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Let’s be honest, this new generation launch lineup has been thin at best. It’s been mostly small indie games and older IPs with a flashy new coat of paint. But there are some exceptions. When Spider-Man : Miles Morales was announced, rumors began to fly about what we’d actually be getting. Is it a glorified DLC? Maybe it’s a standalone game with less content akin to Uncharted Lost Legacy or Left Behind? The answer to those questions is yes, it’s all of that. It’s also incredibly fun and a blast to play. While I question the price of admission, Insomniac leaves no doubt that they are really, really good at what they do.
Picking up about a year and a half after the events of the original Spider-Man game, we’re put into the shoes of Miles Morales this time around which is fitting, considering the title of the game I suppose. He’s still under the tutelage of Peter Parker, and the story begins with the two of them taking on one of the big bads from the original game. Shortly after, Pete heads off with MJ on a vacation/work assignment leaving Miles alone to handle the crime fighting all by his lonesome. It doesn’t take long for him to get in over his head either.
In order to pull off a shorter experience like this, the story needs to hit. While a little predictable, the real star of the game is the way Insomniac is able to build an amazing supporting cast around Miles. Given the smaller scope, they chose to focus on Harlem where Miles, his mother, and several friends reside. Understand that the entire map of New York from the first game returns, fully able to explore and filled with collectibles. You have free reign to go wherever you want, but the heart of the story is in Harlem. Most of the side missions take place there as well. We’re also introduced to The Tinkerer and the company Roxxon, the new bad guys. They’re simply OK. The problem is they (particularly The Tinkerer) aren’t really fleshed out in certain ways. I’m being vague to avoid spoilers, so bear with me. You fight that character several times and I question how this person didn’t get destroyed after three minutes of fighting Miles. It didn’t make sense.
Throughout the game, you’re making connections with the members of your community, helping them out with several different tasks. It’s all narrative driven so it doesn’t feel out of place or forced. Insomniac also focused on his heritage and how it blends with the location. Having grown up in Chicago with a Puerto Rican father, spending a large part of my childhood in neighborhoods like this, I can say from experience, they really nailed it. From the sense of community to the conversations that Miles has with his mother in “Spanglish” while swinging around the city, it was nice to see the Hispanic community finally represented in this way. I mean, it’s better than Rico Rodriguez from the Just Cause games or Vega from Street Fighter I guess. The bar was super low is what I’m trying to say. It’s cool to see.
The rest of the game will be incredibly familiar to veterans of the original, with some notable changes. Most of these are for the better, but it also brings some baggage along with it. Let’s start with combat and the traversal system. Swinging through New York City is still exhilarating as ever, except when it isn’t. Now most of the time it’s silky smooth. The addition of the adaptive triggers is a nice touch as well as it’s definitely noticeable but not intrusive. While we’re talking about the DualSense, don’t go in expecting an Astro’s Playroom experience. This isn’t it. It’s used more in transitions and cut scenes rather than full game implementation, aside from the aforementioned web swinging and while using your powers during combat. The best thing I can say about it is, it’s there. Back to the traversal, there were a few times I felt like it just wasn’t working, like at all. Several times during some white knuckle fighting, the entire trigger just didn’t work. The bigger issue, like the first game, is that it immediately breaks the immersion. What could have been a really cool moment turns into a clumsy stumble into a group of pedestrians. Not sure why that wasn’t fixed. On the other side of the traversal coin, doing some mid-air acrobatics seemed to be much easier to pull off this time around. And it actually has a function, filling your venom meter between destinations. It also fits the character better than it did Peter with Miles being a little more brash and carefree.
While combat mechanics are similar to the first game, at least from a “which buttons do what” perspective, it becomes clear from the outset that these two Spider-Men are totally different. Punching, kicking, webbing, are all essentially the same. Then your Venom powers emerge and they literally change the game. The first is your bio-electric venom ability. Initially, they just give you a little extra punch. As you progress, you unlock an array of different uses for it including puzzle solving outside of combat. At its higher levels, it becomes almost over-powered. The balance is there, but if you understand how the system works, you could annihilate large groups of enemies in a short amount of time. The balance comes from the introduction of much tougher enemies. Every few missions you’re introduced to a new bad guy with a new gimmick. They have different gear and attacks that make you adjust your game plan as the game goes on. Your other power is basically invisibility or active camouflage. Depending on your play style, this is either your ace in the hole or, like in my case, you forget it exists until the game reminds you it’s there. For the stealth missions obviously you’re going to use it. During combat, not so much. Not that you can’t, in fact some camo skills are directly related to combat and work hand in hand with your venom powers. It’s still a very cool power, it just functions better in specific situations. It is another way Miles separates himself from Peter though, which is important. The point is that the entire system feels fresh yet familiar. It’s like you can make small yet meaningful changes to your proven formula and actually improve your game in a big way. Take note Ubisoft.
Insomniac does a good job hitting just the right amount content to keep the player engaged the entire time. It’s a much more compact experience than their first foray into the Spiderverse. Overall, that’s a great thing. “Just enough” is a good way to describe the amount of side missions, hideouts, and collectibles. There are some new activities involving Peter that act as training modules, as well a few new gadgets to add to your already impressive repertoire. I can’t forget to mention all of the new suits you get to unlock. The Spiderverse outfit with the movie effect where it slowed down the frames on the character only? Chef’s kiss baby!
It took me about 20 hours to 100% everything the first time through. For that platinum trophy, you’ll have to sink another 8 to 10 hours, maybe a bit less, to do a new game plus playthrough. In a world full of giant open world games full of mostly fluff, this is a nice and tight little package. This is where my issue comes in. $50 for this game is a little absurd. It’s all subjective of course but even at $40 I would have felt a little less violated. At least my wallet would have. Now, the ultimate edition comes with a copy of the remastered original game for $70. That might be your best choice. Both games received the next gen treatment with a choice of fidelity or performance mode (4K with raytracing or a toned down resolution with 60 frames per second) on the PS5. It’s also not that “Next-Gen” game that’s going to showcase your new console either though it comes close, and definitely looks and plays better than ever before. When compared to games like Demon’s Souls, just aesthetically, it’s a bit lacking. Not trying to minimize the work that was put in, just trying to make a comparison.
Miles has gained a ton of momentum over the last few years, bringing together lifelong fans of the character, and fans who were introduced to him in the first Spider-Man game. He’s relatable and people seem to connect to him, more so than Peter. People have been looking forward to this game since Sony announced that it was coming. I definitely have. There wasn’t a lot you had to change. Insomniac could have just slapped a new costume on and called it good. Instead they made an entirely new game while not making an entirely new game, if that makes sense. The fact is, they keep more from the original than they actually change. Yet here we are, playing the next Spider-Man game with a new character and everything is different. Yet the same. When they eventually release the next game (stick around after the credits) I hope they re-examine some of the mechanics that are starting to show their age. More importantly, I really hope they continue to deliver a story that’s personal and meaningful. Bigger, more grandiose narratives would fail this franchise. It’s a balancing act for sure, but Insomniac has proven they have the chops to do it. Now the wait begins. In the meantime, if you don’t mind the slightly inflated price, give Miles Morales a spin. You won’t regret it. Probably.