When Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales was originally revealed at the first PlayStation 5 games showcase in June, fans were surprised to be getting a follow-up so soon after Insomniac’s beloved 2018 Spider-Man game.
After all, the same developer was set to release another Spider-Man game within just two years — for next-gen hardware, no less. Moreover, the game was confirmed to focus on the younger Spider-Man introduced in the first game, Miles Morales, as opposed to Peter Parker.
As a result, there was skepticism that this wouldn’t be a full-sized experience, with some even going so far as to (prematurely) label the game a “side story.” Insomniac itself also tempered expectations for Miles Morales by likening it to Naughty Dog’s excellent but relatively short Uncharted spin-off, The Lost Legacy, in terms of scope.
However, after playing through Miles Morales, I can assure you that Insomniac was selling the game short — it’s much more expansive than The Lost Legacy. In fact, Miles Morales is a surprisingly dense experience chock-full of the fantastic gameplay and deeply personal storytelling that made the 2018 game so seminal, all while offering clever gameplay tweaks and a refreshingly different sense of style. Miles Morales is no side story — it’s every bit as meaningful as anything we’ve seen from Peter Parker.
New York’s only Spider-Man
Moderate story spoilers for Marvel’s Spider-Man below:
Picking up shortly after the events of Marvel’s Spider-Man‘s ‘The City That Never Sleeps‘ trilogy of downloadable story content, Miles Morales follows the eponymous teenager as he’s being trained by Peter to become Spider-Man. After a thrilling intro involving the two Spider-Men teaming up to stop a rampaging Rhino, Peter heads overseas to accompany Mary Jane on a work trip. Therefore, Peter entrusts Miles with looking after NYC, which soon becomes embroiled in a gang war between the shady Roxxon Energy Corporation and a high-tech criminal army called the Underground.
It’s an effective premise, as it physically removes Peter from the story to allow more freedom for Miles to be his own man. That’s not to say Peter is gone completely, though; he frequently calls to check up on Miles, while a sidequest line has Miles completing training programs by Peter (all voiced by returning great Spidey actor Yuri Lowenthal) and unpacks their engaging teacher-student relationship with ample doses of humour and charm.
Overall, Insomniac does a fantastic job in making Miles stand out from Peter. Where Peter is inherently more dorky and awkward outside of the costume, Miles is much cooler and street savvy — suave, even. Miles’ half-Black, half-Latino heritage manifests in many wonderful ways, such as the music he listens to at home or his small interactions in Spanish with his mother Rio. His identity also influences the game’s soundtrack, which is a brilliant marriage of the traditional sort of heroic orchestral sounds with a diverse assortment of hip hop beats — all of which give Miles Morales a marvellously distinct vibe.
On the other hand, Peter’s superhero experience makes him much more confident and skilled at crime-fighting, as opposed to Miles’ mounting insecurities and pressure over picking up the mantle of Spider-Man. Seeing him go through the growing pains of becoming a hero is a nice contrast to the refined Peter we’ve already seen. (All of that said, Peter’s new facial model is still jarring).
All of this serves to establish a poignant arc of self-acceptance for Miles that’s fully fleshed out over the course of the 12-hour story and brought to life through a stellar performance from Nadji Jeter. At the centre of Miles’ journey lies the enigmatic Tinkerer, a lesser-known Spider-Man comics villain. As it did with several villains in the 2018 game, Insomniac takes drastic creative liberties with the Tinkerer to make the character far more three-dimensional than ever before. To say more would give away the more gripping narrative beats, but suffice it to say that Tinkerer challenges Miles in deeply personal and emotional ways, not unlike how Peter himself had to struggle with his own mentor, Otto Octavius, in the original game. The story really only falls short with respect to Roxxon head Simon Krieger, who’s rather underdeveloped compared to the Tinkerer.
