME?
so annoying oml
— 🥚 loimf (@loimfy) October 26, 2023
I need everyone complaining about Spider-Man 2 not having “parking lot exploration” and the subway as a mode of transport to realize they are playing a game where they are Spider-Man. https://t.co/gtMdTFC6iG
— eStarland (@eStarland) October 25, 2023
For the record, Intihar has heard those complaints about not being able to ride the subway on command. "I understand that there's a fantasy to go into the sewers or the subway," he says. "But is it just to go in there once and then walk away? Or is there some type of payoff gameplay element that's at the quality of the rest of the game? We obviously discuss bigger sewer or subway maps, but for us it's always about hitting a narrative or gameplay goal.
"But," he adds, "I do think the the fact that people want more from our city is a compliment."
Birds of a feather
Insomniac's first Spider-Man game rocked our heroes — and gamers — with two major deaths: Peter's beloved Aunt May and Miles's beloved father Jefferson Davis. The body count is lower in the sequel, but there's one passing that's guaranteed to give you all the feels... and it almost didn't make it into the game. In a side mission, Spider-Man reconnects with John Howard, a gentle pigeon-keeping widower who occasionally needs the wall crawler's help keeping track of his birds.
This time, Howard asks Spidey to guide the pigeons to a new home while he embarks on an all-new "adventure" — one with a sweetly sad ending that's leaving PlayStation dual shock controllers across the country drenched in tears.
Just played the Howard’s pigeon mission on Spider-Man 2 PS5 and there are real tears running down my face rn pic.twitter.com/y4xr2yQL79
— Babacar. (@Babs_diouf1) November 25, 2023
THE HOWARD QUESTLINE IN SPIDER-MAN 2 Y'ALL I'M ACTUALLY SOBBING 😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭 WHAT THE HECK MY SOUL LEFT MY BODY 😭😭😭😭😭😭😭 pic.twitter.com/n3YrWBJenD
— Miranda 🎮 (@Mirandalorians) November 16, 2023
I WAS 100% Spider-Man 2 and the last mission I did was the Howard mission I LITERALLY HAVE SNOT COMING DOWN MY NOSE pic.twitter.com/vxxCZCL55I
— babu frick (@haneenthememe) November 9, 2023
Intihar says that Howard's death wasn't planned when they started breaking the story. "That was a mission that designer Brian Matheson created during a game jam," he reveals. "He had this idea, prototyped it in a couple of days and we realized, 'How could we not have this in the game.'
"We never want deaths to be just for shock," Intihar continues. "When Aunt May dies at the end of Spider-Man, we asked ourselves for years whether we were doing it out of shock or because it was earned. We went back and forth on her death multiple times, and had a lot of people play the game. We'd ask them if it felt earned and they all said yes. It was the same thing with Howard. His death is very touching, and if you listen to the conversation he has with Spider-Man, it all makes sense."
Spider-Man 2 ends with Peter giving up his web-slinging ways in favor of a civilian life, leaving Miles as New York's one and only Spider-Man. That'll be the jumping-off place for the next installment in the series.
In the meantime, Insomniac is expanding its corner of the Marvel-verse with a new game starring everyone's favorite claw-wielding, Deadpool-hating Canadian mutant. The company has confirmed that Wolverine will take place in the Spider-Man timeline, although Intihar is tight-lipped about whether or not Miles will make a cameo. (For what it's worth, there are no Wolverine sightings in Spider-Man 2.)
"Our priority is always what's best for Spider-Man. At the same time, we have other games in development and there are always fun talks and collaborate with people. But it's always about making the best Spider-Man experience we can. We'll see what the future holds."
Spider-Man 2 is available now