Caught in a Web of Entertainment: Spider-Man: Miles Morales Reviewed

Alexander Voses

There is nothing quite like walking down the streets of New York City.  You may pass by a restaurant with mouth-watering food or an unfamiliar shop that ends up being a new favorite. While strolling down the street, you can pick up snippets of conversations in dozens of languages. The questionable smells, city noise, and all, these quintessential features of a trip to New York City  are among the experiences I have most sorely missed during this pandemic.  However, one video game embodies all of this: Spider-Man: Miles Morales. This open-world genre game combines story, gameplay, visuals, and music into a fantastic experience and the most exciting depiction of New York I’ve ever seen in a game, including its direct 2018 predecessor, Spider-Man. While some bugs degrade the overarching experience slightly, they don’t stand in the way of this masterpiece.

The story of Miles Morales starts right where Spider-Man left off. This, of course, leads to some big spoilers from the previous title, but none are anything a newcomer wouldn’t be able to understand. While I recommend playing the original, I believe Miles Morales is a great jumping-off point. Taking more than a few cues from the 2018 film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the game begins in NYC right in the middle of the holiday season. As Miles swings down the New York streets, he gets a call from his mom asking if he can pick up groceries. This call grounds us in the world of the game, where Miles must balance his dual identity, and introduces us to one of the main themes of the story: family. What follows is a classic Spider-Man chase scene full of action, web-slinging, and explosions. This entire sequence is followed by a moment of calm, a Christmas Eve celebration, before the game’s story kicks off in earnest. This pattern of deeply emotional personal moments followed by big bombastic set pieces and action is one that is followed precisely throughout the story. The game very clearly takes inspiration from Miles’ comic-book appearances and Into the Spider-Verse, overall delivering a predictable, though still enjoyable, main story. The side quests, or app requests as they are known in this game, are where the writing and character development really shine. The way Miles interacts with his community is so genuine that it makes the final act of the game all the more climactic. In the end, this game delivers a genuine story with heartfelt moments that at times is formulaic but in others makes you deeply care about the world it creates.

The gameplay of Miles Morales does exactly what Spider-Man does right and then improves upon it in a few new ways. Miles’ new venom shock abilities, something fans of the comics and Into the Spider-Verse eagerly anticipated, are at the center of the improvements made upon the base mechanics of Spider-Man. Swinging through New York is just as enjoyable as it was two years ago with the added magic of the city during the holiday season and Miles’ new venom jump ability. This new ability allows Miles to attain even faster in-air speeds than Peter Parker ever could, and discards any of the drudgery a return to Manhattan could have entailed, enabling the player to zip from downtown to Harlem in a flash. Peter Parker’s familiar style of combat combined with Miles’ venom-powered fighting skills create an experience that is simultaneously familiar and fresh. Side-missions throughout the city take the form of app requests from ordinary citizens around the friendly neighborhood and special challenges left for Miles by Peter Parker which can lead to a variety of scenarios requiring combat, stealth, or use of Miles’ speed skills. I found these new options for passing down time to be far more engaging than the rote enemy encounters of the first game which, although still present, are supplemented by a wider variety of activities. The boss fights have been overhauled for Miles Morales and often require much more strategy than the first game, making fantastic use of Miles’ expanded tool kit. While Miles Morales doesn’t play drastically differently when compared to Spider-Man, it gives the underlying mechanics just the right amount of sprucing up to feel like a true evolution of Insomniac Games’ vision.
While the gameplay on display has been invigorated, there were also a few downsides packaged with all of the new upgrades. This game is afflicted with occasional bugs (and not just spiders). Throughout my time playing the game I experienced one hard crash, a floating head, and audio of a particular character not playing. While these bugs were readily apparent when they occurred, they were, for the most part, few and far between, and did not detract too heavily from the world Insomniac created.

The visuals and music  of Spider-Man: Miles Morales play the biggest role  in setting the scene of the game . Even playing on the PS4, as opposed to the newly released PS5, the game absolutely shines with its aesthetic and inspired designs. Snow lines the streets as you swing towards the opening mission. Storefronts and the city streets are all decked out in holiday lights and decorations. Familiar landmarks can still be visited, a highlight of the first game, and the obligatory jump and swing from the top of the Empire State Building is still exhilarating. The lighting effects in this game are stunning. The purple hue of the glow exuded by the main villain, The Tinkerer, and their armor fill the air in stunning contrast with Miles’ bright yellow venom shock abilities. Unlocking each of Miles’ various suits is always a treat since each has an incredibly inspired and unique design (with my personal favorite being the 2020 suit, which features an electronic mask and suit that take advantage of the game’s incredible lighting effects. It can be seen in the image above). Furthermore, capturing the suits with photo mode is an absolute blast and will allow  you to attain an even greater appreciation for their intricate designs. Every picture I captured for this review was taken with the in-game photo mode. 

The aesthetic of Miles Morales is also tied together with a stellar score. The original soundtrack of the game underscores some of the most memorable moments in the game. Just listening through the soundtrack brings back memories of triumph and heartbreak. My personal favorite tracks include “New York’s Only Spider-Man”, which evokes the utter freedom you feel as the main story begins, and the main menu theme, which does a great job of establishing Miles’ musical identity. This sublime pairing of art and music creates a world that is  irresistible and entices you to keep coming back for more.

Spider-Man: Miles Morales is the perfect example of what we need to see more of in triple-A game development today: a short and sweet main story,  high attention to detail in its immaculate recreation of New York, and  engaging gameplay. These aspects, combined with a beautiful aesthetic and a soundtrack which highlights both quiet and bombastic moments, comprise the core of what makes this game so incredibly fun to play. Just going back to the game while writing this review filled me with an incredible sense of joy and I encourage each of you to pick up this game and get swinging through the streets of NYC.