Also available on PlayStation 4
Spider-Man: Miles Morales is the second game in Sony's current Spider-Man series following 2018's simply named Spider-Man. While some have called Miles Morales a stand-alone expansion or DLC for that game, I think that does it a disservice both because of how good the game is but also because of how distinct it feels. Plus you don't need to own Spider-Man to play Miles Morales, so I think the "stand-alone" nature makes it its own game.
You play as the titular character Miles Morales who was introduced in the previous game as he tries to fit into his own Spider-Man role to protect New York and especially his new home of Harlem. The core gameplay here is the same, but there are some changes and improvements that definitely give it a distinct feel. First off, the UI is different as are a couple of the combat mechanics. The "Focus" meter for finishers is gone and replaced with a "Venom" meter that you build up to use your bio-electric attacks. Finishers are now tied to your combo; a combo of 15 will net you a finisher move. There are fewer gadgets this time, but the gadgets you do get - the trusty web shooter, a remote mine, a holo-emitter to create holographic allies, and a gravity well - are super cool and feel more focused on quality than quantity. The whole combat system just "feels" more polished, too. It's still not quite as smooth or fluid as Arkham, but it's definitely a LOT closer than the last game was. Building and keeping combos is a bit easier due to that added combat smoothness.
In my Spider-Man review, I said that the world felt a lot more vibrant and alive than Arkham City. That's doubly true of Miles Morales. From beautiful street art murals to the snowy weather, Harlem feels like a living, breathing community in Miles Morales, and as you go through the story and side quests and interact with the denizens, you can't help but feel a connection with the game's world. Miles as a character lends himself to this as he, too, is relatively new to Harlem. He was always from New York, obviously, but had just recently moved from Brooklyn to Harlem when the game starts, so he's getting a feel for the area, too. His character is also very different from Peter Parker. Whereas Peter had been Spider-Man for several years by the time the first game took place, Miles had just acquired his powers. He also comes from a totally different background being a black teenager rather than a white young adult and still having his mother (and, until recently, his father) whereas Peter had been orphaned and raised by his aunt and uncle. While they both may be Spider-Man, they're very different Spider-Men with different powers and different personalities, and that helps this game stand out as something truly unique rather than just more Spider-Man.
The game also looks absolutely fantastic. The remaster of the first game looked incredible, but this game looks even better in my opinion. The performance mode, like with the first game, runs at a silky and solid 60 fps and looks amazing doing it, but the fidelity mode is even better implemented than it was in the first game's remaster. It looks truly stunning, and the frame rate is better on fidelity mode in Miles Morales than it was in the original's remaster. What really sets this above the original in my opinion, though, is the soundtrack. The first game had a nice but pretty typical superhero sound track; Miles Morales, on the other hand, has an absolutely brilliant hip-hop soundtrack. It feels modern and urban while still keeping some of that superhero feel. Truthfully I can't think of a way they could have possibly made this soundtrack more perfect for the game. It's a masterpiece of mood design.
One of the things I most appreciated about Miles Morales, however, has nothing to do with gameplay or setting or character development. Those things are all amazing, but it's the nods to real world events that really put the icing on the cake for me. Stan Lee's death, even for someone like me who doesn't care about Marvel or comic books, was a big deal. The man was an absolute legend, and you don't need to be a Marvel fan to appreciate the wake such an icon's death leaves. Seeing a big and beautiful bronze statue in his honor in the game was just perfect, and even I teared up at how perfectly it was done. It was glorious and spectacular but also unobtrusive, the kind of monument you could easily overlook because of how seamlessly it blended into the world. There's also the huge Black Lives Matter mural on one of the building exteriors in the game. At a time when black Americans are fighting just for the right to live and be treated as individuals rather than tokens or marginalized set pieces, seeing a stunning work of art like that with "BLACK LIVES MATTER" in big, bold letters in a game that features a young black protagonist in a genre oversaturated by white characters is the kind of social commentary and support that give me hope. Sure, you can say it was a marketing ploy to cash in on the BLM movement. Sure, you can say it's pushing some leftist "woke" political agenda. You could, but I think that kind of cynicism blinds you to what matters - that a game in a genre popular among younger gamers reinforces the idea that black boys can be superheroes, too. That black lives DO matter. That black characters are just as deep and complicated and multifaceted and conflicted as the white characters that populate most video games. Those are things that should be obvious, but in a medium that still struggles with achieving representation and doing it right, I think it's important to reinforce that idea in the ways that they can, and I applaud Insomniac for including the mural as well as the statue of Stan Lee. They don't affect gameplay or storytelling in anyway, but they make clear those two points; Stan Lee was a legend who will never be forgotten, and black lives matter.
So, social commentary aside (which, as a social justice-minded leftists, I eat up), the game is a damn masterpiece. It's MUCH shorter than the first game, yes, but a game's quality is not determined by its length. This game packs in the same brilliant Spider-Man experience as the first game; it just does it in a shorter time. I definitely wish the game were longer, but one thing no one can say is that it overstays its welcome. It tells its story, provides its experience, and then invites you to keep playing in the world or to move on. There are a couple of side quests that don't unlock until after the main game is finished, and I STRONGLY recommend sticking around for those as they're really important in building Miles's backstory. There's also New Game+ which unlocks a new suit and some new skills. All things considered, this is a brilliant game that matches the quality of the original and, in my opinion, surpasses it even if the length took a big hit. Whether you've moved on to the PS5 or are still rocking the PS4, don't sleep on Miles Morales. Sony hit gold with this one, folks.
My Rating - 5 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.