Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a brilliant expansion of Insomniac's beloved superhero adventure from 2018. It shows why Miles Morales is, arguably, the franchise's greatest strength, while also proving how much of an impact the next generation will have on visuals and performance. If you're picking up a PS5, this is essential.
- Miles Morales is an excellent protagonist with a worthwhile story
- Meaningful expansion of the original gameplay formula with new powers
- Manhattan looks positively gorgeous with ray tracing on PS5
- Teases an exciting future for this vision of Spider-Man
- The campaign is a little short for the asking price
- A fairly pedestrian take on the open-world genre
- Review Price: £51.99
- Release Date: November 12, 2020
- Genre: Action
- Developer: Insomniac Games
- Platforms: PS4, PS5 (version tested)
Insomniac Games nailed how it felt to be Spider-Man back in 2018, distilling the sense of charm and adventure that the superhero exudes so well. Players could live out their childhood fantasies across a vast open-world adventure that seldom held your hand, even if it stuck a little too closely to genre conventions at times.
Now under the ownership of Sony, Insomniac returns to the beloved webhead’s universe to tackle a smaller, more intimate effort that follows fledgling superhero Miles Morales. Young, foolish and finding himself with mysterious new powers, we follow Miles as he learns to be the saviour of New York without the tutelage of Peter Parker, having to deal with villains that threaten the entirety of Manhattan over the most wonderful time of the year.
But it’s the personal beats of this overly brief tale that really shine, discovering how someone so young deals with obscene levels of responsibility while trying to maintain teenage relationships that would be difficult without the added pressure of saving the world. It’s a touching delight, and brutally tear-jerking at times, thanks to an excellent slew of performances.
Miles Morales is a fantastic expansion of Marvel’s Spider-Man, and does a stunning job of showcasing what the PS5 is truly capable of. It’s certainly too short for the price and fails to innovate upon the formula, but those who wish to spend more time amidst Insomniac’s vision of Manhattan will love everything about this.
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If you didn’t play the 2018 original, it concludes with the discovery that Miles Morales has also adopted superpowers as a result of a radioactive spider bite. Following the defeat of Doctor Octavius and the deadly spread of Devil’s Breath, Peter has taken Miles under his wing and taught him what it means to be a fellow saviour of New York. This spin-off opens with our duo of superheroes escorting a prison convoy through New York, which intends to put away many of the villains who thwarted our heroes in the last game.
As you’d expect, things immediately go wrong and Rhino is unleashed across the metropolis. What follows is a thrilling opening sequence where we chase the stubborn horned-one through shopping centres, industrial complexes and snow-drenched streets as he causes untold amounts of property damage. Insomniac uses this introduction to both familiarise you with the mechanics and to show exactly how Miles stands apart.
He’s a younger, less-experienced hero, and this clumsiness is reflected in the way he zips around the environment taking out thugs with a flurry of fists and kicks. While taking down Rhino he makes some mistakes, leading to livelihoods being ruined even if the day is saved in the end. He blames himself for this, with it acting as the foundation for inner doubts that help him grow throughout the narrative.
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Unfortunately for him, this trepidation only grows as Peter vanishes for a few weeks on a Christmas holiday, leaving Miles to fend for himself in The Big Apple. Being the stand-up dude that he is, the original Spider-Man fails to realise that a sinister selection of evil corporations has already gotten their hooks into the city. Roxxon is an energy corporation that’s boasting about a new form of renewable power, while failing to disclose how such resources have an ill-effect on those who use it.
The Underground is a well-meaning yet corrupt resistance movement trying to stop them, but it fails to realise the damage it’s causing as a band of reckless vigilantes. Miles Morales stands in the middle of these two factions, having to deal with his own personal investment while also realising the sacrifices that must be made to protect those closest to him. His hesitation is strikingly relatable: he’s desperate to do the right thing, even if it means watching relationships crumble away.
While the campaign is brief, it manages to develop a number of characters and their interconnecting relationships beautifully. Miles will banter with his closest friend Ganke, as they develop a “Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man” smartphone app to help out local residents. Or, he’ll work alongside his mum, as she seeks to be elected as a representative of Harlem.
The strongest bond is between Miles and Phin, two friends who have grown apart over the years, only to discover demons they both hold upon reconnecting. Giving such relationships additional room to grow would have been welcome, but Insomniac does a stellar job given the restraints it is seemingly working under. I cried, cheered and felt crestfallen for those people in the darkest moments, which is an achievement given how saturated the superhero genre has become in recent years.
