In December of 2018 my wife and I took my then four year old son, Elliott, to see his very first movie in the theaters. That film was Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Elliott was in love with Spider-Man, having played Insomniac’s PlayStation 4 masterpiece alongside me. It seemed a no-brainer at the time given his obsession with the character that Spider-Verse would be his first film and I was so excited to share that moment with him. I grew up with super heroes myself and it was so much fun to rekindle my love of these stories through his eyes.
Spider-Verse provided an experience that caught me completely off guard with its humor, style and heart. But above all of that I was taken with the central character of Miles Morales. Being a middle aged parent I haven’t picked up a comic book in nearly 30 years so I had no idea who Miles was or what how his story unfolded. As we sat in the theater both Elliott and myself marveled at this portrayal of heroism for a new age. It was refreshing, modern and iconic. So when Miles was announced to be the lead character for PlayStation 5’s biggest launch title it once again was a no-brainer that Elliott and I were on board for this new adventure. Insomniac’s Spider-Man was my game of the year for 2018, so Miles, just like in his origin story, has a lot to live up to.
The story of Miles Morales picks up shortly after the events of the original game with Peter training the young Spider in the ways of the web. Miles and his mother, who is now running for city council, have relocated to Harlem and are trying to pick up the pieces after the tragic death of Miles’ father. After an initial ‘getting reacquainted’ introductory sequence we learn that Peter is stepping out of the picture for a little while and reality sinks in for Miles that he will be New York’s only Spider-Man for the foreseeable future. Something Miles isn’t quite sure he’s ready for yet.
Miles is young, cocky and prone to rash decisions. He doesn’t have the discipline of Peter in many respects and Insomniac expertly conveys his inexperience in a multitude of ways throughout the game. Miles makes mistakes, trusts the wrong people, and gets in his head as he tries to find his way as New York’s newest super hero. All of this serves both a compelling narrative but also connects you to the character because of his humanistic flaws. Miles’ young exuberance is even conveyed in the way he is animated in the game. As he flies through the air his limbs flail about, his legs flutter below him as if he’s riding a bicycle through the sky. He is an absolute joy to watch and control throughout the game.
Without going into too much detail about the game’s tight 8 hours or so campaign, Insomniac’s follow up to Spider-Man is an exhilarating and surprisingly touching story that, much like the previously mentioned 2018 film, casts Miles as one of the most relatable and endearing super heroes we’ve seen in a long time. I have to admit I was not that taken with the portrayal of the character in the first game, possibly because he was allocated as a side-character who was not very fun to play as. But in this follow-up adventure Miles is just as charming and charismatic as his big screen counterpart. By the time the credits rolled on the core campaign it was very evident that this was the perfect second step in the Spider-Man video game franchise, and had me wondering what Insomniac plans to do for the true sequel.
Thankfully Insomniac did some truly interesting things in regards to how Miles plays differently than Peter that will have you weighing the pros and cons of each of them and analyzing which Spider-Man better suits your play style. The controls and combat mechanics between the two games aren’t radically changed but there are some notable differences between the two that are worth pointing out. Much of Peter’s combat techniques from the original game were centered around his gadget load out. In the original Spider-Man Peter Parker had a bevy of gadgets that he could dispatch on enemies such as tripwires, electric webs and drones to name a few. He also had a variety of special suit augmentations that you could trigger in combat depending on which Spider-Suit you had equipped.
While Miles does have a few gadgets at his disposal, the arsenal is much smaller and less effective. Instead Miles Morales has a pair of super powers that you will lean on instead. His Venom Strike can be charged up during battle to unleash a series of awesome power attacks, while his camouflage ability allows him to turn invisible for a limited time to assist in stealth approaches or to help you vanish during a fight that might be getting the better of you. It’s an interesting approach that is just different enough that it separates the way you will approach enemy encounters between the two games. It also gives a clear picture of how Insomniac could implement a two player system in a further game and provide a nice variety in gameplay between the two hero characters.
The structure of the game itself is a trimmed down version of its predecessor, offering a “less-is-more” approach. There is much less to do in Miles’ adventure, but it’s also tightened up in a way that certainly makes you feel like you’re not getting shorted for your dollar. For example the side quests in Miles while much fewer in numbers are way less repetitive and are delivered in a much more satisfying way via the Spider-App on Miles’ phone. Those who didn’t enjoy modifying all of Peter’s gadgets and suits will find less of a skill-tree to manage here as well, so take that into account as that will either be a benefit or a detractor depending on how you feel about that kind of thing.
There was a lot of talk about this game pre-release in regards to whether or not this game was worth the full price of admission or if it is just a glorified expansion, and while there certainly is a little less meat on the bone, Miles Morales delivers a feature-complete self contained game that is more than worth your dollar. It’s hard to judge this game on its own merits however due to it living in the shadow of a much bigger and similarly structured game that released just a couple of years ago. Ultimately while Miles does quite a few things better than its big brother, I found myself enjoying the original game just a little bit more due to its scope being so much grander and a little bit of the new car smell being faded two years on from that experience. Miles Morales is a fantastic follow up to one of my favorite PlayStation games and an absolute must own for fans of the genre. The character has unbelievable heart and the story absolutely soars. While it may tread familiar ground, Insomniac sticks the landing by adding a fresh flavor to it with a lead character that is more than capable of handling this great responsibility.