Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales Review

Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales Review

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Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales Review

Editor’s note: Spider-Man: Miles Morales is releasing on November 12 for both PS5 and PS4. For this review, Jordan played on a PS4 Pro. Other GameSpot staff tested the game on PS5 and found it to be a largely comparable experience, with the PS5 version benefiting from improved visual flourishes and load times. For a technical-focused discussion of the PS5, and how Miles Morales benefits, check out our PS5 review.

feels like the second half to The City That Never Sleeps, a three-part follow-up expansion to 2018’s –the game even begins with the option to watch a short recap of the first game and its DLC in order to bring you up to speed on Miles’ origins, reinforcing the notion that this is an extension of what’s come before.

And, unfortunately, the gameplay in Spider-Man: Miles Morales (which I will hereafter refer to as SM:MM because I’ll be damned if I try to write a full review that cleverly tries to make a distinction between Spider-Man/Miles Morales the game and Spider-Man/Miles Morales the character; I won’t do it) never quite manages to break free of that feeling. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing–I like 2018’s Spider-Man for its engaging combat loop, so I’m glad SM:MM emulates it. It’s just that sometimes SM:MM can feel too similar to what’s come before, which can get in the way of establishing Miles as his own brand of superhero. Regardless, the familiar trappings of SM:MM are used to tell an entirely fresh story with a few brand-new faces. And it’s that narrative and those characters that manage to distinguish SM:MM as an open-world action game that’s compelling to play.

Like its predecessor, SM:MM throws you right into the action. After a short intro, Miles suits up and joins Peter Parker in escorting a convoy transporting supervillain Rhino, who’s being taken back to prison after his escape in the previous game. Things don’t go according to plan, but Miles manages to step up in a big way during the mission, proving to his mentor that he’s capable of watching over New York City on his own for two weeks while Peter goes on a vacation with Mary Jane.

I love this opening. There’s a frantic pace to it; the game tosses you straight into its combat and traversal mechanics, immediately having you fight some escaped convicts before sticking you to the back of a rampaging Rhino. You need to steer the hulking brute around obstacles and pedestrians in a crowded shopping mall, and then you’re flung into the open world to chase after the villain through the twists and turns of the city streets. And that’s just the first 10 minutes. So even though the first few mechanics you learn are fairly straightforward–despite his inexperience, Miles controls just like Peter in the first game so web-slinging is practically effortless and combat isn’t much harder–the sheer whiplash of needing to constantly adapt to different types of gameplay in such a short time puts you right into Miles’ headspace. You can complete the level in one go because it’s the prologue and it’s easy, but it feels like Miles is just getting by and that Peter is doing most of the work anyway (he even covers for you when you make a mistake, like missing a quick-time prompt).

Tinkerin’ With The Narrative

In moderation, I think this would have been a great way to convey to the player how stressful Miles’ newfound responsibility is. But SM:MM never lets up. It’s high-key set piece after high-key set piece for most of its 11-hour runtime, with very little time reserved for quiet moments of reflection. Miles acquires a series of gadgets and abilities at a fairly steady pace as well (including his trademark venom sting and camouflage superpowers, which I’ll get to in a bit), several of which emerge in unsatisfying ways as seemingly random bouts of deus ex machina. At times, it can feel like SM:MM is almost rushing towards its conclusion, desperate to deliver on the promise that Miles ends the game as a seasoned Spider-Man without really slowing down to show you how he manages to earn the respect and appreciation of a city that already knows and loves a Spider-Man.

The main plot of SM:MM sees Miles simultaneously try to garner the favor of New York by fulfilling requests left by random New Yorkers on a smartphone app and stop the escalating conflict between Roxxon Energy Corporation and a gang called the Underground. Roxxon is buying up bits and pieces of Harlem to make room for reactors that will run on a brand-new energy source. Meanwhile, the Underground want to make a name for themselves, and thanks to the advanced arsenal of weapons they now have thanks to their new boss, the Tinkerer, the gang is setting its sights on destroying the prominent Roxxon.

The Tinkerer in Spider-Man: Miles Morales (captured on PS5).
The Tinkerer in Spider-Man: Miles Morales (captured on PS5).

The story is your standard superhero affair with betrayals and ramifications that are familiar to the genre but still exciting to watch unfold. If anything, it’s the characters who manage to keep SM:MM from feeling formulaic–the Tinkerer, especially. It’s difficult to hype up how good of a villain they are without spoiling the best moments from SM:MM’s campaign outright. When pressed, I’ve just been telling people that SM:MM does for the Tinkerer what the movie Spider-Man: Homecoming does for the Vulture. The game humanizes a classic but somewhat bland member of Spidey’s rogues’ gallery and gives them a compelling reason for why they turned to a life of crime, reinventing the character into more of a tragic figure. In a certain light, the Tinkerer’s actions could be construed to be almost heroic (in an anti-hero sort of way), allowing the character to exist as a dark foil to Miles’ Spider-Man. And at the center of that comparison between Miles and the Tinkerer is the two’s shared life experiences.

