After playing through the first DLC for Marvel’s Spider-Man, I said it felt like the full three-chapter saga, collectively called The City That Never Sleeps, could really go either way. While it was fun to dive back into Spidey’s Manhattan for a bit more action, the actual content itself felt a little slight, and I was unsure the full scope of the DLC would make it a worthwhile continuation. Now that I’ve finished the second episode, Turf Wars, I’m a little more optimistic.
For one thing, the missions themselves are much tighter this time around. Unlike The Heist, where the new enemy variants and challenges felt a little recycled, this time around there’s a bit more energy to the missions. The campaign itself is still on the short side, but there’s much more variety in what you’re doing, including some neat twists to gameplay that go beyond what you encountered in the main game. There’s even an honest-to-goodness boss fight, though it’s certainly doesn’t match the scope or spectacle of those in the base story missions.
The writing itself is much tighter, too, with better pacing, more character, and more memorable dialogue, in particular from Spider-Man and Screwball, who’s back with some new challenges. (This is the first time, across both the main game and The Heist, that the livestreaming supervillain actually feels like a convincing byproduct of internet culture. Yes, there are memes.) Even the recycled side content feels a little more bespoke. The mob fronts are more or less the same as the Demon warehouses from the main game, but there’s an admirable level of variety to the locations, and the challenge level feels perfectly balanced to make achieving the optional objectives a bit tougher than anything in the main game without feeling unfair or overwhelming.
Turf Wars pulls off all this, it’s worth noting, while relying on a much less compelling focal point. Black Cat is a fairly iconic Spider-Man part of the Spider-Man mythos. Hammerhead, who serves as the antagonist and driving force of this second chapter, is much less so. His relationship to Spider-Man is much simpler, and his defining attributes—mobster with metal plate in his head who loves headbutting people—aren’t exactly a shining example of Marvel’s wonderful imagination.
In terms of this specific story, he works just fine, but one could easily imagine any number of other villains serving the same role in the plot. The short, spoiler-free version is that Hammerhead is wiping out other Maggia crime heads to consolidate power and stealing a piece of powerful technology to help in his quest. A few tweaks to the specific dialogue, and this episode could work just as easily with pretty much all of Spider-Man’s non-symbiote, non-superpowered foes. What I’m trying to say is, Insomniac really should’ve used Big Wheel. Give the people Big Wheel!
Despite the improvements, Turf Wars does still suffer from some of the shortcomings that brought the first episode down. There aren’t any new gadgets to use (though one sequence does make better use of an existing gadget than anything in the main game) and the new suits, while nifty to look at, don’t include any new suit powers. Well, I guess the new Spider-Clan suit does have the power to make serious cutscenes hilariously awkward. People are dying, allies are being pushed to the brink, and here I am waltzing into frame with enormous anime eyes, like some kind of Who Framed Roger Rabbit reboot.
And yes, you’re still going to have to do a lot of random crimes to get full completion, and no, they’re not going to be any more compelling than the last hundred ones you’ve done. Bizarrely, you’re once more going to get a ton of new unlock tokens with absolutely zero purpose in a game where you’ve probably already unlocked everything before starting the DLC.
By the time the credits rolled, though, I did at least get the sense that The City That Never Sleeps is building towards something bigger. Without getting into spoiler territory, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the three-chapter saga is gearing up to show some pretty interesting additions to Insomniac’s universe in action for the first time. I’m surprised to see that the story appears to actually be pushing forward from Spider-Man‘s ending, which already teased a direction for any future sequel. After playing Turf Wars, I don’t think Silver Lining will completely set up a follow-up—not to the level of locking down a specific villain or plot—but it’s pretty clear that The City That Never Sleeps will change the status quo for many of the characters you’ll no doubt be interacting with in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. Assuming Insomniac can stick the landing, that’s far more than I expected after I beat last chapter.