Spider-Man: Miles Morales review – more of the same, but with some stunning visual upgrades on PS5

By Alex Donaldson, Friday, 6 November 2020 13:00 GMT

Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a very typical sort of console launch title.

It’s impressive in places, but clearly still rummaging about in the remnants of the last generation. It’s a shorter experience, which surely will have made that new-generation development easier. That said, it’s also content-rich enough that it’s the ideal relaxing binge with which to ease yourself into your snazzy new hardware.

Did you play 2018’s Spider-Man on PS4? If you did, you’ll already have a pretty good idea of how you’ll feel about Miles Morales. This is a game running on the same technology, with many of the same game systems and mechanics in place. Miles is just different enough to Peter Parker to be distinct, but he’s ultimately still Spider-Man.

That means you’re still tooling around in New York, just as in that game. It’s essentially the same open-world, though now at a different time of year, with Miles Morales a Christmas story that sadly doesn’t really do enough with the time of year to feel like Christmas is central to the narrative. That’s a shame, as I love when media does that, with the quintessential example, of course, being Die Hard – though even in games, a mediocre game like Dead Rising 4 was enhanced by its Christmas trappings. Still, the icy, decorated New York is at least pretty, and those who unwrap this on the 25th will find things appropriately seasonal enough.

Playing this new Spider-Man adventure breaks down into a few basic categories. First, you roam the open world by swinging, running, clambering, and mantling about the towering buildings of New York. It still feels great, and Miles has his own unique way of moving and swinging that differentiates him from Peter.

Traversal is fun, but it’s also used to get from point-to-point. Story missions and more narratively involved side quests will be your primary points of call, but there’s also a grab-bag of simpler, shorter ‘Friendly Neighborhood’ quests that Miles picks up through his cell phone. The randomly generated, endlessly-repeating crimes from the 2018 game are back, too, popping up as you travel through the game world.. Finally, there’s a range of collectibles to grab which in turn feed into your character upgrades and completion percentage.

All of this is fairly similar to 2018’s Spider-Man, though there are slight presentation changes to better fit the Miles character. The same is true of combat; it’s still that rhythmic, combo and dodge heavy superhero battling first coined by the Arkham games, and there’s still stealth segments that similarly borrow from the caped crusader, but Miles has unique powers that set his Spider-Man apart.

The two most important of these differences are Miles’ bioelectric venom powers and his ability to turn invisible. The venom powers let you empower attacks with electric zaps that can spread between enemies and leave them more vulnerable to other attacks. Turning invisible is pretty obvious, and it makes stealth a lot more fun in this game. Takedowns that were previously impossible are now more realistic as you can perform them while cloaked and then zip back to a hiding spot before the very limited active camouflage expires.

Like I said earlier, Miles feels sufficiently different enough to Pete to be defined, but similar enough that everything that worked about 2018’s Spider-Man remains intact. It’s lightly iterative in a way that perhaps wouldn’t go over so well in a ‘full sequel’, but it’s pretty much understood that this is more of a stop-gap spin-off sort of deal.

Speaking of that, let’s talk about the size of the game. The comparison to something like Uncharted: Lost Legacy is actually pretty fair. The core story probably takes a similar sort of time, in the 7-10 hour range. I polished off most of the side content for a total completion percentage of 98%; that took me a little over 12 hours, which felt just right to me. The next-generation nature of this game means that it still has a discount price compared to most new releases, but it’s also more expensive than a similarly sized PS4-generation game like 2017’s Lost Legacy. Take from that what you will.

The story told here is also keen to emphasize the differences between the original and new Spider-Man. Miles is incredibly well-realized, with a believable supporting cast of characters. Great pride is taken in Miles’ status as a mixed-race hero from African American and Puerto Rican heritage, and as a biracial person myself it’s rare and exciting to see that represented well in video games. Completing one line of side quests leads to a brief but prominent and unflinching Black Lives Matter tribute, which is both surprising and pleasing to see in a big-budget, mainstream video game.

This is a PlayStation 5 launch game, but it’s also coming to PS4. I haven’t tested the PS4 version, but assume it’s fine – it will lack the PS5-exclusive improvements, but Spider-Man ran well on PS4 in 2018 and this game is so similar that it’s unlikely to have any major performance issues.

As a PS5 launch title, Miles Morales is, like I said, sort of a classic day-one game. Exclusive or not, launch titles are often ported from the previous generation and prettied up, and this feels like that. What’s impressive is how much the core features of the PS5 neatly slot into proceedings without feeling disruptive or over-the-top.

That blazing fast SSD storage means that loads are stupid quick, for instance. Fast travel is no longer a chore because it’s pretty much instant. Visuals are sharpened nicely with silky smooth performance in 4K with HDR – and then there’s the ray tracing. The haptic feedback and adaptive triggers are used, but so subtly in this particular title that you don’t notice them very much.

Ray tracing seems to be the feature that most excited the developers at Insomniac, because it’s absolutely everywhere in this game. It has an excellent implementation – and if you stop for a moment to cling to the side of a skyscraper and take in how real-time reflections of New York are painted onto its huge window panes, you’ll be impressed. Some of Miles’ spider-suits also have surfaces that show up ray-traced reflections, too – and that looks great when he’s in motion. Every now and then you’ll see ray-traced reflections ‘pop-in’ onto a surface if you’re moving fast and come to a sudden stop, but this is rare.

In fact, the ray tracing probably goes a long way to make this PS4 title feel more like a next-generation game. The key character models are still gorgeous and impressive, for instance, but they’re not dissimilar to what we’ve already seen on PS4. The real-time lighting enhances the whole world, however, kicking everything up a notch.

And, honestly, that’s it. I reiterate again – how much did you like 2018’s Spider-Man? If you loved it, this is more of the same. If you never played it, this remains a fun and engaging open-world hero game that’s relatively untaxing, the gaming equivalent of a popcorn action flick. Naturally, if you hated the previous game, give this a miss. The X-Factor is the price, which for some might be too rich for what is essentially a beefed-up expansion.

Launch games are rarely remembered as earth-shattering experiences years later, but at the time, elements of them always feel magical. On PS5, Miles Morales has both of these feelings down – it’s familiar and unsurprising, but some of its technical presentation will wow you nevertheless. If you’re picking up a PS5 on launch day, for that reason this will surely do.

4 Stars

Version tested: PS5. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.

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