Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is finally here, and on the cusp of the PlayStation 5’s third birthday, assumes the throne as the console’s most technically impressive game to date.
I said effectively the same thing last fall about God of War Ragnarök, but in this line of work, there’s always something on the horizon that has the potential to make you look foolish in retrospect. (And hey, I did say that Ragnarök could be the PS5’s most technically impressive game yet — back then. A lot can change in 11 months!)
Insomniac Games has brought to bear all of its experience developing for the PS5 — this is the studio’s fourth project for the platform, following 2021’s Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart — in delivering an open-world superhero adventure that makes the most of the console’s hardware. It’s the first entry in the franchise built specifically for this system. The two previous games were 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man, which debuted on PlayStation 4, and 2020’s PS5 launch title Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, which was a cross-generation game, so it had to be designed in a way that would allow it to run on PS4 as well as PS5.
In Rift Apart, which debuted exclusively on PS5, Insomniac showed what it could do when it didn’t have to worry about supporting older hardware: dimension-hopping action that relied on the PS5’s speedy SSD. The studio has built upon that work with Spider-Man 2, making even better use of the SSD to allow for instantaneous fast travel and other remarkable transitions. And the Spider-Mans’ hometown of New York City — three boroughs of which are now available, with Queens and Brooklyn lying across the East River from Manhattan — looks as amazing as our two heroes, rendered with real-time ray tracing in every graphics mode.
You may be wondering about those modes, and about which one is the best option. There’s a lot on offer, but the long and short of it is that you’ll get a great experience at all times.
Spider-Man 2’s graphics modes, explained
There are two ways to play Spider-Man 2: Fidelity mode and Performance mode. You’ll find them under the “Graphics” area of the settings menu’s Visual section, and unlike in many other games, you’ll also find detailed descriptions of each mode and the associated options.
As you’d expect, the image quality and resolution are at their highest in Fidelity mode, which has a frame rate target of 30 frames per second (and is the default setting). The Performance mode makes trade-offs in resolution and other areas to target 60 fps. Both options use dynamic resolution scaling, adjusting the amount of pixels being rendered in order to hit the frame rate in question.
Neither mode can quite maintain a flawless locked frame rate. Playing the game’s intro sequence in Performance mode, for instance, I noticed some minor hitching during Sandman’s attack in Lower Manhattan as the screen filled up with billowing dust clouds. But across 15 or so hours with the game thus far, I’ve only run into a few instances of this issue, lasting for a couple of seconds at most.
The Fidelity mode operates in a resolution range from 2160p — i.e., native 4K — down to 1440p, and scales the output to 4K using Insomniac’s temporal injection technique for anti-aliasing, according to the studio. That lower end, 1440p, is where the Performance mode tops out; the average resolution there fluctuates between 1080p and 1440p.
Either way, ray-traced lighting — in the form of reflections (including on water surfaces) and window interiors — is always on in Spider-Man 2. It’s just that in Performance mode, ray-tracing effects are “simplified for some use cases,” according to the game. This is a major development, ensuring a cohesive look no matter how you decide to play; combined with the increased level of detail in the game world, there’s an unmistakable upgrade over the visuals in the previous Spider-Man titles.
Spider-Man 2 also supports 120 Hz output — a feature that Insomniac added to Rift Apart in a post-launch patch — so you’ll have more visual options if your PS5 is hooked up to a 120 Hz panel. Enabling this setting allows the Fidelity mode to run at a target of 40 fps instead of 30 fps, and the improvement in fluidity and input latency is palpable. It’s a great middle ground between the Performance mode and the standard Fidelity mode, delivering the image quality and clarity of the latter setting at a frame rate that feels more responsive. It’s the way to go if you’re lucky enough to be playing on a 120 Hz display like my LG C1 television. The only drawback is that at 40 fps, the resolution (understandably) can drop a bit further, with the average ending up somewhere between 1296p and 4K, according to Insomniac.
The third setting for the visuals in Spider-Man 2 is for variable refresh rate (VRR), which can be used with both graphics modes. It further complicates the picture with two options: “smoothed” and “uncapped.” The former setting keeps the frame rate cap in place (30 fps or 60 fps, depending on the chosen mode) and helps maintain it by smoothing out any drops below the target. The latter setting is for people who want the most responsive possible experience: It unlocks the frame rate, allowing the game to run from 40-60 fps in Fidelity mode and 60-90 fps in Performance mode. (With frame rate prioritized over resolution here, the pixel count can fall as low as 1152p in Fidelity mode and 1008p in Performance mode, but no instances of resolution drops stood out as offensive to my eyes.)
Which Spider-Man 2 graphics mode is better, Fidelity or Performance?
I’ve played Spider-Man 2 in both graphics modes over multiple hours, and I don’t believe there’s an obvious winner here. Granted, I’ve spent the vast majority of my time in Fidelity mode playing with the 120 Hz option enabled. It still feels great at 30 fps, but the ability to get an additional 10 fps — or more, if using VRR with an uncapped frame rate — while keeping all the visual bells and whistles is a meaningful benefit.
If you aren’t playing on a 120 Hz panel, I would lean toward Performance mode. The visual compromises — both in terms of clarity (due to the reduced resolution) and in terms of the game world’s level of detail and density — are notable, but they aren’t severe enough to make a gigantic difference in image quality.
Sure, there are fewer cars and pedestrians on the streets of New York, and the strands of hair on the characters’ heads are less detailed. But this is where the steadfast presence of ray tracing across both graphics modes makes all the difference: Even with its lower-quality ray-tracing effects, the Performance mode upholds the game’s overall visual presentation. And anyway, how much will you really notice the shortcomings when Miles or Peter is flying high above the city at something like 100 mph? I’m already at the point where the combat encounters are getting difficult, and I appreciate Performance mode’s increased responsiveness in those sequences.
It’s worth noting that you do kind of have to make a choice and stick with it during a session. While I often swapped between the two options in Horizon Forbidden West, exploring the environment in quality mode and switching into performance mode for combat sequences, Spider-Man 2 forces you to restart from a checkpoint when changing the graphics mode. (I imagine the developers have a good reason for this, but it’s a strange hang-up, since the game appears to switch seamlessly into Fidelity mode as soon as you enter the photo mode.)
Spider-Man 2’s array of graphics options can be confusing, even overwhelming. The great thing is that if you don’t want to worry about the various modes, you can just leave the defaults in place and be secure in the knowledge that you’ll have a terrific-looking and smooth-playing experience regardless of the settings. Insomniac Games has utilized the PS5’s hardware to its fullest extent — that is, until its upcoming Wolverine game, when the studio will surely find ways to top itself again.