Charlie loves her video games as much as she loves dumb, charming JRPG protagonists: probably way too much. You can often catch her spending too much time being emotional over LGBT stories in games. She also thinks Yakuza 6 is the best one.
November 12, 2020
Sony Interactive Entertainment
Riding the high off an almost decade-long comic run and heavily featuring in 2018 game Marvel’s Spider-Man, young web slinging hero Miles Morales is back. This time, he gets his very own leading adventure in game form with Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. It’s an awesome opportunity to revisit a wonderful character, and hell, even serves to champion him further as he so rightly deserves.
Following on from the events of the game prior, Spider-Man: Miles Morales follows the titular hero and his ventures across New York City and, notably, his home suburb of Harlem. The very suspicious and powerful science organisation (you saw this coming, it’s a Marvel story), Roxxon, claims to have the answer to powering Harlem through a gigantic core that’ll last decades, even centuries to come. Rogue wannabe mafia-turned-vigilantes calling themselves The Underground aren’t so trusting. They hold secrets to some of the organisation’s wrongdoings and have started a fight with them, using just as powerful and equally dangerous tech. So you have The Underground, led by the mysterious Tinkerer, trying to stick it to the bad guy. Though, are their methods all that great? Stuck between a turf war literally right on his doorstep, Miles Morales must don his Spider-Man suit and save the day.
What follows is a story that won’t be too ground-breaking when it comes to superhero stories. This may be a negative for some: short of a few small surprises, it’s quite the predictable story. That being said, it’s forgivable. Instead, developer Insomniac Games have opted for a popcorn-fuelled romp, with the bigger spotlight on the characters and setting of Harlem. When you consider some of the wonderful themes the game explores, it was the right choice to make.
Miles Morales features the same New York City as its 2018 predecessor. With that being said, there are some new additions and neat touches. As a lot of the game takes place in the district of Harlem, Insomniac saw the need to mix up its scenery accordingly. It’s all the better for it. Where the prior Spider-Man insomniac adventure saw you mainly venturing around downtown Manhattan in Hell’s Kitchen, Madison Square Garden and the likes, uptown New York is where Miles Morales’ hub and culture sits this time around. Walking the streets, interacting with Harlem locals, or even swinging high above them, it’s charm and culture is more immensely clear than ever. This is largely due in part to both its wonderful world design and charming cast of characters.
Where we saw pride flags all around New York City in our last Spider-Man game, just as many gorgeous murals, graffiti and bodegas capture Harlem so greatly. You’ll see a giant, jaw-dropping mural of a black individual on the side of one building, a memorial painting of someone’s abuelita (grandmother) rests in another. Puerto Rican flags will hang from apartment windows, and Christmas decorations are out and about. New York City, with Harlem in particular, is bursting with colour and flavour.
As both Spider-Man and himself, Miles can talk, dance with the locals, and even speak ASL with a deaf community member that’ll regularly appear in main and side missions. Rio Morales, Miles’ mum, is campaigning to be the mayor of Harlem. The Morales family, along with some of Miles’ friends (such as Ganke, your sidekick who knows your identity and helps outfit you with cool spider tech) will have a traditional dinner to celebrate Christmas. This game speaks so much to family, community and culture, and by that notion has more heart than the original. It’s a triumphant celebration of the Afro-Latinx community, one that Miles represents so well.
A lot of the feelings of community and love that Christmas brings is brought out in this game. It’s set during the end of a holiday break for Miles and his high school friend Ganke. As you’re swinging through the familiar New York, you can’t help but feel you’re seeing it in quite the new light. With snow piled up on sidewalks, decorations just about everywhere and even at times heavy snowstorms, you’ll feel in the thick of it, even when it’s near Summer here in Australia.
You know how some people say Die Hard is their favourite Christmas film (just because it’s set at Christmas) and if you’re like me you’ll roll your eyes? I finally get it now: Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is my favourite Christmas video game. Move over, Batman: Arkham Origins. I know what you’re thinking, but hear me out.
Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales really has some wonderful character work going for it. In his spare time not helping you be a crime-fighting hero, your friend Ganke is a teen that chips away at the indie video game he’s making in his spare time. He’ll even jump on the suit’s intercoms with you regularly at both opportune and inopportune times, cracking jokes or even asking Miles what he thinks of their assigned holiday reading of Jane Eyre. There are your estranged close ones in the form of former best friend Phin and Uncle Aaron. Combine this with a brief interchange with Peter Parker, tuning into the horrific conspiracy theorist J.J.J podcast, and more, and you’ll be fully immersed in Spider-Man’s world.
Though some admissions such as the obvious raytracing were missing, Manhattan is still quite as gorgeous as ever, even with the PlayStation 4 copy of the game I reviewed. Like its entry prior, swinging around and finding neat spots to take some nice pics in the (better than ever) photo mode is a large part of the fun the game has to offer. Seriously, with the addition of new frames, filters and the ability to change the lighting in your shots, you’ll feel like your own in-game professional photographer. Have some fun with it, I implore you. I’m not ashamed to admit how much time I spent trying to recreate the iconic jump in the leap of faith scene in Into The Spider-Verse.
