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Marvel's Spider-Man 2: Accessibility Update Review

Disclaimer

The copy of the game used for this review was provided by the publisher at no cost to the reviewer.

Introduction

You may have heard that Spider-Man 2 isn't accessible. At least, that was the case last year when the game launched and I gave my first impressions. With the game at the time lacking both a screen reader/menu and UI narration, as well as audio description, two key features I would argue are crucial to getting a more complete experience without sight, I was interested to see where things might go from here, especially if navigation was also improved into the bargain.

After waiting for a while, in part with bated breath and partially being concerned that not everything that needed to improve would necessarily be able to be covered, nearly 5 months on from the original launch, Insomniac Games have published what I'm terming as "the big accessibility update". I'm calling it this because even though there are numerous other fixes that accompany the two previously mentioned features, Key elements for me are what was termed as "screen reader" (the game's menu narration implementation) and the audio description provided by industry stalwarts Descriptive Video Works (DVW).

But the real question is, in 2024, just how playable and accessible is Spider-Man 2 as a gamer without sight and what else has been done to improve the experience?

First Boot

Having run the game before, I was curious to see what would happen on launching the new patch for the first time. I was greeted, somewhat surprisingly, by the game announcing the title and telling me to press cross to start. All in all, a promising first introduction as it meant that I didn't have to turn on narration through either a set of menu commands, waiting for a long time, or some other method.

Following the prompts, I proceeded to select a save slot, then a difficulty level (as I was using an empty game file), and, I'm pleased to say, adjust absolutely everything in terms of settings.

A quick note on save files, when selecting one, I was pleased to see that it did also read the associated difficulty level, completion percentage and current character level. However, it did not read an important aspect for me, which was time played and when the save was last performed. With this information it's possible to figure out which save you last played on and when without having to keep a list of numbers in your head especially if, like me, you are in the habit of having multiple playthroughs going at once.

Though the screen reader system is what I can only describe as "very chatty", in that it lists button prompts, where you are in the lists of options and repeats itself (though the latter is thankfully customisable), I was overall extremely impressed at the level of detail I was seeing here... and we hadn't even begun playing the game yet.

You heard that right, you can customise the time it takes for the screen reader to repeat itself, including via an option that allows you to have it automatically double the repeat delay every time it does so up to 60 seconds. I think it would be good to see this kind of repetition adjustment become more common, personally, as well as the ability to adjust the types of information conveyed during navigation. We've already seen titles look at being able to customise how lists are read (for instance if the number of the item you're on is narrated), which, given the amount of settings here would be good to see as something the player can choose to have narrated or not.

Previous documentation seemed to imply that the screen reader would only cover the settings menu, tutorials and the "boot screen" (thanks Dexerto for the archived information), so it was a little unclear what would actually read from this point onwards, other than what we'd already seen and tutorials of course. This was particularly confusing as, when I return to an official blog post published around the launch of the game, I saw differing details, so it is possible these had come from two differing unrelated sources.

But worries aside, it was time to test just what this system does in-game for myself.

New Game, New Experience

On clicking new game, having configured everything to my liking as best I could, I was greeted by the audio description track, blending into the mix as if it were there all along. Let's focus on that for a second.

What Is AD?

Audio Description (or AD) for the uninitiated is a secondary audio track that describes actions, character gestures, facial expressions and the like in between gaps in dialogue and around the other sound effects, to allow those who choose to use the feature to get all those subtle details that you might otherwise miss and follow events without needing to utilise visuals at all. You could, for instance, have a totally silent sequence with just music and, because of the AD, you would know precisely what's going on as slow motion action unfolds around you.

How Good Is This Game's Implementation?

This game, thankfully, is no exception but, unlike The Last Of Us Part I and II remasters which only covered cutscenes (or cinematics to use their terminology), takes its implementation one step further by adding descriptions for quick time events (QTEs) as well.

This means that, for certain cinematic moments where you are actually required to press buttons or otherwise interact with the game , you are able to do so, but also know what significant events are playing out in front of you as you swing into action.

This also includes QTEs that might have differing outcomes depending on failing individual parts, as I discovered in a later live stream where it was pointed out by Jennissary (who not only works at Descriptive Video Works (DVW) but also was involved in a large portion of this game's AD script).

