Given the presumably mammoth sales projections Sony has for PS5 exclusive Marvel's Spider-Man 2, playing too fast and loose with the open world formula at Insomniac Games was probably out of the question. This is a franchise that shifts hardware, and after a year slightly lighter on PlayStation Studios content than usual, the title is a beaming light at the end of the tunnel. A portion of sales is already guaranteed based on the name alone, but the rest will flock when its quality is realised. Marvel's Spider-Man 2 is a sequel that builds on past entries in all the right ways: safe but supremely solid in some and excitingly daring in others. While just a taste was on display at a recent preview event, it exhibited why the joint adventure of Peter Parker and Miles Morales is yet another Game of the Year contender.

We played just over three hours of the game, dabbling with its main story, open world, and optional activities. The build — which was roughly six weeks old at the time of play — began a few hours into the narrative, with the two Spider-Men on different courses through life. Peter is handling a relationship with MJ and the return of his lifelong friend Harry Osborn while Miles is trying to get through college. What brings them together is a new threat to New York: Kraven.

With all the high-production values you'd expect out of a Sony-published experience, the series of missions we worked through were gripping, thoroughly enjoyable, and entertaining even without the context of the game's opening. We found ourselves seamlessly slipping back into the world of Marvel's Spider-Man, remembering the controls and basic abilities without the need for tutorials. It speaks to how the whole of Marvel's Spider-Man 2 operates: the fond memories you have of the first two titles but bigger, better, perfected.

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The open world is the best demonstration of that. The original map returns, but it's been upgraded with much more to see and do along with five new districts that expand its size by roughly 50 per cent. Web slinging through the streets and across its rooftops still feels absolutely phenomenal, and new ways of getting about enhance the euphoria. At any moment, you can ditch the swinging for Peter or Miles' new Web Wings, allowing you to glide about the city and catch huge air time through slipstreams and open air vents. Time it right and you won't even lose any height; it's an exhilarating feeling, heightened by haptic feedback implementation. You can feel when Spider-Man reaches the apex of his swing or when he's hurtling down to the ground.

Combat has its own little rumbles and vibrations too, which — just like traversal — borrows the base set of moves from the first game and lets fights flourish with a truckload of new abilities. The most obvious are the new skills Peter Parker has picked up from the symbiote, which are excellent for crowd control. Using its tentacles, you're able to damage multiple goons at once, either slamming into them, throwing them about, or pounding them down on the ground. All operating on a cooldown, you can use them in tandem with either Spider-Man's gadgets to devastating effect during brawls.

The standard enemies you come up against have also had a bit of an upgrade in the nine months since Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales took place, with new heavy attacks designed to break your health bar in two. A new parry system is how you'll deny them of that, pressing L1 when the screen flashes red.

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Having said that, a mission will sometimes ask you to ignore all that for a quieter approach. An enhanced stealth system means you're no longer restrained by the confines of the building you're in; now you can create your own paths in the rafters with deployable web lines to walk across. This makes keeping quiet so much more viable for virtually every combat encounter since you'll be creating the paths instead of having them dictated to you.

You could say the same of your main character — at least to a point. In the demo we played, you were always required to bring a specific Spider-Man to the mission start point, but you're free to choose either Peter or Miles during general open world exploration. This is done through the FNSM App (your in-game mobile phone), with a prompt at the bottom letting you switch between the two. We tested this transition multiple times throughout the preview, and control was never taken away from us for more than roughly three seconds.

Marvel's Spider-Man 2 adopts the Grand Theft Auto V approach where whenever you're about to switch characters, the one you're assuming control of is always caught in the act of something. Just a few examples we saw were Miles leaving the subway and Peter scaring off a flock of pigeons. It's a fun feature that's implemented really well, never breaking immersion with a load screen.

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And while much of it is lifted from the first game, the open world is the cherry on top of how Marvel's Spider-Man 2 goes above and beyond its predecessors. Rather than marking all the collectibles, side quests, and other activities on the map straight away, you now must properly explore New York to find them. As you're swinging through the streets of the many boroughs, you'll spot interactive elements giving off a sort of large neon signal in the environment. Head over to these and you'll find collectibles and extra objectives to complete, all working towards 100 per cent completion. We found Photo Ops, Spider-Bots, and Tech Parts to collect during our three-hour play session, but the map hinted at many more things we could find.

It all comes together to form an example of the current open world formula at its absolute peak. With outstanding traversal options, an interesting city to explore, and constant enjoyment to be had, it's open-ended design perfected. The game gets a little more daring when it flirts with the design philosophy of an Elden Ring or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, handing you control of discoveries and secrets. Marvel's Spider-Man 2 doesn't go all the way with it, but there's a tease there, and it makes for a world much more interesting to simply exist in. Not everything is spoon-fed to you, and it benefits from that.

What elevates the package to stardom, though, is that Insomniac Games has managed to accomplish both sides of the coin: its exceptional open world already appears ready for launch and it's coupled with the first-rate cinematics and story of a PlayStation Studios experience. When you enter a hand-crafted main mission with its own unique interior and set of cutscenes, you can feel the effort that's gone into perfecting every camera angle, every dialogue read. Marvel's Spider-Man 2 is Insomniac Games at its absolute peak; it's shaping up to be its best game to date.

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The question of whether the developer can make that jump into the space Naughty Dog occupies, with its 10/10 ratings and 90+ Metacritic scores, is always on the tips of tongues. In Marvel's Spider-Man 2, it seems to have its answer. What we played was outstanding; it's an experience primed for the top and an example of the best this industry offers. All we need now is the final product to confirm our confidence in Insomniac Games.

Marvel's Spider-Man 2 releases for PS5 on 20th October 2023. Are you looking forward to the return of Peter and Miles? Share your excitement in the comments below. For more coverage, read our interview with senior game director Ryan Smith.