Spider-Man: Miles Morales Review – PS5’s Killer App?

Before getting into the review proper, it’s probably worth establishing exactly what Spider-Man: Miles Morales is, aside from obviously being a video game about a Spider-Man. Even Sony and Insomniac didn’t seem to know exactly what this was when they revealed it, leaving loads of people trying to determine if it was going to be a sequel, a spin-off or an expansion pack. Officially they’ve called it a standalone game, I’d say it’s a standalone-expansion. It acts as a sequel in that it does follow on from the events of 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man, but it’s a much smaller experience that focuses on Miles Morales’ journey as he figures out not just how to be Spider-Man, but also how to be his own Spider-Man and not a copy of the original. Arguably, it could have been launched as a chunky add-on for 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man. But in the end, I’m glad Miles Morales got his own game, and I’m glad we got a hell of a PS5 launch title out of it.

If you don’t know who Miles Morales is then I’m going to assume you’ve been living under a very large rock, because he hit mainstream media in the brilliant Spider-Man: Into The Multiverse, from which this game seems to draw some heavy inspiration. For me, I was introduced to Miles the very first time he appeared in the pages of Ultimate Spider-Man, replacing that universe’s Peter Parker who died at the hands of the Green Goblin in a genuinely touching moment. That’s also where I stopped reading because Miles Morales annoyed me as a character. Quite honestly, that’s because I felt he was pointlessly replacing Spider-Man with…Spider-Man. His personality was lacking, and it came across more like the writers wanting a new, black superhero without having to do the work of properly establishing one so they just shoved him in as Spider-Man.

Available On: PS4, PS5
Reviewed On: PS5
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Sony

Skip forward to 2020, and Iike Morales more than I did, largely thanks to Into the Multiverse being so damn good, but I still don’t like having multiple Spider-men sharing the same universe. It seems like a redundant idea. That’s coloured my perception of Spider-Man: Miles Morales, because while I liked Miles and the story the game tells, at the back of my mind I constantly had the nagging feeling that Miles is superfluous, existing in a world that not only has a Spider-Man, but has THE Spider-man. The story likes to point out that Miles has every right to be Spider-Man as well, and it isn’t wrong, but…well, that nagging doubt was always in my head. Perhaps Miles would have been better off in his own universe where he could be THE Spider-Man, and not just A Spider-man.

The story is considerably shorter than 2018’s Spider-Man which gives it a tighter, quicker feel, running at about 8-10 hours, plus a few more if you want to do everything. It’s also a more personal story as Miles not only figures out who he is as Spider-Man, but also has to come into conflict with loved ones. As the game opens we get to see Miles just walking through the streets of Harlem, soaking in the sights and helping out a couple of people along the way. It’s drastic tonal shift from the first game where we had Peter leaping out of a window, and sets up the idea that Spider-Man: Miles Morales is going to focus more on Miles being the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man who’ll help find a lost cat or locate a stolen car.

To avoid OG Spider-Man overshadowing Miles in the plot, Peter announces that he and MJ are going out of the country for a while on a working vacation, leaving the inexperienced Miles in charge of defending New York and its people. The life of a Spider-Man is never easy, so a classic Spider-Man foe with a twist makes an appearance: The Tinkerer. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the Roxxon company is up to no good as well, headed up by Simon Krieger, played by the infinitely talented Troy Baker.

While I remain unconvinced that we need Miles Morales sharing a world with Peter Parker, the story itself and Miles as a character both succeeded wonderfully. There are a few plot elements that bug me (Tinkerer consistently smacking Spidey around was weird) but for the most part the emotional elements hit hard, and the big twist is actually revealed early on, giving Insomniac plenty of time to properly explore it. Sometimes it feels like the game is trying to ignore Peter Parker by doing things like having a crowd of people claim Miles as “their” Spider-Man, which kind of makes it sound like Peter hasn’t been saving their asses for years, but I think Insomniac is trying to take the classic friendly “neighbourhood” element of the Spidey character and attach that to Miles for now, while OG Spider-Man tackles the bigger stuff.

Overall, it’s a damn fine story that had me invested and wrapped up very nicely. Perhaps in the true sequel we’ll swap between Pete and Miles, which could be good because if they’re going to be in the same universe then developing an interesting relationship between them will be key.

The basic structure of Spider-Man: Miles Morales sticks close to the original game. New York city has essentially been copied and pasted over, but that’s understandable because what could they really do? Still, it has been spruced up a bit visually (more on that later) and given a coating of snow and ice. There’s a handful of smaller side-missions you can complete that all focus on helping out the citizens of Harlem, helping to give Miles a closer relationship with city than Peter had in his game, and completing them all pays off nicely later in the story. There’s also the usual collectibles that add some extra depth to the narrative and some awesome Spider suits to unlock. And then there’s the enemy bases to tackle, as well, and all the random crimes that can occur.