Like 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man prior, Miles Morales’ combat is closely likened to that of the Batman Arkham series. You’ll often be swarmed with enemies, all with varying levels of strength and it’s up to you to dodge, dip, punch, kick and handle it. Takedowns, combos, using your environment as a weapon, fluid web-shooting and the use of gadgets all return here, but the latter come in different forms now. A gravity well (a powerful trajectory web bullet that’ll suck in groups of enemies) turned out to be my least favourite of the bunch, but still at times proved effective in its own right. Your web-shooters work wonders as ever, while electrical web mines are good for attracting a group of enemies to a spot, only to set off the charge and take them out.
Miles also has two other new tricks up his sleeve. Namely, the cloak and venom ability are the big changes here. For a limited time, our hero can turn invisible and deceive their foes. This can help greatly in either taking down a base of enemies in stealth, or just losing that enemy’s line of sight when you find yourself in a spot of bother.
The venom abilities (not to be confused with the black goop that comes from the Spider-Man villain of the same name) are essentially powerful and concentrated amounts of energy that Miles can emit from his gloves. These are a whole different beast. Fill up a meter through successful hits and you can then press a combination of L1 + Square can allow for Miles to do a drastic ‘venom punch’ lunge at enemies, punching and filling them (and with later upgrades others) with electricity. Another option is the ‘venom dash’ which sees our hero pounce on an enemy, shocking them with electricity and chucking them at other foes for extra damage. For true hell-raising, Miles can also launch enemies into the air with a ‘venom jump,’ or just as powerfully slam them down in the same means. Top that off with a powerful venom finisher that sees our hero letting out a large blast of electricity, devastating everything in their path, and you’re now left with quite the more fleshed out skillset.
“Swinging around New York, zipping to walls and careening yourself off of objects all truly is as satisfying as ever.”
Swinging around New York, zipping to walls and careening yourself off of objects all truly is as satisfying as ever. I won’t go as far as to say it makes you ‘feel like Spider-Man.’ You’re still a person holding a controller and pushing buttons after all. But with the use of the venom abilities allowing for you to dash midair or jump higher off your swings, it feels as fluid and fleshed out as ever. That’s kind of interesting and ironic; Miles is only seventeen and far less experienced a hero than Peter. Yet here he is, with a bigger skillset, feeling better than his elder. It’s not a negative or bad choice, just a curious one.
The other pull the game has going for it is the variety of upgrades you can earn that’ll net you new suits, suit techs and upgrades. Once more, the variety in suits will be a joy to players. The known classic Miles Morales suit from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse will obviously be one of those highlights. With a suit mod, Miles’ movements can also be animated like that of the movie’s inspiration too, using fewer keyframes in his movement and a slightly slower (but effective) framerate to highlight the rustiness and learning hero nature Miles has.
For added measure, plenty of markers, side missions, and collectables will fill up your map of New York City. As someone that already loves being a completionist for games where I can, it’s especially gratifying to see a game that is truly mechanically exciting to explore each and every crevice of the map. The side missions are well worth checking out too, they offer some interesting little standalone side stories that’re each interesting in their own right.
Be it the tracksuit or the classic suit, working towards grinding to earn these suits, watching those points and meters fill up made me happy. It speaks true to how engaging navigating Manhattan, engaging in challenge activities or helping out your community members really is. If all else, it’s a good excuse to participate even further in the wonderful photo mode, finding the suit that works for you and nabbing some sweet pics.
Unfortunately, it’s not all a win for Miles Morales. Despite its brevity in art direction, it’s still a game that was absolutely testing my base PlayStation 4’s limits, and had me itching for next-gen to be here already. Gameplay and framerate did chug in some combat encounters filled to the brim with enemies. Some instances saw me performing animations such as zipping to enemies to take them down only triggering halfway. I’d web to them successfully, only to be stuck in front of them mid-animation, not able to move or do any attacks, instead just taking a beating until a reload or being killed fixed the problem. Combine this with the fact that occasionally just textures aren’t quite always there, and it’s incredibly obvious I’m not playing the best version of the game.
2018’s Spider-Man had quite an impressive level of polish. With only two years to follow into Miles Morales, it seems the game just needed a little more time in the oven. We don’t yet have word on how the game plays on the PlayStation 5, but come its release date we’ll be sure to let you know. Here’s hoping it’s far better optimised and gives the game the championing it deserves.
Celebrating black culture, community, love, and family, while championing the underdogs and offering a bombastic superhero experience, Miles Morales had the opportunity to be, well, The Amazing Spider-Man. Where it stands however, it isn’t. It’s still a great and wonderful game but doesn’t reach the all-timer status that the unique and powerful titular hero Miles Morales deserves.
However, it is a fun time sink and could very well prove to be cleaner on the next-generation. With the PlayStation 5 dropping in less than a week, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is fun enough that I’ll at the very least check out how it fares there. Don that suit, swing those webs, look those evil corporations in the eye and say, “What’s up, Danger?”