Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales (Review)
A snow spangled spectacle.
I absolutely love 2018’s Spider-Man on PS4. The Insomniac developed title is my favourite first-party game from the last generation, beating out the likes of God of War and The Last of Us. To this day it remains the only game for which I have earned the Platinum trophy.
So when Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales was announced in the summer of 2020, I was overjoyed. A spin-off adventure where you get to play as Miles with his own signature flair to the combat? Hell yeah!
I finally got my chance to play Miles Morales back in June and from moment number one I was sucked right back into things. Insomniac has hit a pretty high bar once again with gorgeous visuals, an intriguing narrative, and some of the best combat in a third-person video game.
But it’s not all praise and applause for this game because at times Miles Morales stumbles, and to an extent much greater than Peter Parker’s 2018 adventure.
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Miles Morales is set in the same Manhattan from the first game. But considering that this game is a spin-off - essentially a Spider-Man 1.5 - I will let it pass. Insomniac however does add something new to the cityscape in this game: snow.
Miles Morales takes place during wintertime and Manhattan looks absolutely gorgeous in white. The almost greyscale ground floor of the city provides the perfect contrast to Miles’ striking fluorescent bioelectric powers.
Insomniac keep up the visual splendour during the more intense parts of the game too. Fight scenes explode with colour as each individual animation from the falling snow to exploding lights brings even more bonanza to battle. The cinematics are exceptional too, both in their cinematography and graphical prowess.
However all these marvellous animations during combat lead to a steady stream of frame drops during intense fist fights. Usually these hitches only bring a momentary pause to gameplay, but at times can lead to halts of multiple seconds as my jet-engine of a PS4 struggles to keep pace.
Frame rate drops are also constant while web swinging in camouflage mode. Luckily the player is never required to do such a manoeuvre but the game’s overall optimisation still leaves a lot to be desired.
The UI in this game is a tale of two halves. The HUD during gameplay looks stylish and sleek. Everything looks a lot more modern and futuristic in comparison to Peter’s HUD from the 2018 game which fits the tone considering Miles is a younger main character.
Where the UI falters is in the menus. For some incomprehensible reason, Insomniac decided that, since Miles Morales is first and foremost a console game, it would be a good idea to make the players navigate the menus using a cursor. While the cursor itself wasn’t too small and never caused that much frustration, why couldn’t it just be a normal menu navigable with the D-pad?
Now for the best part of the game: the combat. Just like Spider-Man 2018, the combat in Miles Morales is goddamn amazing. There is clear and noticeable impact between Miles’ fists and the enemies you are attacking, ensuring the combat never feels floaty.
Instead of the wide variety of gadgets Peter used in the first-game, Miles’ arsenal is more focused on his powers of bioelectricity (called Venom) and invisibility. There is a small but rewarding skill tree to invest skill points into, giving you cool new moves and abilities the more you play.
With three branches of Combat, Venom, and Invisibility skills, you can choose where to invest based on your personal play-style. However since skill points are quick to come by, it is likely you would be able to max out the entire tree by the end of a playthrough.
If you were a fan of the gadgets from the first game, you can rest easy because they are not all gone. Miles has 4 basic but useful ones to play with: the classic Web Shooter, Holo-Drone, Remote Mine, and Gravity Well. This strikes a good balance where Miles has his own unique and brand-new abilities for the player to use, while also retaining the tactical side of the first-game with these 4 gadgets.
Miles’ combat (and web swinging) animations are also quite different to Peter’s. They take up a more expressive and wild nature, slotting nicely into the theme of Miles being inexperienced to the ways of a superhero. Some of the finisher animations are especially cool to witness for the first time and never got old during my time with the game.
What is odd though is how Miles already knows a lot of the moves Peter had to learn during the course of the first-game. A short training montage at the start of the game would’ve helped nicely tie up this loose end but alas it is just a minor nitpick.
