The video game adaptation of Spider-Man 2 is now 15 years old. Let that sink in. Allow the harsh reality of time to wash over you as you become painfully aware of your own aging, decaying form. Done? Great, let’s get on with remembering just how brilliant an adaptation Spider-Man 2 was.
I were naught but a nerdy ten year old lad when I excitedly rushed home with a copy of Spider-Man 2 on Nintendo GameCube back in 2004. As my dad queued up in our local GAME to make the purchase, I remember being entranced by footage of the game running on the TVs behind the tills.
See, this was before I really followed the development of video games in the build up to their release, so I knew very little about what I was about to play. On the screens in front of me, I saw Spider-Man swinging through a gorgeous open world New York City. I saw him sprint across the side of a skyscraper before bouncing off to dive towards the ground, firing out a web and swinging away at the last minute.
It’s safe to say that, as a massive fan of Spider-Man, I lost my tiny mind. I vaguely recall the bloke who sold us our copy excitedly tell us that for the first time in a Spider-Man game, you actually had to connect your webs to buildings in order to swing about – you couldn’t just swing through mid air if there was nothing around. That seemed pretty far-fetched to me.
When I finally got home and threw myself into Spider-Man 2, I was entranced. Suddenly, I was living out every Spidey fan’s dream – leaping off of tall buildings, speeding through the city on silvery strands of webbing, stopping to beat the crap out of criminals, and occasionally delivering pizza.
Okay, so I didn’t really buy the game for that last one, but dammit if it wasn’t an unexpected bonus. Having to think about where my webs were going instead of just blindly swinging around forced me to engage with my surroundings in a way no other Spider-Man game had, and with that came a whole new level of immersion.
I’ve gone back to Spider-Man 2 an awful lot over the years, and it’s only recently that Insomniac’s Marvel’s Spider-Man took the crown as my favourite Spidey game of all time. That a simple movie tie-in managed to hold onto that title for a decade and a half is absolutely staggering.
Don’t get me wrong, we had some genuinely great Spider-titles between Spider-Man 2 and Marvel’s Spider-Man. Ultimate, Web of Shadows, and Shattered Dimensions, all deserve a shout-out, but there’s something about the traversal in Spider-Man 2 that holds up in a way those other games just haven’t managed.
Maybe it’s because it was the first “open world” superhero game? It’s certainly the first open world game I properly invested myself in. At the time, the majority of popular titles that boasted an open world would ask you to spend your time in it driving around and shooting people, neither of which really appealed to ten-year-old me.
But an open world game in which I could be Spider-Man? Ten-year-old me was absolutely all about that. As I returned over the years (I’d replay it annually at first before slipping to once every few years), I found myself becoming more impressed by what the game was offering on a technical level.
Seriously, I don’t know when you last played Spider-Man 2, but if you can easily dig out and play it, I fully suggest you do so. The web swinging still feels amazingly fluid in a way that Ultimate and Web of Shadows just doesn’t.
I think perhaps Ultimate tried to make things a little too simple, while Web of Shadows tried too hard to make swinging through the city more actively engaging – a mistake, given that the simple act of holding a button to shoot out a web and choosing when to let go for maximum height and speed is beautiful precisely because it’s so simple.
Spider-Man 2 gives you everything you need to live out your Spidery fantasies from the very start, before gradually giving you access to a more complex suite of traversal and combat abilities.
Upgrading Spidey over the course of the game so that he can slingshot himself across the city, or hang bad guys from lamposts was super satisfying, but playing the game and exploring the world was never about those rewards – simply getting to play as Spider-Man was enough for me. You could say action was my reward.
Spider-Man 2 is a game that has many qualities. The fluid combat, which combined spider-sense, webs, and melee attacks felt way ahead of its time. The random crimes, while limited in variety, helped add flavour to the world. Memorable boss battles with Shocker, Mysterio, Rhino, and of course Doctor Octopus were the stuff of dreams for comic books fans.
All of those aspects helped to make it a great game, sure, but if the act of exploring the city as Spider-Man felt off, then there’s no way it would have remained so beloved by fans after all these years.
What it all comes back to is that the web swinging just felt right. Other Spidey games have done combat better, while others still have probably had better stories and a better cast of villains. To my mind though, if you don’t get the web swinging right, you’ve mucked up the one thing every Spider-Man fan is the most excited for from a Spider-Man game.
I have no idea why it took 15 years for a Spider-Man game to come and raise the high bar Spider-Man 2 set, but I know I wasn’t the only one who found myself thinking when Insomniac announced their game, that if it was even half as good as Treyarch’s 2004 effort, we were in for one hell of a time.
Spider-Man 2 was an excellent, immersive title that felt incredible to play. Treyarch didn’t need to put as much effort as it did into a movie tie-in that would’ve made buckets of cash regardless, but it did – and an entire generation will be forever thankful for that.
Ewan Moore is a journalist at UNILAD Gaming who still quite hasn’t gotten out of his mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), he went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis, before landing a full time gig at UNILAD in 2016.