There was a groan of disappointment when – after first announcing Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales – Insomniac Games clarified that this would not be a full-on sequel to 2018’s Peter Parker centric original, but a smaller in scale spin-off. Fans wondered if Miles Morales’ purpose was to function as a technical showcase for the fledgling PS5, it being a launch title alongside Astro’s Playroom after all. Or perhaps it’s a boardroom enforced tie-in to the wonderfully vibrant Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse movie. Hopes dashed further before release when fans learned Miles’ spin-off would be a more condensed affair. The stars weren’t aligning; Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales almost certainly can’t be as good as the PS4 best seller, right?
Of course, swooping through New York skyrises as Miles is as exhilarating as ever, with a liberal dose of new combat manoeuvres adding a much-needed freshness, but the sprinkling of snow illuminated by the cold December sunset over Miles’ new home Harlem can’t mask the fact this is ostensibly the same concrete playground as 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man. But, you know, lightly remixing the old doesn’t really matter. What we’ve got here in this spin-off is a deeply personal tale. One of growth and perseverance hampered by relatable, crippling self-doubt. One of struggle and fortitude, of growing to become Spider-Man, and understanding what it means to be the web-slinging wallcrawler, to be the hero your citizens depend on.
Let’s assess the game’s prologue. We’re thrust into Mile’s world, riding the subway with him, listening to his music, the streets of Harlem skewed to his vision. As he strolls toward the grocery store, he chats with the locals, maybe helps one or two out. He’s genuine, and likeable from the off. Spider-Man has always been a person tasked with juggling a domestic life with his super heroics. Here, on street level – not acrobatically swinging through the air – we get to know the kid behind the mask; before he even puts on the mask, in fact. This means that, despite Miles Morales’ story being somewhat predictable in its execution, we’re still going to experience emotional gravitas.
Miles is new to this neighbourhood – just as we are – having recently moved to Harlem with his mother. Besides getting used to filling Peter Parker’s shoes in his absence, Miles must grow accustomed to his mother’s budding political career whilst a nefarious conglomerate, led by the droll Simon Krieger, and an opposing rabble of high-tech criminals spill their conflict onto the streets. There is no worse time for Miles to bear the mantle of being Spider-Man, but the unbearable weight of the task at hand is lightened by exceptional writing and character development. For instance, in one particular scene Miles can be chasing down a dangerous criminal whilst taking a phone call from his mum requesting he pop to the shop for milk. The balance of humour with drama is spot on and counteracts the sometimes obnoxious nature of Peter Parker. Miles is a truer everyman hero than the more established Spider-Man.
And, to further compound the emotional journey we take with Miles, he doesn’t begin the game as a slick, web-slinging hero either. He’s Peter Parker’s protégé don’t forget, but Insomniac go to great lengths to translate the feel of an unconfident wall crawler through the controller. Miles’ sometimes awkward aerial acrobatics, clumsy flips, and shaky landings gradually dissipate as our confidence grows. New web-based abilities, suits, and gadgets are earned together with Miles, and before long Spider-Man’s signature smooth traversal and combat evolves into poetry in motion as the initial un-intuitiveness becomes second nature. We grow as Miles grows. There’s even room for superfluous but undeniably cool Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater style mid-air trickery providing unique swagger to Miles’ web-slinging.
It goes without saying that the cinematic set pieces which elevate Marvel’s Spider-Man are present and correct in Mile Morales’ journey too. In short, they’re as awe-inspiring as ever, with early carnage through shopping malls against Rhino and destructive set-pieces atop the fictitious Braithwaite Bridge amongst the most spectacular of sequences across both Spider-Man games. Insomniac Games have perfected their seamless blend of explosive gameplay, quick time events, and cinematic cutscenes so well that playing through Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales feels akin to taking part in a movie. With fantastic voice acting and an incredible soundtrack included, Miles Morales’ tale definitely shortens the gap between Hollywood blockbusters and video games.
And whilst graphical prowess isn’t the be all and end all of great video games, Mile Morales’ technical firepower really shines on the PS5. The PS4 version looks great mind, but the PS5’s super-fast SSD creates a jaw-dropping world, complete with reflective ray-traced glass and chrome, denser populated city streets, and impressive draw distances, all achievable with a higher frame rate, meaning the act of swinging over rooftops and battering senseless goons is so darn responsive and joyful you can get lost for hours in the skies. Fast travel, whilst available, is absolutely not the preferred option here.
Miles’ new venom-based moves, with surging yellow electrical currents, look especially spectacular on PS5 too. There’s a nimbleness to Miles’ acrobatics which together with his refreshed combat ability – plus the newfound temporary invisibility, giving new status to the game’s stealth sections – gives him the edge over Peter Parker, especially seeing as his more condensed narrative avoids the eventual one note feel of 2018 Spider-Man’s thirty-plus hour campaign. If the price of admission was a little steep when Miles Morales’ spin-off first appeared in 2020, then by all means dive if it’s ever on sale, as this is some of the most fluid, inspiring combat in any superhero game, proving that – in Insomniac Games’ case – lightning really can strike twice.
That being said, sitting alongside the ten-to-twelve-hour story campaign is a glut of intriguing side quests, including combat, stealth, and traversal challenges, plus opportunities to solve minor crimes and rescue cats, all accessible via the in-game ‘Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man’ app. Collectibles such as time-capsules and memorabilia from Miles’ childhood litter Harlem and wider districts too, adding yet more flesh to Miles Morales’ backstory. It’s a much more involved experience compared to its predecessor; as stated at this feature’s outset – the star of Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is the kid himself.
Is this sequel a technical showcase of the PS5? Well, yes, save for a lack of haptic feedback in the PS5’s DualSense controller. Is it a movie tie-in? Well, yeah, probably. It’s at least complimentary to Into the Spider-Verse, if anything. Is it essential playing for any Spider-Man fanatic? Absolutely. Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales builds on everything which made Marvel’s Spider-Man a platform seller, and it does it in intelligent, meaningful ways. Is it as good as its 2018 predecessor? Not quite, but Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales is still one of the best superhero games ever created, and one hell of a game overall. Roll on Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, and the chance to swing through Manhattan as Miles once again.
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