A great expansion that just misses being more.
Spider-Man 2018 nailed a lot of things. The controls, the characters, the outstanding living portrait of a modern New York City, the list goes on from there. But one of the more compelling moments in the game was the introduction of Miles Morales as not only a friend to Peter Parker, but a fellow spider man as well. What was a quick nod to the larger spider-verse at the end of the first game in this new series is now the main focus of a rather beefy expansion to it in Spider-Man: Miles Morales. This expansion wisely sticks with the framework of the original game but gives you a new flavor of it with a new set of characters, side missions, moves, suits mods and gadgets that not only expand on the original game’s systems in the traditional sense, but arguably improves upon them as well.
Some have compared Miles Morales to Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, but I don’t get that at all. This is really far more in line with what First Light was to Infamous Second Son, but on steroids. This expansion is built on the foundation of the base game, but injects a new character and their flavor of that game’s mechanics along with a new set of characters that impact his life much the same way that Mary Jane and Doctor Octavius affected Peter. With that, the vast majority of visual effects and artistic decisions are the same as they were in 2018, which is to say they look great.
The city is familiar, of course, but feels just different enough with it being in Winter. Even on the lowly PS4 version, reflections and shadows are smooth and the framerate barely has any trouble at all with stability despite what I threw at it. However, I was surprised to see a fair amount of pop-in with texture detail as well as lighting effects on several occasions, and even found myself stuck inside an object on one occasion that lead to a reboot, but it was just the one time. Overall, the 30 frames on PS4 generally run fine, much like they did in 2018. That’s the version I’m reviewing here, so I can’t speak on the 60 frames mode or the ray tracing for the PS5, but I have it on good authority they also work out fine.
"The city is familiar, of course, but feels just different enough with it being in Winter. Even on the lowly PS4 version, reflections and shadows are smooth and the framerate barely has any trouble at all with stability despite what I threw at it."
Much like the 2018 Spider-Man game, Miles Morales feels exhilarating and smooth when outside swinging around. It’s even made a little better here with the addition of new tricks you can perform in the air for XP and Miles’ flare on top of all the already-slick animations. Although, also like the 2018 game, moving around indoors or in smaller areas can be a bit of a hassle. It can be tough to get more precise movements in tighter areas to happen the way you want them to with a control scheme that is so clearly designed around flinging yourself across multiple city blocks at the touch of a button. Some indoor sections automatically trigger a slower walk for Miles than lessens this drastically, but many of them don’t, so the game has a decent solution but only applies it about half the time it should.
This can also make combat sections in tighter quarters a bit annoying as you’ll be jumping around wildly and flying across the room to different enemies just like you would on a rooftop or on the street, but indoors this can lead to you fighting with the camera almost as much as the tinkerer’s henchmen. It would have been nice to have seen either some sort of modified camera mode for indoor fights, or indoor environments being designed around this problem a little more consistently. The vast majority of your time isn’t spent in these situations though, so these annoyances are thankfully rare. There are some other gripes I could mention though like R1 being the same button for many of the QTE moments as well as the gadget menu which is not turned off during some of the more cinematic sequences.
This can make some otherwise tense moments fall flat as you’ll accidentally open up the gadgets when you’re trying to stop a bridge from collapsing and won’t immediately understand why. Enemies also, much like in the main game, can feel like blocky sponges a lot of the time. These fights are a big part of the core gameplay so it would have been nice to see the basic baddies iterated upon a little more and more variety in general would have gone a long way here. As it is, most of these group fights feel pretty much the same outside of them just getting more heavily armed and more spongey as the game goes on.
"Much like the 2018 Spider-Man game, Miles Morales feels exhilarating and smooth when outside swinging around."
Leaning on the Batman: Arkham combat and enemy variety system this heavily in 2020 is starting to wear a bit thin in my opinion. That said, I suppose it’s not really the job of an expansion to shake things up too much, and most of the time you can inject your own variety with the same decent stealth system from the base game, Miles’ bio-electricity Venom powers, and a new set of gadgets that are arguably better than Peter’s, the Gravity Well being the favorite for me. Bringing all the thugs around you close together then following up with a well-placed Venom Smash never gets old.
Upgrading Miles’ moveset is a steady exercise in progression and does expand his moveset but there’s nothing revolutionary in here, so you are unlikely to find any compelling reason to go outside of your comfort zone but instead stick with the moves you like and upgrade them. Still, with everything this expansion piles on top of the framework of the original game, it’s hard to not see this as a slight improvement overall. The gameplay loop of swinging around to different story missions, checking your app for crimes to solve, and upgrading your abilities is absolutely nothing new fundamentally but it is one of the better executed and fun versions of that gameplay loop I’ve come across in quite a while. The Venom powers and more interesting gadgets put it over the top for me as a better combat experience over the base game, despite redundant enemies and janky indoor fights largely going unaddressed.
Miles Morale’s story is undeniably full of MCU tropes that have become beyond predictable at this point, and if you don’t know how it’s going to unfold within the first 30 minutes or so then you are just not paying attention. But that’s not to say it isn’t well executed or fun to watch unfurl most of the time anyway, especially if you’re not really in the market for something particularly innovative. It’s comic book story comfort food through and through, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Due to the games’ shorter length than 2018’s Spider-Man, it spends a higher percentage of its time moving the plot forward in meaningful ways instead of lingering around on things that don’t warrant any extra attention.
"The Venom powers and more interesting gadgets put it over the top for me as a better combat experience over the base game, despite redundant enemies and janky indoor fights largely going unaddressed."
I’ll stop short of saying a shorter game is preferable to a longer one, but it is nice to see how steadily this one unfolds with what feels like essentially zero padding due to its constraints. Despite this game being shorter and cheaper than the full game was at launch, I couldn’t help but notice the pacing here being more satisfying due to its deliberate focus on always moving forward to the next big development. Also, Miles Morales keeps the slower, story-driven segments to a more appropriate minimum than the base Spider-Man game did, and when they do happen here, they’re shorter, snappier, and always feel more important than they did in the main game. Take all of that and put the younger Miles on top of it and you have what I consider to be a demonstrably better story in this expansion than what we got in the main game, both in terms of its content and how it’s told.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales is an expansion that you could be forgiven for mistaking for a sequel at times. It often takes the attitude of a sequel to the base game’s mechanics by adding to them and improving upon them. The personality of Miles can be seen in everything from his less confident swinging animations to the color palette of the menus, and that is the mark of a game with purpose and direction. If it didn’t leave a few core annoyances of the original game unaddressed and had a little bit more originality in its bones, it could have been a totally new sequel. That said, there’s nothing wrong with being a great expansion to an already great Spider-Man game, and that, Miles Morales certainly is.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Expanding on the main game was certainly achieved here but the extra dose of Miles’ personality and some small improvement put this expansion above most of its kind.
Miles Morales misses a few opportunities to seal the deal of true excellence by leaving many of the base game’s shortcomings unaddressed and being generally less polished.
Miles Morales is a meaningful expansion to 2018’s Spider-Man that, while perhaps not quite as polished, gives Spidey fans more than enough reason to check it out.