Spider-Man: Miles Morales Review: Hanging by a Thread
Miles Morales was a tiny part of Marvel’s Spider-Man — the 2018 award-winning and best-selling PlayStation 4 exclusive — but he shot to global popularity later that year as the lead of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, with the animated film interrupting Disney and Pixar’s dominance to win an Oscar. Those two aspects combine to deliver Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales — also from Insomniac, with Brian Horton and Cameron Christian as creative and game directors, respectively — a video game spin-off that continues the story of the titular character. But it has very few original ideas of its own, and it’s more than happy to stand on the shoulders of giants, drawing elements off both its Spider-Man game predecessor and the Spider-Verse movie.
When it comes to gameplay, everything in Spider-Man: Miles Morales — good or bad — is exactly as it was in Marvel’s Spider-Man. The thrill of swinging through New York City, heralded as one of Insomniac’s finest achievements on Marvel’s Spider-Man, is as exciting and on-note as it was. The only improvement is that tricks are now easier to pull off: rather than “triangle” + “circle”, it’s just the “square” button now. Of course, Miles has his own style that fits his flailing out-of-control nature and effortless owning-it personality from the comics, something we also saw in the Spider-Verse movie.
This also holds true for Spider-Man: Miles Morales’s other centrepiece. Insomniac Games’ creative team really understands the value of fight choreography and cinematography, and they know how to best use the tools at its disposal, chiefly the virtual camera. As Miles takes on enemies and bosses, the in-game camera spins, swings, tilts, rotates, and revolves around the characters, which in turn infuses a lot of energy and excitement into the game’s core: action. This might seem simple but it’s not, as shown by the fact that so many action-adventure games fail to execute this.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales currencies
There are three currencies in the new Spider-Man game: skill points, activity tokens, and tech parts.
Earning XP by playing the game and completing missions helps you level up, which grants you skill points. These can be used to teach Miles new combat skills.
Miles’ max level is 20, unless you start “New Game+”, wherein you begin the story from scratch but with all your upgrades intact. New Game+ is available after you finish the campaign.
Activity tokens are awarded for completing objectives, be it missions, side quests, or local crimes. That leaves tech parts, which are found by opening hidden crates left over all the city. You need activity tokens and tech parts to unlock new suits and upgrade your gear.
Some suits, suit mods, gadgets, and skills are intentionally locked behind New Game+, another way of padding game length.
But it’s put to use in repetitive ways. As Peter Parker, Marvel’s Spider-Man tasked you with clearing out construction sites owned by the supervillain Wilson Fisk. Peter had supposedly transferred control over to the New York Police Department, but a new villainous outfit is now squatting there just a year later. As Miles, Spider-Man: Miles Morales tasks you with clearing out the construction sites again. You could make an argument about power vacuums and all that, but this is still uninspired game design. Insomniac is making us do the same thing but with characters swapped out.
In big-picture terms, it feels like an attempt to pad out game length. It took me less than 10 hours to wrap up Spider-Man: Miles Morales, with a healthy dose of side quests and activities. Apart from construction sites, other activities involve helping the citizens of New York with their problems, be it a stolen vehicle, malfunctioning railway, or missing pigeons. Local crimes are still around, but at least they are not endless, as was the case on Marvel’s Spider-Man where New York felt entirely lawless. There are nine challenges (combat, traversal, and stealth) created by Peter, which riff on the kinds of challenges he had in his game.
The only actual new side activity in Spider-Man: Miles Morales is sound sampling, which requires Miles to locate where a particular sound is coming from and then re-create the recording, to help build a track he’s been working on. Miles’ interest in music is carried over from the comics, and Spider-Man: Miles Morales fittingly has a hip hop-inspired soundtrack and background score, though it’s no match for Into the Spider-Verse’s, which featured the likes of Post Malone, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, Swae Lee, and Jaden Smith, and had Daniel Pemberton as the composer.
Speaking of the Spider-Verse movie, Spider-Man: Miles Morales pays tribute to the film by including Miles’ movie suit, the relaxing hands-behind-the-head diving animation, and mimicking Into the Spider-Verse’s look. (The only thing the game doesn’t have are the film’s comedic chops.) That means animating in twos — holding one frame for two frames, which thereby lowers the frame rate — and displaying pop-up onomatopoeic words (“KRAAAAK”, “SKERUNCH!”, “HORK!”, “ZAP”, “THWOKK”, “SSSPAK!”) when Miles punches and hits enemies. Better yet, the Spider-Verse suit in Spider-Man: Miles Morales is in fact made up of two mods that can be applied to any other suit too.
