Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales Review
I'm Spider-Man, and I'm not the only one
Sony recently tried the idea of a large, stand-alone expansion to a major franchise in 2017, when Uncharted: The Lost Legacy successfully captured the full gameplay experience of the action-adventure series but in a smaller and more streamlined format. The idea was a success, as both existing fans and newcomers jumped on board with a tightly focused adventure that featured many of the familiar elements of Uncharted 4. Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales is very much in the same vein as The Lost Legacy – it is a new standalone release that follows up on the events of Marvel's Spider-Man from 2018. It features a new story but a familiar setting of New York and many of the same mechanics that fans enjoyed. And although there are some performance issues on the base model PS4, the game comes recommended to any fan of the webhead.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales helpfully includes a recap of the events from the first game. As both Peter and Miles are now in possession of superpowers thanks to their encounters with spider bites, the pair begin working together to protect the people of New York as a pair of Spider-men. The new game picks up about a year later, as Peter is mentoring Miles and helping him grow in confidence. After an exciting opening sequence with the Rhino, Peter tells Miles that he's going on an overseas trip with MJ for work, leaving Miles to tend to the city in his absence. Miles and his best friend Ganke, who is a sort of backup/tech character, are excited but nervous to live up to Peter's expectations. Even the people of New York initially refer to him as the "other" Spider-man, making him work harder to establish his own reputation and identity.
Not long after Peter departs, a mysterious villain named The Tinkerer appears, and using a crime organization known as The Underground, they begin assaults on Roxxon soldiers. Roxxon, led by a man named Simon Krieger, have been setting up shop in the Harlem neighborhood, and promoting their upcoming efficient energy project that promises to help the area thrive. Miles tries to intervene, and makes enemies of both Roxxon and The Underground. He also has an unexpected reaction when coming into contact with the Roxxon energy canisters, giving him new energy-based Venom powers. Caught between two warring factions, Miles will do his best to protect his neighborhood and the city, while trying to uncover the truth behind the motivations of both organizations.
With the storyline being about half the length of the first game, Miles Morales benefits from some exciting scripted missions being more closely packed together. They are certainly on par with what you'd see in a full game, in terms of quality and scope. It also helps the narrative feel brisk and exciting, with no story mission wasted; it avoids having any dull non-Spidey missions like the MJ chapters. The majority of the story focuses on The Tinkerer, as Simon Krieger is largely a cameo, similar to Rhino. Peter Parker himself is also devoid of much screen time, which may make fans less upset about the decision to change the character's face. While exciting and certainly with a few memorable moments, the story suffers from the recent Marvel tropes where almost every character you meet is "more than they appear", and from the fact that it's harder to remember who doesn’t know that Miles is Spider-man by the end.
The story missions feature a familiar structure, and a few exciting set-pieces, even if chunks of them are not interactive. Other than fighting his way through enemies or saving civilians, Miles will use his newly found Venom powers to perform straightforward tasks like powering on a generator, or overloading an energy core. The puzzles are extremely simple, and don't really live up to the higher quality action. Levels continue to be linear, and don’t offer any diversions. One interesting design idea comes to life when you are fighting a group of foes and the combat naturally flows between rooms, breaking walls and glass as you go. Sadly this dynamic design is only used a couple of times.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales builds upon the same great foundation of the first game. The experience is carried by the great gameplay that remains unchanged – in traversal, swinging through New York is still exhilarating and fun, and the controls are responsive and easy to use. You can zip around, boost off ledges, and perform air tricks. The city is now covered in snow as the holiday season approaches, giving it a slightly different feel than in the previous game. There are many decorations and festive updates, though, in structure, it's still pretty much the same world. The time of day still only changes with mission progress. Unless you've explored every inch of the city in the first game, it's a case of something old is new again.
In combat, the game again lives on the basis of what made its predecessor a success; it's a dodge-focused brawler that lets you pummel foes into submission with various moves and a combo counter. On foot or in mid-air, Miles has a variety of moves that are pretty much the same as Peter's. Beating on enough foes without getting hit builds your combo and eventually lets you perform slow motion finishers that take out enemies with one move. But one new addition is the Venom power – this meter builds as you fight, and lets you perform a few different special moves. Using the L1 button as a modifier, you can perform a punch, leap, and even a big blast – all of these moves not only deal big damage to your target, but also stun all others nearby. The Venom powers are straightforward to use and feel powerful especially when dealing with larger groups of enemies.
There's still the option to avoid combat altogether, by swinging around various perches and crawling along walls and ceilings to dispatch foes in stealth. All foes are still dispatched instantly from stealth, and the mechanics remain the same, giving patient players a satisfying way to clear the area without setting off any alarms. One new addition here is the Camouflage ability, which is another quickly draining meter that lets Miles become invisible. It's not really needed, as you can clear all enemies the old fashioned way, but it's an additional tool in your arsenal.
