If Astro’s Playroom presents a look at some of the more novel appeals of the PlayStation 5, Miles Morales is a decent example of another draw of the new generation – it’s about taking a game you know well and making it look better, run smoother and get you into the action as quick as you can load up a blockbuster movie on Netflix. It’s about presenting a more seamless brand of entertainment, and if you want a breezy thrill there are few better candidates than Insomniac’s take on Spider-Man.
2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man was a truly lovely thing, a superhero game that felt refreshingly different. Yes, it cribbed much of the fundamentals from the Arkham series, but just as Rocksteady’s devotion to the Dark Knight lent those games a giddy edge, here Insomniac’s affection for a different flavour of comic book classic shone through. A lightness of touch and a certain goofiness embodied Spider-Man’s charm – here was something earnest and optimistic rather than dark and brooding.
Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales inherits all that – rather than a full-on sequel this is an expansion that’s, well, expansive, with a run-time not too much shorter than the original – and adds a little more besides. Having nailed so many of the fundamentals last time round, Insomniac has been afforded the opportunity to build upon the original in ways that further explore the character of Spider-Man. And it really helps that the person under the mask is Miles Morales.
Set a year after the original game, here we’re seeing Miles take on the role under the tutelage of Peter Parker. Gangly and nervous – with a charming abundance of earnestness – Morales is an endearing student, and it’s a joy to re-learn Spider-Man’s systems through him (if you’ve not played the original, it makes this a seamless entry point to the story). Nadji Jeter’s voice performance is pitch perfect, helped by an in-game realisation that nails the affable awkwardness of the character.
The real pleasure, though, is seeing how Insomniac explores that character elsewhere in the game. The outstanding traversal of the original returns, but Miles gives it a whole new rhythm – stuttering and occasionally staccato as he stumbles out of the sky, through his clumsy arcs you can tell he’s someone still learning the ropes. (Into the Spider-Verse’s graceful animation appears to be an inspiration, and Insomniac is gracious enough to include a nod with an excellent easter egg – one of dozens of nerdy easter eggs in the game.)
For returning players it’s a neat little refresh of the original swinging, and elevates what was already one of the best open-world traversal systems around. There’s a silkiness to it all that’s just sublime, an effortlessness in the way you glide from rooftop to rooftop, and it’s always engaging. Of course on PlayStation 5 that’s improved when you can switch over to performance mode and play at 60fps (for more on the technical side of Miles Morales on PlayStation 5, check out Digital Foundry’s in-depth report), but even when you halve the frame-rate it feels smoother than so much else out there: yes, it’s an open world game where much of your time is spent scooting from one point to another, but when the simple act of motion is so intoxicating, it’s never a chore.
New York’s got a makeover too, a fresh set of distractions and side missions laid atop a Manhattan that’s dizzyingly detailed. Once again, it’s the seamlessness of the action that really impresses here – as it was with the original, and obviously further enhanced when playing on a PlayStation 5 with the snappiness that its fast storage brings. There’s a flow to Insomniac’s brand of action, as you leap from building to building straight into combat then back out again, that’s irresistible.
Nowhere better is that flow displayed than in the combat – another area where we see Morales’ different traits being explored. His unique abilities – a camouflage that renders him invisible and venom powers that charge through him like electricity – are layered on top of the original’s lithe moveset, giving you a slightly broader palette to choose from. Stealth has some of the sting taken out of it, while Miles’ burgeoning venom powers also give you a new tech tree to explore, unlocking new abilities by picking up activity tokens and tech parts squirrelled around the map.
Guiding Miles from nervous apprentice to noble superhero is a tangible thing; by the game’s climax you’ll have seen him evolve into a brawler who can set the screen alight with his array of electricity-infused attacks, and who can soar through Manhattan’s streets with an almighty leap. That journey’s mirrored in a story that’s inclusive, warm-hearted and optimistic – an absolute hug of a thing.
Perhaps that’s where Miles stands apart from Peter Parker for me – his spider sense might not be as strong as Parker’s, but his sense of family feels stronger, something reflected in the extended cast here. Rio Morales brings maternal warmth, while the adorable nerd Ganke Lee is the perfect sidekick and voice in your ear through the campaign. There are other members of Miles Morales’ world that… Well, I’ll leave all that for you to explore. The stakes are certainly set a touch lower than last time, and the story runs out of ideas a little too quickly while the threads left dangling after the last game are left almost entirely untouched, but the finale is thrilling – and Insomniac’s clearly only just getting started on a series that looks set to be Sony’s centrepiece over the coming years.
It’s a little lumpy in places – as stuffed open-world games like this are wont to be – with a glitch or two more than I’d have liked (and while I don’t have first-hand experience of the PlayStation 4 version, others here have and reported that some of there are a few more glitches present there). This is also certainly a thing of thrift rather than something entirely fresh, a retread of the original that, to its credit, knows exactly what needed nipping and what needed tucking. Given the trying global circumstances this was made under, I think that’s more than okay.
And given the circumstances that Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales releases into, it’s heartening to have a tale that’s so eager to see the best in everyone, and that strives for diversity in a world divided. In that way, Spider-Man: Miles Morales’ message of hope feels like the right sentiment for this very moment. It’s escapism with a social conscience, a timely, tremendous thing right now. Insomniac’s second crack at Spider-Man retains the breathless energy of the original, but ends up a lot like Miles Morales himself – still fresh on its feet, a little awkward in places, but steadily growing into itself. It’s a game that’s full of character, and a tremendously likeable one it is too.