With Miles Morales, the spin-off/sequel entry releasing as a PS5 launch title, it was clear that Insomniac wanted to take this series further and, after a remaster of the original game brought noticeable accessibility improvements (though not enough to be playable without help unfortunately) to the series, I had high hopes when the next main-line game was announced.
However, the same day as I received my review code, I saw a blog post, equal parts high and low points in my experience with this game... before I'd even had a chance to play any of it. The post in question detailed numerous accessibility innovations for the series including, amongst others, difficulty customisation, game speed, audio description and menu narration! The frustrating part? Those last two, arguably integral features for my enjoyment of the game to reach its peak, wouldn't be released until December 2023. To put this into perspective, this would be a near full 2 months after not only I would get my collector's edition of the game including the statue, but when players with sight would've been able to beat the game as well.
As much as I understood development of features takes time and the usual similar disclaimers, the fact of the matter was I'd been interested to see how all this would work in practice and wanted to enjoy the story at the same time as my friends, but felt I wouldn't be able to until much later in the year. I resolved, therefore, to look at the game from two lenses, one from the launch point of view (found here) and the other after these crucial components that would enhance my experience had been added.
So, starting out with no sighted assistance... Just how much greater is Marvel's Spider-Man 2?
With the previous caveat that I knew nothing would be narrated, I utilised OCR from hereon out to attempt to navigate this wrapping menu system. It turned out that all the menus wrapped, with no smart functionality that would allow the game to stop moving when you reached the upper or lower bounds of a menu. This was frustrating as we've seen some games taking this approach in recent years and without menu narration as a fallback, it made it very easy to get lost.
Moreover, having the high contrast elements of the game enabled by default as a part of the vision preset, whilst it would certainly help those with low vision, would not help me and was something I actively sought to turn off for personal preference. But after pressing left or right to turn them off didn't work, I resorted to just playing the game with those settings enabled as working out how to turn off each individual setting, of which there are many, as well as verifying that my efforts were successful, was next to impossible without assistance, which I didn't want to get at this stage in the review process.
Hitting circle to back out of the various menus, I discovered that you could hit it multiple times in a row and the game would not stop playing the sound effect, which was surprising. Hitting what I thought was start new game, I was greeted with a recap option, which I elected to watch.
This recap didn't happen as you might expect, with direct clips from the previous game itself, instead occurring in the form of voiced narration that catches you up on the events that had transpired, to an extent. This immediately showcases the chemistry and comedic talent from the two lead heroes, as well as the dark tone this game looks to take, as epitomised further by the press start screen's foreboding score and ambience.
Even though there was no audio description, thus removing the visual element from the picture, this could be seen as quite an accessible recap in a way, as the events are spoken about by the characters. It does remain to be seen of course how this might be tackled with audio description in the latter accessibility patch, with the potential impact of said patch being a running theme throughout my first impressions.
After a little while, with a pumping techno score to back us up, we were finally into gameplay. However, as a newcomer you'd be very much confused as, without narration, it won't be easy to understand how the controls work or what to do next.
Having played Spider-Man's various games over the past few years, I was thankfully better equipped as the controls were very much second nature to me in most instances, though I suppose with patience and OCR in combination you could maybe figure things out, though OCR should only be used as a last resort. After some swinging and pressing R3 to look at waypoints later, I managed to get myself into the tutorial boss fight. However, once I'd started this fight, I was told to throw something back at the enemy. However, I couldn't seem to do this no matter how hard I tried, thus leaving me unable to progress. Trying to navigate to the enemy in question eventually let me through and via complete luck I got to another phase, with the game's targeting seemingly kicking in to allow me to hit my foe. However, this second phase was even more awkward, as it seemed like it might be a QTE and, though as far as I knew I had auto complete on for those, I kept dying.
Dodging, trying to repel items, swinging, nothing worked, sadly. Alas, I had to leave the game here at almost the first hurdle as it were, to get assistance later.
Referring back to the high contrast options I'd mentioned previously, even with sighted assistance it was difficult to figure out how to turn off that particular set of elements in one single press of a button. It seemed as though you had to reset each element's altered colour (which makes it high contrast) to "none" or similar, but as there are several elements that all use this same system and no singular toggle that you can also use to speed up the process, this could be very time-consuming for some, even with sight. Hopefully this can be patched in or altered later to make the introduction to the game less about configuring menus and more about jumping into gameplay, as much as the options are very much appreciated.
Strangely enough, the settings menu during gameplay showed tooltips, whereas the main menu version didn't. I hope, once again that this may have been a pre-launch issue that can be resolved via a future update.
After starting a new game to verify what I'd seen before, I was able to show my sighted co-pilot (thanks to the recently released Assist Controller feature) just how workable the game was even without a few features we've mentioned already, to much surprise and joy on their part.
Eventually, remembering what I'd done previously on my own, we were back through the boss fight to the elimination section, for lack of a better term. However, with assistance, I discovered that I had to actually sprint to avoid the items coming my way to progress from where I'd been stuck. There are no audio cues for things like this, as well as incoming attacks or other button prompts. Granted the tutorials don't read either, though those I would hope will be narrated in the screen reader update.
