I really enjoyed playing the first Spider-Man for the Play Station 4. The controls were fluid, the graphics stunning and the gameplay felt like you were in the universe of the comic books, filled with high paced action and campy dialog. I was looking forward to its sequel as a launch title for the Play Station 5. Spider-Man: Miles Morales has the same fast paced gameplay as its predecessor. However, the story was not as well constructed. There were many elements that felt like they were pandering to our current political culture, some dialog made me cringe, and the game was considerably shorter than the original. Still, the mechanics drew me in, the graphics were beautiful and the missions were challenging. I enjoyed playing it, although it did mostly feel like a set of expansions to the original with no truly noticeable changes.
Miles, our new protagonist, starts off as a character with large personal strengths who only seems to lack confidence in his own abilities. Between where he was introduced in the last game and now, it seems Peter Parker has been training him. During the first few missions, the player discovers Miles is at the top of his class, and can speak fluent Spanish and Sign Language. The opening sequences show him making a mistake, and we get the whole great responsibility theme we come to expect from any Spider-Man story.
The trouble with Miles is that he has little to no room to grow. He doesn’t seem to have a temper, there are few places where he’s allowed to make truly bad decisions, and any criticism he receives is for being over virtuous. I realize this is fairly common in Spider-Man lore. This isn’t a dark hearted character like Batman from the DC universe, but his entire arc feels pretty shallow. He lacks any real glaring character flaws, with most conflict happening externally from either his uncle or memories of his father.
The adventure elements feel like a re-theme of the previous game. Finding backpacks are replaced with time capsules. Enemy bases are replaced by Underground hideouts and reactors. Parker’s photos are replaced by post cards (but only in the after game missions) and thankfully the stupid pigeon missions haven’t been replaced by anything (although there is one optional pigeon quest). Although the gadgets have changed and you have one new super power, for the most part the gameplay is identical to the original in most meaningful ways. It’s still enjoyable. I like the stealth mechanic in both of these titles, but there is still nothing new to the table.
The PlayStation 5 release of Spider-Man: Miles Morales does make use of real time ray tracing, as well as the PS5’s new force feedback controller. Looking at windows is pretty stunning with really beautiful reflections, but most of the game play is so fast that it’s a cool trick that quickly doesn’t really matter. The graphics are good, but they’re not a huge jump such as those seen with previous generations of consoles. Although, the controller does feature feedback for things such as web slinging, the game doesn’t go as far as Astro’s Playroom as far as utilizing the controller’s full capabilities. Even so, the feedback elements are a nice touch.
Games are often used as a distraction from our current circumstances, however elements of the changing culture seem to have bled into the story elements of this title. Spider-Man’s favorite radio podcast is hosted by a stereotypical, purple haired, social justice warrior. A time capsule reveals a book titled America’s Untold Truth. Jonah Jameson makes, what seems like, a reference to Tim Pool in one of his broadcasts. These elements don’t fit naturally and feel like they’re pandering to the culture war and a demand for intersectionalism in entertainment.
“Jared! Get me new fact checkers! I know they’re your roommates, get me new ones! Get rid of the one with the Beanie!” -J Jonah Jameson
Overall, I did find this game enjoyable. Despite the basic story and campy dialog, it drew me in the way classic Saturday morning superhero cartoons did when I was a kid. Although I feel like I completed the same level of side quests, at fifteen hours, it took me literally half the time to finish this game as its predecessor. Part of that was due to being familiar with the mechanics, but even so, this game was considerably shorter than the original. Despite its length and lackluster story, it’s still a fun and entertaining junk-food action game; a decent launch title for Sony’s new console. However, I wouldn’t pay full price for it. If you really want a good Miles Morales story, I’d recommend the 2018 film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse over this game.