Update: Updated the improvements section in the beginning to include information about the vision preset.
Additional update: Rewrote and restructured some areas of this review to be clearer and slightly less aggressive. I’m still unhappy, and that is still reflected here, but I do tend to lead with my emotions because my passion is powerful, and sometimes this helps my career. What is here now, though, I believe to be more sensible and accurate, though that raw emotion isn’t entirely gone.
Marvel’s Spiderman 2 is going to be one of the hardest reviews I’ve ever written, and there are lots of reasons for that. My hope is, as with all reviews, that I can convey it all accurately, the good and the bad, because there is much that I need to get across here. Before we get started, as always, the review code for this game was graciously provided by Playstation and Insomniac Games. And now, let’s go!
Marvel’s Spiderman 2 is likely going to be up for game of the year. As is expected, the story is gripping, the performances are captivating, the way story is told both through cut scenes and gameplay is spectacular. It follows the events of Spiderman: Miles Morales, and now at last you get to take control of both heroes as their lives continue in ways that collide, and some ways that don’t, both in an out of combat. All this, plus the amazing transitions between characters on PS5, the near-seamless flow from gameplay to cut scene and back again, the amazing audio design, the living world of New York City… I see all this in what I have experienced of Marvel’s Spiderman 2. I know that it is truly, truly awesome.
My reviews, however, are very laser-focused on blind accessibility, though, so now we’re going to talk about that. Here’s the thing. I think I can say there have been SOME improvements. Certain gameplay and puzzle-related elements now have associated audio queues, such as one involving finding specific clues you then have to decrypt. Also the simplified puzzle mechanic seems to positively affect some things too, but I’m not actually sure how much. For instance, there’s a moment where you have to swing through a series of nodes in order to establish a network, and we can actually do that, but I don’t know if I should attribute that to simplified puzzles, or if it’s because the navigational assistance is good enough to do it. In any case, it theoretically helps. Also, just as before, photo ops have associated haptics, so if we discover one and get close enough we can successfully aim the camera and take what should be the correct picture. This seems to apply to collectables as well.
Another significant improvement is the inclusion of presets in the options menu. In my case, I activated the vision preset, and it activated almost every setting I needed, potentially saving a ton of time. I went back through all the settings to see exactly what was activated by the preset, and I gave myself some more dodge and parry time which it did not activate, so it technically didn’t save me time, but this may be valuable information to a blind person trying out the game for the first time. All the things you might need, chase assist, look at waypoint, swing assist, aim assist, all are activated from the vision preset. Increased Dodge timing and lowered stealth awareness are not affected here though, so you may want to turn those things on if you need or want them.
So, we’ve established that there are some improvements, but I think you know where this is going. Let’s rip the band aid off, and then I’ll explain. Marvel’s Spiderman 2 is not fully accessible to the blind. This is not simply because the screen reader and audio descriptions haven’t yet been implemented. We’ll talk more about those later. It goes deeper than that. I’m really, really sorry, blind community.
The biggest problem here is, of course, the navigational assistance, which Marvel’s Spiderman 2 calls Look at Waypoint. Insomniac Games did this for Ratchet and Clank, and the previous Spiderman games as well. And, although years separate all those games, Look at Waypoint is still pretty much exactly the same, with the exact same problems. The advantage, just as before, is that you’re Spiderman, so swinging through the city isn’t really a problem. Spiderman can pretty much navigate as the crow flies out in the open because he’s always above everything, just swinging from point to point. So as long as that’s the situation, Look at Waypoint appears to work fine. However, the second you have to do anything on the ground, especially, say, inside a building, you quickly realize that nothing has changed, that Look at Waypoint will no longer serve you, and you are left struggling to find whatever it is you’re supposed to interact with. Just like in all the games it has existed in before.
Of course, there’s more than that. There are still no audio queues to tell us what we should do at any given point. You might think this would be mitigated when the screen reader comes in, but it won’t. The screen reader will help with finding certain puzzle and story-related interactables because a prompt appears to tell you to web pull something, or fire your webs at something, and I assume those will be narrated, but what about everything else? What about trying to get to those things in the first place? In all the Spiderman Games, we don’t really know when we should swing, or jump, or let Spiderman climb that wall we didn’t know we were standing in front of, or zip to a point, or zip to ground, or any of the zillion things Spiderman can do in this game. Even though it basically worked in the open, we were still just fumbling around, hitting the swing button and occasionally zipping to a point to get from place to place, but when you’re not swinging around, when you’re looking for a teeny tiny interactable that you must fine, that might be behind something, or even on a wall, how do we know what we should do to get to it? The answer is, we don’t. The game does give you tips now and then, letting you know for instance that if you press L2 and R2 you will zip to point, or zip to the ground depending on where you are, but that isn’t actually telling you that you need to do those things right now, it is just telling you that you can do them. The only reason I got any of these prompts, by the way, is that I played with the new refreshable OCR feature in NVDA, which was constantly scanning the screen for me and trying to read something whenever it appeared. It was imperfect, but it kind of worked.
