The Tangled Web: Marvel’s Spiderman 2 Revisited

The conversation around Marvel’s Spiderman 2 is a complicated 1, even more so after the patch that added audio description, a screen reader, and point of interest audio cues to the game. In this article, I intend to break down my thoughts on all this as best I can. I cannot promise to provide ultimate answers, most especially because I don’t believe they exist, but I want to discuss each part of this conversation as openly and honestly as I can, and reevaluate the game’s playability for a totally blind person. Let’s begin.

I want to start with the audio description, because wow do I have a lot to say about it. Much of this I said during my Spiderman Revisited stream, which you can find archived here, but I wanted to write it all out as well, so here goes.
Firstly, Spiderman 2, without a doubt in my mind, represents the current highest and best standard for audio description in video games. Nearly every single cinematic moment is audio described, even the ones surrounded by gameplay and quicktime events. In fact, the transition between gameplay and cinematic is so smooth every single time that it sometimes feels like your live gameplay is being described, even though it isn’t. There are just tiny moments wherein you have control which cannot be described, but since those moments are surrounded by cinematics that are described, it creates an unbelievable blend that I’ve never been able to appreciate as much as I can now. It’s truly a tremendous feat, and absolutely a step forward for video games, for accessibility, for audio description… It’s magical. More of this, please.
That is only half the story, however, and I need to discuss the other half as well. Due to the game’s questionable-at-best playability by the totally blind, Marvel’s Spiderman 2 has another interesting distinction, and this one’s more unfortunate. Since I cannot say that the game is fully blind accessible, which we’ll talk more about as we continue on, then Marvel’s Spiderman 2 represents the first piece of audio described media which, in spite of that, remains inaccessible to the totally blind. This, I believe, is where the majority of my initial, admittedly overemotional reaction to the game came in. I’ll explain with some context.

Audio description was originally created for the blind, to provide them better access to various types of media. Plays and sporting events, concerts, TV, movies, and so on. However, much like many other accessibility considerations, the value of audio description went beyond its original purpose. Much as subtitles were created for the deaf, and are now widely used by the majority of consumers, audio description was used by more than just the blind. It is now used by those with cognitive impairments, for example, as having something described to you can be a great way to keep track of a complex plot. It is even used by a few completely able folks I know of because they’ve discovered it enables them to watch shows or movies while also doing something else. I spoke to one person who said they turn on audio description if they’re doing the dishes, but want to keep watching their show. All these things are awesome. You love to see considerations like this finding their way into the mainstream. However, this isn’t without its growing pains, which I admit to having felt. I’ll do my best to convey what I mean, and I hope you can understand.

All my life, audio description has been a blind person thing. It has been the thing that gives me, and other blind people, access to more and more things as the years have gone by. It’s now easy to find audio described content, so much so that I honestly feel spoiled by it. If something was audio described, then we, the blind, would definitely, without question, have as much access to it as anybody else. For a while, this even held true for video games, as every game which contained audio description was also fully blind accessible. So in truth, we WERE spoiled. We were spoiled by never having to consider the fact that audio description is used by more than just us. You could call it selfishness, and maybe to some extent it is. We should all be better about considerations for others. But it doesn’t come from a place of malice. It simply comes from the fact that, for the longest time, audio description meant access for us. Pieces of media that could be considered inaccessible to us, (movies with very little dialog for instance), became fully accessible with audio description. Even when we started seeing audio described video game trailers, we understood the access we were getting. It made sense that the trailer was the trailer and the game was the game, and while the game might not be fully accessible, the trailer was, and it served its own purpose. Marvel’s Spiderman 2 was the very first thing to ever throw a wrench into that idea. And I really do mean ever. After years and years of consuming audio described content, always knowing that if it was described, we could consume and appreciate it at the same level as everybody else, we finally couldn’t. And that is why I reacted as I did, because man oh man, that’s a hard pill to swallow. I think it was for a lot of us.

And yet… Oh and yet… It is done so, so well, and I definitely cannot ignore that. Like I said, it’s best in class for video games. Both Descriptive Video Works and Insomniac Games deserve huge props for how well written and how well implemented it is. AD Narrator Chris Coburn deserves props too for his performance, as it is just spot on. If I were in Canada, I would try to arrange a meeting just so I could shake that man’s hand. Anyway, I think you get it. It’s very, very good, and the existence of AD in the game is wonderful regardless of its playability. As I said, a true step forward in both industries. Remember what I said about complicated conversations and no easy answers? Yeah, this is what I meant.

