With a fully-fledged sequel to 2018’s Spider-Man presumably somewhere on the horizon, it’s understandable why Sony would choose to kick-off the launch of the PlayStation 5 with a standalone experience of sorts, even if it’s playable on their older platforms as well. Described by the publishing giant as an “expansion and enhancement,” Spider-Man: Miles Morales sticks close to the formula laid out by its predecessor while placing the focus on a fresher face, one who’s racked up a sizable fanbase over the past few years.
That’s right – move out of the way Peter Parker, it’s Miles’ time to shine. Taking place a year after the first game concluded, this new tale follows Kid Arachnid as he walks the path to becoming a hero for New York City. It won’t be easy though; shortly after the game kicks off, a few convenient plot points ensure that Parker won’t be around for a bulk of the action, leaving Miles alone to hold things down in the Big Apple for a few weeks.
Without diving too deep into the story, it’s safe to say that fans who already played through Insomniac’s first game will feel right at home. While a handful of new characters make their debut throughout the eight-to-ten hour journey, you’ll also spot several familiar faces, and the map hasn’t changed all that much, save for New York City being covered in a thin blanket of snow.
Seeing as how this is a standalone expansion, it should come as no surprise that the plot doesn’t tie in much with Peter’s story from the first game. Instead, Insomniac has woven a tale that finds Miles Morales smack dab in the middle of a war between the Roxxon Energy Corporation and a tech-loving criminal group called the Underground, which is led by the mysterious Tinkerer. If you’re at all familiar with the broad strokes of Spider-Man lore (or if, you know, you’ve seen a few comic book movies), you’ll probably spot the handful of twists coming from a mile away. Thankfully, Insomniac seems to be very aware of how familiar their story is, and in turn, any “big reveal” moments are packed into the first couple of hours.
If you enjoyed the foundation and core gameplay that was laid out in 2018’s Spider-Man, have I got good news for you. For the most part, the minute-to-minute action is exactly the same as you remember it. Miles can swing around the city just as fluidly as Peter could, and the combat loop of landing punches and pulling off quick-dodges is back and ready for duty. That being said, Insomniac Games has clearly listened to the criticism levied against the first outing and have made some conscious steps to rectify its shortcomings.
For instance, the underwhelming open world distractions have been severely pared back. No more Oscorp surveillance towers, no more unlocking sections of the map one at a time, and most importantly, the litany of painfully boring side missions has been scaled down. Don’t get me wrong; Spider-Man: Miles Morales has its fair share of collectibles and the like, but they aren’t as abundant, and they feel a bit more substantive, too.
A bevy of time capsules, for example, take the place of Peter’s stash of backpacks, but these new collectibles are usually well-hidden and provide just enough background story to make hunting them down worthwhile. On the other hand, an ongoing side mission to collect audio samples throughout the city provides more than enough narrative exposition, all while adding a welcome element of puzzle-solving. Sure, these distractions are by no means revolutionary, but they’ve got more appeal this time around.
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What’s less appealing is the changes to Spidey’s arsenal. To fall more in line with his natural powers, Spider-Man: Miles Morales introduces Venom attacks – electrically charged moves that can dole out a lot of damage in a short period of time. At the onset, these new abilities fit naturally into Miles’ repertoire, but it doesn’t take long before the game introduces specific enemy types that must be countered by specific Venom attacks. These restrictions effectively force the player’s hand by turning combat encounters into a game of matching. To add insult to injury, while 2018’s Spider-Man gave folks a wide array of gadgets to make use of in battle, Miles Morales cuts Spidey’s arsenal in half, and some of the best tools (like the Impact Web and Web Bomb) are nowhere to be found.
The other trick Miles has up his sleeve is the ability to go invisible for several seconds at a time. Personally, this one is going to be very hit or miss. While I appreciate the attempt to include Batman Arkham-style stealth sections, hiding in the rafters and waiting to strike on unsuspecting enemies doesn’t carry the same weight here. If you enjoyed these sections from the first game, more power to you, but if not, at least you’ve been warned.
If I’ve come off as a bit overly negative, I do apologize – even though some of the design changes haven’t exactly hit their mark, there’s still a lot to love in Spider-Man: Miles Morales. With its sophomore outing, it’s clear that Insomniac Games has found the soul and voice of the world they created. Everything from the addition of a new, down-to-earth in-game radio show (one which drives J. Jonah Jameson up the wall) to the Friendly Neighborhood smartphone app (that serves as the new portal for side missions) weave a more realized version of New York City bolstered by the power of Sony’s new hardware.
Yes, Spider-Man: Miles Morales can be played on your battle-worn consoles, but it really does shine on the PlayStation 5. Next-gen customers have the option to pick between two graphical modes: Fidelity, which runs at a native 4K at 30 frames per second with ray-tracing, enhanced lighting, and additional visual effects, and Performance, which targets 60 frames per second without the bells and whistles, with a 4K image reconstructed from a lower resolution framebuffer.
What mode you choose will come down to a matter of preference, and while some would prefer to harken back to a day where the developers simply chose a visual preset for you, it’s safe to say that selectable graphics modes are here to stay. Regardless of how you play (assuming you’re on the PlayStation 5), you’ll benefit from the virtually non-existent load times. In fact, the game loads so quickly that by default, the small subway scenes which play while fast traveling are disabled, seeing as how these transitions only last one to two seconds at most.
On the whole, Spider-Man: Miles Morales is far from the home run fans might have been hoping for, but in all honesty, it never needed to be. Sure, it doesn’t do much to push the franchise forwards, but as a temporary pitstop on the way to a full-blown sequel, Insomniac Games’ latest is the sort of low-stakes distraction that many have been looking for during these trying times.
This review is based on the PlayStation 5 version of the game. A copy was provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment.
While it does little to move the needle for the series as a whole, Spider-Man: Miles Morales both plays the part of a much-needed stopgap and serves as a technical showcase of what the PlayStation 5 can bring to the table.