Review Copy provided by Sony. Reviewed on PS4 Pro.
“Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales” is more than a mouthful. It’s a bridge between two console generations, carrying one of the PS4’s most successful exclusives onto a new platform with all the next-gen bells and whistles like ray tracing and haptic feedback. But playing through the PS4 version, I didn’t find myself missing much. This is a stunning game on any platform.
But the real accomplishments of “Miles Morales” go beyond the technical achievement. Developer Insomniac Games have wedded their incredibly vibrant, authentic depiction of New York City to a genuinely engaging set of characters and story beats. When you add a wonderfully fluid and intuitive combat system on top of all that, the result is remarkable. There’s a new Spider-Man on the block, and he’s ready to play.
One of the most important parts of a successful open world is a compelling sense of place. The best open worlds feel like fully-realized locations, with depth, scale and purpose. “Miles Morales”’s New York City completely nails that feeling. And it combines it with a method of navigation that makes exploring this version of NYC feel good. In fact, the web-swinging has never felt better, and while it’s reusing the same mechanic and basic map as its predecessor, they work just as well here as in “Spider-Man” PS4.
“Miles Morales” narrows the scope compared to its predecessor, focusing on a tight eight-to-ten hour story path with one main villain. It was a wise decision: Miles’ story feels more direct and personal than Peter’s. In fact, by the end of the game, actor Nadji Jeter’s take on Miles Morales had rapidly grown into one of my favorite modern superheros. I’m loath to reveal too much, as story beats come thick and fast in “Miles Morales.” But the basic plot centers around a newly empowered Miles adjusting to life as New York’s only Spider-Man when Peter Parker goes on vacation. Meanwhile, the sinister Roxxon corporation clashes with both the militant group called The Underground, led by the Tinkerer, and Rio Morales, the city council candidate who happens to be Miles’ mom.
Simon Kreieger, the corporate face of Roxxon in “Miles Morales,” is a delightfully cutting and smarmy satire of the obnoxious wannabe Elon Musk tech bro types more in love with PR and presentation than actual innovation. While there’s not much I can say about Tinkerer without getting into spoiler territory, their motivations and arc feel entirely believable and sympathetic. It’s worth giving credit to the rest of the supporting cast, too, from Miles’ childhood best friend Phin, to his geeky partner-in-crime Ganke. Their stories never feel out of place. And frankly, there just aren’t enough video games with black main characters. It’s a real pleasure to see a game with such carefully crafted representation of Harlem’s diverse communities.
Combat in “Miles Morales” is a stylish spectacle. There’s a great moveset here that complements Miles’ unique abilities, including the so-called Venom attacks that weaponize his bioelectricity, and the camouflage cloak that allows him to vanish from sight to help stealth opponents. These new mechanics add enough to “Miles Morales” to distinguish it from its PS4 predecessor. While the same foundation of Arkham-style brawler battles is clearly present, Miles’ unique abilities keep the combat feeling fresh and challenging throughout. There’s plenty of new Venom moves to master that add a unique flair to combat. Surprisingly, “Miles Morales” is pretty challenging throughout. I regularly found encounters where Miles could be easily swamped and killed by a mob of new enemy spawns. This game is much more dependent on creative crowd management and stealth to whittle the numbers of an enemy group down. It’s both more challenging and more rewarding, with expanded stealth mechanics that make that path feel like much more of a main focus than in the original.
There’s a good variety of optional activities to keep players engaged in-between main story missions. When Miles summons his Everyday Neighborhood Spider-Man app, he can take requests from various citizens around the city for rewards that can be redeemed for items like new suits and mods. I would have liked to see a bit more thought placed into the various bonus items like the Underground Caches scattered around the world. While one or two of these made me scratch my head and really search the area thoroughly, they’re mostly out in the open, which can make tracking them down feel a bit too repetitive. Not quite as much thought and attention have been paid to the game’s various side missions as the action spectacle that dominates the main story, but they remain enjoyable diversions.
The only reason the slight sagginess of those optional activities feels noticeable is because “Miles Morales”’s main story feels so air-tight. It’s an exceptional series of cascading set-pieces, interrupted only for brief bits of emotional connective tissue necessary to establish powerful stakes for each of our characters. I really can’t overstate how tight and razor-sharp this story’s pacing is. The rhythm produced by the balance of story and gameplay sequences is masterfully composed. There’s a joy of creation here that’s hard to completely capture. It’s there in the way Miles casually flips back while web-swinging, in the way his attacks flow so seamlessly from one enemy to the next as he juggles foes in the air and on the ground. If there’s one word to describe Insomniac’s attitude as conveyed by “Miles Morales,” it’s confident.
And listen, this is a PS4 game. Sorry, I know I risk restating the obvious but… one more time: this is a PS4 game. And it looks like… this. That’s all I could think about when I was playing “Miles Morales.” There’s even a few moments when the phrase “who needs next-gen” came to mind. Yes, I know: faster loading, 120hz, all that good stuff. But it’s hard not to at least entertain that question when a current-gen game looks and feels this good. For all the talk of next-gen, Sony says they’re committed to continued support for PS4, with major games like “Horizon Forbidden West” releasing as cross-gen titles. Unless you’re a die-hard “Demon’s Souls” fan, there’s a strong argument not to rush into next-gen if you’re a current PS4 owner.
Unfortunately, I’ve found that “Miles Morales” suffers from a few more bugs and crashes than I would expect from a Sony first-party game, which are known for releasing in a very polished state. That’s still mostly the case here, but I did experience two hard crashes that booted me back to the PS4 home menu. And at one point later in the game, a combat arena couldn’t recognize that I’d defeated all the enemies so I had to restart from the last checkpoint in order to progress.
And during one cutscene, a strange issue rendered one character in the scene mute. There’s a few frame rate hitches on PS4 Pro in 4K mode, but they’re barely noticeable. The game’s audio, on the other hand, is pristine. I tested headphone and home theater mode extensively. Both produce a well-tuned sonic profile, with deep bass resonance, crisp highs, and clear positionality. The original score and soundtrack excel at conveying the sense of wonder and excitement of Miles’ journey. This game has top-notch audio.
“Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales” offers a tantalizing taste of how the current console generation stacks up with the pricey new hardware players will be clamoring to get their hands on over the next few months. For all that power of Zen 2 and Navi architectures, HDMI 2.1 and all the associated next-gen accoutrements, the PS4, which is about to turn seven years old, is holding up exceptionally well. All that technical wizardry would be for naught, though, if the fun factor wasn’t there. But “Miles Morales” is one of the year’s best escapist entertainments, replete with stand-out combat, an engaging story and a well-designed open world. This spider packs a serious punch.