That applies to the “Bodega Cat Suit”, which comes with a cat in a backpack. The cat stays in the bag for the most part (no pun intended) and jumps out to aid Miles (cosmetically) in finisher moves. It does this only when it feels like though unfortunately, which is at least a bit fitting given most cats are lazy. More importantly, said cat is also called Spider-Man. It truly proves that anyone can be Spider-Man. I once called it the best thing about Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and Insomniac seemingly agrees, for the “Bodega Cat Suit” is only unlocked after you finish the story (and a side mission).
Hanging by a thread
Set about a year after the events of Marvel’s Spider-Man during Miles’ winter school break, Spider-Man: Miles Morales takes place in a New York covered in a blanket of snow. The snow doesn’t affect gameplay in any way, it’s just a look. Following his father’s death, Miles (Nadji Jeter) and his mother Rio Morales (Jacqueline Pinol) have moved back to Harlem, where the Roxxon Energy Corporation — led by one Simon Krieger (Troy Baker) — is building a new reactor that claims to work on clean fuel. But Miles discovers that their purposes might be more nefarious and he begins to probe into Roxxon, with help from his software developer best friend Ganke Lee (Griffin Puatu), who’s to Miles as Ned is to Peter in the ongoing Spider-Man film series: an in-ear sidekick.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales also features a gender-swapped Tinkerer (Jasmin Savoy Brown) — previously seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe film Spider-Man: Homecoming, where he was part of Vulture’s outfit and played by Michael Chernus — as the leader of new high-tech criminal outfit called the Underground, which has its own plans for Roxxon’s technology. The new Spider-Man game also brings back some memorable villains from Marvel’s Spider-Man — Rhino (Fred Tatasciore) is the only one I’m allowed to mention — in supporting or guest capacity.
Unlike Peter (Yuri Lowenthal), who was in the Spider-Man business for eight years when his game began, Miles is still learning how to be Spider-Man, and how to juggle the personal with the professional. Peter has been showing him the ropes for the past off-screen year and he has one big piece of advice: don’t tell anyone about your secret identity. The original Spider-Man throws Miles for a curve when he reveals that he’s going to Europe for a few weeks with MJ (Laura Bailey) on a Daily Bugle assignment, which leaves Miles in charge as New York’s only Spider-Man. He’s soon pulled into a conspiracy that involves the might of both Roxxon and Underground, and the story and its stakes turn out to be very personal for Miles.
The Spider-Man: Miles Morales story isn’t anything special — it riffs on the old frenemy angle that brings to mind Xavier vs Magneto from X-Men — but it’s relevant in how it speaks to police brutality and discrimination against minorities. As Spider-Man, Miles wears a mask that obfuscates his Afro-Latino identity from the cops, but a scene involving him and Roxxon’s militarised goons still works as a parallel to how the police ignore and don’t listen to minorities, to the point that people like Miles feel invisible in society. Elsewhere, Spider-Man: Miles Morales places emphasis on the community and family aspect. While Pete was shown a bit of a loner, Miles is embraced by the people of Harlem, who take to calling him “our Spider-Man”.
The only unbelievable part of the story is how Miles gets badly hurt during a mission and then immediately gets better, for the campaign must wrap up before Peter returns from Europe in a couple of weeks, a time limit Insomniac has forced on itself. Problems with realism are more common with mission setups themselves. Spider-Man: Miles Morales opens with a police convoy stupidly flying a giant plane between New York skyscrapers. It’s like the cops are looking for trouble and mayhem. And as you can probably predict, it all goes haywire.
The Batman: Arkham-inspired stealth mechanics have problems of their own, as the implementation is still not convincing on Spider-Man: Miles Morales. While the Dark Knight only operated in shadows, Spider-Man trots about in broad daylight. More importantly, he’s not detected when he probably should be. Sure, you cannot see someone directly above you, but the farther they are, the easier it becomes. Many a time, an enemy could easily spot Miles — or the hanging trapped bodies of their teammates — if they looked up even slightly. But in Spider-Man: Miles Morales, unless someone is on the same plane as you, they never see you. Enemies fail to even spot Miles’ shadow when he’s walking on the edge of rooftops.
The new Spider-Man game does let you do more with stealth, for what it’s worth. Miles has two abilities that sets him apart from Peter: a “Venom Punch” that can be used after you rack up combos and fill the focus meter, and “Camouflage” which allows Miles to turn invisible. Thanks to the latter, you can approach missions in Spider-Man: Miles Morales in ways that wasn’t possible on Marvel’s Spider-Man. You can upgrade your Camouflage ability to stay invisible longer or to avoid being detected when you take someone out. At the same time, Insomniac is smart enough to craft opponents that can counter your Camouflage and Venom abilities.