Furthermore, enemy variety is excellent in this game. By the end of the Spider-Man 2018, the enemies you faced got a bit samey. In this game however they always felt fresh, large part due to the effort Insomniac put into crafting new and interesting foes for you to face and small part due to this games considerably short runtime.
Two minor nitpicks to end this section. The quick time events in this game (and there are a lot, just like Spider-Man 2018) have all the splendour they need but lack much interactivity. Button prompts are too safe and don’t adequately punish the player for being too slow.
Moreover, I just found Miles Morales to be really easy and not at all challenging. From all the time I spent with Spider-Man 2018 - from my first playthrough, platinum run, and DLC time - I knew I had a pretty good grasp of the combat. So before I started Miles Morales, I bumped the difficulty up to Spectacular - which is essentially the equivalent of Hard.
And I died a grand total of three tiles in the game: once because I ran up the side of a building and couldn’t see a brute with an energy sword at the top, and twice during the final boss fight. The game does throw a lot of enemies at you quite often, but once you get the hang of dodging when your Spidey sense goes blue, it becomes quite a cakewalk.
When it comes to the open-world activities and side content, I think Miles Morales does some things better than the first game and some things worse. First of all, it approaches this side of things differently to the first game.
The side quests are something Miles Morales does well, and noticeably better than the first game. There seem to be more of them, and the stories are more fleshed out than ever before. In Spider-Man 2018, I was innately interested in only a couple of side missions, while the others were done solely when I needed more XP or in my platinum hunt.
But in Miles Morales, I actually wanted to do these side missions because their plots were just so much more interesting. They revolved around characters you meet throughout the game, which gives you a personal motive for actually helping them out.
Out in the open-world though, Miles Morales follows the same blueprint laid out by 2018’s Spider-Man game. There are collectibles to find, enemy camps to clear out, and challenges to complete (in the first game they were laid out by the Taskmaster; this time they are Peter’s doing).
There are also crimes and world events to complete, which are provided to you through an app on Miles’ phone called FNSM (Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man). The world events are triggered by performing various actions around Manhattan, and reward you with small amounts of XP and some activity tokens.
Alongside these events see the return of crimes. Except this time there are only 11 across the city. You get a single token from these crimes. Crimes were the most plentiful open-world feature from the first game and I actually quite liked them.
They gave you an incentive to stop swinging and engage in some combat every now and then, while also providing you with tokens. And you had to do a serious amount of them before you finally stopped receiving tokens. I think many people will prefer this new system for open-world stuff but I have a soft side for the old one.
At the start of the game, after an initial fight with Rhino, Peter informs Miles that he is heading to Symkaria to help MJ in her journalistic work. Miles is now, temporarily, the only Spider-Man New York has. The base sets up a story of Miles’ coming of age, and how he matures into the hero the city needs.
It’s a solid narrative, one that pits a large energy corporation called Roxxon against a pro-environment rebel group called the Underground. Insomniac weaves in characters from Miles’ personal life into the larger plot, such as his old friend Phin as the leader of the Underground, his Uncle Aaron as the Prowler, and his mother Rio as runner for city council - whose electoral campaign serves as a backdrop for the entire game.
What is lacking is a large cast of villains for Miles to come up against but given the smaller scope of this title, the shortcomings in this aspect are a little more understandable.
Insomniac also pulls of an MCU-esque move of having a duo of superhero and best friend, with Miles and Ganke a striking portrait of Peter and Ned from the latest movies. Overall the plot is good, but kinda funny facial animations and some questionable dialogue writing really damper the emotional impact of more serious scenes.
Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a solid standalone entry to this wonderful series that Insomniac is building. The changes made to the open-world structure don’t quite hit the mark every time, but Manhattan is once again a joy to swing through and quite a marvellous sight to take in.
The story doesn’t quite hit the heights of the first-game, let down by some questionable facial animations and writing, but just like it’s predecessor, the entire package is held together by some absolutely stupendous combat that the player can go bananas with.
In my eyes at least, the 2018 original is the superior game, but 2020’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is great in its own right and cements Miles as a Spider-Man to fondly look back on.
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