Platforms: PS4 (Reviewed), PS5
Insomniac’s Spider-Man has become a defining title for PlayStation 4. Largely called one of the best games of the last generation, it fully captured what it was like to be Peter Parker, juggling life in one hand and web-swinging around New York in the other.
Now, a spinoff, Spider-Man: Miles Morales is looking to recapture that magic on PlayStation 5 with a new hero that has recently caught on in popularity. I may not have a PS5 yet, but I am a comics nerd and a huge Miles Morales fan, and I was excited to see if Insomniac could pull it off again.
Turns out, last-gen heroes are still heroes in my book.
The story: What it means to be a spider
There aren’t a whole lot of stories for Spider-Man to tell, and frankly, we like it that way. It always follows a formula. Our spider-hero plays an overwhelmed underdog whose life is three steps away from crumbling. They eventually get put into a position where they have to choose between their life as a person and their duty as a superhero. Ethics get involved, friends get put in danger, and tough decisions have to be made.
Miles Morales continues this tradition, but the Miles’ viewpoint is much different than Peter’s. Peter’s stories always seem to focus on individual characters whereas Miles always deals with the community. The same is true for this video game adaptation, which allows you to explore much of the old New York map that the original Spider-Man gave you, but focuses primarily on Harlem, and military tech giant Roxxon’s attempt to build a new HQ there, and their conflict with a similarly high-tech gang called the Underground.
This is a gentrification story, a gentrification story that features military supergiants building animal-themed tech suits, but a gentrification story nonetheless. Roxxon and its leader, Simon Krieger, fundamentally looks at Harlem and its people as disposable. This isn’t just me reading a progressive take into it. The game practically beats you over the head with this message throughout the game, especially in its ending. Roxxon is, essentially, a modern-day colonizing force, moving into a neighborhood, displacing its people, and using it for its own ends without concern for who or what it hurts.
The game largely deals with community identity in the face of overwhelming power and privilege. Roxxon is a military outlet with power suits and guns. Everyone else in Harlem is just, a person, and it’s hard to do anything in the face of all this power and money when you are just a person. There are a lot of social allegories here, some directly addressed through the political action of Miles’ mother Rio, and some more metaphorically through… you know… punching, the tried and true comic book metaphor that we all love.
The game’s villains are particularly interesting. Ever hear of The Tinkerer before? Of course not. He was a throwaway villain from the 70s who never made it big in modern media. Miles Morales’ take on the Tinkerer, though, is fascinating and tragic, a sympathetic portrayal that is much different from the original comic book origin. Simon Krieger takes on a more traditional evil role of the wealthy evil business owner with no morals. We also get to meet familiar faces like Prowler and The Rhino, and there’s even a sting scene with Venom which makes the 90s kid in me very happy, even if it is more designed after Ultimate Venom then good old angry Eddie.
Appropriately, Miles’ tale focuses on a much larger cast of characters than Peter’s does. You have his family, friends, community members, on top of lots of returning faces from the original Spider-Man including Peter himself. It is a compelling, if surprisingly, short tale that will keep you in your seat from beginning to end. It will happily satisfy the most hardcore comic nerds to the most casual fan who only became aware of Miles after Into the Spider-Verse.
The gameplay: A new but familiar hero
If you played the original Spider-Man then you know what to expect here. Miles and Peter don’t actually control all that different. While the animations have changed to better represent Miles’ personality, the buttons are all the same. You’ll web-swing the same, mash through combat the same, and generally move around New York in the same way you did before.
That being said, Miles is not Peter. He brings his own flavor to combat to make things feel a little bit more personalized. He feels faster, for example, which makes combat feel more frantic, appropriate since Miles is newer to the game than Peter is. He has access to bio-electric venom strikes which allow him to paralyze foes, or deliver singular crushing blows to specific targets, which makes each mob encounter feel a little bit deeper. Also, he has cloaking abilities that aid in stealth sections and allows you to avoid enemies in certain combat scenarios.
Miles’ equipment also plays a bigger role in the game than Peter’s did. The suit bonuses from the original Spider-Man were neat but largely forgettable. Miles, however, can choose between suits and several mods for his visor and suit, all of which come with some pretty hefty bonuses.
In general, mission design in Miles Morales is just higher quality than it was in the original Spider-Man. Despite its quality, Insomniac’s first title got repetitive quick, with many side-missions boiling down to “go to location X and beat up enemy group Y.” Miles’ missions don’t do that as often. The game seeks to shove story tidbits into every corner and loves to pepper your tasks with some light puzzles and scavenger hunts.
In the end, you are still mashing buttons to Spider-Man harder, and if you chase down the main missions you are largely just going to be swinging to new areas, beating up goons, and facing bosses, but I wouldn’t say there’s anything bad about that. Miles doesn’t have to reinvent Spider-Man to be a good game. It knows what made the original fun, and it gives you more of that.
The presentation: Great now but worth the wait
I’ll admit that I cheated a bit for this section. As I said before, I don’t have a PS5 to play the version of the game that all the cool people get to play. I had to settle for the good old PS4. And on PS4 it looks… fine.
Well, it looks good, don’t get me wrong. It just looks a whole lot like the original. Miles Morales is an asset flip, kind of. It’s just the best looking asset flip we have ever seen. It uses a lot of the same locations and character models and it’s clear that there’s some generic animation re-use going on with enemies, but there’s still so much that’s new, from the Christmas makeover of several areas of the game to new hit sparks to strategic mixing of NPC character mobs to make everything look just a little bit closer to new.
On PS4, it’s easy to tell what has been re-used. On PS5, judging only by the high-quality video I have seen, it looks like a completely different game. The city just looks so much deeper and rich and complex in 4K. Granted, I’m not a huge fan of the 30FPS cap on Fidelity Mode, but that’s probably just the fighting gamer in me complaining about anything that doesn’t run at 60FPS or higher. Still, even the game’s performance mode looks better than the PS4 version.
It doesn’t look like there’s any major difference in the content between versions, so you are going to have to ask yourself, do you want to wait to play the best possible version. I, myself, have been pulling on every possible contact and connection I have to try and get a PS5 and I have had no success, but despite the sort of inevitable lack of stock and the soft resignation I have to wait until the PS5 becomes easier to purchase, I still feel like I missed out on what this game was supposed to be by playing the last-gen version. Every generation I feel like graphics can’t get much better and every generation I’m completely wrong.
The value: A smaller, more compact adventure
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, the length. You can beat Miles Morales in 7-10 hours. Yes, that means a dedicated gamer can beat it in a day (and change if you break for food.)
It is… technically a budget title. It costs $50 instead of the full $60 but… that still feels like a pretty steep price for a game you’ll beat in a sitting or two. Many are calling this a glorified expansion pack and, truth be told, it kind of is.
That’s not to say that it’s bad. On the contrary, it’s really a fantastic game that I had a lot of fun with, a lot of fun packed into a very short time.
The best way I can describe Miles Morales is dense. It’s a lot of really good content packed into a really small package. Insomniac could have padded the length out with more copy-paste side-quests but I’m not entirely sure that would have made the game better.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, it’s a good game, but $50 is still a heavy ask for a game this short.
This brings me to my final question, should you buy Miles Morales now or should you wait? Well, it depends. If you liked the original Spider-Man you’ll love this, in fact, you’ll love it so much that you’ll blow through it. This is why, despite its quality, you might just want to hold off on purchasing Miles Morales to be a big celebration of the moment you get a PS5. Unless you are one of the lucky ones to have gotten a console at launch, it will have come down in price at that point to better reflect its length.