Spider-Man: Miles Morales review: Different Spidey, new tricks in this brilliant follow-up

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2018’s Spider-Man on PS4 was an astoundingly good superhero romp packed full of web-spinning excitement. After its story wrapped up, we were left with the tease of a sequel, with Miles Morales revealing his new arachnid powers to Peter Parker.

Two years later, and not only are we beginning a new generation of consoles, but that tease has actually been made good upon, with developer Insomniac releasing a follow-up that focuses on Miles and his journey from nascent webslinger to capable protector of New York in his own right. Sony are certainly banking on Spider-Man: Miles Morales to help sell the PlayStation 5 as a launch title, but the question is whether this, like Miles, can stand on its own two feet.

Opening some time after the events of the last game, Miles is still under Peter’s wing, learning from his mentor and at times still struggling with his confidence as a hero. Parker leaves to assist Mary Jane on a foreign news assignment for a few weeks, leaving Morales as the sole Spider-Man of New York.

Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a shorter but worthy follow-up

Even without the burden of superheroism, Miles has a full plate. Still reeling from the death of his father in the last game, he’s shouldering concern about his widowed mother Rio, whose campaign for local office is attracting the ire of the intimidating Roxxon Corporation. Meanwhile, childhood friend Phin has re-entered Miles’ life, reconnecting him with some fond memories but forcing him to lie to yet another loved one in order to hide his crime fighting alter ego.

Roxxon (unsurprisingly, for those aware of Marvel lore) immediately turn out to be shady, planning to tear down parts of the Morales’ new home of Harlem in order to further a project involving new and dangerous energy source NuForm. Meanwhile, a violent gang called The Underground attempts to disrupt Roxxon, assisted by some incredibly advanced tech and their enigmatic leader, the Tinkerer.

Miles faces dodgy corporation Roxxon and dangerous hi-tech gang the Underground

In terms of gameplay, on the face of it things aren’t too different from the 2018 game. You’ll swing, wall run and leap around an open world recreation of Manhattan, pushing the story along and in between – if the fancy takes you – engaging in various side activities that will award you XP and tokens to unlock and upgrade abilities.

To help with your training in his absence, Peter has left some challenges dotted around the city to test your traversal, stealth and combat competences. Some side missions feature their own contained little story arcs, fleshing out the main narrative or providing some engaging distractions from the primary plot. There are also procedurally generated random crimes to stop, as well as collectables to find, though the crimes can become repetitive, with only a handful of different types.

Playing as Miles is a blast

The superlative locomotion from Spider-Man 2018 remains unchanged, with a great sense of speed while webslinging combined with gracefully precise launch jumps and web zips. As always, wall running hides a multitude of sins, letting you carry on your path after making contact with the side of a building, and having it look like it was all totally on purpose. The mechanics even add to the tone, with Miles’ occasionally clumsy swinging animations hinting at how new he still is at being Spider-Man.

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Like last time, there is an array of different Spider-Man suits to unlock, drawing on Miles’ comics history and appearances in other media. New suits offer new abilities that you can swap in and out, like reducing incoming damage or increasing ammo drops for your gadgets. Indeed, gadgets also return from the last game, with things like remote stun mines and holographic drones to help you thin out a herd of thugs.

Swinging still feels great, and combat sees some additions

The biggest updates come in the form of two game changing abilities specific to Miles. An ability to harness and channel bio-electrical energy – nicknamed Venom – plays into both fighting and movement. During combat, you can focus the energy into a punch that targets a single enemy (with some collateral damage to others who are close enough) or perform an area-of-effect blast that can stun and disarm multiple foes.

Seeing Miles brimming with crackling yellow energy and then unleashing it on baddies is consistently satisfying, and helps sell the fact that despite the self-doubt that plagues him, our hero is far more powerful than he knows. Venom can also be used for movement, allowing you (when charged) to perform a jump while in mid air in order to quickly boost your height.

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The second ability is camouflage. Miles eventually discovers the ability to render himself invisible for a limited amount of time. Obviously this comes in handy during stealth situations, but it can also be busted out in battle, letting you quickly reposition yourself if swarmed or simply to confuse the bad guys for a few seconds while you get some bone breaking licks in. Mixing up Venom powers and camouflage alongside the usual Spidey style of dodges, launches and webbing creates a fantastic arsenal to wield, building on the last game’s combat in a meaningful way that’s also authentic to the comics.

The game looks stunning on the PS5

All this kinetic gameplay is wrapped up in a graphically impressive package on the PlayStation 5. Edifices and characters have a fantastic level of detail, especially when it comes to the many hand painted murals you’ll find on a large number of buildings. Textures feel grittier, and the city as a whole feels more alive, with more pedestrians on the street, planes in the sky and more general hustle and bustle.

If you’re so inclined, the options menu lets you switch between two visual modes: Performance has 60fps but no fancy ray tracing or enhanced lighting, while Fidelity mode drops things down to 30fps but with ray tracing turned on and other settings geared towards making the most of a 4K TV if you own one.

Verdict

Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a more focused and concise outing than its predecessor. It lands somewhat in the Uncharted: Lost Legacy mould of a shorter experience that does away with filler, and meaningful moments interspersed with less gumpf. While there's not a huge amount of reinvention, Miles Morales is a fantastic superhero experience that does enough to feel like a worthy follow-up.

Spider-Man: Miles Morales is available now on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 (version tested) for £49.99