And speaking of audio queues, there is even a problem with the ones that exist. The game never teaches you what any of them mean. It’s nice they’re there, but the game just assumes you somehow just know what they mean instead of teaching you in any way. I asked my fiancé for help with a particular puzzle involving connecting some nodes via electric webbing. There was an audio queue that I figured out meant you were highlighting a node, (you get no help doing this BTW and must fling the camera around until you find it), but at one point I heard another audio queue I didn’t understand. I assumed, incorrectly as it turned out, that it was an audio queue that meant you had found the final node in the sequence. I just could not get it to work. Well, my fiancé helped me out and discovered that, from where I was currently standing, that node was blocked. So that’s what the audio queue meant. I was highlighting the correct node, but something was in the way, so all my attempts to attach a web to it were for naut. Nothing told me this. This is just one example, and while I admit it is possible to figure out through trial and error what some queues mean, there are some I still do not understand even though I passed the parts where they played. This is a huge problem, but just another one of many.
Remember how I mentioned how nav assist doesn’t work so well in buildings? This presents direct progression problems in story quests like Heal the World, during which you are in a seemingly quite large building for most of the quest. Look at Waypoint is almost no help here, seemingly constantly guiding you back to the same spot over and over. But that’s not the only problem with Look at Waypoint either. It also does not do well when you have multiple targets. During the same quest I referenced, Heal the World, you are at one point asked to explore. This in game speak is code for “interact with things until the story moves on.” Look at Waypoint doesn’t help you with this even a little bit, because there is no one waypoint. I will admit I did pass this quest, but it took me, (and I mean this), hours. Oh yeah, folks, I flailed at this game, trying desperately to succeed. I had to wander around, desperately hoping I could find the things I was able to interact with and, once I had somehow managed to do that, wander some more until I could make my way to the spot I needed to reach to continue the story. You’d think this latter part would have been easier, right? Nope. Look at Waypoint tries to take you as the crow flies, so it doesn’t consider little insignificant things like stairs.
These problems combined are the reason that I failed to complete not just one, but multiple side quests. Imagine attempting a side quest in which you end up having to defuse multiple bombs, each of which is in a different area. Oh yeah, and you’re being timed. The funny thing is, I bet the devs thought the time allotted was reasonable, as you are given several minutes for something that, in reality, would not take several minutes to explode. Trust me on this. But when Look at Waypoint utterly fails to take you to each site, you find yourself failing the quest over, and over, and over again because you simply cannot reach all of them in time. I managed to complete exactly 1 sidequest, but even that one required more struggling inside of a building with no assistance whatsoever.
That said, there IS a positive here. The friendly neighborhood Spiderman app, which both Peter and Miles can use in this game, is menu-based, and shows all your available side quests. Selecting one can track it, and then you can use the fact that nav assist works out in the open to get to it. I think, though, that there is some button I am not aware of that resets your waypoint to your main story quest, because while using the app to track side quests worked multiple times, it also didn’t work at least twice. I attempted to track a side quest, and then somehow ended up doing the main story. This may be cleared up via the screen reader, but for now I’ll mention it here. Either way, the way the Friendly Neighborhood Spiderman App works is a positive, and if it, too, is narrated, it will be a huge positive.
So full disclosure, I did manage to get through quite a few hours of this game. I’m talking game hours, not realtime hours here because you already know I spent multiple hours on 1 quest alone. But I did manage to reach what I would suggest is a pretty significant turning point in the story, though at the same time, I didn’t get far enough to have defeated any of the main villains, so take that how you will I suppose. The point is that I did make progress, and so if you play this game, you likely will too, but how much progress you make depends entirely on what struggles you are willing to endure to make it. Heck, I’m not saying it’s impossible to get past the point I’m currently stuck on, but there’s nothing helping you do that as a blind person, so it would be yet another struggle.
I think, though, that this brings us to the biggest discussion of this review. This is the hard part, folks, and it’s one I don’t like. Get ready, because I’m about to get emotional and heavy on you.
As you know by now, a patch will be arriving in December that will add a screen reader, and audio descriptions. Pretty cool, right? Except… Is it? Look where we are now given the things I have told you so far in this review. I cannot recommend that a blind person purchases this game. This game does not fall under my idea of fully playable, let alone fully blind accessible. Again, I say this after flailing for hours, trying to find a way I could put it at least under the fully playable banner. I just can’t. And that hurts me. You may think I’m being overdramatic, but I’m not.
