What happens when a Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man becomes less friendly? Spider-Man 2, the much-anticipated sequel to Insomniac’s 2018 game, explores a Spider-Man with great power, but no responsibility. When Peter Parker is infected with the Venom symbiote, his morals go out the window, and Spider-Man becomes deadlier than ever. Forget Tobey Maguire dancing and forget the animated Spidey howling at Shocker – this symbiote Spider-Man means business.
To prepare for the game’s October 20 launch, Popverse had a chance to chat with Spider-Man voice actor Yuri Lowenthal. Not only did Lowenthal record lines for the game, but he also had a chance to play it, and he has thoughts. Lowenthal broke down the new gameplay elements, surprise characters, the Miles Morales element, and yes, the infamous Spider-Man black costume memes. What can we expect from Spider-Man 2? Let’s see what Lowenthal has to say…
Popverse: We’re approaching the release of Spider-Man 2.
Yuri Lowenthal: I just want people to be playing it already! Honestly, I just want the game to be out already so that I can stop keeping secrets. I'm just so excited for people to play the game. When I got a chance to see it about a month ago, it was better than I expected.
Have you gotten a chance to play it?
I did get a chance to play a little bit and see a little bit about a month ago. I’ve got to say, it was even better than I thought it was going to be, which was a nice surprise.
Based on what you played, would you say it's harder or easier than the first game?
I'm so terrible. I'm a bad judge of that. What I feel might be harder might just be me being terrible at the game. I famously 3% it and walked away the first time. My son wanted to start playing it recently and we've been playing it together and I've gotten much further along.
What were some of the things that impressed you during your playthrough?
I think a lot of it was just how smooth it was. We shoot a lot of the cinematics and often those are what I see before I see real gameplay. You get used to how good a cinematic looks. But the gameplay looked like what I used to think cinematics did. I think about how smooth it was and how amazing it looked even though it was not a cinematic was what stuck out to me.
It's amazing sort of where we've gotten to and the kinds of stories that we can tell and the time that they can afford to spend on building characters that you can attach to emotionally. We didn't used to have that. That was not afforded to us in the past. They just couldn't fit it in a cartridge or on a disk. There just wasn't room.
What was the biggest difference that you found between Spider Man 2 and the original?
Expectations. I mean, I was nervous about the first one just because it was Spider Man. You could say on one hand that the positive response to the first game should give you a little relief going to the second one, but I think the burden of expectations was high on this one. I really felt people reaching for the stars across the board. I think we all know at this point that Peter gets the symbiote and it changes him. And I think the biggest surprise for me was how hard it would be to make Peter mean. I mean, he's your friendly neighborhood Spider Man. He's always been that. He's always put other people first. When he gets deep down the road with the symbiote, he gets the extra power, and the responsibility is removed. It fundamentally changes him, and it was difficult. I've gotten into an easy place with Peter, and making him mean, selfish and violent was a lot more exhausting than I thought it would be.
Even though it was exhausting, were you able to have some fun with it?
Oh yeah! Every actor will tell you that they relish playing villains. When given the choice between playing a hero and a villain, every actor will say villain please.
Christopher Daniel Barnes and Tobey Maguire both got to completely feast with their symbiote Spider-Man performances. Hopefully you get that feast moment.
I do. And yet, Insomniac did not want it to become a parody. While this is a darker game, arguably more than the first one, humor is part of the core of Spider-Man. Some of that will be there, but they didn't want Pete affected by the symbiote to come off as a joke or are laughable. They took great pains to create this arc of Peter being affected by the symbiote and grounding it. I mean look, you know this game is going to spawn a million memes, but hopefully you'll feel for Pete as he's going down that road instead of laughing at him. You might laugh at him a few times.
No dancing in the street like Tobey?
No, that's why I had to do it at Comic-Con, because I needed to get it out of my system, and I know what the fans want. I had to do that. And that's why I didn't tell Insomniac or Sony what I was going to do before I did it. I was afraid they were going to say no.
Somebody is going to make a mod of that.
I'm sure. As soon as it gets ported to PC, 100%. Maybe before that.
The first game was a very intense one for Peter. When this game picks the story up, where is Peter mentally?
He's had some time to heal. This doesn't take place the next day or the day after the last game finished. I think Insomniac said it was about eight months. He's had some time to wrap his head around it, but a lot of that stuff still stings. But he's got plenty of things to take his mind off that. Harry Osborn comes back. He's got that friendship back. He's trying to rebuild that relationship because he's been away, and then of course he starts to learn about what took Harry away, and what's been going on and what the truth is. He's dealing with his growing relationship with MJ. and his relationship with Miles. As Miles really comes into his own, he might not need a mentor so much. In fact, he might actually have to at some point during the game help Peter back, and mentor Peter back to finding his way. There's a lot of stuff going on for him. I mean, it wouldn't be a Spider Man story if Peter Parker wasn't trying to figure out life and failing at every corner. This game is more even-handed between Peter and Miles, so you'll get great stories from both of them.
