At the dawn of a new console generation, Insomniac Games brings us the PlayStation-exclusive Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, a continuation of the studio’s excellent Marvel’s Spider-Man. It’s a full-bodied game with a compelling, emotional story at its heart, and while much of the game will feel familiar to those who have played its predecessor, the storytelling and characters have a distinctive tone that sets the game apart.
The story picks up one year after the conclusion of the first game, with teenage hero Miles Morales sitting under Peter Parker’s proverbial learning tree, helping the OG webhead keep New York City safe and learning on the job. When Peter goes on holiday with Mary Jane to Europe, Miles is left as the city’s sole protector, and it’s not long before he’s put to the test. Urban warfare breaks out between shady tech corporation Roxxon and a mysterious mastermind named the Tinkerer. Throughout the game’s campaign, we follow Miles as pushes himself to the breaking point to keep the peace.
What I appreciated most about the story is that it’s deeply personal and more culturally in tune with New York City’s diverse communities. Outside of his superheroics, Miles is anchored by his city council-campaigning mom, Rio Morales, and his social media-savvy best friend Ganke.
Some of the best games released this year have featured people of color in prominent roles, and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is no exception, boasting a diverse and fleshed out cast. Miles and his mom move from Brooklyn to Harlem at the story’s outset, and it’s clear the developers took the time to ensure that the game reflected what these neighborhoods and communities are all about. The game’s title screen features a close-up of Miles’s 6-inch Timbs on an NYC subway, at one his mom buys them dulce de coco while out on the street, and on several occasions we see residents of Harlem calling Miles’s Spider-Man “OUR Spider-Man.” I’ve got absolutely nothing bad to say about Peter Parker or the mainline Spider-Man franchise, yet it’s such a joy to see blockbuster superhero stories being told that don’t revolve around white men.
It’s important to note that this review is based on the PlayStation version of the game. While the graphically enhanced PS5 version will undoubtedly look spectacular, I’ve got to say that this game already looks dazzling on current-gen hardware. The New York Cityscape from the first game is as picturesque as ever, except this time you get to see the city blanketed in snow, with Miles swinging up and down Manhattan in the wintertime as the city readies for the holidays.
The game looks smoother and more refined than its predecessor. Lighting, shadow effects, and texture quality seem to have been improved, but what really stands out is the animation. Insomniac did a great job with character animations in the first game (the game’s excellent motion blur effects aid this greatly), and the studio has managed to push things even further. Characters move and gesture more naturally than ever before. Miles’s movement reflects his personality and age in an interesting way, too–he’s less confident and experienced than Peter, so his swinging and fighting are a bit less elegant and slightly more awkward.
The animation is of course driven by the gameplay, which is fundamentally the same as what we saw in the original game but sees some interesting tweaks, particularly in regards to enemy encounters. While Peter Parker’s three skill trees were “Innovator,” “Defender,” and “Webslinger,” which focused on combat, evasion, and traversal, respectively, Miles’s three trees are “Combat Skills,” “Venom Skills,” and “Camouflage Skills.”
“Combat Skills” improve melee attacks and give you perks that shorten cooldown times, allow you to perform more effective disarm techniques, and more. “Venom Skills” harness Miles’ newly acquired “Venom Power,” which allows him to charge objects and fry enemies with crackling bolts of electricity that can break through armor, take down gigantic foes like the rampaging Rhino, and even launch Miles and his enemies high into the air (this affects traversal as well). “Camouflage Skills” revolve around Miles’s other new ability, to turn invisible for a period of time, with the various skills in the tree bolstering your ability to take enemies out stealthily.
Miles’s venom power and camouflage abilities help enemy encounters stand out from the first game while maintaining the same fluidity of combat that Insomniac perfected in the original. The combat system isn’t without its flaws, though. For example, things can get a little messy and too cluttered when a ton of enemies are all lunging and shooting at you at once, which can make it almost impossible to follow the action or discern what the Spider Sense indicators are telling you. A few of these hectic action sequences resulted in my death, which felt a little cheap, but turning invisible also saved my ass numerous times in tense situations. Overall, though, the combat is on par with what you’ve come to expect from this franchise. The stealth elements were also a blast to mess around with, especially in combination with the venom powers.
Release Date: Nov. 12, 2020
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PS5
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
There are a multitude of missions and tasks to complete around the city, including enemy base takeovers, hidden enemy caches, and ability trials that earn you new skills. I loved the latter—Peter set up the trials for Miles, and his commentary during these sections via “hard-light” hologram is hilarious.
The game also offers a new way to accept missions in the form of a social media app Ganke creates where civilians in need can connect with Miles directly. There’s also a “Social Feed” tab that’s been added to the pause menu where you can read comments from people around the city and watch Rio Morales interact with her supporters as she campaigns for city council. It’s a supplemental feature that you can choose to ignore, though it does help flesh out the game world. I appreciated Insomniac’s commitment to making New York feel alive with activity and social interaction, and it definitely added to my experience in a good way.
But again, what truly makes Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales such a worthwhile experience is the story, and it unfolds nicely, with a central plot twist that isn’t simply meant to surprise you—it adds depth to the narrative and raises the emotional stakes about as high as they can get. This is a story about New York’s marginalized communities, embracing one’s true self, and the sacrifice it takes to exceed expectations.
I’ll try to avoid spoilers here, but I do have one major gripe with the storytelling. One of the main character arcs in the game feels disingenuous and unearned, especially toward the end of the game. The story sets this character up nicely in the beginning and conveys a clear sense of who they are, but the way they behave at the end of the game just feels too extreme and doesn’t make much sense. This wasn’t a dealbreaker for me, but it definitely left me scratching my head.
Insomniac created one of the best superhero games of all time in Marvel’s Spider-Man, and all of the things that made that game great are still present in Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Swinging around New York is as exhilarating as ever, and the new weather effects Insomniac has implemented — a brutal thunderstorm late in the game is a standout — look fantastic and a bit more depth to the game world.
One of the geekier appeals of the original game was the array of unlockable costumes, and the feature returns with even more awesome costumes for Miles to don. His version of the 2099 costume is one of my favorites, as is the Into the Spider-Verse suit, which is sure to please fans of the runaway 2018 hit movie.
There are a ton of surprises and tie-ins to the first game that are revealed as you play Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales which I can’t reveal here, but it’s safe to say that Insomniac isn’t anywhere near done telling this story. I had a great time with the game, and while some will probably complain that the campaign is a tad short, I respectfully disagree. It took me around 16 hours to complete the main story (I often got lost in side missions and aimless swinging on the way), and this honestly felt like the sweet spot length-wise. The story felt tight with little filler, the gameplay never grew stale, and I enjoyed myself from beginning to end.