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Marvel's Miles Morales: Spider-Man - title

In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • Greater emphasis on protecting [under-privileged] civilians
  • Criticism of NIMBY corporate politics
  • Miles' animations emphasize his inexperience
  • Gets the obvious villain surprise out of the way early
  • More focused story
  • Haptic feedback for spider-sense
  • Snow!
  • Hip-hop remix of main theme

WHAT I DON'T LIKE

  • Web-swinging isn't any more challenging
  • Jumps right into super villain stuff
  • Haptic feedback is underwhelming
  • Redesign of Peter Parker to look more like Tom Holland
  • Some broken side missions

Overall Impression : B
More of Insomniac's excellent Spider-Man action

Marvel's Miles Morales: Spider-Man - cover

Developer:
Insomniac

Publisher:
Sony Interactive Entertainment

Platforms:
PlayStation 4 | 5 (via retail disc or PSN digital download)

MSRP: $50 USD (standard edition) | $70 USD (ultimate edition)

Original release date:
12 November 2020

Genre:
comic book action

Player(s):
single player

Play time:
30 hours

ESRB Rating: T (for Teen) for:
Blood, Drug Reference, Language, Violence

Official site:
www.playstation.com/en-us/games/marvels-spider-man-miles-morales/

I could've played Miles Morales on the PS4 back when it was released in November of 2020, but I really wanted to wait until I got a PS5. So I waited. And waited. Eventually, my number on Sony's waiting list came up, and I got a PS5 just in time for Christmas. Miles Morales, Demon's Souls, and Returnal were the first games I bought for it.

Early set pieces put a large emphasis on protecting civilians and reducing collateral damage.

If you liked Marvel's Spider-Man for the PS4 -- and who didn't? It was great! -- then Miles Morales is largely more of the same, but with the distinct urban flavor that comes with the Miles Morales story, and a story about corporations using "not in my backyard" politics to exploit under-privileged communities. Combat is virtually unchanged, aside from a few new gadgets and powers, and the locomotion is even more identical. So pretty much everything positive that I had to say about that game also applies to this game, and I'll try to keep this review short by not retreading the same praise and critiques.

There is a greater emphasis early in the game on trying to protect civilians. This is a welcome change, and I wish Miles Morales would have gone a bit further with it. Protecting civilians is a large component of early setpieces, but it is largely dropped once the story gets started proper. It's a shame that this isn't carried through into the rest of the game, since a major theme of the story is Miles serving as a protector for the under-privileged, mostly ethnic minority, population of Harlem.

Spider-Man has always been a hero for the common folk,
but this Spider-Man is also a hero for the under-privileged and down-trodden.

Christmas vacation

The campaign itself is also considerably shorter than the first game, taking place entirely during the Christmas season. I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, it's nice to have a more focused, 20 or 30 hour campaign. I have other shit to do, and it's nice to be able to finish a game's story without feeling like I have to play it every waking moment of my free time for weeks or months on end. And that 20-30 hours isn't just the story; I actually completed 100% of the side activities in that time as well.

On the other hand, playing as a younger Spider-Man just learning the tricks of the trade would seem like it would be well-suited to a longer, multi-faceted campaign with a series of escalating challenges and threats. It would have been nice to see Miles start out by focusing more on fighting petty crime in the Harlem area and adjacent districts, before moving onto more widespread organized crime, and then finally the super villain threats. There's no such escalation in Miles Morales' story. It jumps straight into the big super villain story and relegates all the "friendly neighborhood" stuff to simple side quests.

Insomniac wastes no time getting to the supervillain plot.

This does also mean that it gets its super villain surprise twist out of the way early, since it's a twist that is almost as obvious as the appearance of Doctor Octopus in the previous game. On the topic of the super villain "twist", I did find it annoying that a large part of the conflict depends on the Tinkerer making such a big deal about Miles' perceived dishonesty, but the Tinkerer wasn't exactly forthcoming either. Yet Miles never points this out.