Prior to Miles’ regular interactions with the Tinkerer, his evolution as a hero is primarily seen through his closest friends and confidants. Miles is surrounded by heroes, so a small but significant part of SM:MM is his musings about who he should be taking inspiration from. His friends serve as two sides of a coin, playing the roles of angels and devils in the debates that will define Miles. Ganke, for example, knows that Miles is Spider-Man and understands what Miles wants to get out of the role, but can’t really empathize with Miles’ Black or Puerto Rican heritage. Other friends and allies, however, more closely relate to Miles’ cultural identities and struggles but don’t understand the extent of his secret identity. Miles regularly talks to key members of the supporting cast throughout the first half of the campaign, and you get to see him coming to an understanding of what type of hero he wants to be through these conversations. It’s awesome, and so when he dons his traditional black-and-red suit and emerges as a brand-new Spider-Man for the first time, one similar to but also altogether different from Peter Parker’s Spider-Man, you can understand how he’s grown to this point. You got to see it; you got to live through that internal turmoil with him.

A Different Side To The Same New York

The child of a Black father and Puerto Rican mother, Miles is a wonderful mixture of cultures and languages. His building is adorned with the Puerto Rican flag, his family has an old collection of jazz and R&B vinyl records, and he seamlessly transitions between standard English, African-American Vernacular English, Spanish, and American Sign Language based on who he’s talking to (occasionally even mixing together one or two of them). The way he leaps off of rooftops and flips backwards to face the camera before falling into a headfirst dive is just full of the exaggerated swagger of a Black teen–it gives me goosebumps every time he does it, especially as the music begins to swell.

Miles in Spider-Man: Miles Morales (captured on PS5).
Miles in Spider-Man: Miles Morales (captured on PS5).

Speaking of, we’ve got to talk about the music in SM:MM. When Miles begins swinging, the orchestral score grows louder, but there’s a nice synthetic hip-hop undercurrent to the whole thing. The music isn’t as bombastic as that heard in 2018’s Spider-Man. It instead crackles with a soft percussion–it reverberates in your ears with a steady crescendo that stops just short of overtaking the sounds of the city. It allows Miles (and to an extent, the player) to remain clued into New York even while soaring through the air at breakneck speeds to the sound of bomb-ass beats. I also need to shoutout SM:MM’s use of Jaden Smith and Kid Cudi’s “On My Own,” which is used perfectly in an introductory scene–it fits as well into the game as Post Malone and Swae Lee’s “Sunflower” did in the movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Unfortunately, SM:MM can’t slow down enough for you to really immerse yourself in the music that plays in the open world. If Ganke isn’t calling to direct Miles to his next objective, then it’s Miles’ mother checking in or his uncle offering some advice or J. Jonah Jameson ranting about the new web-swinging menace or someone else. The game is constantly cutting off the music to deliver a new waypoint for you to follow or a conversation to listen to before the new waypoint appears. And thankfully, you can turn some of these voices off, but many are tied to the story–so you’ll have someone almost always yapping in your ear. I’m enjoying traversal in the game far more now having finished the campaign, as I can just appreciate the rhythmic beat of the music while marveling at the beautiful murals, busy parks, and other aspects of New York culture that are on display in Harlem.

The game does look better on PS5, but the difference isn’t drastic enough to fundamentally change the experience.

Speaking of, outside of Harlem (which has gotten a little bit of extra aesthetic love in order to better capture the culture of the area), SM:MM’s New York is largely the same as the one in 2018’s Spider-Man; the city is now just covered in snow and holiday decorations. I played the game on PS4 Pro and found SM:MM’s graphics to look a lot like 2018’s Spider-Man. A few of my coworkers have played SM:MM on PS5 and report that the game does look better on next-gen, but the difference isn’t drastic enough to fundamentally change the experience–the game is sharper, reflections of characters in windows are far more clear, and load times are faster. The technical features provided by PS5’s DualSense controller don’t add anything essential to the gameplay either; there’s trigger resistance to represent the effort Miles need to put in to shooting webs when soaring through the air, and subtle vibrations in the controller for whenever a phone vibrates or a train moves along a track. They’re cool bells and whistles, but you’re getting a similar experience whether you’re playing on PS4 or PS5. You can read our PS5 review for a more detailed breakdown.

Regardless of where you’re playing, SM:MM’s buildings are a lot more stunning while in motion–really, the whole city is. Taking a break from web-swinging or fighting crime to walk on the city streets and high-five pedestrians reveals somewhat drab NPC designs and no meaningful way for Miles to interact with his fellow citizens. Given that one of Miles’ biggest motivations in the game is to connect with the people of his city, it’s disappointing that there’s no way to do so–the only choice you have when trying to help the people of New York is how exactly you want to beat up the problem they’re facing.