You'll need your fists and your wits to deal with the two enemy factions, though they only pose a challenge when their late-game enemies appear. As mentioned, if you prefer stealth, everyone can be taken out without breaking a sweat, as long as you remain patient and pick off foes one by one. The AI remains extremely simple; all they do is walk around, calling you out. But as you get into combat, you can again grab various objects (or yank weapons out of the hands of opponents) and throw them around. Enemies will have melee weapons, rifles, and rocket launchers, and using the Spidey senses cue, you can dodge out of the way to avoid taking damage. A few rare enemies will carry shields which you must first break with Venom attacks, and some will have powerful and long range attacks. The combat is varied enough not to get stale, though unique ideas like special enemy types and those that can see through your camouflage are rarely utilized.
Being a more streamlined experience, Miles has fewer gadgets available to him. There are only four – a gadget to spawn a few hologram bots to fight for you, a sticky shock mine, a vortex-like mine, and the usual web-shooters. Each can be upgraded for more capacity and effectiveness. You can also unlock new suits, which look great and also grant you a new mod. There are two slots for a suit mod and a visor mod, which again grant you new abilities or additional perks, from more powerful attacks to better survivability. The mods are fairly limited in number and half are locked behind new suits, which seems a bit inflexible. Similarly, Miles only has three short skill trees, for combat, venom skills, and camouflage skills; the trees offer expanded moves or more effectiveness to your existing ones. Skill points are earned with each level-up from filling the experience bar, and XP still comes from all activities, combat, and air tricks. There are also nine quick challenges to attempt, left by Peter, which unlock additional traversal and combat moves.
To unlock all of these suits and gadgets, you will need two types of currency. Tech Parts are simply found scattered around the world, and all you do is follow a relative position indicator to track them down – they are usually not even hidden. The second currency is the Activity Tokens, and they function as they sound – you earn tokens from doing optional activities and side missions in the game world. You get a certain amount of tokens for completion, and can earn extras for getting the bonus objectives done within a mission as well.
Like its predecessor, Miles can tackle a wide variety of mostly bite-sized activities that are scattered across the city map. There are the basics like time capsules and postcards, which sometimes require you to solve a quick and simple puzzle. You can search for audio clips by matching them up with a sample to eventually put a beat together. As you swing around you can listen to clips of the JJ Jameson podcast that continues to entertain, and the less enjoyable Danikast with a host that tries too hard to be caring and relatable. All of these minor activities also offer additional bits of story and details on certain characters.
For some more involved structured content, Miles can use his new phone app where citizens of New York send their requests. Here you will find about 15 or so special missions that often feature unique mechanics or special circumstances, without much story; it’s just helping the people of the city. There are also a couple of proper side-mission chains, but they are very few in number. If it's combat you're after, there are enemy bases that need clearing - though they are basic one-room facilities/construction sites. And for even more repeatable content, the random street crimes are back, from vehicle hijackings to robberies. In all, Miles Morales features many of the same activity types as the last game. Players can also go through the story again on New Game+ on different difficulty levels and with a few skills that are locked only for that mode.
Although it's well known that this title is being used as a showcase for the upcoming PlayStation 5 console, we reviewed it on a base PS4 as the game is also available there. And as such, we've encountered a few performance issues with the title that's clearly geared towards the next generation. On the one hand, the game looks quite good most of the time, with excellent details on Miles' suits, same excellent animations, nice lighting effects, and good level of destruction detail. The developers also managed to eliminate loading screens once you're in the game, whether starting a mission or entering an enemy compound. The game even manages to reach 60 fps on many occasions.
On the other hand though, there are a lot of hiccups that occur. That 60 fps performance is often short-lived, and the game has a very unsteady framerate throughout, including in cutscenes. Occasionally, it even dips below 30 fps, especially with a lot of action and effects on screen, which can be distracting. When rotating the camera quickly there can be some motion blur, and when traversing rapidly through the city, texture streaming is noticeable when you arrive at your destination and the assets are still low quality.
Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales is an enjoyable action adventure that uses many of the same elements of its predecessor to tell a new story. That story is worthwhile, with exciting moments and good characters, even if some of the narrative direction is a bit cliché. The combat and stealth will be very familiar to any returning fans, as well as all of the open world activities. The game's performance is rather shaky on a base model PS4, and can hopefully be improved and not left behind, even if this is one of the flagship PS5 titles. Fans and newcomers alike should enjoy this new standalone adventure of Spider-man, which delivers the same great gameplay at a lower price tag and a more streamlined approach.
A digital code was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.