Miles Morales is an astonishing introduction to next generation gaming and continues developer Insomniac Games’ excellent record.
This article was originally published on November 17, 2020 on Within the Abyss.
It’s finally here, with the debut of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, the next generation of console gaming has begun. And despite the massive setbacks and delays wrought upon the gaming industry as a result of the coronavirus, the PlayStation 5 has at least one launch exclusive worth the price of admission.
To start, Miles Morales is a decidedly smaller game than 2018’s Marvel’s Spider Man. Where the original Spider-Man was full of villain appearances, multipart side missions tackling New York’s notorious, and plenty of combat challenges, Miles Morales is more singular and contained. This isn’t an expansive run-through of the newest Spider-Man’s villain roster, but an introduction into how Miles earns and embodies the title of Spider-Man. And though both Peter Parker and Miles share the mantle of Spider-Man, Miles still feels unique in a variety of ways.
Absent is Peter’s jovial “Spider-Cop” banter with the New York Police Department, here in 2020, Insomniac Games is careful to play both Miles’ and Harlem’s feelings on the police department tight lipped. Instead, Miles Morales takes new strides in integrating both Miles and Spider-Man into the hustle and bustle of Harlem. Activities such as helping local shelters run by LGBTQ members, protecting a deaf graffiti artist from a corporate ambush, running inventory for mom-and-pop stores, and (of course) rescuing a local celebrity cat, all help solidify the special connection between Miles and Harlem in ways Peter Parker could only grasp at. Miles Morales’s major characters are also just as engaging, and though there are a few repeat appearances from the 2018 film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Miles Morales offers up distinctive iterations of these mainstays.
So, while Miles Morales continues Insomniac Games’ impressive record for inclusive characters and compelling storylines, it would all be for naught if the game wasn’t a blast to play. Fortunately for us all, Miles Morales is both a technical wonder and an outstandingly fun-to-play experience. Following up on the success of Marvel’s Spider-man, Miles Morales perfects and improves the prior’s formula of free-form combat and accessible web-slinging.
Nearly every facet of the previous game’s combat has been improved on: tougher enemies, better emphasis on stealth, new gadgets, an expanded air trick system, and the highlight, the venom system. Miles’ variety of venom attacks, bio-electric super moves, serve to open up combat in unique ways. Whether it be area-of-effect stuns that incapacitate large groups of enemies or massive, single-target punches and dives, Miles delivers justice with unmatched power and style. Brilliantly, Miles can also use modified versions of these dashes and jumps during web-slinging for maximum speed. Where web-slinging in 2018’s Spider-Man was fun but perhaps too automatic, Miles Morales’ array of new traversal moves and expanded trick systems make the experience more engaging and electric.
Miles Morales’ enemies are no slouches either. Rocket-jumping snipers require constant re-positioning to dodge, aggressive brawlers chase Miles down, and imposing shield units redirect and suppress venom abilities. If Marvel’s Spider-Man was just a bit too easy, Miles Morales updates its enemies and diversifies its encounters enough to keep the combat as challenging as it is flashy.
And damn, is Miles Morales flashy. From the ground up, this is a next generation title, with blisteringly fast loading times and silky smooth 60 frames per second (in “Performance Mode”). The upgrades in graphical fidelity are genuinely impressive for this release window. Usually, it takes years for developers to make full use of a console’s capabilities, but Miles Morales immediately looks and feels leagues ahead of the competition (matched only in graphics by the Demon Souls Remake). The PlayStation 5’s new DualSense controller also provides more immersive and responsive rumble effects, and the haptic feedback on the trigger buttons is a delight. The tension on the controller triggers matching Miles’ ebb and flow as he web-slings throughout Harlem is just one of the small but important details that truly immerse the player in the experience.
All in, Miles Morales is a certified success. Insomniac Games have enhanced and expanded on the combat and traversal fundamentals of their 2018 triumph, authored a believable and diverse cast of new characters, and wrapped it all up in a stunning presentation that showcases the immediate power of the PlayStation 5. There are minor stumbles in regard to major character conflicts and the game is regrettably too short, but make no mistake, Miles Morales is here to bear the weight of the markets’ expectations on next-gen hardware and gaming. There’s never been a better time to don the mask, after all, anyone can wear it.
Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales was released for the Playstation 5 on November 12, 2020.