What kind of role does Miles play in Peter’s journey?
The relationship and the mentorship between Peter and Miles really comes into play and is really important in this new game. Taking the time to build that relationship was important. What Miles means to me, what being mentor means, and what being a good friend means, and how you could easily mess that up by going too light on it, getting a symbiote, and losing your perspective altogether. Or going too heavy on it. There is a time for Peter to realize that he doesn't have to mentor Miles anymore. Miles is his own man now and his own superhero, his own Spider Man. Building that relationship over the first game, and in the Miles game has definitely helped us get to the place that we needed to get to in this game.
From a gameplay perspective, what is it like switching between Miles and Peter?
One of the things that I've always found as a huge win for that first game is when I talk to people about the game they're like, "Yeah, I just finished. I'm getting ready for Spider Man 2. I just finished my 20th playthrough of the game." And I would go, "You played through the game 20 times?" And they would say, "Yeah, I'm going to try to squeeze one more in before the game comes out." I just love that it's the kind of game that you can go back to again and again and again. I think this next game adds a level to that. You can play through certain parts of the game first as Miles, and then as Peter, or vice versa, or switch back and forth along the way, and see how that changes things up. It really added a whole layer of playability to this. It's been cool. It's going to be a lot more surprising for me. because when I finally play the game, there's a lot that I won't know, just because it was Miles story. I'm very curious and eager to see how that affects people's playing of the game and their enjoyment of the game. I think there's a lot of stuff that you'll get that we had in the last game, and it's technologically better. There's some new stuff that Insomniac has added into the game that people didn't even know they wanted.
That's exciting. You're electrifying my brain in the best way. You mentioned Harry Osborn. Are there any other classic Spider-Man character showing up that you're able to tease?
Yeah, but I'd rather leave the surprises for when you play. I don't want to spoil anything. You will be getting some classic villains, but with the Insomniac turn on it, it won't be exactly the way you've seen it in the past. You're still going to have to stay on your toes. Regarding Harry, we know that he and Peter were friends from the first game, but we didn't really get to experience it, we didn't really get to see it. And so they've created some really interesting ways of getting you to spend time, real human moments, and not necessarily big tentpole scenes, although there are plenty of those in the game as well. You get to spend some time with them so that you do feel those tentpole moments later on. We know Pete and Harry are friends, but they've created a lot of places now where you get to build that relationship with Harry, and I love that.
The Internet has really latched on to the idea of a rematch between Spider-Man and Shocker with the symbiote due to a memed moment from the 1994 animated series.
I had totally forgotten about it! I watched a bunch of those episodes back in the day, but I don't even remember that, and it's come back with such a vengeance. The people need this, and I don't get it. I mean, it's hilarious, but I don't understand it. Do you understand it?
A little bit, because I was a kid when that show came out. That show was the genesis of my Marvel fandom. I remember that moment well.
They're demanding it. Unfortunately, I don't know that we'll make those people particularly happy if that's exactly what they want to see.
Maybe in a mod.
Yeah, oh for sure in a mod. And who knows, if this game does well, maybe we get a third one and maybe there'll be room for that. Who knows? Or there could be a whole DLC.
Let's do a 1994 style DLC where you just reenact all the memes.
I would love to do it if only to get in the room with Dave Mitchell, who is awesome. He played Shocker in the first game and I love him dearly. I would do it just to hang out with Dave and goof off.
Speaking of the internet, there was a controversy around the second game changing Peter's face. You came out on social media and brought up why the change worked.
I think pretty much everything that needs to be said about that has been said. It was a change they made to get better facial animation, and I'm all for that. I think the one thing that I love about the outrage is that it meant that people really connected emotionally to Peter. The thought of changing any of that upset a lot of people. My one sort of saving grace from the whole situation is that we did something right in getting people that emotionally attached to the character. Change happens, and some people are gonna be upset about it, that's inevitable. Hopefully you'll be able to see past it and love this new game.
As a voice actor, what lessons did you take from the first game that helped your performance for the sequel?
I'm very critical of myself in my work. One of the things that I built in the first game that really helped me in the second game was a trust of the other people that I was working with. I had to trust that they had the game and my best interests in hand, and that I wasn't going to mess anything up on my own. I was probably thinking with way too big a head that my part of this was so important that it could wreck a game. Realizing that so many people's work goes into a game like this, and that I'm not going to mess it up with any one thing that I do, and to trust them when they say they've got it.
Elevator pitch - you're in an elevator and you have 30 seconds to sell someone on playing this game. What do you tell them?
If you ever wanted to know what it feels like to be Spider Man, this is the game for you. If you've never wanted to know what it would feel like to be Spider Man, this is also the game for you, because it'll teach you that we're all Spider-Men. At the very least you'll get to swing around New York City, and have a good time. And who doesn't like Venom?
Spider-Man 2 is released October 20. Early reviews are pretty much positive across the board.