In this edition of RVA Game Cave, columnist Jonah Schuhart finds that Spider-Man: Miles Morales can do whatever the last Spider-Man game can… and a good bit more.
The Sam Raimi Spider-Man films have left an irreversible mark on the generation of movie-goers that grew up in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Until then, there had never been such a high-budgeted, well-produced piece of broadcast media featuring the character. However, the influence of these films extended beyond the medium it was originally presented in. As with many movies in the era of the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, Sam Raimi’s take on Spider-Man and its sequel received their own video game adaptations. It was the adaptation for Spider-Man 2 that set a major precedent for how a Spider-Man game should look and play.
Since then, many major Spider-Man video games have attempted to replicate the success of Spider-Man 2. However, none seemed quite up to the task until 2018, when Sony published Marvel’s Spider-Man on the PlayStation 4. This game managed to surpass its predecessor by both refining and expanding upon the core mechanics developed on the PS2 while telling a genuinely entertaining and touching story. Now, Marvel’s Spider-Man has received a semi-sequel in Spider-Man: Miles Morales for both the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.
Ostensibly, Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a large-scale DLC (downloadable content) expansion for its predecessor. Despite being packaged and sold as its own game, it uses many of the same basic assets and systems as Marvel’s Spider-Man. The models for many enemies, civilians, and even the environment are exactly the same. Miles Morales’ Manhattan is nothing more than a winterized version of the exact same map used in the previous game. That being said, it’s an incredibly well-made DLC expansion that adds just enough new stuff in the right places for it to be worthy of a purchase. The fact that it is also priced lower than most games is a cherry on top.
It’s fair to say that the biggest appeal of Spider-Man: Miles Morales is simply that there is more of the same. Usually this is considered a very bad thing, but an idea doesn’t necessarily need to be complex, or to evolve, to last a long time or be considered worthwhile. These things can help improve both its lifespan and reputation, but longevity and value are not inherently excluded from the plain. This is what the developers at Insomniac, and by extension Spider-Man 2’s devs, Treyarch, were able to capitalize when developing their games. In both cases, the success and quality of the games was determined by simple ideas that never seem to get old.
Perhaps the most important of these ideas is traversal — more specifically, web-swinging. It was doubtlessly the most enjoyable and influential element of Spider-Man 2 for the PS2. Many Spider-Man games that followed tried to replicate it, but none created a system quite as graceful and pristine as Insomniac created for Spider-Man 2. Not only did they improve the general smoothness and feel of regular swinging, they also added the ability to zip towards and vault from obstacles. The ability to weave special acrobatic tricks in between each swing for experience improved it even more by making the entire process more engaging.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales uses the exact same swinging system, but with a new flavor added. As with many of his animations, Miles’ swinging and tricks reflect his unique personality. Miles has only been Spider-in-training for a year at the time of this game, so his swinging technique lacks the refined postures and forms of the more-seasoned Peter Parker. Still, the swinging gameplay itself is actually better. Miles has more tricks, along with a brand new way to tie those tricks together to make longer trick combos. It’s a small improvement from the last game, but it makes all the difference.
The same can be said for the game’s combat. Miles lacks all the gadget options Peter had, but he makes up for it with his own unique Spider-powers. Aside from all the regular Spider-Man abilities, Miles can also release bursts of bioelectricity and turn himself invisible. Both of these powers are used to great effect. His bioelectric “Venom” powers make him a powerhouse in open combat, capable of stunning entire groups of enemies for long periods of time. Meanwhile, his camouflage lets him slip in and out of stealth combat. Unfortunately, stealth isn’t quite as robust as it was in the previous game. Because Miles doesn’t have Peter’s repertoire of gadgets, and because Venom is mostly useful for open combat, Miles simply has less options when he’s not diving headfirst into combat.
Granted, these detractions are somewhat supported by his character. Miles Morales’ story is all about a newbie Spider-Man coming into his own. He’s supposed to lack the finesse of his more experienced peers, even if the end result of expressing that is at the expense of the gameplay.
This inconsistent quality also extends to the game’s story as well, especially to Miles’ character. Unlike Marvel’s Spider-Man, where Insomniac seemed to have a fair grip on the core elements of Peter Parker’s personality, they do not seem to know what they want to do with Miles. He’s supposed to come off as this awkward teenager who doubts his own abilities and doesn’t seem to feel up to the task ahead of him, and yet, aside from a few bad decisions he makes over the course of the story, Miles is a genius at almost everything he attempts. He’s a scientific wiz attending a highly-graded private school, a competent musician, and a decent fashion designer. The only time Miles seems to struggle with anything at all is when it comes to being Spider-Man.
This is understandable, however. Being Spider-Man is an extraordinary task, even for someone as multifaceted as Miles. He constantly struggles to balance his vigilante and civilian lives, despite the two inevitably colliding in ways he can’t avoid. Granted, that idea is somewhat par for the course in a Spider-Man story, but this game manages to keep the idea entertaining as Miles repeatedly finds solutions that are different, yet equally correct as the ones made by Peter before him. In the end, the story of Spider-Man: Miles Morales isn’t quite as enjoyable as the heart-wrenching plot of the last game, but it is nowhere near offensive enough to ruin the experience.
In fact, even though the plot is somewhat lukewarm, the game is still improved by its presence. As fun as acting out the fantasy of Spider-Man is by itself, that fun is only increased by the added context of a story. Between that, and the absolute abundance of side content, Spider-Man: Miles Morales averages out to being consistently compelling. It’s a rare moment where the player feels bored or without direction. Whether they are completing all of the side quests, enjoying the humorous rantings of J. Jonah Jameson, or simply swinging about, they will still be satisfied with some proficiently designed Spider-Manning.
I give Spider-Man: Miles Morales a 7/10.
Images via Insomniac/Playstation