DEVELOPER: Insomniac Games
PUBLISHER: Sony Interactive Entertainment
REVIEWED ON: PlayStation 4 (Slim) from a copy purchased by the author.
At the start of the millennium, Marvel gave birth to the Ultimate Universe as a way to refresh characters like Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Avengers free of decades of continuity that scared away new readers. Only ten years later, the brand was due for a refresh, and Marvel made the headline grabbing decision to kill off that world’s Spider-Man and replace him with a new one: Miles Morales.
Created by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli, Miles’ popularity overshadowed the universe he was in. So much so in fact that in the 2015 event Secret Wars that ushered in the destruction of the Ultimate imprint, Miles found himself spared and folded into the same world as the Spider-Man we’ve known and loved since the 1960’s.
Mere years later, the Afro-Latino wall-crawler has headlined the Academy Award winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and now is starring in his own PlayStation exclusive title. And not just any video game mind you, but the follow-up to one of the biggest interactive superhero adventures of all time, 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man, that’s also a launch title for a major console. Like the last Spider-Man title from Insomniac Games, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is another terrific web-swinging simulator that doesn’t stray too far away from the established formula, but does enough with its short run time to weave a tale full of heart that you won’t want to put down.
Set one year after the event of Marvel’s Spider-Man during the holiday season, Miles Morales has settled into his role as Spider-Man’s protégé but is still looking for his own place outside of his mentor’s shadow. Opportunity arises when Peter is called away on a work vacation and Miles finds himself as New York’s only Spider-Man. Crime doesn’t take it easy during the festive season however, as the young superhero quickly finds himself caught in a war between the greedy Roxxon Corporation and a group known as The Underground ran by the elusive Tinkerer. Miles must step up like never before or else witness the destruction of his new home, Harlem, and it’s eclectic population.
Easily one of Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales’ greatest strength is its story where even the ordinary, quieter moments tend to outshine the flashy, gorgeously animated superheroics. During an early scene where Miles and his family are simply sitting down to enjoy a holiday feast, it’s hard not to get nostalgic for the time when all you had to worry about at the end of the year was spending time with friends and enjoying time off.
Much of this genuineness is owed to Nadji Jeter, the actor portraying Miles, who does a phenomenal job balancing the character’s desire to live up to his late father and new mentor while battling the crippling doubt that comes with the uncertainty of trying to find your place. You see real growth in Miles throughout the ten or so hour campaign as he grows from being the “other” Spider-Man to a true hero of the people. As it is with many classic tales from this corner of the Marvel Universe, Miles fails, but it never stops him from getting immediately back up and doing the right thing.
Miles Morales won’t take you nearly as long to complete as Marvel’s Spider-Man, but the brevity means that there’s very little filler and the story clips by at a much brisker pace. Even as you stop to hunt for collectibles like hidden time capsules, this game’s version of backpacks, and complete side-missions, rarely does anything feel like it’s not in service of the greater plot. Mundane activities like helping to break the ice off of a crane or the returning pigeon chasing quest never feel like distractions, but rather a means to help Miles come to gripes with his powers and plant roots in his community. Like its predecessor, there’s more than enough to keep you coming back once you roll credits like new costumes that are either gated behind various forms of currency or can only be found in New Game Plus mode.
For the millions of people who sunk hours into Marvel’s Spider-Man two years ago, Miles Morales will feel like donning your favorite Spider-Man pajamas. Whether it’s swinging from Manhattan skyscrapers or juggling between airborne foes you’ve launched up from the ground, the mechanics are just as friendly to pick up as they were previously but that’s not to say that Miles doesn’t have a few tricks up his sleeve.
Miles can do everything that Spider-Man can, plus electrify foes with crackling Venom energy and temporarily vanish from sight. The former effortless mixes into your combos as you watch Miles unleash powered-up punches that knockdown heavy brutes or push back crowds with a devastating charged drop. About the only learning curve comes from rewriting your muscle memory to remember that your gadgets are on the right trigger as opposed to the left.
Your additional tools are fewer in number here, four in total, but they blend terrifically with your new skills. A handy gravity bomb pulls in nearby enemies so you can then Venom launch them in the air. A holographic assistant, not unlike Mr. Zurkon from Insomniac’s own Ratchet and Clank series, can be summoned to help you while carefully planted remote mines can down patrolling guards.
Marvel’s Spider-Man had a fair number of stealth sequences and they were enjoyable for the most part, but Miles’ ability to disappear and essentially reset a room is game changing. Bases make a return from the last game, but they’re fewer in number and mercifully shorter. You could sneak your way through as Peter and theoretically complete them without landing a punch, but once you were seen, that was it. Here, you can vanish, find a good hiding spot, wait for enemies to cool down and resume picking them off from strategic vantage points, providing you with a new level of freedom to tackle situations that you never had before.
To reach the coveted one-hundred percent completion point in Marvel’s Spider-Man, it meant repeating tedious street crimes and other similar activities in different districts over and over again. The game itself was mechanically sound, but it simply buckled under the weight of how much repeated content there was. Miles Morales does a much better job of managing this as you have an app, developed by Miles’ guy in the chair Ganke, that you activate by swiping left on the controller’s touch pad. Here you can bounce between lengthier side-missions and quick jump in and out of one off crimes. A lot of the same types are repeated from Marvel’s Spider-Man like stopping runaway cars or defending trucks, but because they don’t appear as frequently, they never become annoying.
Miles Morales certainly has enough great set-pieces to stand on its own, like the thrilling opening with a classic Spider-Man foe and another where you’re desperately trying to hold together a collapsing bridge, but unlike Miles’ story arc, it never escapes the shadow of its older brother. It’s refreshing to swing around a New York that bounces between being blanketed in snow and brilliantly lit up by Christmas lights, but you’re still traversing a lot of the same pathways as before. Similarly the neon purple armies of The Tinkerer and Roxxon’s mercenaries are merely stand ins for many of the same goons you came up against in the first game. It seldom gets boring, but Insomniac should become mindful of giving players too much of a good thing moving forward with this young franchise.
This game is a marquis title for Sony’s hot new PlayStation 5, but for those who still can’t manage to get one, it’s thankfully available on the PlayStation 4. It runs just as smooth as Marvel’s Spider-Man and is a show piece for the now seven year old console. While it doesn’t have the fast loading times offered by the fifth generation PlayStation, they’re remarkably brief whether you’re fast-travelling or resuming after a death.
Unfortunately there exists a few technical hiccups that take you out of the experience during key moments. During one section for example Miles’ head will be floating around without a body and dialogue will sometimes only come from Miles and not the character that he’s conversing with. Hopefully these problems will be addressed in future updates.
Luckily when there’s no audio you can turn on many of Miles Morales’ many accessibility options. Sub-titles can be switched on like most games, but you can also change their size and color plus there are options for the ASL community also. Within the options menu exists countless features to sort through, from eliminating quick-time events to morphing button taps to easier holding motions. Accessibility and representation play a big part in Miles Morales as the throughout the course of the game, you’ll interact with people of many different communities that never feel like throwaway moments for inclusions sake.
Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales manages to do a lot with a short run time, and while it’s very similar in many respects to Marvel’s Spider-Man, it does more than enough to stand on its own. Between Miles’ new abilities and how the player gets to see the world of Spider-Man from a perspective they never have before, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is another standout chapter in Insomniac’s budding saga. Between this and Batman: Arkham Origins, comic book video game lovers have some truly great options around the holiday season.
Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is available now exclusively on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.