Between Star Wars Jedi and Spider-Man, ‘non-canon’ endings feel like an increasing rarity in the world of licensed games. We don’t get much choice in how stories unfold anymore, since so many developers are striving for a definitive cinematic experience. You don’t go to the theatre and take a vote to make Captain America side with Thanos. But games aren’t movies, and letting the player take control is a key part of how we experience them.
In 2008’s Web of Shadows, Spider-Man bonds with the Venom symbiote and rapidly becomes an immoral douchebag. He eventually breaks free and becomes the lovable wallcrawler, but we can push him to kill Eddie Brock instead. It’s completely out of character for Peter Parker and derails the narrative, but it isn’t canon so the developer was never beholden to it should a sequel ever have arrived. What it instead offered was an interesting glimpse into where the story could go if you shifted just a few pieces, answering those burning ‘what if?’ questions. We’re back to a symbiote story with Spider-Man 2, and I get the feeling that we’re going to be forced into choices by a narrative that turns off the controller the second cutscenes hit.
We’re only Peter so much that we control him between story beats. We don’t get a say in where he goes or what he does, only how he beats up thugs and wins the day. The symbiote offers a unique opportunity to expand on that, as we saw with Web of Shadows. During pivotal moments, we’d be asked to pick a path, signified by the black suit or the normal red and blue. The first was evil, the second good. If you stuck with evil, you’d get closer to Black Cat despite being with MJ on a moonlit rooftop, eventually infect her with the symbiote, and then kill Brock. Each cutscene had me cringing at Peter and all the horrible mistakes I’d made him make, but I pushed on because I was curious about what would happen if he never resisted the temptations of alien goo.
All we know about Spider-Man 2’s story is that Kraven is hunting vigilantes in New York City while Peter Parker has bonded with the symbiote. I’ve no idea what kind of choices he’ll have to make, but given that he’s still a mentor and partner to Miles Morales, the friction between the two is going to be heartbreaking. We also have Black Cat and Yuri Watanabe (Wraith), and how Peter interacts with both will be crucial. Watanabe is in a vulnerable spot—she was placed on administrative leave in the first game’s DLC, has become a vigilante of her own, and enjoys doling out truly final justice. The last thing she needs is a symbiote-addled Peter to give in to her vices.
Maybe the ‘canon’ path will be that Peter resists the symbiote and sees his darker side in Wraith, and helping her helps him curb his own growingly morbid thoughts. But then there’s the symbiote path, the one we could make. He pushes Wraith further into her spiral, encouraging her to become a pseudo-Punisher, which in turn worsens the grip the symbiote has on him. This could be Spider-Man 2’s equivalent to Web of Shadows’ crucial rooftop conversation with Black Cat. This could be the moment that starts the dominos falling to Peter crossing a line he can’t come back from, the non-canon ending.
Black Cat is also in the game, so it could be that a similar symbiote choice is presented outright in which we choose her over MJ. What the ramifications of this would be, I can only speculate, since we know so little about where Peter and MJ are at this point in the story and what her role will be in this game. All I know is that having these darker options leading up to its own ending would let Insomniac’s writers unpack the less glamorous side of each leading star, diving into their ideals, motives, and vulnerabilities in a way that the canon narrative otherwise can’t.
The symbiote can often feel like a gimmick, an easy way to conjure up a brooding Peter Parker that isn’t permanent or long-lasting. Adaptations have taken it a step further and used it to shape his world and relationships and dive deeper into his moral code, but also his susceptibility to power. He’s not perfect, and nothing represents that like the symbiote suit. But in the world of games, it opens up a completely unique avenue for storytelling that no other medium can capture, and Spider-Man 2 would be remiss not to leap at the opportunity.