Insomniac Games came out swinging with its first foray into the world of Marvel’s iconic wall-crawler, but this spin-off has even more vigour and verve than its PlayStation 4 predecessor. Booting – in less than 10 seconds, we’re eager to add – with a shot of protagonist Miles Morales on the subway, the release takes no time to set out its uber-cool stall, with the hero strutting down the vividly rendered suburbs of Harlem to a hit hip-hop song on his headphones.
Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is effortlessly awesome, but it’s also relatable in a way that all the best comic book stories are. In fact, it’s interesting how this is very much an origin story, when the Burbank-based developer was so eager to avoid that with its inaugural entry into Marvel’s world. The story picks up shortly after the events of the first game, and Miles is still very much trying to find his feet as New York City’s other web-slinger.
This is a plot about becoming Spider-Man, but as with Peter Parker in the previous adventure, Insomniac Games is eager to take you behind the mask as much as possible. This means there are lengthy missions where you’ll find yourself simply interacting with friends and family; one particularly great sequence sees you dining with your nearest and dearest on Christmas Eve, as the sound of carol singers and crunching snow can be heard outside.
At the beginning of the game, the two Spider-Men are aiding with the transportation of a prisoner back to the Raft, when Miles makes a mistake that leads to his escape. The developer flexes all of its technical chops during this 30-minute sequence, as you race through shopping malls, city blocks, and much more. It’s spectacular, and just one of many larger-than-life set-pieces that will find you genuinely gasping at times.
Shortly after this introductory mission, Peter Parker departs for Europe on a work trip with Mary Jane Watson, and thus Miles is entrusted with keeping the citizens of New York City safe. It isn’t long before a gang war breaks out between two nefarious factions: Roxxon, a shady pseudo-science corporation, and masked vigilantes known as the Underground. Perhaps predictably, the motives of these sparring squads are intertwined with Miles’ personal life, thus forcing him to make some difficult decisions.
There are some really great characters here, and while the plot is as pulpy as you’d expect in places, you can’t help but root for Miles who’s unbelievably likeable despite his obvious self-doubts. The pacing of the story is just right, and while it’s not as substantial as its predecessor, it’ll take you a good 10 hours or so to roll the credits – and that’s if you only engage in light open world busywork along the way.
If you’re not partial to open world collectathons then you may not be all that enamoured with this spin-off, because it is much the same in terms of structure. New York City – which has been given a wintery, festive facelift – is very much a playground for you to swing around in, gathering up objects like Time Capsules and Postcards. As with the previous game, though, there are some imaginative activities here: one thread sees you sampling sounds from around town to make music with.
And the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man app plays host to a bunch of different narrative-driven side-quests, which range from tracking down stolen toys through to searching for lost cats. Insomniac Games always finds a way to put a twist on established mechanics, and as such there’s less repetition than you’d typically find in games of this kind. That said, you can guarantee that you’ll be busting up bad guys at some point, and the combat also gets some new wrinkles compared to the last game.
The big difference between Miles and Peter is the former’s Venom powers, which enable him to charge bio-electric blasts. You need to use these against certain enemies to break through their defences, and as you progress, you’ll need to vary up your attack types in order to overcome different obstacles. The control scheme – already quite overwhelming – definitely stretches the number of available inputs on the DualSense controller, but it’s satisfying once you find a flow.
Miles actually has access to fewer gadgets than Peter, so combat is more aggressive and less Ratchet & Clank as a result. The stealth gameplay, however, is far superior due to the cloaking abilities of the new hero. This means that you can temporarily turn invisible, and toying with enemies who have no idea where you’re going to approach from is a lot of fun. There are some issues with the AI getting stuck in geometry that we encountered on occasion, but nothing too distracting.
We should stress that it all looks and sounds absolutely sublime on the PS5, as you’d expect. There are two visual options available, with the primary mode providing a smooth 30 frames-per-second with raytracing. It’s frankly mesmerising to see the glass exteriors of New York City’s skyscrapers reflecting each other as you swing by, but an alternative 60 frames-per-second option with raytracing disabled looks equally impressive for entirely different reasons. It’s honestly a tough choice!
Whichever specification you select, though, the overall asset quality and art direction is quite extraordinary. The original game had some meticulously detailed environments, but here Insomniac Games’ art team has really upped its game – especially in the bustling Harlem district, which has clearly been given the closest attention as it serves as the primary backdrop to the story. The soundtrack also slams, with hip-hop beats imbuing an entirely different vibe to the traditional orchestral score.
Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is effortlessly cool. The overall gameplay structure may prove samey for those who failed to fall in love with Insomniac Games’ previous effort, but everyone else will have a blast with this generous spin-off story. Great characters, tons of activities, and some epic set-piece moments round out a must play superhero romp – and with the developer on this kind of form, we can’t wait to see more of the full-scale sequel that it’s inevitably cooking up.