Gallery

There are a few side missions that aren’t about Miles fighting crime, though; these are found in the new app request side activities. Between chapters, Miles typically muses aloud that he should take a moment to respond to requests for help on his app. And it’s in these bite-sized stories that you get to see Miles interacting with his community, albeit with shallow, forgettable characters save for a man who needs you to rescue his cat and a girl who’s deaf and might have a crush on Miles. And honestly, I think it says a lot that I can only remember the cat’s name, and that’s only because it’s “Spider-Man,” which is very memorable. But you have to purposely keep selecting these missions, otherwise Ganke calls after you complete one to let you know where to go next for the main campaign. Sometimes he doesn’t even wait that long. He’s called me on the way to responding to app requests to tell me about the very important story thing that Miles needs to do next. So you can either disrupt the overall flow of the main campaign to do side activities or keep up with the pace of the main story, which largely means rushing forward from chapter to chapter. It’s a rather annoying pacing issue–I felt like Miles wouldn’t do things like take a picture with a fan, track down lost toys, or break icicles off a crane when he has a lead on the Tinkerer.

Brand-New Moves, Same Ol’ Swing

Gameplay-wise, SM:MM is built on the already solid foundation of 2018’s Spider-Man, relying on a straightforward but still compelling timing system for both traversal and combat. Web-swinging through the air and catapulting off of rooftops is effortless to pick up, and combat and stealth sections aren’t that much harder. However, despite how approachable the game is, SM:MM still pushes you to get better by rewarding you for pulling off more advanced timing on the tempo of Miles’ web-swinging and combat abilities. Do you need to use these harder-to-time abilities to beat the game? No. But getting the timing down produces a flow-like rhythm to both traversal and combat, allowing them to more seamlessly mold together in an ever more satisfying way over time.

Though Miles controls pretty much exactly like Peter did in 2018’s Spider-Man, he has a few unique superpowers: venom strikes and camouflage. Miles’ venom strikes offer him area-of-effect attacks, stunning and damaging groups of enemies. Meanwhile, his camouflage allows him to fairly easily reset a stealth encounter or perform silent takedowns that Peter couldn’t do in the first game. But even without these abilities, Miles is as powerful as his mentor. I’d sometimes go entire fights without using any of the venom attacks because I forgot that they were there. The same goes for invisibility in some of the stealth sections.

Spider-Man: Miles Morales captured on PS5
Spider-Man: Miles Morales captured on PS5

Miles’ unique powers are his own, but they simply fit into Peter’s already established moveset. So, despite being a new Spider-Man, Miles doesn’t actually play like a new Spider-Man–which feels like a missed opportunity to use the gameplay to reinforce that Miles brings his own creative spin to his mentor’s abilities. There are moments where using Miles’ unique powers would be beneficial, but they’re rare, relegating the venom strikes and camouflage to very specific situations. And since Miles is more than competent without venom or camouflage, the introduction of new enemy types that can temporarily disable his venom attacks or see him when he’s invisible don’t actually force you to get creative and tackle challenges in new ways.

And so the difficulty of SM:MM remains fairly flat throughout the campaign, only spiking for boss battles–one of which I do really like because it forces you to constantly switch up between Miles’ normal and venom attacks to chip away at the boss and use web-swinging or Miles’ camouflage to safely maneuver around the small arena. But you can’t just spam Miles’ abilities because venom strikes, gadgets, and camouflage are necessary for controlling the crowd of normal enemies that are also present. It’s such a cool battle of attrition and crowd management, one that encourages you to embrace Miles’ powers and fight in a wholly different way to most of the campaign. The whole fight is very representative of how SM:MM could have benefited from more combat encounters that incorporate Miles’ unique powers and highlight how his fighting style is different from Peter’s.

Home Is Where Harlem Is

Like I said at the top of this review, SM:MM feels a lot like a missing chapter to 2018’s Spider-Man. The gameplay is so similar, and the environment is largely the same. It’s in the characters (especially Ganke and the Tinkerer) and the story that it tells that SM:MM manages to break free of what’s been done already to deliver something that you’ll want to see all the way through.

It’s a bit of a bummer to see Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales trip up at certain points, but thankfully, that doesn’t happen often. The game wastes little time jumping you into Miles’ story and rarely lets up on the brakes, packing the young wall crawler’s first solo outing with more super powers and radio chatter than the game needs. And yet, despite its frantic pace, Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a compelling open-world action game that helps highlight why Miles is so special: his culture. It’s Miles’ unique differences and earnest attempts at figuring out how to protect his community that make him into such a wonderful hero, not the mask he wears and superpowers he wields.

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Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales Review

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