Having audio cues for button prompts like triangle, circle etc would greatly enhance the experience and I'm honestly surprised they're not here as they are arguably now a PlayStation standard with both The Last Of Us Parts I and II, as well as God Of War Ragnarok.
Though I was playing on the second hardest difficulty which the game selects by default and the lack of cues for dodging and other buttons didn't help, I did manage to get to the open world portion of the game in the form of the first mission. The world may have opened up, but it is still slightly linear at this point in time, which did serve well for the navigational method I've used before, namely scanning to look to the current waypoint with R3.
A retrospective point of note is that the scan for waypoint feature, though very useful as it had got me this far, didn't seem to allow me to crawl during an earlier sequence as an obstacle blocked my path during the previously referenced boss fight, necessitating assistance to navigate around it instead. Hopefully this can be resolved in the final version of the game, as it will doubtless mean gamers without sight or who don't have assistance and are relying on this feature to navigate to objectives will be unable to progress.
In terms of that new first mission I spoke about though, it was a very interesting experience, as I played it all with no assistance required. After managing to find an interaction prompt, again without an audio cue and pressing some buttons partially at random in the hope of being successful, as well as undertaking what seemed to be a small flying minigame of sorts, I then got into my favourite part of the previous titles... combat.
Granted I'd had much more experience of Spider-Man's combat so felt relatively prepared, having recently platinumed the original game which involved a large number of battle-related challenges. In those though, I'd had assistance to keep my enemies in focus, here, Spidey was all on his own... sort of. With the hope that the game would assist me in finding who to punch, much like a fight seen in the 1989 film "See No Evil, Hear No Evil", I dove into what was, for me, familiar territory.
Though aware of a parry skill that you unlock later into the game (thanks to press releases), I was curious as to whether attacks had incoming audio cues for regular enemies. Unfortunately, in terms of the melee strikes preferred by some enemy types, no such audio seemed to manifest, leaving me open to staggering blows. I hope this is changed as other games have shown they can do it well, namely Jedi Survivor most recently, but with the options on offer for various attacks and finishers etc, it may not be as larger problem as first feared depending on the situations that may occur later.
Having already used OCR to read tutorials and purchase my first skill, the defeat of this first group of enemies then saw me take on a second. However, this proved cumbersome due to it referencing gadgets. Why? Because, once again, OCR is proven to be only viable as a last resort, as it doesn't read the button prompts required to use the gadget in question once crafted.
After much pressing and combining of buttons, I figured out the gadget in question was activated via R1+triangle in default controls. Whether it removes the frustrating radial menu entirely remains to be seen, but I did manage to get through this encounter in a couple of tries.
Interestingly enough, I saw a prompt during the crafting stage of this gadget debacle that said "defeat enemies for a chance to get a (insert gadget name here)". I thought this a very odd choice of wording, as I personally feel it's better to be guaranteed rewards from encounters if you complete certain actual goals (whether that be score, time or objective-based), rather than having the almost loot box-like mechanic at play here. Coincidentally I didn't know if I got that secondary gadget due to lacking narration at this point in time.
After this, I went to save my game, but accidentally clicked restart last checkpoint. Unfortunately, I was unable to figure out what my objective was as well, leaving me stuck wandering around for a few minutes and eventually being frustrated at the situation. Consequently, this is where my first impressions ended and though not as amazing (pun intended) as I'd hoped, I was definitely pleased with what I've seen with the caveat that things could improve later down the line with patches, much like so many games have the potential to do in this day and age.
Once you get into combat, it's very much a tweaked version of the original elements that were present in the first game, with the "ka-click" of the guns, their shots and the sounds of fists connecting being memorable and hitting hard, though somewhat muted compared to their counterparts in prior entries. The in-battle dialogue returns and is just as great as previously, if not more so thanks to the rapid-fire conversations that happened during my first encounter. I do wonder whether the audio design will chance as I progress through the game, particularly with characters and suits being introduced that likely hit a lot harder, but the pallet on offer here was great to hear in action for the first time.
Even the finishers and abilities have had an upgrade, with the twirling hits of Spider Barrage and the various takedowns dynamically blending in and providing a cinematic flurry of attacks that have the correct level of crunch.
This new entry in the franchise fairs just as well, with ability bars not only having audio cues but haptic iterations as well, with each side of the controller seemingly being used for a different set in a great move for keeping you on track. when you can use them again. The cutscenes however seemed comparatively bland when I played the game, but I've heard that latter sequences apparently demonstrate the versatility of the DualSense controller, but I can report back on those hopefully when I play more of the title. A marked improvement has been illustrated here, but just how far it reaches is a little hard to determine from the outset.
Though lacking key additional components like audio cues to aid players in what to press or when to dodge incoming attacks for example, this game is a prime demonstration of how to elevate the tone of a sequel as well as improve on what came before in terms of accessibility on offer. It'll be interesting to see how things progress from here as people get their hands on the game for themselves.
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