All of these AD sequences are fantastically executed, making for an even greater sense of immersion, involvement and impact, as well as, of course making you feel included in what is, without a doubt, another culturally relevant and popular gaming experience much like the first game when that released in 2018.

As much as the audio description and menu narration are great though, a big question is probably still on your mind:

How Far Did I Progress?

In a quick test run from that fresh save, I managed to get through the opening fight first try, through various navigational elements, including prompts that were narrated by the screen reader as well (to my surprise), and through two sets of combat encounters all with no issue. Purchasing skills, gadgets and adjusting settings, as well as reading the tutorials required no sighted assistance. The skill trees and various other menus in that set like abilities and upgrades also read, which allowed me to look through not only the descriptions for skills, but how to perform certain types of moves, which proved useful as I swung around the city and got involved in apprehending villains.

Though I managed to get through multiple missions back to back, learning how navigation worked (more on that a little later) and figuring out how to use the map to locate side objectives where I could though it wasn't necessarily easy, the mission I got truly stuck on, as I think many other people might if they get this far, is one simply titled Make Your Own Choices. This sees you encountering an old ally of sorts, with them under threat from the game's antagonists. Sadly, though you can get a fair way in, there is a puzzle that requires you to aim at targets that you have no sound cue for and, though the enhanced auto-aim will find them, it can take a significant amount of time to get through and even for sighted players it can be extremely confusing to pass this.

This puzzle relies on electrical nodes, if anyone is interested in knowing what to look up or keep an ear out for, but this definitely constitutes what was termed as a "hard blocker". As a result, I got sighted assistance whilst undertaking the mission as part of a live stream. After that though, I got through most of the rest of the mission without much trouble, save for one instance where the game decided to send me, not for the first time unfortunately, around in a loop.

Sadly, following that experience, there are other instances where a lack of waypoints or audio to navigate to can be a real problem after that, however, meaning that you'll still potentially need assistance or massive amounts of patience to get through more of the story or side content.

Just to put this out there, should Insomniac or anyone else working in games wish to discuss my experiences in greater detail than this review, I would be more than happy to oblige, much as with any other game or product I review and my willingness to talk with its developers.

Navigation

POI Audio Indicator

Under the audio settings, you'll find an interesting new option that enables spatialised audio outputs, controlled in terms of volume by the UI volume slider. I'd seen this and was interested to see how it worked, though unfortunately you can't preview what these sound like in actuality within the settings menu itself.

The POI Feature In Action

I wasn't sure how the POI feature would work in practice, especially given there was no preview. However, I needn't have worried, as it acts as an auditory locator beacon, with a clicking sound increasing in speed indicating your proximity to the objective. This system allows for agency and an understanding of where you have to go, without relying exclusively on an automatic turning system (unless you want to turn look at waypoint on which I'd recommend for a more fluid experience personally. It's a good step forward even if it doesn't clearly indicate the need to wall run etc just yet for instance.

This system also uses 3d audio to indicate whether the waypoint is above or below you and, though it took me some adjusting to and I wasn't comfortable with the overreliance on this for vertical traversal, I did begin to get the hang of it. The cue itself felt like it stood out but wasn't annoying, something I'm sure the sound design and other teams involved with its implementation will be pleased to hear.

Thumb Fatigue

The only problem with the waypoint system in general, including with the current version of the POI Indicator is that you have to repeatedly press R3 to get the cue to trigger. Whether you're trying to look at the waypoint manually or having the game automatically turn for you, it's still very much an issue as you'll be doing this numerous times even throughout a single mission. Being able to have the cue play constantly without the need for player intervention would certainly prevent numerous strains and sprains on the part of players using these features and make for an overall smoother navigational flow.

More Combat Thoughts

Having played Spider-Man 2018 and Miles Morales with sighted assistance, combat felt very familiar to me, with the sound design being impactful alongside the use of appropriately weighty DualSense haptics as well.

