What’s Up, Danger?
2018’s Spider-Man was easily one of the best video games of the year, successfully taking what worked in the Arkham series and naturally expanding that to fit with a more nimble and acrobatic style for Peter Parker’s Spider-Man.
With surprisingly nimble web shooting mechanics, a deeply satisfying combat system and an easy open world that didn’t stretch on endlessly for the sake of boasting a larger size (hello Ubisoft), Spider-Man was – and still is – one of the best superhero games on PS4.
So how could you possibly top that with a follow-up? The answer is, you can’t. Instead, Miles Morales never tries to reinvent the wheel, instead deciding to keep that momentum going by producing more of the same. This is essentially a 7-12 hour side-chapter to Marvel’s Spider-Man, introducing a couple of new gameplay additions, a host of new characters and an emotionally charged story but still largely the same experience from the first time around.
Here though you’re controlling Spider-Man’s enthusiastic protégé, Miles Morales. The story takes place around a year after the events of the first game (which this one handily covers thanks to a recap.) Miles has moved back to Harlem with his Mother and just now starting to understanding the gravitas of donning the web-slinging mask. With great power, comes great responsibility.
After an opening skirmish around New York with the returning menace of Rhino, Peter Parker heads off for some much-needed R&R with MJ. Entrusting the safety of the city to Miles, things predictably go south very quickly. Simon Krieger fronts the conglomerate Roxxon, which promises to provide renewable energy (known as Nuform) to the masses. Even this early though, the sinister smiles and venomous dialogue is enough to figure out there’s something very wrong.
Mile’s Mother protests against this corporate takeover that threatens to usurp the homely feel of Harlem. A strange group known as the Underground get involved too, fronted by a nimble and formidable foe called the Tinkerer. While all this is going on, another superhero known as The Prowler lurks in the shadows. That’s an awful lot of pressure for a 17 year old Miles to take on but thankfully his best friend Ganke is there to at least try to alleviate some of that pressure. Even if it is through some mid-mission radio banter.
As the story progresses, the truth about what’s going on is uncovered while Miles struggles to keep this balanced with his home life. This is only made more complicated when Miles’ old friend Phin arrives on the scene. There’s definitely some romance simmering under the hood but this never really materializes into anything beyond friendship.
A mid-story set piece atop Braithwaite Bridge is a particular highlight though and essentially tips the story across into a more urgent state. This crescendos beautifully into the end chapter of the game which brings everything together for an emotional pay-off that works beautifully.
This is where Miles Morales really excels, and the emotionally resonant story is brilliantly constructed. This is a narrative all about identity – both externally and internally – with emphasis on satisfying and carefully constructed character-driven arcs for all involved.
There’s a couple of predictable twists to keep this family conflict brewing at the heart of this title but it’s difficult to grumble with such a tightly written story.
A couple of times during the game, Miles returns to his apartment or neighbourhood for a bit of a breather from swinging across the city and fighting crime. It’s during these scenes that the power of the Playstation 5 comes to fruition. The draw distance is incredible, the lighting and steam effects incredibly realistic and the snow works so well as it falls lazily down onto characters.
These tranquil moments of beauty not only allow you to marvel at the graphical fidelity but also to warm yourself to the neighbourhood and the residents living within. To further solidify that tie to Harlem, several long-form side quests see you helping residents dotted around New York. From saving a cat to thwarting tough foes, these reinforce the feel of helping actual people living in this neighbourhood and makes the antagonist threat that much more urgent.
Given this is a follow-up to Spider-Man, most of the elements from that game are present here too. The menu UIs are nigh-on identical, the skill trees similar (minus some extra abilities) and the map includes all the same usual collectable busywork you’d expect.
Thankfully the aesthetic is very different than it was before. With Christmas fast approaching, fresh snow lines the ground and Christmas lights twinkle across the city. New York is absolutely gorgeous during this time of year anyway and Miles Morales does everything it can to showcase this in all its splendor. Although this is very much the same map with the same hang-out and sightseeing spots, the feel is very, very different.
It’s worth taking the time to explore the city and engage in its side activities though, especially given the different points you earn from doing so. Tech points are awarded through collecting chests of Underground caches while activity points are earned through a variety of different tasks, including those aforementioned collectables, clearing out hideouts and finishing training simulations.
Both of these points feed into a larger leveling system, which gives you skill points every time you gain enough XP to level up. Experience points are, predictably, earned through completing missions, defeating enemies and pretty much every activity across the map. These earned skill points then allow you to unlock new skills and abilities to use in combat.
All of this is given an extra layer of depth this time around thanks to Miles’ venom powers. On top of the usual array of punching, kicking and web-swinging (all of which explained through handy tutorials for those unaware), there’s an extra set of moves that see Miles channel his inner-orange electricity to shock and jolt nearby enemies. These can be pulled off simply by holding L1 and hitting one of either Square, O , X or Triangle.
As the game progresses, you also unlock new variants to the standard punch (L1 and Square), including a dash (L1 and Triangle), ground blast (L1 and X) and even swinging weapons and turning them into venom projectiles. There’s a surprising amount of versatility with this and it makes combat both engaging and dynamic enough that you never feel bored while engaging with enemies.
That’s before mentioning the gadgets, which you can use mid-fight too that include remote sticky mines and holographic figures that come and fight for you. These are handy to use but in truth, I only really used the remote mines and those were during moments of stealth.
Much like the first game, stealth sneaks its way back into the game, using wall, ceiling and perch takedowns to get the upper-hand on unsuspecting foes. This time though stealth is given much more of a kick, with the introduction of a nifty new camouflaged technique that allows you to get up close and personal before taking unsuspecting enemies down.
The game never punishes you for choosing stealth or combat though, instead encouraging you to mix things up and use both as you play. In fact, at times it’s actually best not to go in completely gung-ho (something I found out rather painfully while playing)
Some enemies require specific venom techniques to take down while others are immune to those same combinations. Jumping in and hammering square will almost certainly see you taken out quickly, while constantly hitting circle and dodging can only get you so far before a keen-eyed sniper stops you in your tracks.
Instead, Spider-Man: Miles Morales is at its best when stealth and combat are used in tandem. I found the best technique was usually to pick off the snipers and most bothersome brutes first before swinging in and taking out the rest with venom abilities and combat.
The sheer amount of depth to this system allows for a lot of cool combinations and the extra venom abilities enhance what’s come before and giving an almost Infamous feel to the amount of power you wield.
The story itself clocks in at around 6 maybe 7 hours tops. If you add the side activites and collectables to that, you’re probably looking at a maximum of 15 hours. Factoring in New Game+ you’ll probably be spending around 20 hours at a push if you want to platinum this one.
For some, putting down £50 on a game that’s probably a weekend’s worth of play-time will seem a bit steep. For others, the polished experience will be far superior to a mediocre, unfinished slog like Marvel’s Avengers was.
Honestly though, this game feels amazing to play and the haptic feedback on PS5 while charging up the venom abilities feels unreal. On the PS4 this equates out to a simple vibration but the PS5 really makes great use of its controller to ramp up the power. In fact, Miles Morales is probably the best looking game on the console right now and it’s backed up by some very enjoyable gameplay too.
When it comes to utilizing the power of the Playstation 5, Miles Morales is a taste of what we can come to expect from this new generation.
This is a well polished, beautifully rendered and emotionally engaging game that takes everything that made the first so good and amplifies it with some crackling, juiced-up venom. The ensuing explosion produces a real gem and one well worth the price tag to play.
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