Does whatever a Miles can
Beyond the story beats, Insomniac has taken great pains into making Miles’ game feel different as well. On a broad level, Miles Morales features many of the same gameplay elements of the 2018 game, including the same open-world NYC and basic webslinging, combat and stealth mechanics. However, each of these areas has been fine-tuned to be more unique to Miles Morales. In terms of setting, NYC has been given a delightful snowy Christmas aesthetic, distinguishing it nicely from the original games’ standard-looking streets and buildings.
Even better, Miles has his own unique animations, as well as several of his own moves. As a nice touch, virtually everything Miles does is frenetic, like flailing his arms and legs a little bit after letting go of a webline or stumbling forward slightly as he zips to a perch. Meanwhile, a completely overhauled tricks system lets you perform all sorts of stylish acrobatics — many more than what Peter could do in the first game.
Miles’ looser feel also applies to the fighting. The satisfying and flashy mix of punch, dodge and web attack moves carry over from the original game, albeit with much scrappier animations to suit Miles’ relative inexperience. What really shakes up combat, though, is that Miles has far fewer gadgets than Peter. Instead, the way to manage crowds and defeat certain enemy types is through Miles’ Venom power, which lets him charge his limbs with electricity. What this means for combat is that you can use Venom once a metre is filled through basic attacks to perform a Venom Punch for a single devastating hit or Venom-powered slams or jumps to hit multiple foes at once and even launch them upwards for chained aerial combos. Expending the Venom metre is the only way to heal mid-combat, too, which is a brilliant way to challenge you to decide on the fly between offence and defence. Less emphasis on gadgets and more focus on a “supermove” keeps combat feeling fresh, rather than a retread of Marvel’s Spider-Man.
But the other main way you face enemies, stealth, has actually been greatly improved upon in Miles Morales. In Marvel’s Spider-Man, sneaking around never fully felt as fulfilling as it should have been, given that you could only do takedowns from certain positions and combat was immediately engaged whenever you were spotted. It also rarely felt challenging, given how untouchable Spider-Man often felt with his vertical advantages. Miles Morales, however, makes a number of key changes to stealth that shake things up in rewarding ways.
For one, you now have the ability to perform web-based takedowns from any wall you’re sticking to (provided the enemy is within range). Opening up the possibilities for stealth even further is Miles’ unique Camouflage power — another ability Peter doesn’t have — which lets him go invisible for a limited time. What’s especially great about Camo is that Miles can use it to re-enter stealth when spotted or even mid-combat to throw off enemies momentarily. This is carefully balanced, however, because enemies will momentarily become frantic when you disappear, making them riskier to take out, so you can’t just abuse Camo.
To further compensate for Mile’s unique abilities, level design has become more multi-layered and expansive, making it more difficult for you to simply sneak around up high and pick enemies off. What’s more, some of the Underground are capable of using their high-tech suits to quickly move between areas, which is a clever way to keep you on the move while carefully considering your takedowns.
The sidequests are the other main aspect to the overall Spider-Man experience that Insomniac’s made much better this time around. While the original game’s optional missions were by no means bad, they often felt generic, as you were helping random citizens without any real hook for Peter himself. By comparison, Miles Morales‘ sidequests are all rooted in character.
Smartly, Insomniac has tied these missions to one of the story’s larger themes — the desire to belong. Specifically, Miles starts the story feeling out of touch with Harlem, as he’s just moved there from Brooklyn, where he has most of his memories with his late father. Through these sidequests, he gets to learn more about his new community and start to find his place among them. I was especially fond of a rather touching sidequest involving a deaf woman named Hailey, who strikes up a sweet friendship with Miles and proves invaluable in solving crimes.
On a more personal level, many of these sidequests explore Miles’ relationship with his friends and family. In particular, Miles’ friend and tech wizard Ganke serves as his “guy in the chair,” helping him in his criminal investigations while being a never-ending supply of moral support. I appreciated the endearing exuberance that Miles and Ganke bring to the table. Where Peter would talk about work or romance in many of his conversations, Miles and Ganke are simply two overly enthusiastic teens who geek out over Spider-Man’s superhero antics, school and video games.