Considering how polished Marvel's Spider-Man felt, despite also having a much bigger story and more side content, I was surprised to find a number of side quests in Miles Morales that were broken. This was doubly-surprising considering that I'm playing the game well over a year after its release. That's plenty of time for Insomniac to have fixed these bugs, even if they only have a handful of people doing maintenance on the game, while the rest of the team works on Marvel's Spider-Man 2 and Marvel's Wolverine. Even more concerning is that the specific side quests that broke for me were all related to the F.E.A.S.T. storyline, which is the most narratively and thematically important line of side quests in the game. I would think these would be the most stable and polished side quests in the game.

A side quest froze after I found a truck full of stolen goods.

One side quest requires tracking down trucks of stolen toys, and the quest froze on a black screen after I had found the correct truck. Even quitting the game, relaunching it, and then starting the side quest over from a checkpoint did not resolve the issue. Thankfully, the mission suddenly worked when I went back to try it again later, after doing some other unrelated side quests. Other side quests had buggy dialogue and cutscenes as well.

The shorter nature of the campaign also means that some of the side stories feel a bit under-cooked, even when they are working as intended. Prowler doesn't get much screen time, and Miles' mother's political campaign feels completely superfluous. I don't even think the game ever tells us who her political opponent is, or what that opponent's positions are on any issues.

Flying before learning to walk

Another area in which the younger protagonist could have allowed for more challenging mechanics is in the web-swinging and traversal. The designers at Insomniac had said about the previous game that, because Peter had been doing the Spider-Man thing for 8 years and was an experienced web-swinger, they wanted to keep the web-swinging mechanics fluid and easy-to-execute. It was more about looking good than about providing any kind of navigational challenge. Though, I assume Spidey was also fighting crime for those 8 years, and yet Insomniac was OK with letting him take rockets to the face and die during the demanding combat. Anyway, it's a good web-swinging mechanic. Arguably the best we've seen in a game so far. But it largely boils down to pointing in a direction and holding R2. Or, more likely, pointing in a direction and web-zipping and point-launching.

I would prefer a web-swinging mechanic that requires more thought and skill from the player.

Having Miles be a younger Spider-Man who is still learning the ropes gave Insomniac a unique opportunity to try to do something a little bit different with the web-swinging and turn it into a more operant challenge that requires more of the player's attention. Having Miles occasionally fall or smack into the side of a building because the player mis-judges a jump or a swing would be perfectly appropriate. You know, make navigating the world and chasing villains across the map feel half as difficult as the combat. In fact, the early game is full of animations of Miles having to catch his balance after landing on a perch, emphasizing his inexperience and lack of the total mastery over his body that Peter exhibits in the last game.

So it's kind of too bad that the web-swinging here is just as nearly-effortless as in the previous game. And unless Insomniac does a prequel game at some point, they've missed their chance to do something a bit more experimental and challenging with the web-swinging traversal because Peter and Miles aren't getting any less experienced as more sequels roll out.

A younger, less-experienced Spider-Man would justify a more demanding locomotion system.

Feeling the spider-sense

I don't really know what else to say about Miles Morales. As a game that was intended to help move next-gen console sales, I'm not really all that impressed with the PS5 version. I didn't notice much in the way of haptic feedback. Miles' spider sense is represented through the Dual Sense's haptic feedback. The location of the rumble is supposed to be an indication of where an enemy attack is coming from. Though, in the heat of combat, I never really noticed this. I also don't recall there being a tutorial that told me to look for this particular functionality. Perhaps I should have turned the haptic feedback intensity higher? Nope. They're set to max...

I occasional felt the adaptive trigger resist my inputs, but I could never quite figure out what was causing that effect. Again, there was no tutorial explaining what this particular effect is meant to represent. Perhaps this should be a lesson to Sony and other PS5 developers: provide tutorials for what the haptic feedback and adaptive triggers represent, so that the player knows how to interpret them in game. For a launch title and potential showcase for the new hardware, the implementation is underwhelming.

Dual sense haptic feedback allows the player to feel where a threat is coming from.

Maybe I didn't need to wait to play this game on the PS5. I'm sure the experience would have been perfectly suitable on the PS4. Regardless of which console you might play Miles Morales on, it's a great follow-up to Marvel's Spider-Man that should please anybody who's looking for more Spidey action, and isn't immediately turned off by the perceived "woke-ness" of a game featuring a half-black, half-hispanic protagonist protecting the people of Harlem from the evil white corporatist ... because, yes I remember reading those "criticisms" on Twitter after the game launched. Their loss.

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