Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales carries with it the weight of following up a modern classic, but it must also contend with the fact it depicts a hero who will fall under increased scrutiny based on what he represents. Starring an African and Latino American, Spider-Man: Miles Morales has a lot of responsibility on its shoulders and it’s admirable that the game attempts to bear this responsibility with a story firmly rooted in social injustices, indignation, and questions of heroism. Unfortunately, the noble ambitions exceed the game’s limited scope, resulting in a story that feels like the Spark Notes version of a potentially profound tale. Even with its compromised narrative, however, Miles Morales is an excellent follow up to the 2018 hit, boasting a fun protagonist, phenomenal gameplay, and a living world.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales begins with immense promise and showcases the stark contrast between Peter and Miles. The game opens with Miles strolling the streets of Harlem and helping his neighbors. Actively engaged with the world around him, even without a mask, there’s an optimism to Miles that’s infectious. Miles is comfortable in his own skin and confident with other people, a far cry from Peter’s awkward, but kindly, persona. Unlike many modern superheroes, Miles has friends and a loving family that he trusts and brings into his life, and he doesn’t take on the fight alone nor push others away. Miles feels grounded in his world and fully connected to those around him.
Sadly, Spider-Man: Miles Morales wastes its protagonist’s refreshing characterization. The game is hamstrung by a truncated narrative that never challenges Miles nor shows the intricacies of his inner life. Throughout Miles’ journey, he is always resolute, never hesitant or doubting, even despite the complexities of his context. Spider-Man: Miles Morales’ narrative involves the exploitation of the poor by a powerful corporation called Roxxon that is using Harlem’s residents as guinea pigs to test out its new energy source, Nuform. Complementing this plot are two foils for Miles who represent different extremes. One wishes to burn everything down in anger while the other nihilistically abides, preferring self-preservation over heroics. Add to this the fact that Miles’ mother is running for city council, and the game is ripe for social commentary, complex morality and inner turmoil.
At a mere 6-8 hours, Spider-Man: Miles Morales’ campaign doesn’t have the time to do any of its stories justice. The game quickly moves from one point to another and barely addresses important themes aside from the lip service that comes with expressing the basic concepts. Furthermore, the systemic plights of the community are never seen nor are they experienced by Miles. This deflates the motivations of those who would challenge Miles’ moral conviction and it means he never internally struggles. There’s a messiness to internal lives and not giving that to Miles, as the original did for Peter, is a disservice to his character.
Despite its narrative failings, Spider-Man: Miles Morales manages to compel thanks to its brisk pacing and excellent gameplay. There are always new scenarios, set pieces, and enemies to engage with and the excellent mechanics from the previous game not only carry over but are also impressively expanded upon. Miles begins the game with many of Peter’s advanced moves already unlocked, like being able to web throw brute enemies, and this leaves the door open for Miles to learn a bevy of new skills that make him an insurmountable force in combat.
Miles’ spider-based powers go beyond strength and sticking to walls, allowing him to channel his bio-electricity into power attacks that he calls Venom. Over the course of the game, players can unlock five Venom moves that are all capable of devastating the battlefield. Some launch groups of enemies into the air while others destabilize, and often take down, singular threats. These attacks give Miles a much more aggressive feel than Peter. Whereas Peter had numerous gadgets and had to rely on tactical evasion to take down bigger enemies, Miles can face them head-on. The game also does a brilliant job of changing things up by introducing empowered enemies that require Venom attacks to be defeated, turning encounters into brutal brawls.
Aside from Venom, Miles has one other superpower that differentiates him from Peter: Camouflage. Camouflage turns Miles invisible and empowers him both in stealth and combat. During stealth encounters, Camouflage enables Miles to easily flank enemies while during combat. Camouflage also allows for quick escapes, giving Miles the room to reassess and reclaim control without needing to resort to hit-and-run tactics.
Both Venom and Camouflage are deepened by the addition of new skill trees. There are three skill trees in Miles Morales, with the first being a standard set of augmentations to Miles’ base skill set, while the other two are entirely dedicated to Venom and Camouflage. Some of the upgrades are basic boosts, like increased recharge speed for Camouflage, but others provide entirely new moves, such as blinding enemies when coming out of Camouflage or being able to do a Venom ground pound. The skill trees, like in the original game, are simple and easy to fill out if one takes part in open-world activities, but they provide progression and further the feel of Miles growing into his own as a superhero.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales lives up to the original’s open world standard with 10 hours worth of optional missions that are a joy to complete. There are collectibles that help flesh out some of the side characters on top of enemy hideouts, side-missions, and challenges to finish. The challenges are especially worthwhile, as they are holographic training simulations set up by Peter to help Miles hone his skills (Peter is away on a work vacation with MJ during the majority of the game). These challenges are not just fun, they are insightful. The challenges provide a look into Peter’s history as Spider-Man, since he peppers each one with a little narration about how he learned the relevant skill.
The only new addition to the open world, and easily the most impressive evolution of the formula established in the original game, is the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man App. The app allows citizens to contact Miles for help and contains unique missions to complete. These missions are wonderful, emphasizing mundane interactions that reiterate Miles’ intimate connection to the city. Better still, a number of these missions deepen the relationship between Miles and Peter. Peter augmented Miles’ suit with lectures that activate when doing specific tasks, so, during a number of these missions, Peter reflects on how becoming Spider-Man changed him, helping see the humanity of others. This is then mirrored by Miles who begins to see elements of New York life, like pigeons, in a new light: what he once dismissed as a nuisance and gross becomes a symbol of connection and love.
Completing side activities is worth it for the content alone but doing so does come with other rewards as well. Upon finishing missions, Miles is awarded with tech and activity tokens that allow him to buy new suits, augment existing ones, and improve his gadgets. Overall, the customization is more limited than the original game because Miles has only four gadgets, instead of Peter’s eight, and the suit augmentations are primarily passive bonuses. Since Miles has the Venom and Camouflage abilities, he does not unlock any ultimate moves with his suits in the way that Peter did. There are some fun novelty mods, however, like one that changes the way Miles moves to match the animation style of Into The Spider-Verse.
From a presentation standpoint, Spider-Man: Miles Morales is every bit as spectacular as the original, if not better, and in no way feels hampered by being on the PS4. With the exception of the 8-10 second load time needed to boot it up, the game is entirely seamless with elegant transitions in and out of cut-scenes. The frame rate is smooth and set-piece moments capture an epic feel unrivaled in the superhero genre. The only technical issues we experienced were three isolated instances of problematic performance. The game crashed twice and, at one point, a set-piece moment stuttered and broke immersion. There is a day one patch launching with the game that could address these issues, however.
Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales fumbles its well-intentioned story by failing to challenge Miles and adequately address its complex context, but it is still an enthralling experience. The campaign is filled with memorable gameplay and the open-world exploration successfully expands upon the successes of the original game. It also sets the stage for Miles to become the face of the franchise, and perhaps his story will be better told in a full-fledged game rather than a shorter jaunt through his origins.
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Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales will be released on PS4 and PS5 on November 12. A PS4 code was provided to Screen Rant for the purposes of this review.
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