The announcement of Spider-Man: Miles Morales came as a huge surprise given its predecessor had only been released two years earlier. The game, clearly designed to coincide with the launch of the PlayStation 5, is a shorter experience that builds on the foundation of the 2018 title rather than reinventing the formula. The shorter length works in the game’s favor, resulting in a more streamlined adventure without much filler. While the game isn’t as expansive as what gamers experienced two years prior, the 10-hour campaign is time well-spent.
Played for review on PlayStation 4.
Marvel’s Spider-Man was stuffed with content, for better or worse. Players could earn tokens to level up the hero through (takes a deep breath) combat challenges, stealth challenges, traversal challenges, research station missions, finding landmarks and backpacks, stopping crimes, and clearing enemy bases. The missions were a fun way to pass some time, but they felt disconnected from Peter Parker’s story.
Miles Morales is a much tighter experience, taking out a lot of the extraneous content from its predecessor. You still stop crimes, clear bases, and find objects across the map, but the game nudges you back to the main narrative, reminding the player what matters to Miles. Even side missions feel like valuable additions to the story. Miles’s friend Ganke designs an app for locals to use to request Spider-Man’s assistance, giving Miles an opportunity to interact with the Harlem community as Spider-Man. As a result, the side missions don’t feel extraneous like they did in the 2018 title; instead, they play an essential role in acquainting Miles with his new home. While there’s less for players to explore in Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, everything feels purposeful.
The game opens with Peter leaving the country to go on a “working vacation” with Mary Jane. He puts New York in Miles’ hands, an unprecedented amount of responsibility for the new Spider-Man. A militia named The Underground, led by a female Tinkerer, rises up to prevent evil corporation Roxxon from installing a new energy source in Harlem. Spider-Man has to keep his city safe from the ensuing violence because he cares more about saving people than destroying Roxxon
Unfortunately, the core plot largely falls flat. The antagonist’s motivations are unoriginal, bordering on cliche. Since Miles’s relationship with The Prowler is a close match to the source material, comic book readers are familiar with many of those story beats. And the number of connections between the protagonist’s everyday life and duties as Spider-Man borders on absurd.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales is at its best when the game focuses on Miles’s family and his new home. Miles’s love for his mother and tight bond with Ganke are essential to who he is and the decisions he makes over the course of the campaign. Insomniac also makes Harlem feel like a living, breathing place with its own style, culture, and community. You understand why Miles is so passionate about protecting it, no matter the cost.
More than any other superhero, Spider-Man’s powers feel built for video games. Miles’s unique abilities continue that pattern, serving as new additions to the gameplay that originated in Marvel’s Spider-Man. The venom attack is a fun new mechanic, providing Miles with a punch that packs an extra wallop. Throughout the game, you unlock several new variations of the venom attack, each as entertaining as the last. It’s reportedly even more impressive on the PlayStation 5 version of the game, thanks to the DualSense controller’s haptic feedback.
The use of Miles’s cloaking ability isn’t quite as compelling. It creates a couple of fun moments, like using invisibility to investigate a crime scene while standing inches away from a detective. But it mostly serves as a handicap during stealth missions, protecting players when they’re about to blow their cover. Miles Morales features more stealth sections than its predecessor to take advantage of the new mechanic, but stealth missions were never the most exciting portion of Spider-Man games. Fans don’t play as the wall-crawler to slowly take out enemies. Most fans would rather imitate the frenetic action found in Spider-Man comics and movies.
The new mechanics expand the scope of Spider-Man’s move set enough for an “expandalone” like Miles Morales. But the sequel (Marvel’s Spider-Men?) needs to do more. The next full-fledged adventure needs to bring new ideas and new innovations or the gameplay may start to grow stale.
Though the main storyline is unoriginal, the smaller moments in Miles Morales once again show that the writers at Insomniac understand Spider-Man as well or better than their contemporaries in film and comics. Despite the tight time frame, Insomniac did an excellent job recreating the magic that made players fall in love with Marvel’s Spider-Man in 2018. Fans may come for the gameplay, but they stay for the game’s storytelling, which reminds them what they love about their friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.