For the majority of my adult life, I have been a journalist. Interviewing, reporting, researching, watching the best Dragon Ball Z fights on YouTube while I procrastinate on a deadline — I’ve done it all. Or maybe I haven’t. Because, in Spider-Man 2, being a journalist almost exclusively involves sneaking around and zapping mercenaries with a sci-fi stun gun. This is something I have never, ever done.
Of the many revisions that Insomniac Games’ 2018 Spider-Man made to comics lore, making Mary Jane Watson a journalist is one of my favorites. It gave the character an organic reason to intersect with Spidey’s adventure, untangling the machinations of Martin Li/Mr. Negative via shoe-leather investigation while her super-powered partner took on crooks with webs and bad jokes. What I didn’t love was how this was expressed in gameplay: stealth missions.
Spider-Man 2 continues this trend, and boy, do I hate it. This is partially a matter of preference — I’m of the mind that stealth should either be the primary focus of a game, or an optional way to engage with an encounter. There are few things that annoy me more than an action game that grinds to a halt in order to force the player to do stealth for a bit. Intellectually, I understand why it could be a good idea — it’s nice to break up the pacing rhythm, to broaden the range of experiences a player will have in a game — but in practice? I almost always find it a drag.
Stealth sections are also a poor way to engage with Mary Jane’s role in Spider-Man 2’s story. MJ is a journalist, and while that can involve being a snoop, it’s not particularly novel or engaging, especially when just about every one of Sony’s big marquee games leans on this rickety crutch. There aren’t even any compelling, unique mechanics for these sections, even though the game has bespoke minigames for hydroponic farming and bee bodyguarding. Spider-Man 2 is full of light mystery and puzzle solving elements, as well as quieter sections where the player just walks around as Miles or Peter to talk to folks. Why can’t MJ do that? Give her one of the bicycles that Peter gets to ride, and let the player see the city up close, from her perspective, to tell a story that Spider-Man can’t.
There are moments in Spider-Man 2 that seem to grasp this idea, as is the case later in the game, when the horror of what the black costume does to Peter is shown from MJ’s perspective — but those are moments that center Peter. MJ’s stealth sections seem to come from a commendable goal of giving the character her own mechanical conceits, but they do little to speak to who she is as a character, and remove gameplay options without replacing them with anything compelling.
Mary Jane would be better served by gameplay that lets the player engage with who she is, rather than reminding them of who she is not.