Before Spider-Man: Homecoming came around, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 was commonly known as the best Spider-Man movie. It had a relatable hero in Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker, a sympathetic villain in Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock, plenty of web-slinging, backflipping action ... and pizza time.
If only someone, somehow, was able to make a game that distilled everything that made the movie great. They could have added a ton of cool villains and plot threads, opened up the city for exploration and introduced a set of skills and attacks that made the player really feel like they were Spider-Man. Sadly, we know that there are no games based on movies that are good. C’est tragique.
Except — wait — Treyarch made that exact game! Nice.
Spider-Man 2 is the best “Movie: The Game” there is, without question. The main reason it succeeds is by accomplishing the oft-stated yet difficult goal of any superhero game: making you feel as versatile and powerful as the hero you control.
The game takes place in — by the standards of 2004 — an extensive and open recreation of New York City. From the very beginning, you can go pretty much anywhere in Manhattan, in addition to a few smaller islands. Most importantly, Treyarch made this huge environment fun to traverse by making the web-swinging feel incredible. It’s driven by physics, and the webs you cast actually connect to buildings in real-time, so the weight of each swing is immediately apparent.
In addition to webs, you can swing on poles, jump to ridiculous heights, and run and crawl along buildings. Using just those core mechanics in any number of combinations, the player can fly through city blocks with speed and fluidity. It also leaves room for anyone to bring their own unique flair to their superhero commute. The timed movement challenges and secret tokens sprinkled throughout Manhattan only encourage this type of experimentation.
Speaking of challenges, Spider-Man 2 has one of the most infamous sets of side missions in gaming: pizza delivery. Movie Spider-Man may have gotten fired from his pizza place, but video game Spider-Man can vindicate him. The accordion music that plays over these missions has inspired plenty of memes. It’s so iconic, even Polygon is guilty of using it in one of our videos. YouTube user ROCKCOCK64 gave us the best tribute by far by slowing it down 50 percent.
Another one of Spider-Man 2’s strengths was its characters. The game added villains and antiheroes like Black Cat, Rhino, Shocker and Mysterio. One later “boss battle” with Mysterio serves as a great and hilarious expression of character narrative through game mechanics.
Setup: Mysterio flexes big time while three of his life bars fill up. Punchline: You knock him on his ass with one blow. It’s a perfect encapsulation of his alter-ego Quentin Beck, told through both scripted dialogue and player interaction in the span of a minute.
Above all, Spider-Man 2 seemed to have total trust in the player’s judgment. The developers created an environment full of NPCs, challenges and secrets, gave Spider-Man a few tight movement and combat mechanics, and allowed the player to take it from there. Let’s hope Insomniac can deliver just as rich an experience with Spidey’s next game.