Consoles always face the same criticism at launch. There’s not enough games, and the next generation hasn’t truly arrived. But if I can swing through every game with the same efficiency as Spider-Man: Miles Morales, then the next generation will do just fine.
Miles Morales is one of the few fresh titles to coincide with the launch of the next-gen consoles, although just like Watch Dogs: Legion, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and others, it’s not exclusively next-gen. That honour belongs to Demon’s Souls, which launches alongside the PS5 next week.
Still, when a game looks and plays this fluidly — and you’ve got a character with as much of a goofy personality as the teenage Miles — I don’t think many will mind.
Miles Morales continues on from the 2018 Spider-Man game, with Miles having already been introduced as a sidekick in Insomniac’s previous adventure. Here, Spider-Man is upgraded from sidekick to full on assistant. He supports Parker on missions and has even gained a small amount of recognition throughout the city — although begrudgingly as the “other Spider-Man”.
The start of Miles Morales begins with Parker — after Miles saves Parker from a charging Rhino — explaining that he’s taken an overseas posting with Mary Jane. She’s going on a reporting gig, and Parker’s following as her photographer, leaving the entire city in Miles’ hands.
And as always, the city is under threat. The biggest problem facing New York is the expansion of a new type of energy created by Roxxon Energy, with the chief late stage capitalist represented by Simon Kreiger. Kreiger is evil in the stereotypical Zuckerberg, Big Tech gone wrong kind of sense: the attitude that large corporations always know better, even if their creations are poisoning the people they plan to protect.
That’s the problem with NuForm, a new energy source that’s being rolled out across the city. Miles naturally has to jet from one area of New York to another, and naturally you’ll be cleaning up various crimes along the way.
Miles’ sidekick in this whole adventure is Genki, a classmate from the Brooklyn Visions Academy. They’re both equally nerdy, and so it’s a perfect fit that Genki would create a “friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man” app for New Yorkers to submit problems.
It quickly helps grow Miles’ reputation as a genuine Spider-Man, which adds a little bit of colour and emotional impetus to the whole affair. Miles Morales is filled with a lot of the similar tasks to the original 2018 game: collectibles to find, enemy strongholds to clear out, challenges based around racing or web-swinging efficiently, and so on. And like the first Spider-Man outing, those tasks earn you activity tokens, which go towards upgrading Miles’ suit, gadgets and so on.
Miles’ main powers over Parker are the use of bioelectricity and camouflage, the latter of which offers the most interesting change structurally. After a few hours in you’ll be able to activate invisibility via the D-Pad, but some skills will also automatically trigger the camo right before you get detected.
It opens up the possibility of genuinely playing Spider-Man as a stealth game, something Insomniac’s 2018 title didn’t do so well. It also helps that a lot of the battles, particularly in the main missions, take place in much larger environments. Miles Morales is better at giving you that freedom to choose, although for most people, the thrill of a massive electric punch to a group of goons will be hard to ignore.
Miles Morales is the first proper next-gen game for the PS5, and you’re presented with what that means at the opening screen. The game’s performance mode will run at 4K/60 FPS, offering an enormously buttery smooth upgrading on the action of the original. If you want the best possible graphics, there is raytraced reflections, better lighting and effects available via the Fidelity setting.
But I found I preferred the Performance mode in just about every scenario. The raytracing is genuinely impressive, but there were detectable frame rate drops throughout, particularly in big cutscenes with a lot of motion. Consequently, the smoothness of the Performance mode made combat and regular web swinging a lot more enjoyable, and I suspect most people will feel the same way.
Another PS5 enhancement that I cared a lot less for was the use of the adaptive triggers. By default, the L2 and R2 buttons apply extra tension and resistance when swinging throughout New York. But when you consider how frequently you’ll be hitting both of those buttons, the extra force required got tiring after a few hours. You can disable this easily enough — Spider-Man Miles Morales offers a ton of good accessibility options, and some of these can even be set at a system-wide level if you choose — but this is one area that makes me wonder how effective the DualSense will be in practice.
I like the idea of having that extra bit of feeling as a web sticks to a building and Miles lets go; I just don’t like the feeling of having to do it hundreds of times in the course of an hour. Crucially, disabling the adaptive triggers doesn’t disable the haptic feedback you get throughout the rest of the DualSense, so you’re still getting an improved tactile experience from the PS4 game.
There’s a lot about Spider-Man: Miles Morales that I can’t talk about, thanks to spoilers and just the sheer reality of having to deal with two console launches, games and a CPU hardware launch all within 24 hours of each other. Spider-Man is one of those games where I genuinely enjoy doing every little activity in the in-game world, because the sheer act of going from place to place is so much fun.
Moving about is a little easier in Miles Morales, too, because Insomniac have taken away some of the gates. The ability to do midair tricks was one of the first skills you unlocked in the original Spider-Man: here, it’s unlocked from the start of the game. You’re also not having to spend skill points on basic traversal moves; they’re just granted to you from the off, which goes a long way to just letting you enjoy Miles and New York for what it is.
Miles has a wonderfully languid way of moving about the city, too. Unlike Parker, Miles is a lankier, almost more unccordinated character. He often flies through the sky with arms and legs flailing about, the motions only finally coming together at the last second.
If you didn’t know Miles was a teenager, you’d see it through the way he moves. It’s an incredible thing to witness: whoever worked on the animations deserves a huge payrise. And that struggle of a teenager discovering himself and overcoming adversity — and his peers going through the same problems — is also well done, not only through some solid voice acting performances across the board, but some reliably good motion capture and syncing.
I don’t know if Miles Morales is on the same level as The Last of Us 2 when it comes to facial reconstruction, but we’re getting pretty close to the uncanny valley in the right moments. (If there’s one major advantage of the raytracing, it’s in these cutscenes. I can’t wait to see what Naughty Dog does with this kind of power.)
Most people will end up buying Miles Morales on day one if only because new consoles need games that can actually showcase their potential. But Miles Morales shows what we can look forward to over the next generation. For those who purely stuck to console gaming, the idea of games with the graphical fidelity of Spider-Man running so fluidly was a fanciful idea. You paid thousands of dollars to do that on PC.
Seeing it run this smoothly at 4K — even without raytracing — is genuinely impressive. I also haven’t heard the PS5 whine or complain once throughout my 16 or so hours, which is something you can’t say for the base PS4 or PS4 Pro. That’s a good accomplishment on Sony’s part, although it is the start of the generation, so we’ll see how well the console’s thermals and cooling hold up in a few years.
Mostly, Miles Morales needed to answer one main question. Was his adventure just as worthwhile as Parker’s return to video games two years ago? Fundamentally, yes. It’s not as groundbreaking in a technical sense, but it is a thrilling, enjoyable romp worthy of the Miles Morales name.
If you had fun with Spider-Man at all, you will have an absolute blast with Miles Morales. Especially when you unlock that damn suit.