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I won’t spoil some of the bigger character reveals here, since they’re worth experiencing for yourself, but fans of Into The Spiderverse will love so much about Miles Morales. The lead character’s passion for music, street fashion and science bleeds into the overall aesthetic, which is positively bursting with colours as Christmas lights reflect off the dark winter streets.
A person of colour leading the charge in a AAA blockbuster is also great to see, and I hope it’s the start of a more common trend. If you played the original at all, the majority of Miles Morales will feel keenly familiar to you. With the exception of his own abilities, the flow of combat and stealth is virtually unchanged, and you’ll find yourself swinging throughout New York with ease in a matter of moments.
Miles is capable of blasting enemies to pieces, or launching himself into the air with bursts of bio-electricity, which can also be used to overload generators and link together circuits in many fascinating puzzles. He can also turn invisible, which is invaluable when wanting to escape an overwhelming encounter and begin striking from the shadows. Miles is taken aback by the new powers upon earning them, echoing my own agency as I slowly learned what made him tick.
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Much like the previous game, you’re slowly but surely given a selection of side activities to complete across Manhattan, which help provide points for upgrades and flesh out the otherwise limited campaign. Miles can uncover monuments to his relationship with Phin, or record urban sounds to help piece together a makeshift mixtape. Of course, you’ll also find evil bases to conquer and procedural crimes to prevent while swinging about the place.
It’s an infectious cycle of content that I was spurred onto complete simply because navigating Manhattan is so much fun with superhero acrobatics. Miles controls beautifully, and his own bespoke animations reflect the hesitance in his own personality, growing in confidence as the story progresses. He has a right to be nervous, unsure whether to disclose his secret identity to those he adores in fear of harming them, while also learning if he’s really capable of protecting the city.
It’s a shame that the majority of side missions outside of the main story feel rather generic, regardless of how fun they are to partake in. It’s open-world design circa 2012, elevated by entrancing moment-to-moment traversal and combat. However, there are signs of the formula advancing. Ganke’s friendly neighbourhood app provides quests that are altogether unique. You’ll be tasked with tracking down pigeons while Peter’s AI feeds you cringe-worthy trivia, or hunt down shipments that have been robbed from local food banks. All of these are a joy, and flesh out who Miles Morales is as a person.
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I played through Miles Morales on PS5, and while last-generation technology acts as its foundation, I was blown away by its use of real-time ray tracing. You can select from two graphical modes: Fidelity and Performance. One increases performance to 60fps without enhanced visual features, while the other throws everything at the wall in return for a more conservative frame rate. I used the latter, and it’s a genuine visual marvel.
The snowy rendition of New York means that reflections bounce onto skyscrapers, streets and passing vehicles with ease, resulting in a frighteningly realistic depiction of light as Miles swings throughout the city. It looks best in the night or during the early hours of the morning, where harsh sunlight beams into your vision and obscures everything in sight. I’ve left an example below comparing both of the modes.
As you can see from the above screenshots, ray tracing brings so much more natural life to your surroundings. Miles Morales will see himself reflected in the windows of skyscrapers while crawling upon them, while the glitz and glamour of Times Square bounces off every conceivable surface to create a spectacle I’ve rarely seen the medium achieve before. I’ve fiddled with ray tracing extensively on PC, and this is certainly one of the most impressive examples I’ve seen. Some reflections can appear blurry to boost performance, but it’s a small blemish on something that feels truly next-gen. When switching back to Performance mode, everything felt flat by comparison.
PS5 also makes innovative use of the DualSense controller, albeit not as extensively as Astro’s Playroom. The act of swinging can be achieved by putting the lightest amount of pressure on the right trigger, while holding it down will cause Miles to move more aggressively, shifting his body upwards as the web moves with him. The vibrations of explosions and the cacophony of noises that define Manhattan also bleed into your fingertips, making the world feel more alive as a consequence. It’s a small addition, but one that alongside everything else feels borderline transformative.
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If you’re picking up a PS5 this month, you need to own Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. It’s a gorgeous showcase for the platform, even if it’s also launching on PS4. The implementation of ray tracing makes the city of Manhattan feel more alive and reactive than ever before, with minimal impact on performance. If that’s not your cup of tea, you can play at a seamless 60fps with visuals that still pack a punch.
As for the game itself, it’s a worthwhile expansion of the universe Insomniac has created, easily making Miles Morales my favourite character in the entire franchise. He’s kind, brave and wise beyond his years, and I can’t wait to see how future titles expand upon his relationship with Peter Parker. While it doesn’t build on the formula enough to be truly groundbreaking, this is still a journey worth taking.
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