Spider-Man Miles Morales: Back in the Swing of Things

So, the PS5 is having a bit of a rocky start. 2 months after its release, people around the globe are still struggling to get their hands on the highly anticipated console. This is in spite of the fact that there were more units produced for this launch than there have been for any launch in Sony’s history. The issue seems to be caused by a combination of scalpers buying up the consoles and reselling them at a premium, and an insane demand for the console from regular consumers. But what makes the PS5 so much more desirable than the Xbox Series? Games. The PS5 launched with “Triple-A” first- and third-party exclusives that seem non-existent for Microsoft’s newest outing. Among these new titles there is one that stands head and shoulders above the rest for me. Spider-Man Miles Morales.

Anyone who has read my previous article on Spider-Man Remastered will know that I am a huge fan of the wall-crawler and always have been, so you can imagine my joy come launch day when I got a chance to swing across the Manhattan skyline once again. Let me tell you right here and now, this game is every bit as good as its predecessor and, more importantly, feels like a very natural path for the series to take.

Let’s start at the beginning

Depending on how old you are or how big a comic fan you are you may have been introduced to Miles Morales in one of several ways. The character first hit the page in 2011, inspired by a meme of all things. When news broke that the Spider-Man film franchise was being rebooted (for the first time) there was an enormous fan campaign to have Donald Glover (who at the time was a stand-up comic and writer on 30 Rock) secure the role of Peter Parker. A campaign Glover acknowledged in Community by wearing Spider-Man pyjamas. This, in turn, led writer Brian Michael Bendis to write a Spider-Man comic with an African American teenager taking up the mantle after the original Spider-Man died.

What a world we could have lived in…

Some of you may have first seen Miles in the 2018 masterpiece Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a faithful retelling of Miles’ origin. The movie also contains a reference to Miles’ real-life origins, with the Season 2 premier of Community (where Donald Glover wore his pyjamas) playing on Aaron Davis’ TV. Or some of you may have been introduced to him in Spider-Man 2018 where we see him first being bitten by a radioactive spider and learning to handle his new powers and responsibilities. This is obviously the version of Miles that we follow in this game and he is every bit as geeky, quippy and super as Peter Parker is.

Story Time

The game begins roughly one year after the original left off. Miles is training under Peter’s watchful eye as Rhino is transported back to the Raft after wreaking havoc on Manhattan. Predictably things don’t go well. Rhino escapes and leads the dynamic duo on a chase through downtown that ends at a site owned by Roxxon, an energy corporation that’s headed by charismatic Elon Musk wannabe Simon Krieger. This is where Miles discovers his bio-electricity power (called Venom, though not to be confused with Spidey’s anti-hero counterpart) and proves he’s just as capable in a fight as the OG. After the dust settles, Peter and Miles share a sweet scene where the former hands over the Spider-Mantle for a while as he and MJ are going on a working vacation to Symkaria. Peter presents his ward with an early Christmas present that Miles is only too keen to share with his “guy in the chair” Ganke, the only other person who knows his secret identity. This is where Miles really becomes a fully fleshed out character in his own right. Together, he and Ganke set about resolving small scale problems like missing cats, stolen cars, and faulty Subway wiring. They do this using the new Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man app they develop (more on this later) which allows them to connect with normal people and be just that, Harlem’s friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. However, it’s not long before the Tinkerer and their crew, The Underground, arrive on the scene and start causing trouble for the people of New York thus setting up the main conflict in this game. Roxxon versus the Underground, with Miles caught in the middle. Similar to the three-way conflicts in Spider-Man 2018.

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From Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man to saviour of Manhattan in just 10 hours

Through his use of the app and over the course of his fight to keep Harlem in one piece, Spider-Man builds up relationships with a surprising number of characters in a short amount of time, with few if any of them feeling underdeveloped or “tacked on”. One of the many benefits of a smaller story scope. For all it’s much shorter than the original, the story here is fully fleshed out and contains many incredibly satisfying character arcs for Spider-Man as well as a number of villains. A shining example of “Less is more” here.

In typical Marvel fashion, there’s also a post-credits scene where we get a glimpse of the potential villains in the next game with a third big name joining the two Spider-Man mainstays teased at the end of 2018 (again, trying not to spoil anything here!)

Same, same but different

As you’d probably expect, the gameplay here is broadly similar to what we saw in 2018, with Arkham-style combat, challenge missions throughout the city and arguably the best traversal system ever implemented in gaming. That’s where the similarities kind of end, to be honest. I’m delighted to say that a lot of the faults that people found with the original game have been either tweaked or completely resolved. The most welcome change comes in the form of the FNSM app that allows you to not only select side-missions on the fly, but it also allows you to choose when to play or replay those pesky crime missions. Yeah, remember the overwhelming number of those there were in the first game? They’ve been completely reworked and streamlined to make a much more enjoyable experience. No more swinging about aimlessly waiting for a new one to spawn so you can get the Platinum trophy.

The levelling system and passive abilities have also been given a tweak. Now, instead of solely relying on your skill tree for upgrades, there are “Holo-training” challenges that award certain abilities as well as the familiar Activity Tokens. Don’t be put off by the idea of the challenges either, they’re much more manageable than the last game and can be repeated after gaining the reward ability if you want to go for the Ultimate rating. The token system used for unlocking suits and passive buffs has been streamlined as well. Whereas Spider-Man 2018 offered 6 different token types, there are only 2 here, making for a more manageable progression and unlock system!