However, that doesn't mean it was a perfect experience. Even being able to choose my own skills and customise my build to my liking within reason in terms of what I can do during combat scenarios, the fact remains there are no audio cues for incoming attacks. This means, in practice, that those that don't have a wind-up are impossible to parry, even if you have the timing set to increased, as sometimes there will be no information from the screen reader itself either to indicate these attacks are coming at you. The prompts from the screen reader for pull, dodge etc though, when they do appear, are extremely useful as they mean that you wouldn't need someone else to tell you when those prompts are available, further increasing player agency and making you feel like your'e in control at all times. Having audio equivalents for these interactions could not only make the player less reliant on the screen reader implementation (which does not allow you to adjust its rate of speech) but could also make for more fluid interactions with both enemies and the environment. I do also, however, understand that this could be a fair amount of extra work.

The Fail Forward Scenario

If you're unfamiliar, there's an interesting idea of the "fail forward" state. This is where, even if you fail to fully complete a task to 100 percent capacity, you are still progressed to the next sequence. Such states do exist in Spider-Man and you actually encounter one early on in the form of the first drone sequence. Whilst you can collect bonus XP from it (which would've been a great boost), you fail to find most of the path points but are still able to progress, even with simplify puzzles turned on.

Being able to reliably use navigation cues such as the ones we'll discuss soon would be a great solution to this particular type of puzzle.

Side Content?

There's actually a fair amount that you can do in terms of side missions, up to a point of course. This content includes combat challenges that you unlock as part of a mission after Make Your Own Choices, photo ops and memory crystal collectables, all of which have waypoints should you unlock them.

There's also another side mission that actually ties back to a character from the first game, with this mission itself simply titled "Howard". This mission does have licensed music so if you're playing on stream or with the setting to mute this on anyway, you'll want to re-enable it before you start that mission for the full effect.

The Missions Tab

A little while into my gameplay experience, I discovered a way to directly track missions, even if I couldn't find them on the map, thus minimising the amount of endless scrolling I had to do.

At least, that was the theory. In pressing the touchpad to get to the map screen, then pressing L1 a few times (depending on what stage you're at in the game itself), I realised that the missions tab did not, in fact, contain everything I was hoping for like Spider-Bots or other similar content that you can find throughout the game, that you're meant to explore the city for. It would've been great to see that kind of content, if already discovered by the player on the mini-map, also be present on the larger map as well to be more easily tracked for navigation. Having things in a selectable list like this would also help in general as then you wouldn't have to use a cursor at all, but that's a whole other discussion.

Vibration Settings

Interestingly, the visual accessibility preset enables only what it calls "functional" vibration. This means that, supposedly, you'd only get critical haptic information. However, this is actually a much less favourable option, as the "experiential" vibration that is standard gives you haptic information on traversal, such as when you're walking up the sides of buildings, which can be very useful for getting a sense of where you are, as well as immersive haptics for many sequences, cutscenes and the like. I'd recommend any gamers without sight turn on the experiential setting, as well as, in my personal opinion, turning off auto-healing as the vibrations you receive as a part of low health, coupled with the screen reader warnings, should give you a good indicator of when you are in need of a health top-up.

Summary

Pros

Cons

Conclusions

Marvel's Spider-Man two has taken a massive step forward, dare I say a leap, from where it was last year, reaching heights nobody I think was expecting when just the screen reader and audio description elements were first revealed as features to be added.

The additional navigation cue added with this update, though not flawless, meant I was able to achieve much more than at launch. Suffice it to say that this is the most fun I've had with a superhero game in a very long time, if not ever and that's all thanks to the accessibility changes we've seen in this single update.

If enough work goes into patching the elements that are blocking people from progressing or getting the full experience, Marvel's Spider-Man 2 would become my game of the year. Insomniac and the teams working with them on this endeavour have clearly put huge amounts of time, effort and most of all passion into this update and it shows. The fact that I'm kicking bad guy backside and swinging through the city, albeit a little clumsily, with full menu/UI narration and AD is itself fantastic, but the spectacular part is that I feel like I know where I'm going, I have a sense of progression and, even though I've needed sighted assistance, it's been far less than I'd anticipated originally.

I always get excited with a game like this that allows for this much agency, though I'm aware the pitfalls are still there to trap players who might hear about the game and want to try it for themselves. If the fine folks at insomniac are interested, I would certainly be happy to consult, chat through my own experiences and help where I can to make sure as many people can experience this masterpiece as possible.

Needless to say, I don't think this game's cycle of updates is done yet and I'm extremely intrigued and optimistic about the future of this and other genres going forward.

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