Spider-Man: Miles Morales review: New hero, same heroic gameplay
November 8, 2020
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by admin

It’s not that rare for a new game console to launch with a big marquee sequel. From Super Mario World and Breath of the Wild to Sonic Adventure and, uh, Perfect Dark Zero, companies often use such sequels to try to highlight the benefits new hardware can bring to an established and well-loved game design.

Spider-Man: Miles Morales isn’t quite in the same category. The game, which serves as a marquee launch title for the PS5 (and which is also available on the PS4), is much more of a “more of the same” sequel than a generational showcase for the gameplay power of a brand-new console. There are a few graphical upgrades and a few new gameplay tweaks, but if you played 2018’s Spider-Man, you pretty much know what to expect.

Good thing, then, that the basic gameplay remains as compelling and fun as ever and has an interesting new story to boot. Miles Morales doesn’t reinvent the wheel because it doesn’t have to. Take the same solid gameplay, throw in an intriguing new character focus, and mix it together into a tightly paced open-world package that doesn’t wear out its welcome with a lot of extraneous padding. The result is an able sequel, even if it’s not exactly the system seller that Sony might want for the PS5 at this point.

A new kind of wall-crawler

Miles Morales is a new, friendly neighborhood Spider-Man who’s adjusting to a new neighborhood himself. After moving from the Bronx to Harlem after the death of this father, Morales is coming to terms with his new powers while also coming to terms with the loss of the familiar. And to top it all off, his mentor Peter Parker is conveniently leaving the country for a vacation, giving Miles his first real chance to act as the solo Spider-Man for the entire city.

After decades of Peter Parker stories, focusing on Miles gives the game a fresh perspective that’s about much more than the main character’s heritage. Morales is a decidedly modern teenager, mixing a packed social schedule and social conscience in with family obligations, charity outreach, and web-slinging heroics. It’s evocative of the earliest Spider-Man comics, when Parker was just an everyday ‘60s teen coming to grips with how strange new powers affected his everyday life.

The game does a good job of slowing things down every so often for intimate looks at Miles as a person, not just a hero. You see him deal with strained friendships, fraught family dynamics, and trying to be an upstanding member of the community even when he’s out of his Spider suit. These well-written, personal story interludes ground the game in a way that’s atypical for the usual superhero beat-em-up.

Sure, there’s still a bit of the usual scenery-chewing comic-book-style super-villainy, and a fair few heavily telegraphed plot twists leading to the big, climactic battle. But there’s also a lot of effort put into giving the new Spider-Man’s main antagonists here some believable motivations beyond mere anger or revenge. Without spoiling too much, I’ll just say that the interweaving plotlines left me with some conflicted feelings about what constitutes “going too far” in the fight back against injustice.

More of the sameplay

While the specific Spider-Man we’re focusing on is new here, the act of being Spider-Man is utterly familiar in Miles Morales. You still websling around the city with some of the most satisfying mid-air superhero controls this side of the Batman: Arkham series. You still use an in-game social media app to find side quests and nearby crimes amid the story beats. You still sneak taking out as many enemies as possible while hiding above them stealthily, then resorting to edge-of-your-seat melee-combat to take out the last few stragglers.

The biggest changes here involve Miles’ electrical powers, which he slowly discovers over the course of the game. Regular combat charges up your electrical meter, which you can use for powerful armor-reducing punches, area-of-effect crowd-dispersal attacks, quick dashes across long distances, and more. Eventually, Miles also gets the power to briefly go invisible, giving new stealth possibilities and a chance to get out of tough scrapes.

There’s enough variety and challenge to these encounters that I never got tired of them, even as I fought through dozens in my ten hours or so with the game. Miles Morales does a good job always throwing just enough threats at you from all angles to ride that fine line between “I’ve got this” superhero bravado and overwhelming test. Thanks to an incredibly readable visual interface, you quickly gain the reflexes and muscle memory necessary to juggle up to a dozen or more enemies at once, all of which aren’t afraid to work together from all directions with different attack patterns.

In between the fighting, you get the usual sharp, quip-filled comic book writing Spider-Man is known for (as well as an entertaining series of dueling news podcasts that play automatically as you swing through the city). You also get a lot of fetch quests that reward exploring every inch of an extremely detailed and lively version of New York City. These exploration tasks are woven in well with the story, fleshing out characters’ pasts and relationships with some subtle depth every time you find a new trinket.

The only real sour note in the proceedings is a handful of extremely simple spatial relation puzzles. These focus on looking around the nearby environs with “spider-vision” to figure out how to hook up some electrical generator to some other electrical doodad, or to use web power to arrange some massive scenery in the necessary way. The best thing that can be said about these portions is that they’re rare enough and short enough to avoid messing up the excellent pacing of the rest of the game’s web-swinging and fighting.

I’m usually not the type to bother going for 100% completion in this kind of open-world game, but the sheer joy of exploring Miles Morales New York—looking for hidden baubles and beating up its less-savory characters all the while—will have me exploring every last morsel of Spider content. My one complaint at this point is that there isn’t more of that content—15 hours or so should be enough for a completionist playthrough that I’d be happy extending for much longer (though a New Game + option lets you start over with all your upgrades if you want to work through the game again).

Miles Morales may not be exceptionally original, but it’s a well-told, exceedingly human superhero story built on a strong, proven foundation of open-world mechanics. What better way to show off a new console?

The Good

  • Grounded human plot focuses on a new kind of Spider-Man
  • Clever (if cheesy) writing and strong, natural vocal performances
  • The same solid web-slinging mechanics of its predecessor make exploring the city a joy
  • Melee combat maintains challenge without becoming overwhelming

The Bad

  • Occasional spatial-relations puzzles slightly bog down the pacing
  • You may run out of content before you run out of interest in the game

The Ugly

  • Waiting for load times on the PS4 after experiencing the PS5 version

Buy it if you want an “expansion pack” sequel with an interesting story and solid, familiar gameplay.

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