It's rare for new heroes to make an impact. Comics trade heavily on nostalgia and a rough status quo; movies and television tend to kick off with what's popular in the comics. Only a few modern characters have made any major impact in the last few decades. That tiny list includes current fan-favorites like Deadpool, Harley Quinn, Ms. Marvel, and the second Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles Morales.
Created by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli in 2011, Miles has risen to become a key part of the Spider-Man mythos. Originally off in the Ultimate Universe, he has since been merged into the Marvel Universe, putting him alongside the original Spider-Man, Peter Parker. These days he features heavily in the ongoing cartoon series, the Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse animated film, and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3.
I've counted myself as a fan of the character from his inception and I've enjoyed seeing his star rising in other mediums. Thanks to Into the Spider-Verse, Miles has become the standard bearer of the motto "Anyone can wear the mask," part of a growth in who gets to see themselves represented on the page and screen. Now Miles is getting his own standalone entry in Insomniac's Spider-Man universe.
Our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man
Spider-Man: Miles Morales begins by jumping forward some time from the ending of Spider-Man, in which Miles revealed his growing powers to Peter. He begins Miles Morales as Peter's sidekick, wearing a cast-off version of Peter's own costume. Following an encounter with one of Spider-Man's classic foes, Miles steps up to protect his mentor, engendering enough trust that Peter decides it's time to take a vacation. That leaves New York in Miles's hands.
Soon enough, a villain appears: a new female version of the Tinkerer appears, fighting against the machinations of energy company Roxxon. Roxxon's imposition on East Harlem is a rough analog for the gentrification of the real neighborhood, backed by the hard Silicon Valley smugness of Roxxon's Simon Kreiger. The Tinkerer is looking to tear down the new energy reactor Roxxon is building in Harlem, backed by her high-tech gang, the Underground. Miles is torn between trying to define himself as a hero, his friendship with the Tinkerer, his love for his Uncle Aaron, and the growing war between Roxxon and the Underground, with his home standing at the center.
Insomniac has changed Miles a bit to fit more firmly within its universe. Instead of being a resident of Brooklyn, as he is in the comics and film, Miles moves to Spanish Harlem. This ties the character closer to his Afro-Latino heritage: Miles is Black for sure, but his mother, Rio Morales, is Puerto Rican. He'll sometimes slip into Spanish in normal conversation, and his Puerto Rican flag is proudly displayed in his room. (Miles also knows ASL?) Moving into his grandmother's apartment with his mother, Miles is given a chance to grow into his own man. Miles' room over the course of the campaign reflects him settling into his own skin, like his growing set of mixing equipment, as well as additional Spider gear.
Spider-Man has occasionally used the "Friendly Neighborhood" moniker and motto, but Miles sells it more than Peter ever did. If Insomniac's Peter seems to belong to Manhattan, Miles belongs squarely to Spanish Harlem. He has strong connections with the people who live there, like Teo, the owner of both a local bodega and a cat named Spider-Man, and Gloria, a worker at the local F.E.A.S.T. shelter. You have the whole of Manhattan available from the previous game, but the area around East Harlem feels like Miles' streets, where he truly belongs. And that change from Peter's story undeniably helps sell Miles as a little bit more of an everyman.
And it's in those connections that Miles shines. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2 featured a scene of the average man helping Spider-Man after he stops a runaway train with only strength and grit at his side. Spider-Man: Miles Morales mirrors that scene with its own take, but it works far better here because these people know their Spider-Man and by that you know them too. While the rest of New York calls him "the other Spider-Man", "Spider-Guy", or "Spider-Too", East Harlem proudly calls him their Spider-Man. And while I'll always love Peter, Miles is my Spider-Man, too.
Full of Venom
Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales is not entirely a new game. Instead, it builds on the foundation established in 2018's Marvel's Spider-Man, giving the city of New York a new wintery sheen, tweaking the combat to acknowledge Miles' unique powerset, and crafting an entirely new story centered around the young hero.
Swinging across holiday Manhattan isn't much different from doing so in the previous Spider-Man. All of the swinging and parkour controls are absolutely the same, with the biggest change being Miles' more freeform style of swinging. Peter is rigid and straightforward, but Miles has a few more flourishes, a little less control over his movements. It's an additional bit of character added to Miles to differentiate himself.
As Miles steps into the role of Spider-Man, he also grows into his own powers. He retains the wall-crawling, super-strength, and enhanced agility that he shares with Peter, but he adds bio-electricity, dubbed Venom Strike by his best friend Ganke, and the ability to turn invisible. Spider-Man: Miles Morales incorporates both into Miles' style of combat. The original game had Focus, a resource built up through attacking and dodging enemies. Focus was there used on finishers or healing; better play meant more finishers to finish the fight, while worse play meant using all that focus on healing.
In Miles Morales, Focus powers Miles' Venom abilities. (Finishers are now unlocked via combo milestones.) These powers, full of glowing golden electricity, are all about opening up enemies to further attacks. The basic Venom Punch goes through enemy guards with bats or crowbars, the Venom Dash can catch and body slam the faster Underground soldiers. This list is rounded out by Venom Smash and Venom Jump, both area of effect attacks that give you space in a crowd. Enemies hit by Venom attack take enhanced damage for a short period of time; play better and you'll be overflowing with Venom energy that'll end fights much faster. Take a ton of hits and you'll need to use that energy to heal. It's a good increase on the previous risk-and-reward mechanic, especially since some of the new enemy types require you to use Venom attacks to open them up to any damage. You will find your spider squashed without Venom fueling your attacks, impressing the need for precise dodges and counters on players.