Two webs are always better than one

The most striking change from the original formula is the combat. As you can imagine, Miles’ Venom powers shake up the formula quite a bit. Whereas Peter Parker relies on his arsenal of precision-engineered gadgets to help him whenever he’s in a jam, Miles uses a more shocking approach. As you progress through the game you get access to a wide variety of Venom abilities that go a long way to helping in a fight. Whether it’s adding a little bit of power to your punches or electrifying your webs, there’s really an ability for every situation. That’s not to say that gadgets are missing, though you do only get access to four through the course of the game. Venom also comes in handy during traversal as you can use a Venom Jump ability to gain a little extra height and speed mid-swing. This is a nice little touch that really shows that the Venom ability was woven throughout the game as a whole and not just a new mechanic for the combat system.

In the PS5 version it should also be mentioned that the adaptive trigger system that was added to Spider-Man 2018 Remastered is back and used to great effect again. When swinging around Manhattan you can feel the strain on Miles’ arms as the trigger gets harder to pull with faster and longer swings. Aiming is similar as the trigger gets harder to pull down when moving quickly to mimic difficulty in focussing on one or two small objects. Again, a small touch that really makes a huge difference in the gameplay experience.

How does it look?

While it may have seemed like a no-brainer to release a follow up to one of the most critically acclaimed superhero games of a generation as a launch title for their new console, Sony honestly couldn’t have picked a better mascot to fly the flag of the PS5. Why it that? Well, name a better environment for showing off your new system’s ray-tracing and performance capabilities than New York City. That’s right, the labyrinth of glass and steel presents the perfect opportunity to showcase the PS5’s cutting edge graphical technology. Nearly every surface you swing past is reflective, from the windows on the skyscrapers to the sheen on some of the statues you can find and yes, even the puddles. Even one of Miles’ super suits has a glass helmet that is constantly reflecting the world around you. I’m not normally one for photo mode in games, but this time around I couldn’t resist taking a quick break to admire the detail and realism of this game.

Let this be an end to #PuddleGate

Something that hasn’t gotten a mention in a lot of promo material is particle effects. Oh boy does this game do them well. Every arc of electricity that Miles shoots from his body is crisp and so clearly defined. The Underground’s weapons shatter into hundreds of gloriously colourful pieces, one after another. The procedurally generated snow that flurries through the streets of Christmas-time Manhattan lands on every character and surface before quickly melting away again. This game is gorgeous from beginning to end.

The game offers three graphics modes as well so you can really tailor your experience to your own tastes. At launch the choice was between a simple performance mode and a fidelity mode. Performance mode dials down some of the fidelity and turned off ray-tracing to offer a locked 60 frames per second. Fidelity mode lets you experience the full brunt of the PS5’s rendering capabilities, with beautiful textures, gorgeous particle effects and the aforementioned ray-tracing as you watch yourself bounce off buildings. All things considered initially my preference was for performance mode, but that’s just me. I’ve long been of the believe that graphics are generally not as important as performance. However, a post-launch update delivered what I consider to be the definitive Miles Morales experience. Performance RT mode makes some small sacrifices to give you the best of both worlds. It scales down the resolution slightly and reduces the population density of Manhattan’s streets, but offers a smooth 60 fps experience with some lovely ray-tracing enabled. If you ask me, they may as well have done away with the other two modes because Performance RT mode is the only way to go!

The not-so-good news

Unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine and roses this time around. This game is short. Like, really short. All told from the minute I first booted it up to the ping of getting the platinum trophy I only spent 16 hours with the game. This is a full completionism run too. All suits unlocked, all tokens found, and side missions finished. No stone was left unturned. To give a little more context, you need to play through the story twice to unlock all the trophies. This is something that I feel like the game was banking on a little too hard in terms of delivering value. Don’t get me wrong, the story is wonderful, and I thoroughly enjoyed my playthrough both times, but the value just isn’t there. This is maybe a €40 experience if I’m being honest, not the €70 it currently retails for. This becomes easier to recommend if you spend the extra tenner to get Spider-Man Remastered but that’s really the only way I can justify recommending this game to most people unfortunately. At least until it drops in price a little or goes on sale in the future.

With great power comes great responsibility

A lot has changed in the real world since Spider-Man 2018 launched two and a half years ago. Most notably for a game centred around a character who initially received a lot of racially motivated backlash, the #BlackLivesMatter protests that began earlier this year rocked the world and continue to do so to this day. The world of Marvel also lost two of its biggest names; Stan Lee, who passed shortly after the original Spider-Man game released and Chadwick Boseman, who became best known as the MCU’s Black Panther, passed away from cancer in August of last year. As you would expect Lee and Boseman are honoured in their own way in the game. Since Stan Lee made an appearance (as always) in the 2018 game, his character was immortalised in-game here, while a heartfelt message is displayed after the main credits for Boseman. Insomniac did not shy away from the larger issue at hand, however. Upon completing all the character side missions in the game Miles gains a new suit and is automatically posed in front of a huge #BlackLivesMatter mural. It’s impossible to miss if you’re playing the game and, in my opinion, is a great way of making sure the message is heard. A message from a company, or a line of text can be easily overlooked, but when a message for social good is communicated using the game itself, it can’t be overlooked.

While it may not be the best value for your money (especially after forking out half a grand for a PS5) it cannot be understated how good this game is or how much it manages to pack into a relatively small package. The combat feels fresh and new, but still reminiscent of our last outing with the web-head, it’s the most breathtakingly beautiful game I’ve ever played by a wide margin, and the short story is overflowing with character development and emotion. If you’re happy to pay a little over the odds, or if you still haven’t played the original this is an absolute must-play for all PS5 owners.

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Alex
With passions ranging from video games and emerging tech to superhero movies and fantasy TV, Alex is always up to date about what's happening in the nerd world and ready to bring the news to the masses.