Also Available On: PS5
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: PlayStation Studios
Release: November 12th, 2020
Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, arrived just under the wire (and Christmas tree) this past festive season and it could not have come at a better moment. After a year of uncertainty following the beast that was 2020, there is nothing quite like video games to help take the edge off, ya know?
Keeping in mind the already big shoes to fill with a character like Spider-Man, Miles Morales also follows in the footsteps of Insomniacs first flirtation with the Spider-verse. A game that proved a smash hit on release back in 2018. Billing itself as a side story and not a full-fledged sequel, there is a lot to unpack here so without further adieu, let’s dive right in!
Note: There will be light spoilers below in regards to the first game and this game's overall story, reader beware!
A Game of Generations
Miles Morales picks up a few months after the previous games conclusion, with a brand new Spider-Man being shown the webs (see what I did there?) by a more seasoned Peter Parker. After a brief setup to introduce players to this new Spider-Man, Peter is promptly left out of the story in favor of spotlighting Miles for this adventure.
The biggest question I had going into this was “Can Insomniac make Miles stand apart from the more familiar/nostalgic Peter”? Back in 2018, writers Jon Paquette, Benjamin Arfmann, and Kelsey Beachum crafted a compelling and intimate story. Reimagining characters new and old in just enough ways to make everything feel fresh. Peter’s relationship with his Aunt May, the paternal friendship with his mentor/boss Doctor Octavius, took inspiration from the character's history in all the right ways.
To sidestep this in favor of telling a different tale with an ostensibly new character (being fully aware of his introduction in the first title) is a bold statement to make. Especially on the back of a rather successful first outing, knowing players the world over are hungry for more. But Insomniac, instead, plays against type here almost. Crafting a pseudo sequel/interquel is at once intimately familiar and brand new at the same time.
Big Swingin’ Spidey’s
From top to bottom, Miles Morales feels like a fresh coat of paint. The returning New York cityscape is as dazzling in its detail as it was the first time around. There is a notable upgrade in visual fidelity too, even on PS4. Not being the most technically minded, I don’t know if something was changed to the lighting or if it's just the festive cheer running through this game's core but it feels fresh and more vibrant than before.
Swinging through the city is gorgeous and the touches of frost on cars and sidewalks, the dusting of snow on a rooftops edge or decorated storefront really sell the atmosphere. Harlem in particular, the central hub for the games main plot, feels alive with the neighboring buildings full of personality and culture. Not that the rest of the city feels lifeless, but it does feel like an overall concerted effort to show the diversity present in Insomniac’s Harlem and you find these more personal touches throughout New York.
Like Peter before him, Miles also comes jam packed with his very own collection of costumes to obtain and wear throughout the campaign. Since the character himself hasn’t experienced too many costume changes in the pages of his comic, Insomniac have taken it upon themselves to rectify this. Nothing says ‘comic book adaptation’ quite like some alternate costumes and the inventive new duds for Miles each carry their own flavor. My personal favorite being the 2099 variation and the Spider-Verse/animated looks.
Swing Like a Spider, Sting Like a...different...Spider?
The single biggest change to gameplay here is in Miles’ new venom powers. Setting aside the story’s lack of explanation, Miles’s essentially electric based attacks add new wrinkles to the familiar 2018 setup. So, instead of relying on gadgets to rack up your KO counter, Miles can juggle enemies with an airborne slam that sends enemies into the air or, after web yanking their weapon away from them, electrically charge it before sending it back in explosive style.
These powers also cater to the stealth inclined out there with Miles able to use active camouflage during fights or stealth encounters. This, in particular, is a game changer as not only can it help you maneuver past guards in enclosed spaces easily, but also save you in a pinch if a tough fight has you cornered. These powers are also not simply palette swaps of Peter’s gadgets and are cleverly (if not subtly) baked into the game's mechanics, actively encouraging you to use them creatively and even incorporated into the light puzzle solving elements sprinkled throughout.
As you progress through the campaign, you unlock these skills and upgrades through completing side missions and challenges, scattered about the city. While there is nothing new in terms of content here, the new powers at your disposal do allow you to approach some of these old tricks wearing a slightly different hat.
A Spider By Any Other Name
If there is one thing that feels a little too overly familiar here, it’s in the main story. As mentioned previously, Miles Morales is given the proverbial keys to the city as Peter Parker takes a time out of sorts. While I like the concept of taking Peter out of the picture completely, to prove this new hero can stand on his own, the execution and story beats tread all too familiar ground.
Particularly in terms of the villain dynamic. Now, there are shake ups here and there but the main villain's connection to Miles, pales in comparison to the first title. If only because it keeps echoing that same dynamic that worked so well with Peter and Doc Ock. The same genius scientist going down a dark road, refusing to listen to reason and so forth. With the inevitable escalation of their ideals clashing at the climax of the story.
Maybe it’s not fair to judge so harshly, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this storytelling trope before. It’s just, by the time the story plays out you don’t form connections so much as bare minimum requirements.
The same thankfully cannot be said of Miles' relationship to the rest of the characters and indeed the city itself. It is in the side stories that tie into the overall narrative where the best moments are to be had. How the city reacts to a ‘new Spidey’, where on-lookers will start commenting on how poor young Miles is in comparison to the ‘real’ Spider-Man makes the journey of proving oneself more fulfilling. As your notoriety grows, perception changes and it feels unique and separate to Peter’s journey because it is genuinely earned through play.
So, What’s the Verdict?
Just like Into the Spider-Verse and Marvel’s Spider-Man before it, Insomniac’s Miles Morales sets out to prove that, not only can anyone wear the mask, but that there are still plenty of interesting and varied stories left to tell with this world and characters.
Its lean runtime is in fact its greatest strength. You are never stuck wondering what to do next, nor overwhelmed with an abundance of side activities that often amount to just busy work for the next story beat anyway. While the main story is a bit of a letdown after the emotional rollercoaster of its predecessor, there is enough heart and genuine feeling in its characters subplots to keep players invested.
At the beginning of this article I asked a rather selfish question. I grew up with one Spider-Man, so never thought in a million years that I could care about another. Insomniac have proven, once again, why they know exactly what they are doing. What was introduced to us here makes me excited for the inevitable full-fledged numbered sequel. Whether we experience whatever that story is as Peter, Miles, or Spider-Pig is no longer a question I worry about and you shouldn’t either.
Play this game if…
You like Spider-Man anything
You particularly like Insomniac’s Spider-Man anything
You need a palette cleanser to wash out the awful taste of 2020
You were hoping for meaningful improvements to an already solid foundation
All images taken from official press kit found here
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