Likewise, Miles can crawl over the walls and ceilings unseen, webbing enemies to light poles and metal beams if they're caught unaware. His camouflage ability turns him entirely invisible, draining an additional meter that recharges when not in use. While there are some moments in the campaign where you need to use the ability to proceed, in practice it works more like a get out of jail free card for your sneaking failures. Did you try to sneak attack the wrong guard? Turn invisible and web zip away from combat to soft reset things, or get a free sneak attack. In that way, it works like the smoke bombs in the Arkham series.
The rest of Spider-Man: Miles Morales consists of recontextualizing what came before. Roxxon Labs and Underground Hideouts are the new flavor of enemy base, Taskmaster Challenges are now challenges left behind by Peter to train Miles, and the gadgets are a paired down version of what was available in the last game. (Notably, the Web Bomb is gone.)
Comparisons have been made to Uncharted: Lost Legacy, a standalone title that began life as Uncharted 4 DLC, and they're largely apt. Divorced found having to establish wholly new worlds and new systems, both games had the ability to focus on tweaking existing systems and diving deeper into character relationships. And especially in terms of Sony's more narrative-driven marquee titles, a focus on character and narrative pays off big. I liked Peter's story in Spider-Man, but I loved Miles' journey here. Practically speaking, Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales is the second episode in an ongoing story. I finished off all of Spider-Man in around 30 hours, and I did the same with Miles Morales in around 17 hours. There is one caveat, though: the end of the skill trees and the last costume can only be unlocked in New Game+.
Also, if you had a problem with Spider-Cop in the original game, crimes and side missions here are doled out via the new Friendly Neighborhood app created by Ganke. Not only does this keep track of your completion across all the various crimes, if you need a specific one to finish off a district or want to tackle the bonus objectives, you can just reload it in the app. I remember spending 15 minutes swinging across one district trying to get a specific crime to pop up, so this is a welcome change, and one that reflects Miles and Ganke's connection to their city.
If you're wondering how Miles Morales stands up on PlayStation 5, I can safely say that it's pretty impressive. I played most of the game on the Fidelity setting, which offers 4K visuals with all the next-gen graphical hallmarks like ray tracing. The enhanced lighting and reflections combined with the slush-covered street of Manhattan looks great, and I was so enamored with the look that I played most of the game in Fidelity mode.
The Performance mode cuts some of the visual extras, but kicks the game up to 60fps. Swinging around the city in 60fps takes a little bit getting used to, but from high up, you won't always notice the loss of ray tracing or screen space reflections. What you will notice, however, are the level-detail pop-in on cars and other objects on the ground while swinging. It's excellent in combat, but I admit that I preferred to play in Fidelity. You can switch between the modes at any time.
I also want to call out Insomniac's art team for the excellent materials. Their characters always look solid, but the costumes are simply fantastic. The seams and textured body suit of Miles' standard outfit is amazing if you take the time to look at the intricate detail. Even better, my boy has fantastic looking short curly hair (like mine!) and an almost perfect edge up (not like mine). Insomniac has also crafted 19 total costumes for Miles, which is impressive because he hasn't had time to amass a horde of alternate looks like Peter has. Nods to his first Ultimate Comics look and his Into the Spider-VerseI outfit are welcome, but there are also excellent original takes, like the Crimson Cowl suit.
As for those who want to spend all day gazing at the beautiful world Insomniac has built, Mile Morales also sports an improved the Photo Mode. You can switch costumes on the fly in the Photo Mode, but there's also a new Lights menu, allowing you to add up to three alternate light sources of varying colors and intensity, as well as the position of the global lighting. Spider-Man photo hounds used to struggle with finding the right lighting conditions for their photos. No longer. Insomniac continues to do right by them.
On the PlayStation 5, the new SSD architecture means loading is largely a thing of the past. I was looking forward to seeing Miles' version of the Spider-Man loading screens, with Peter riding the subway, but… there are no load times. You select a new location, and Miles immediately walks out of the subway in that location. There are vent crawling sections to enter Roxxon Labs that feel like they hid loading, but leaving the same locations is seamless. To be sure, a complete lack of loading is the anchor for next gen.
Another PS5 feature, the DualSense's Adaptive Triggers, isn't as impactful. I gushed about the triggers, which can add resistance to simulate certain in-game actions, in my early impressions of the PS5. In terms of Spider-Man: Miles Morales, the effect is rather subdued overall. I think more could've been done with the tension on the webline while swinging, to really sell the feeling of being tethered to a building high above the Manhattan concrete.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales highlights the direction that Insomniac is likely taking the next sequel. The studio can find mileage in tightening up various systems, continuing the excellent narrative, and exploring the ongoing partnership between Peter and Miles. I have no idea how the team expands on what's here: more interiors for New York? Adding Jersey as a location? The addition of a new version of Gwen Stacy with Spider-powers? More heroes like Daredevil?
Miles Morales proves that the first game wasn't a fluke. Insomniac knows how to translate Spider-Man and his world to gaming, while also offering their own spin on these popular comic characters. And like Uncharted: Lost Legacy, I find the tighter focus of Miles Morales actually benefits the game and the character. In short, if you want a high-quality exclusive to play on your shiny new PlayStation 5, swing on by Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales.
The early heroic career of Miles Morales gets some shine in this standalone soft sequel to Marvel's Spider-Man for PS4. Web swinging is still fantastic and the combat system expands with Miles' more varied powerset. And while you might have played most of this game before, Insomniac does an amazing job telling the story of its version of Miles. Rooted in his new home of Spanish Harlem, he's probably the most "friendly neighborhood" of any version of Spider-Man.