At launch, Spider-Man: Miles Morales has some technical problems as well. The game crashed with an error screen once midway during a mission. During an Underground construction site activity, it froze and had to be force quit multiple times. Not wanting to be frozen again, I chose to go a different route and come back to the mission another time. And in certain stealth missions, enemies get themselves stuck by trying to walk into an immovable object. They stay there for the entire duration of the mission, unless you make a sound that causes them to walk in the opposite direction. Insomniac will release a “day one patch” on November 6, and hopefully that will take care of these.
Speaking of the day one patch, Spider-Man: Miles Morales will also get additional updates to the photo mode and the ability to transfer saves from PS4 to PS5. I don’t usually bring up photo mode given it’s an ancillary experience for games, but it’s worth a mention given the extensive capabilities it offers. The Spider-Man: Miles Morales photo mode expands on the one offered in Marvel’s Spider-Man, adding light sources and stickers to the mix, which already had field of view, aperture control, focus distance, depth of field, exposure, vignetting, film grain, filters, frames, suit selection, and more.
A bygone era
As for the cross-generation support, it’s clear that Spider-Man: Miles Morales has been built for the PlayStation 5, and sufficiently works on the PlayStation 4. On one occasion, as I was swinging through New York City, it literally froze and threw up a loading sign in the right bottom corner. The game resumed a couple of seconds later. That’s as obvious an indicator of the fact that the PS4 hardware is a limitation for games (and has been for a while). For what it’s worth, Spider-Man: Miles Morales looks quite nice in cutscenes, with disappearing snow and a high level of detail in the hair, but not so much outside them.
Having played it on the PS4 only, I can’t speak to the game’s quality on the PS5 — and whether you should pick it up if you’re buying Sony’s next-gen console at launch. But what I can say is that PS4 owners in India shouldn’t buy it at release. Here’s why.
Insomniac has acknowledged the fact that Spider-Man: Miles Morales is not a full-fledged title — the developer said it has the scope of Uncharted: The Lost Legacy — which is why it’s priced at $50 rather than the new $70 ceiling for PS5 games. But Sony is being obtuse in India. While $70 has been translated to Rs. 4,999 sensibly, $50 has become the new Rs. 3,999. That makes no sense, as $60 translated to Rs. 3,999 for the longest time — as recently as the last PS4 exclusive: Ghost of Tsushima. Also, going by current USD-INR exchange rates, $70 is around Rs. 5,200 while $50 is Rs. 3,700.
By pricing it at Rs. 3,999, Sony India is basically equating Spider-Man: Miles Morales with Marvel’s Spider-Man (also Rs. 3,999 at launch), which is bonkers. I normally don’t talk about pricing in reviews, because what’s acceptable for some is absurd for others. After all, console game pricing is screwed up to begin with, given Sony and Microsoft don’t allow developers to easily set localised pricing, the way Valve does with Steam. $50 should have been Rs. 3,499 at best, and Spider-Man: Miles Morales feels like a Rs. 2,999 game.
If the sticker price isn’t a concern, in Spider-Man: Miles Morales, you’ll find a game that is lacking in originality but thankfully built on a solid core that needs a few tweaks. It’s a successful expansion of Insomniac’s Spider-Man universe, but it’s a new paragraph, rather than a new chapter. Hopefully it will give us the latter next time around. And though it’s also good for representation, it still has a ways to go. (Though the game wasn’t anything special, Marvel’s Avengers gave us a Muslim-American lead in Kamala Khan / Ms. Marvel.) Hopefully we can get Spider-Gwen from Insomniac next, or a Spider-Verse game, though given the lack of setup, either seems unlikely. For now, Miles continues his upward trajectory. He walked in 2018, so he could fly in 2020.
- Fight choreography, cinematography is wonderful
- Upgraded stealth mechanics
- Swinging is thrilling
- Fun suits, Spider-Verse look
- Relevance of story
- Extensive photo mode
- Not original enough
- Repetitive gameplay
- Game padding despite short length
- Unconvincing stealth gameplay
- Unrealistic in parts
- Bugs, game freezing / crashes
- India pricing is a joke
Rating (out of 10): 7
Gadgets 360 played Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales on the PlayStation 4. The game is available November 12 on the PS4 worldwide and the PS5 in select countries, and November 19 on the PS5 in the rest of the world. It costs Rs. 3,999 in India, $50 in the US, and £50 in the UK on PlayStation Store.