There’s a moment early in Insomniac’s latest visit to New York that really encapsulates what makes Spider-Man as a character and figure so special. Miles Morales, our newly minted hero, is walking down the street and comes across two people painting a mural of Peter Parker’s webslinger on a wall in Harlem (where Miles now lives). He admires their work but asks about the “new guy.” It’s classic superhero stuff; the artist says that he likes him but prefers “the original.” Undeterred, Miles tells him to leave some room anyway.
Spider-Man Miles Morales is a follow-up/spinoff to 2018’s Spider-Man, which is both a modern classic and a new beginning for PlayStation’s own Spider-Verse. In Miles Morales, you shift from Pete (who finally gets a vacation) to, you guessed it, Miles, who becomes New York’s one and only Spider-Man while his mentor is away. After a chaotic and exciting opening set piece where the two Spider-Men battle a familiar face together, Miles is truly on his own and must contend with new foes: namely, Roxxon Energy’s private security army and a new gang called The Underground, led by the mysterious Tinkerer.
I’ll start by saying how the story is, for the most part, pretty standard as far as superhero stories go. There are some very surprising early developments and, like the previous game, fascinating twists on familiar characters, but the story pretty much ends exactly where you think it will. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; this game is much more about the characters and their personal journeys than the overall plot, which goes in the “save the city while also battling your personal demons” direction.
Now, the upside to this is that since Miles Morales is a shorter affair than the first game, there is almost no fat on the plot. No filler missions, no cool-but-pointless tangents. Every mission meaningfully propels the story forward, and that is truly commendable.
Like most great superhero stories, however, the “saving the world” antics usually take a backseat to personal journeys and character growth—and Miles Morales really delivers here.
Now, I might have a bit of a personal bias, but Miles is quickly becoming my favorite Spider-Man; there’s something so resonant about his character’s consistent overcoming of adversity that just speaks to me. In this game, he is pushed to carry the weight of an entire city on his shoulders, working in the shadow of his (almost) universally loved mentor. And, just like in the first game, Insomniac continues to exhibit a perfect understanding of who these characters are and what makes them so special.
In this outing, Miles is plagued by self-doubt and constantly unsure of his ability to live up to the Spider-Man mantle, while at the same time exuding a confidence and joyousness regarding his abilities. It’s a line that many writers have tried and failed to walk, but it’s followed perfectly here. Miles’ growth is on full display over the course of the game’s 10 or so hours, and he only gets more endearing as the story progresses. Both the writers and Miles’ actor, Nadji Jeter, deserve all the credit in the world for their work here.
Now, if you’re a fan of the first Spider-Man game, then playing Miles Morales will feel like slipping on a familiar, comfy pair of pants. You’ll once again find yourself swinging through the bustling streets of New York City (now covered in snow), beating up baddies and collecting the many collectibles that dot the game’s map. I won’t dwell too much on many of these aspects; if you liked them in the first game, you’ll love them here. This is still the most refined version of the Arkham-style combat available, and the swinging feels as purely euphoric as ever. From moment to moment, this game is a joy to play.
To stop combat from getting stale, Miles Morales introduces two new elements: Miles’ Venom (no relation) and camouflage abilities. His Venom powers, which fill his body with electricity, are the most exciting, offering new ways to start combos and deal with large crowds. Not only are they visually spectacular, but they feel powerful. Charging up an electrical fist and sending an opponent flying truly never gets old.
His camouflage ability is exactly what you expect it to be, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. The thrill of moving between enemies in plain sight is always tense, and your meter’s depletion ensures that the power doesn’t stray into “overpowered” territory.
As for side activities, the game has streamlined the crime, side activity, and token systems; gone are the days of separate crime, activity, and research tokens—they are now replaced by simply activity tokens and tech parts. Activity tokens are granted by everything in the game, from completing main and side missions to clearing out bases and finding collectibles. Tech parts come from Underground caches scattered throughout the city. These two currencies are used to upgrade gadgets and unlock special suit perks, and the system was much less complicated and required less management than the previous one, a change that I hope carries over to this game’s follow up.
This game also excels at making side content meaningful and rewarding. Yes, you’re swinging around and snagging random items on the surface, but great care is taken to give a bit of dialogue containing backstory or giving Miles a chance to practice his quips, making the collection worthwhile. There’s a special collectible set that is only available after the main storyline’s completion that is especially poignant—don’t miss it.
The game also features the return of multiple suits for Miles, almost all of which are—for lack of a more eloquent term—really cool. I’m partial the the Into the Spider-Verse suit (it’s my favorite movie ever), but I bounced back and forth between a few of them; Miles always looks fresh no matter which one you choose.
If you’ll allow me to be a little on-the-nose here, Spider-Man Miles Morales makes good on the first game’s tagline to “be greater.” It features a snappy, emotionally fulfilling story occupied by characters that feel real and is anchored by a perfect protagonist, has perfectly refined combat complete with new abilities, and makes the little things meaningful. It perfectly toes the line between fan-service and fulfilling storytelling, and it’s one of my favorite gaming experiences of the year.
It’s also a game that’s unapologetically itself. It doesn’t fix what isn’t broken while streamlining and adding other elements to create a near-perfect gaming experience. From its young and diverse cast to its hip-hop inspired soundtrack, this game carves its own path and cements itself as one of the best launch titles in recent memory.
Leave some space for the new guy, indeed.