Swinging through New York felt spectacular already so it’s hardly surprisingly that Insomniac pretty much left it alone. Its been two years since I last went web-slinging, and I almost forgot how orgasmically amazing it feels to swing, leap, bounce, wall-run and dive through the city. Peter has been rocking the Spider-Man outfit for years, and when he swings around the city it’s poetry in motion, a man that knows what he can do and how to do it perfectly. But Miles is new to spandex and to the web-slinging and it shows in his animations. His arms flail around like he’s trying to swat at wasps and his legs windmill like they’re trying to find grip in mid-air. And he occasionally looks like he’s trying to emulate those classic Spider-Man poses but can’t quite do it. These extra details really help to differentiate Miles from his mentor, and show Insomniac’s dedication because they could have so easily copied and pasted the swing animations from the 2018 game.

They’ve reworked the soundtrack to fit Miles too, bringing in loads of hip-hop. Personally, I’m not a huge hip-hop fan, but it works perfectly here because it layers Miles’ personality into the game at every turn. Hell, I even enjoyed the I’m Ready track featuring Jaden Smith, despite actively disliking mumble-rap. It doesn’t match up to the Leap of Faith sequence from Spider-Man: Into the Multi-Verse, but it’s still god.

Punching people is still as important as ever and the vast basics of combat are unchanged, so you hammer away on square to attack or hold it down to launch people into the air, tap triangle to web over to foes or hold it to yank things out of their hand, and use circle to dodge incoming attacks.

Compared to Peter, Miles doesn’t use a lot of tech when he’s fighting, taking just four gadgets into combat that include his webshooters. But Miles boasts some tricks that Pete doesn’t that lets him bring a little extra spark to his fighting in the form of his electric Venom attacks that can not only deal a lot of damage but can also stun opponents. HoldingL1 triggers a nice little wave of vibration across the DualSense controller, a tingle that indicates Miles is crackling with power and ready to go. From there’s it’s just a case of pressing the right face buttons to unleash some hurt. You start off with a straight Venom punch, but before long you’ve got a powerful move that launches groups of bad guys into the air, a ground pound move and a satisfying, long-range Venom powered lunge. Your usage of these moves is neatly balanced. The meter builds up fast enough that they are a constant core part of your moveset, yet you can’t just spam them. And they add some seriously visual flair that the gadgets in 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man never had.

The game’s shorter length and Miles’ new powers both do a good job of keeping the combat fun. As much as I enjoyed punching baddies in the face in Marvel’s Spider-Man, after a while it did start to grow repetitive and tiring. Spider-Man: Miles Morales wrapped up before any sense of repetition could set in, which I appreciated.

It isn’t just straight fights where Miles can flex his fancy super-powers, but in stealth as well. For the most part sneaking around is unchanged. You chill out in the rafters or dangle from the ceiling and casually pick off unsuspecting chumps who really need to learn to look up. Just like before, there’s a Batman: Arkham vibe to how stealth areas play out, albeit without that same feeling of being a predator. But Miles’ new trick is to turn invisible, letting you be extra aggressive or acting as a good way to regain stealth if and when you mess up. You can employ it in a regular fight just to confuse the crap out of enemies, too.

The PS5 offers two modes for playing Spider-Man: Miles Morales. The first is fidelity which locks the game at 30FPS and gives you all the visual bells and whistles like ray-tracing. Quite simply, the game is bloody beautiful when you take a moment to just soak it all in. Clinging to the side of the building reveals detailed reflections and incredible lighting bouncing off the glass, while the improved draw distances and vastly increased amounts of traffic and pedestrian’s help make New York feel more alive and vibrant.

The other mode is called performance, and while it means losing some things like ray-tracing, the trade-off is buttery smooth 60FPS. Once you experience those extra frames while swinging through the snowy streets of New York it’s hard to go back to the fidelity mode, no matter how shiny it looks.

Whichever mode you go for, Spider-Man: Miles Morales looks amazing and a solid step-up from the 2018 Spider-Man. The choice to set the game during winter is like giving the entirety of New York a fresh coat of paint, instantly making it feel and look different to swinging through New York in 2018. The increase in draw distance, traffic and people is in both modes, too, so the city just feels bigger now and more real. It makes me really excited to see what Insomniac can do with a true PS5 exclusive Spider-Man game that can utilize everything the PS5 has to offer without also needing to make sure the game can run on the PS4.

Of course, I can’t not talk about what SSD in the PS5 does to the load times. From hitting play on the dashboard to actually being in-game takes roughly 15-seconds, and fast travelling is a case of fade out to black, fade back in. It’s almost enough to make me want to use fast-travel and not swing. Almost. Swinging is still so damn good that I only fast-travelled after the credits had rolled and I was mopping up collectibles.

I think overall Spider-Man: Miles Morales is actually a better game than its predecessor thanks to smart improvements in a few key areas. And yet, I also still personally prefer Marvel’s Spider-Man for two reasons: I grew up with Peter Parker and feel a deeper affiliation with him, and because the 2018 game had the element of surprise on its side. With Miles Morales, we knew what we were in for and because of that it can’t quite displace the original in my heart. This is also a smaller game that’s essentially just more of 2018’s Spider-Man as well, which isn’t a bad thing, but if you were hoping for the next, true chapter in the series then this isn’t it.

The Good

  • Great story.
  • Improved combat and stealth.
  • Swinging around is still awesome.
  • Looks amazing regardless of mode.

The Bad

  • More of the same, mostly.
  • Collectathon activities are a bit meh.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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