In a lot of ways, the latest Spider-Man game is similar to the PS4 hit from 2018. That game managed to capture the joy of being a webslinger just about perfectly: swinging through the streets of New York, using webs to dispatch criminals, and clinging to a ceiling as you sneak through a villain’s base. Few games captured the sense of being a specific superhero the way Spider-Man did.
The new spin-off, which launches alongside the PS5 next week, offers all of those same elements, but in a refreshed way — and it’s all thanks to a new lead. There are key differences between Peter Parker and Miles Morales as characters, and this is a game that really understands that. Yes, it’s a spinoff that’s slightly smaller in scale. But it also presents an interesting twist on an already great game. It’s not just more of the same: it’s more, but with a brand-new vibe.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales takes place not long after the original game, and at the outset Peter and Miles are still working alongside each other as complementary Spider-Men. It seems the training has gone well: soon enough Peter abruptly announces that he’s going on vacation for a few weeks, leaving Miles as New York’s only webslinger. At the same time, Miles and his mom have recently moved to Harlem, and he’s still getting used to both the new neighborhood and his mother’s budding political career. Oh, and the neighborhood is also under siege from both a seemingly evil technology conglomerate and a band of high-tech criminals called the Underground that look straight out of Watch Dogs. It’s not exactly the best time to be a solo Spider-Man.
Like the original, Miles Morales is structured as a fairly standard open world game, with a big map full of points of interest to seek out. There’s a main storyline to play through, which will probably take around 10 hours to finish, along with copious side activities like solving petty crimes, collecting time capsules, and, of course, rescuing cats. What makes this rote structure work, though, is how incredibly fun it is to be Spider-Man. In most open world games I ignore side missions because they’re a chore. In Spider-Man I do almost everything because I enjoy swinging across the cityscape and climbing buildings. Playing Spider-Man can almost be like playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater at times; movement is so fluid and fun that it changes how you view the urban landscape around you. I find myself constantly seeking out new ways to navigate it. (Miles Morales even adds a completely superfluous but extremely enjoyable THPS-style trick system so you can swing in style.)
What makes this spinoff different is the tone. As much as I love Peter Parker and appreciate what he does, he can be, well, obnoxious. This is especially true over the course of a 30-plus-hour game when his constant jokes start to grate. For me at least, Miles is much more likeable, and the game really goes out of its way to embrace this. There’s an early scene when he helps set the table for Christmas dinner, and he gets phone calls from his mom about picking up milk while in the midst of chasing a supervillain. The game provides a nice twist on his story... though I obviously won’t spoil much here. But suffice it to say Miles’ family and friends become deeply entwined in the escalating conflict in Harlem. I wouldn’t call the story groundbreaking in any way but, like the original, it’s an exceedingly well done example of a typical comic book adventure. You can probably predict most of the beats, but that doesn’t mean you won’t feel them when they eventually hit.
The changes to the game are more than just narrative. Miles has his own unique powers that nicely build off what Peter can do. The most notable are his ability to turn invisible and channel bioelectricity. In practice, these add some really cool elements to the game. Miles has all kinds of electro-powered special attacks, and stealth missions actually become fun when you have the ability to temporarily turn invisible. I absolutely loved jumping down, knocking out a criminal, and then disappearing — much to the confusion of the rest of the goons loitering around. These abilities expand the scope of what you can do in the game in a way that feels natural, though I will say Miles Morales has a few too many electricity-related puzzles. Get ready to power up a lot of generators.
Much like its predecessor, Miles Morales doesn’t take itself too seriously. Yes, it’s still a comic book story filled with dramatic twists and spirited cutscenes. But it’s also a game where a superhero uses a TaskRabbit-like app so that citizens can alert him to serious crimes or just straight-up ask for a selfie. The game is just the right mix of silly and serious. Perhaps the best example is the unlockable spider suits you gather over the course of the game. There are familiar and stylish outfits, and ones that tie into the story, but you can also have Miles wear a winter hat and scarf or partner with a cat wearing a superhero mask.
Miles Morales is also our first real example of what a cross-generation PlayStation game looks like, as it’s available on both the PS4 and PS5 at launch. Visually, there isn’t a huge difference between the two versions. The game looks great on both platforms, though the PS5 version shines particularly when it comes to gorgeous weather effects, thanks largely to the fact that much of the game takes place amid a winter storm. You’ll see lots of beautiful reflections off of glass and ice. But when it comes to performance, there is a big difference. Most notably, the game loads a lot faster on PS5 — on average it took about 17 seconds to get into a game from launch on the PS5, compared to 1:30 on a base PS4. On PS5 you can also take advantage of the new “activities” feature, which lets you jump right into a mission or side quest from the main console menu.
Meanwhile, on PS5 there are two graphics options, where you can choose to prioritize “performance” (i.e., running at 60fps) or “fidelity” (which runs at 30fps, but takes advantage of high-end visual effects like ray-tracing). These options aren’t available on PS4. I should note that Miles Morales doesn’t take much advantage of the new DualSense controller, with fairly standard vibrations and no real use of the haptic triggers. It’s a great game, but I’m not sure how indicative it is of what you can expect on the PS5 moving forward.
The game Miles Morales reminds me the most of is Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. Like that title, it’s a smaller-scale spinoff of a blockbuster hit, and one that introduces a new character into the mix. Both are great examples of how much tone matters: with the same basic framework, Miles Morales still manages to feel fresh and interesting. It gets what made the original so good and builds off of it in smart ways. You may be sick of Peter Parker, but it’s hard to get sick of being Spider-Man.