Meanwhile, multiple series of collectibles take Miles across the city to learn more about his estranged uncle Aaron and allow him to properly work through his grief over the loss of his father. At the same time, he strengthens his bond with Rio, a genuinely kind-hearted figure and city councillor candidate who constantly inspires Miles to be greater. All told, I achieved 100 percent completion in about 20 hours of gameplay, making Miles Morales — priced at $64.99 CAD — a robust package that’s really not much shorter than its fully priced predecessor.
The PlayStation 5 edge
With Miles Morales also coming to PlayStation 4, there are no doubt some who will stick to playing it there. That said, the game’s PS5 version takes full advantage of the hardware, making it more than worthy as a next-gen launch title. Most notably, the game supports dynamic 4K/30fps on PS5 alongside ray tracing for realistic lighting effects and improved character details and shadows. Impressively, ray tracing even allows you to see reflections of buildings and New Yorkers in the spider emblem on Miles’ back.
Alternatively, Miles Morales also supports a performance mode for 4K/60fps that disables some of the extra visual flourishes. Even so, Miles Morales still looks stunning without them. At the same time, 60fps feels absolutely perfect for a fast-paced game like Miles Morales, maintaining a buttery smooth fluidity even when swinging at top speeds through NYC.
Miles Morales also makes full use of the PS5’s impressive SSD to offer near-instant load times. With the PS5 Activities feature — which suggests specific levels or modes to quickly jump into right from the dashboard — I can load a particular story mission or sidequest in under eight seconds, and the game will even have Miles perched right in front of the objective marker. On top of that, fast travel occurs in less than three seconds.
Meanwhile, the PS5’s DualSense controller offers a number of additive features, including adaptive triggers to simulate the sensation of Spider-Man’s webs, and haptic feedback so your attacks give context-specific vibrations. While not groundbreaking, these features definitely add to the immersion; having the triggers get tenser as I reach the apex of my swing or the controller emit a pulse to emulate the power of my Venom punch was surprisingly quite satisfying.
To be sure, PS4 owners will fundamentally still get the same experience, but the PS5 version’s rich feature set make it absolutely worth your while. What’s more, the PS5-only $89.99 Ultimate Edition includes Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered (also set to be available digitally to standard edition owners), which provides the 2018 game and its add-on content with the same visual, performance, load time and controller enhancements found in Miles Morales. I haven’t yet been able to try out Remastered myself, but the Ultimate Edition is clearly still an overall great value for series newcomers and fans alike.
Note: Interestingly, I encountered a long-running glitch that prevented me from switching from the Christmas variant of Miles’ signature red-and-black suit (charmingly equipped with earmuffs and a scarf). This persisted even when I quit the game. While it was mostly amusing, the goofiness of the suit did unfortunately take me out of emotional scenes at times. I’m not sure whether this bug also occurs on PS4 (or if it’s even a prevalent issue in general), but it’s still worth mentioning nonetheless.
You’re the best of us, Miles
In 2018, we got the Miles-led masterpiece that was Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Now, Insomniac has given Miles an amazing game to call his own. While it isn’t a drastic revolution over Marvel’s Spider-Man, Miles Morales has all of the heart of its 2018 predecessor, thanks to an affecting coming-of-age tale and well-rounded cast of characters. It’s especially heartwarming to think of how Miles’ lovingly realized bi-racial identity will allow this game to connect with people in ways that Peter’s never fully could. All the while, thoughtful changes to gameplay, side quest design and even music make Miles’ adventure feel even more unique and top-notch.
The logical next step for Insomniac is the inevitable “Marvel’s Spider-Man 2,” even if we don’t know exactly what form that will take, given that the series now features two lead characters. One thing’s for sure, though — Insomniac has two incredible Spider-Men on their hands, and based on the quality of their individual adventures have been, I can’t wait to see where the developer takes them both next.
Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales launches exclusively on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 on November 12th. The PS5 also releases that same day — read our early hands-on impressions of the next-gen console here.
Image credit: Marvel/PlayStation