Miles Morales was underwhelming in 2018’s Spider-Man on PlayStation 4.
He felt a little too juvenile and far too dorky, and it was never totally clear how he fit within this world. While some of that remains in the early chapters of Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, this spectacular tale is even better than the original.
Miles has become an icon after Into the Spider-Verse, and his first solo video game adventure makes the original feel basic by comparison. Maybe it has something to do with how many different versions of Peter Parker we’ve seen in the last two decades, but there’s far more exciting new territory to cover with Miles.
He is at once both Spider-Man and a unique hero in his own right. So even when his story plays out in a way that greatly resembles the first game, it’s still surprising and refreshing. Being set in early winter as opposed to autumn helps make it feel refreshingly different.
A more personal hero’s journey
Late in the first game, Miles is bitten by (another) radioactive spider and acquires the same spider-strength, adhesive fingers, and web-shooters that Peter has. But Miles discovers even more powers that make the experience feel refreshingly new. He can turn invisible and channel bioelectricity to electrify his attacks. They call it Venom Shock, which is kind of confusing considering Spider-Man’s best villain is also called Venom ... but whatever.
Everything is cool enough that we don’t care.
Light spoilers follow for the story of Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales.
Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales opens just before Christmas with Miles still in training, but things get serious after Peter leaves for a trip abroad with Mary Jane, leaving Miles to fly solo for the week.
“The Underground” is the new villainous gang in town, and they use a kind of transmutable matter designed by the “Tinkerer” to target Roxxon Energy Corporation.
Simon Krieger, a blonde mogul who feels like Donald Trump and Elon Musk fused into one conniving creep, is building a Nuform reactor in the heart of Harlem that promises clean, renewable energy. Behind closed doors, he’ll harass people and admit to doing it for profit. At one point, he calls a teenaged character “babe.” It’s enough to make your skin crawl.
It’s up to Miles to figure out who the real villains are. Along the way, he has to make a new super-suit, uncover the mysteries at the heart of Roxxon, and save New York City from total disaster after all hell breaks loose.
The basic plot beats resemble the first game a little too much: a maternal role model, a suit-making montage, a mid-game destructive spectacle, reconnecting with an old flame, etc. All of this is forgivable, thanks to the rich personal stories and relationships that make Miles Morales even more spectacular than the first game. (Despite your concerns, it doesn’t feel that much shorter!) Even when Miles is swinging all the way to the Financial District, this is still a game about Harlem and the people who live there.
Miles reconnects with friends new and old over the holidays just as his mother’s political career is taking off. She’s running for local election on a mostly anti-Roxxon platform, which only raises the stakes. There’s also Ganke, a cheery friend who serves as Miles’ support over the phone, and his uncle Aaron Davis, who’s hiding secrets of his own, as you can probably predict.
The most interesting relationship in the game, however, is that between Miles and his childhood friend, Phin Mason. They grew apart after going to different high schools, and their easygoing banter borders on romantic. In a simpler world, these two kids definitely would have gotten married. But because of everything going on, the drama between them is as delightful as it is heartbreaking.
Where Peter Parker’s Spider-Man swings pristinely between buildings, Miles’ web-swinging is hilariously clumsy. Even in the endgame, when he’s proven himself capable of going up against powerful supervillains, he moves through Manhattan with a unique style and charm. There’s something hilarious about watching Miles’ legs flail during a free fall. Even his physicality in battle feels decidedly different from Peter’s in the first game. You can’t help but expect this to feel like more of the same, and yet somehow, it’s not.
The shadow of the Academy Award-winning Into the Spider-Verse looms large over Miles Morales. Developer Insomniac Games could have avoided addressing the animated film altogether, instead trying to carve out a unique place for their depiction of Miles. Instead, the studio embraces it in some really cool ways.
One of the optional suits you can unlock along the way is Miles’ suit from the movie, and there are mods you can also equip that simulate the jittery animation style and/or incorporate unique Finishers and animations “from across the Spider-Verse.” There’s also an easy-to-miss Easter egg from an early mission that had me clapping with glee.
To be clear, this game features a tonally different version of Miles, who winds up feeling much more mature than the one in Into the Spider-Verse. But Miles still grapples with a lot of the same uncertainty that comes with operating in the shadow of another Spider-Man. Miles embraces Harlem just as much as the community embraces him, and it gives the story a richer and more intimate sense of community. By the end, hearing people call Miles “our Spider-Man” really resonates.
Amazing but not perfect
For anyone who loved Spider-Man on PS4 and Into the Spider-Verse, Miles Morales will exceed even your wildest expectations. It’s a near-flawless game, and while it thrives as a Spider-Man simulation, the adaptation of the superhero experience to an interactive medium makes crime-fighting feel like a job. Maybe that’s the point?
As such, the game as a whole still falls prey to the same pacing problems that bedeviled the first. While you can technically dabble gradually in the various activities the game throws at you, there’s a lot of incentive to burn through every batch of fetch quests as they unlock.
You get activity points and other upgrade materials that let you unlock new Spider-Man suits and gadgets that’ll make the rest of the game easier and more fun. And while there are often delicious little snacks of lore waiting for you, they’re marred by repetitive design choices. They’re at times a somewhat fun way to explore the city and learn more about its inhabitants, but not when the puzzles become repetitive and monotonous.
Do I want to rescue a cat and let it ride around in my backpack? Hell yes I do. But do I want to chase pigeons again? No thank you!
Even for gamers who aren’t completionists, these small tasks feel obligatory. So you can’t just focus on the story. In fact, the slate of training missions left by Peter to reteach you the basics of combat, traversal, and stealth are essential — and they award you with abilities you wouldn’t otherwise get. The fact that I can choose to swing all the way uptown to take a selfie with a fan rather than rush into a story mission that feels narratively urgent simply does not make a lot of logical sense.
If you can forgive these slim faults — and you should — then Miles Morales is worth it to spring for the $69.99 Ultimate Edition on PS5.
We played through the PlayStation 4 version of Miles Morales on a Vissles-M portable screen with HDR enabled, and it looked stunning. Especially with the Peter Parker redesign that makes him look more like Tom Holland and less like a Muppet, graphics looked far improved over the first game, even if the load times felt a bit too long at times. Experiencing the game on a next-gen console with a TV worthy of the graphical fidelity will truly feel like a worthwhile PS5 launch title. 9/10
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: When it comes to video games, Inverse values a few qualities that other sites may not. For instance, we care about hours over money. Many new AAA games have similar costs, which is why we value the experience of playing more than price comparisons. We don’t value grinding and fetch quests as much as games that make the most out of every level. We also care about the in-game narrative more than most. If the world of a video game is rich enough to foster sociological theories about its government and character backstories, it’s a game we won’t be able to stop thinking about, no matter its price or popularity. We won’t punch down. We won’t evaluate an indie game in the same way we will evaluate a AAA game that’s produced by a team of thousands. We review games based on what’s available in our consoles at the time. And finally, we have very little tolerance for junk science. (Magic is always OK.)