How cool is it that an entire Spiderman game is going to be fully audio described? A big open adventure with tons of side content and such… Wow! Isn’t that cool? Yeah, on one level it is. But what does it mean when the totally blind cannot play that audio described adventure? I understand that the totally blind aren’t the only ones who use narration, or even audio description, but moving further and further away from the totally blind, the possibility of those features being used gets smaller and smaller. I am not saying there is no value in these things, not at all. Even some fully sighted people use audio description for various reasons, though many of those have previously applied to other forms of media, and there are quite a few reasons one might use narration. Still, the messaging seemed almost targeted. These 2 features, (screen narration and audio description), were the accessibility features that leaked out, and that didn’t help either, as it made us feel like we, the totally blind, should get ready to be welcomed into the Spiderman fold. I do still believe that, if this game contained more accessibility features for the totally blind, the impact of both these features would be much, much more significant. So what does it mean when I cannot recommend the totally blind purchase this game, possibly even after the December patch? It means the feature doesn’t get as much use as might have been expected to justify its inclusion. Feature usage data is tracked by a LOT of games these days, and it can help determine which features are included in future games, or improved in existing ones. The people who track this data are probably going to see that the audio description feature the team worked so hard to implement isn’t being used enough based on some projection somewhere, and may make a decision to eithe rnot include, or work so hard on, such features in the future, both on this game and in later ones. Worst of all, my recommendation to not purchase the game may very well be a part of the reason why.
But I have to be honest. I just have to. And to me, the inclusion of the screen reader and audio description in December sends one of the most mixed messages I have ever heard from a game developer. On one hand, it’s like they’re saying “Here! Here is a screen reader, and full audio description for this game! Welcome blind community! We’re so happy to have you playing Spiderman 2!” But with the extreme lack of commitment to improving other features and adding things that would enable the totally blind to actually play their game, they’re actually saying “Ha! Just kidding! We wanted to dangle this toy in front of you for a bit so you could admire how shiny it is, but you’ll never hear even half of the audio description work we’ve done. Hahahaha!” I mean… What were they thinking? Do they truly believe that all blind people possess a pocket sighted person who will play their inaccessible game so they can hear audio descriptions? Because I hate to say it, we don’t all have that. I say this as someone with a sighted fiancé who likely WILL play the game with AD on for me. I just recognize that not everyone has that option.
That is why this hurts. And this is before we know how much the screen reader even covers. We could be looking at incomplete narration like God of War Ragnarok, which will send its own messages I suppose, but we just don’t know yet. What it boils down to is this. I did not work on this game, so I do not know what went into the decisions not to improve their other features to make their game fully blind accessible, but i do see this as a giant missed opportunity. The slogan of this game is “Be Greater Together.” If applied to accessibility, it could have the same connotations as XBox’s “When everyone plays, we all win.” We want to play too. We want to be great too. And it isn’t as if there hasn’t been feedback from their other projects to this effect. I sent Insomniac pages and pages worth of feedback on the other Spiderman games suggesting how they could fix Look at Waypoint and more, and I did this for free, (something I do not do often), because guess what? I really, really want to play Spiderman. I have been scratching and clawing at Insomniac for years, hoping desperately I’ll get them to work with me because guess what? I really, really want to play Spiderman. During my time with this review copy, I DID have some fun, I DID experience some really cool moments, and I could see myself falling absolutely and wholly in love with this game… if it was actually blind accessible. It’s not, and the late inclusion of screen reader and audio description kind of feels like a slap in the face and a middle finger. Again, we don’t know the whys of all this. To be honest, we probably never will. But the drawback of the secrecy that exists in game development is that these raw emotions will remain raw for a lot of people, honestly including myself, because, again, I really, really want to play Spiderman, and it sucks to know that I just can’t. Not really. Not the same way millions all over the world will.
So, here’s the final breakdown. If you decide to purchase Marvel’s Spiderman 2 as a totally blind gamer, you WILL make SOME progress. If you are determined, you will make SOME more progress. If you want the full experience, though, full story, all the side quests, I’m afraid you’re pretty much out of luck. However, IF you still want to do it to get as much out of it as you can, go ahead, but I will recommend you at least wait until December. I played the game using refreshable OCR in NVDA to read things on the screen, which was absolutely part of the reason I had as much success as I did, so the screen reader WILL help in that way. And of course then you have audio description as well, which will certainly be a boon for as long as you manage to play the game. Thanks for reading this. I mean that. Like I said, this was difficult to write, so thank you.