Our review of Spider-Man: Miles Morales, developed by Insomniac Games. Released on November 12, 2020 for PS5 (reviewed) and PS4.
WHAT IS IT?
A wonderfully web-slinging spin-off in the PlayStation spider-verse, featuring the star of the cinematic Spider-Verse.
IS IT GOOD?
Is he strong? Listen bud: he’s got radioactive blood.
WHO SHOULD PLAY IT?
Everyone except Tom Holland, who might very well sue for the unauthorized use of his likeness on the remodelled Peter Parker.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – one of my favourite movies of 2018 – took the notable risk of displacing the canonical Spider-Man, Peter Parker, in favour of recent comics creation Miles Morales. Morales is an interesting Spider-Man for a number of reasons, not least the fact that as a visibly Afro-Latinx teenager, he’s part of a vanguard of long-overdue pop cultural representation. Morales, like Star Wars‘ Finn or Thor‘s Valkyrie before him, is the kind of character who sends Trump voters into conniption fits, but warms the hearts of SJWs like me.
Morales is also just a really good character. Peter Parker was born in August 1962, in the pages of Amazing Fantasy #15, and he’s getting a bit long in the tooth. In comparison, Miles Morales debuted in 2011, a younger, hipper Spider-Man taking up the mantle of the then-recently-deceased Peter Parker. (Don’t worry, it’s the comics: Pete got better.) It’s refreshing to again have a Spider-Man who’s new to the job, who has his own family trauma – modelled on, though not a copy of the Parker origin story – and who’s as excited about swinging through the streets of New York City as the player holding the controller, or the reader holding the comic.
That said, Morales is definitely a spin-off of the “main” Spider-Man, and it sometimes bleeds through into how he’s treated in the comics. It’s similarly obvious that PS5 launch title Miles Morales is very much meant to stand in the shadow of 2018’s PS4 Spider-Man. It’s been cobbled together quickly, using the same game engine, an identical New York map (albeit with the expected next-gen upgrades), and it’s a leaner, more focused story centred around the question, “What if Spider-Man went on vacation, and left his apprentice in charge?”
But that’s great! There’s nothing wrong with a shorter experience, especially when this is basically an interlude, a game meant to hold us over until the real next-gen Spider-Man game swings into action. Who needs 40 hour games anyway?
BAT VS. SPIDER
It’s become increasingly difficult for superhero games to get out from under the shadow of Batman. Specifically, the Arkham trilogy, with its gadget- and stealth-heavy gameplay that combines rhythmic button-mashing with a ludicrously oversized utility belt full of Shark-Repellent Bat Spray. I (lovingly) labelled the 2018 Spider-Man game “Arachnid City”, and that holds true here.
Morales is the stealthiest Spider-Man I’ve ever seen, crawling along ceilings then dropping down to shock and knock the heck out of generic thugs. He also has a ridiculous number of un-Spider-Man-like gadgets at his disposal, such as summoning holographic dummies to fight alongside him (which is truly random). Swinging through the huge New York map feels exactly like swooping through Arkham City, and it’s similarly dotted with hundreds if not thousands of side-tasks and collectibles to chase down.
And, of course, Spider-Sense operates the same as Batman’s “evade”, with combat a smooth interplay between punches, kicks, web-slings, and awesome slow-mo dodges. I particularly love how this Spider-Man’s finishing moves are robustly context-sensitive, generating different animations based on the size of the enemy, where you’re standing, even whether you’re mid-air when you trigger the move.
SPIDER-MAN, SPIDER-MAN, SPIDER-MAN
Early on in Miles Morales, you’re introduced to the Marvel video game universe’s equivalent of Baby Yoda: he is a cat, and his name is Spider-Man.
That’s right: there are, in fact, three Spider-Mans (Spider-Men?) in this game.
The presence of Spider-Man the Cat is wholly unexpected, and wholly welcome. Spider-Man the Cat gets up to all sorts of shenanigans. Spider-Man the Cat has a Spider-Man mask that he wears on his furry little face. Later in the game, you can carry Spider-Man around in a backpack as you swing through the city. Spider-Man purrs and looks adorable and oh my god, his name is Spider-Man, how can you not love him.
Spider-Man the Cat actually belongs to the local bodega owner in Miles’s neighbourhood in Harlem, around which much of the action is centred. This Harlem is not the grimy, sensationalized Harlem of 80s films and pearl-clutching New York mayoral campaigns past. Rather, it’s a bright, up-and-coming, diverse neighbourhood in which Miles Morales fits right in alongside Korean-American best friend Ganke Lee, African-American nerd queen Phin Mason, and an admirably diverse cast of supporting characters, including a deaf woman with home Morales holds a conversation in American Sign Language. It’s super cool to see the star of a Marvel video game speaking ASL, and completely in line with the inclusive philosophy of Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee.
It’s also very cool, if that’s the right word, that Miles Morales‘s plot touches on themes such as privatization, gentrification, and corporate disregard for marginalized communities. For a game about a dude in a spider costume beating up shiny purple-hued goons, it’s nice to see it grapple with some legitimately pressing social issues. And hey, I always like to see Roxxon, Marvel’s entertainingly unsubtle Exxon surrogate, get dragged.
IN ONE SPIDER-VERSE, OUT THE OTHER
Miles Morales, poor guy, he just can’t compete. PlayStation gives him the smaller game, and his spotlight immediately gets stolen by a cat also named Spider-Man. His world is riddled with puzzles to complete and collectibles to find, but the rewards – costumes largely invented for the game – pale in comparison to the fact you could dress up as 60s cartoon Spider-Man or Scarlet Spider in the previous game. Morales’s rogues’ gallery is also paltry: where the previous Spider-Man had marquee names like Doctor Octopus, Kingpin, and the Sinister Six, Miles Morales has… the Tinkerer. And, um, Rhino and Prowler, if only in passing.
To be fair, there are times when Miles Morales on PS5 really does feel like the next-gen Spider-Man. For one, the city looks spectacular, and the Christmastime setting was likely informed by a desire to show off the PS5’s very impressive snow and wind effects. (Although, given all the vent-crawling sequences, it’s also possible someone at Insomniac really, really likes Die Hard.) For another, Miles Morales is the smoothest Spider-Man yet: I found myself running into far fewer walls or misfired web slings than in any past spider-game. Miles may be a novice Spider-Man for story purposes, but he drops into this game equipped with the experience of several decades’ worth of digital spider-predecessors.
Into the Spider-Verse brought Miles Morales to the masses. Spider-Man: Miles Morales may well make him a household name. And if he happens to bring along a few of his Spider-Verse buddies for the next outing – Spider-Ham vs. Spider-Man the Cat, anyone? – all the better.
Final score: 8/10 batmans (batmen?)
Visit the official page for Spider-Man: Miles Morales here.