Spiderman 2’s screen reader implementation is shockingly good, especially for something that was patched in post-launch. The main menu, the full options menu, tutorial messages, button prompts, and even skill trees are narrated fairly well. In fact, the very few complaints I have about this screen reader implementation are really just knitpicks. For example, it identifies the list type too often. I don’t need to know I’m in a vertical list after every option I highlight. There also appear to be a very few select button prompts it doesn’t read for some reason. But all these are very small potatoes. This is a great game screen reader, and it does help the game get that much closer to total blind playability.

The POI navigation audio queue brings the game closer still to full blind playability. Now, you have a positional audio indicator of your current waypoint or, if there is none, the next story mission. The queue also plays at different speed depending on how close you are to that waypoint. This is helpful in multiple ways. For example, I did a quest where I had to find 3 specific objects. When I attempted this same quest for my original review of the game, I had so little clue as to where these objects were that I flailed around for a bit before finally abandoning the quest. The new audio queue, however, told me they were in fact right near my current position. I was easily able to find them and deal with them as the quest required.

Even crazier, though, the POI indicator is treated as a sound source within the game world, not separate from it. This means it can echo and reverberate, which has also proven helpful. At one point, I was meant to crawl into a vent, and as it turns out, the POI indicator was reverberating from the vent I needed to crawl into, helping me find it even though the waypoint itself was further along inside the vent. It’s very impressive, and very helpful.

All of this sounds great, but remember how I kept saying that I can’t call this game fully blind accessible. This is because there are still a few issues. Missions that have no waypoint, for example, or missions that do have a waypoint in one specific spot, but you are required to find things that exist in other parts of the area, some very far away from that waypoint. Also, the navigational assist doesn’t function well in doors, because it is definitely intended more for navigation that allows you to go as straight as possible toward your objective, like swinging through the city. This problem also makes multiple missions way more difficult than they should be, even with the tremendous assistance of the screen reader and POI navigation.

And yet… Yes, we’re coming back to “And yet…” Because the highs of Marvel’s Spiderman 2 are so, so high. Incredible audio description, a screen reader that allows us to progress our characters and reads pretty much every button prompt, including those in quicktime events, some specific missions that are actually just buttery smooth in how they work, some specific sequences that actually do succeed in making even us feel like Spiderman for a while… And that’s only talking specifically about accessibility. The game is undeniably a masterpiece on its own merits as well. The audio design, the incredible performances from every single cast member, the seamless transitions, the truly fast fast travel, everything combines to make me say “And yet…’ I wrote a post the day before sitting down to write this article where I said that I now believe Marvel’s Spiderman 2 is ALMOST, ALMOST worth it even for a totally blind person. If you have the patience for its more troublesome bits, or if you have hope that those might be improved in future patches, then maybe you should give Marvel’s Spiderman 2 a shot. There’s no denying that finishing a big mission, or even sometimes just voluntarily stopping a crime, feels incredibly rewarding. But still, if you aren’t willing to work for potentially multiple hours on some missions, and if you also don’t have any sighted assistance readily available to you, I would say maybe hold off on this one. Again, see what I mean? No concrete answers here, just a complicated conversation.

I feel like this article is a lot. It certainly is to me. I truly hope I’ve done something to help break down the blind accessibility conversation in a way that makes sense to everyone. I am currently personally having a lot of fun with Spiderman 2, absolutely loving its highs, and dealing with its lows, but I know not everyone will agree. This is definitely the closest an Insomniac game has ever been to blind accessibility, and the masterful implementation of this patch leaves me extremely hopeful for the future, possibly even the future of this game, though of course there are no guarantees there. I guess a good way to summarize this article is this. I don’t always feel like Spiderman when playing this game, but now, well… Sometimes I do.


  1. Planet mark says:

    I think the real question is is it worth buying? and I think as we agreed, on Twitter, it is about as accessible as God of War ragnarok, although Spider-Man two improves in some areas. I always judge it off forgetting all the side missions and all the extra stuff, in terms of the main story can it be played completely accessibly, which, as you answered, the answer is no, but The majority can be with only a few little bits needing assistance like with god of war then I certainly think it is one of the ones we can add to the slowing growing list of accessible games, all be with a few caveats if you would agree?

    1. Brandon Cole says:

      Yes, I would agree with that statement at this point. It’s truly an amazing game, and so nearly fully accessible that many will just consider it so.

  2. slj says:

    I have completed the main story as a blind gamer. A guide has been written for the two missions which are not accessible so we can do those as well. If you have enough patience, I’ll say the game is totally worth it. I have had so much fun playing the main story, and I’m not done yet.

    1. Brandon Cole says:

      Congratulations my friend! I’m actually nearly done with the main story myself in an off-stream playthrough, so I agree that, with the help of guides for those specific missions, it is worth it. Such a wonderful game.

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