As one of the most-anticipated games of its generation, Marvel’s Spider-Man for PS4 could have easily buckled under the weight of expectations and hype. Thankfully, the team at Insomniac games delivered one of the console’s standout titles and arguably the best superhero game ever made. Just over two years later, the team is back for another swing around New York City with Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. This sequel carries a similar burden to its predecessor, needing to be a strong sequel as well as a showcase for Sony’s PS5. The results are generally outstanding, save for the occasional technical hiccup and absence of innovation.
What’s old is new again
First off, Miles Morales is not an entirely new experience. It recycles the sprawling New York City map from the previous game, along with most of its gameplay mechanics and mission design. Returning fans will quickly slide back into the action and feel right at home. An apt comparison would be to Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, the standalone follow up to 2016’s Uncharted 4 that reused mechanics and assets to tell a story with a different cast of protagonists.
This time around, all the action is centered on young Miles Morales, a bright teenager who recently moved to Harlem with his mother following the death of his father and his acquisition of spider-esque superpowers. He is friendly with Peter Parker, who sees Morales as an apprentice to the mantle of Spider-Man. Because Peter is the ultimate simp and decides to follow Mary Jane Watson to Europe for a few weeks, the responsibilities that come with being Spider-Man fall directly onto the shoulders of Morales. As just about anyone could have predicted, chaos ensues and Miles must save his neighborhood almost single-handedly.
While the open-world action takes Miles all over the city, most of the narrative focus is centered on Harlem and the evil corporation that aims to get rich providing energy from a stolen super-substance that they don’t fully understand. Along the way, Miles will also interact with the locals and help out where he can with lower-stakes objectives like rescuing bodega cats or recovering pigeons. I’d also like to shout out the wonderful use of licensed music this time around, as it helped improve immersion and worked to make Miles’ neighborhood plight feel more personal.
Almost all gameplay and combat is identical to the previous game, though some alterations have been made. Morales has energy flowing through his body that is referred to as Venom and he gradually unlocks a series of attacks and maneuvers that unleash this energy. Lucky for Miles, these specific attacks are the only vulnerabilities that many of his tougher foes are susceptible to. Most encounters play out just like in the PS4 Spider-Man game, save for these Venom attacks.
MIssion design is also nearly identical to the previous game with Morales having to deal with fixed numbers of thugs or soldiers to score a win. The optional open-world activities are also recycled with only slight variations on the existing formula. The suit unlock system, skill tree, and mods are all akin to how they worked before.
Despite how much of the content is rehashed, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales manages to keep things feeling good thanks to its shorter main story and the overall strength of the foundation provided by the first game. Swinging through town still feels great, beating up people still feels great, and unlocking new Spider-Suits still feels rewarding. I found Miles to be a much more interesting protagonist than Peter Parker, even though the main story stubbornly remains faithful to some of the annoying Spider-Man character tropes.
The PS5 version of the game comes with some visual upgrades over the previous offering and offers players two different modes to experience Morales' story: Performance Mode and Fidelity Mode. Performance Mode is visually closer to the PS4 game but offers the ability to run up to 60 frames per second. This makes just about everything you do in the game feel better due to lower input lag on the controller and the on-screen action is very smooth. Combat encounters in particular feel more satisfying because it feels like you are directly cracking skulls instead of watching animations play through.
Fidelity Mode drops the frame rate to 30 but picks up better lighting, a depth of field effect, and ray-traced reflections. It certainly makes the experience look more next-gen, but the leap is not as large as it could be as the same models and textures from Performance Mode are still in use. Both modes are reconstructed from lower resolutions into a 4K output. As a hardware and graphics enthusiast, I was a bit let down that the visuals did not make a bigger jump, but this is still a cross-gen game and there is nothing here that adversely affects the enjoyment of the story. Further into the campaign, I started experiencing a series of stutters and hitches in performance in both modes, especially during open-world swinging. The longest freezes would sometimes last a full second and this continued through the end of the game. I would assume it is a bug that could be fixed but was disappointed nonetheless.
With great power…
Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales will appeal to loads of gamers and I suspect it will be a hit for PlayStation owners this holiday season. While there isn’t as much to do this time around and what is included is mostly recycled, the asking price is lower than normal. Being Spider-Man is still as fun as it was in 2018 (and potentially more fun now at 60Hz) and Miles Morales is a character that is more compelling than Peter Parker. Should the few technical hiccups get sorted out, this will be a solid inclusion for any game library. Anyone grabbing a PS5 at launch would do well to grab a copy.
Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales
- Built on the solid foundation of the previous game
- Tightly focused narrative surpasses original
- Wonderful licensed music use
- Optional 60fps mode
- Lots of unlocks and collectibles
- Reuses virtually everything from Spider-Man 2018
- Performance issues
- Next-gen visuals a bit underwhelming
Chris Jarrard posted a new article, Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales review - Vecino amistoso Spider-Man