I’m a big sucker for Spider-Man stories. I don’t have a deep history of reading comics or keeping up with new ones (although I am reading X of Swords, very cool if slightly confusing to my untrained eyes) so I’m not intimately familiar with all of the Spider-adjacent stuff outside Peter Parker and what’s been portrayed in movies and games. What I do enjoy is the mixture of outside superhero problems (ie super villains attacking the city) meshed with everyday ones like making money and showing up for friends and families. Peter Parker’s working class status means he has no fallback in case something doesn’t work out. Often the tension in these stories are centered around finding time for his family or paying rent. Batman may keep a secret identity but he also has more money than god so he simply can’t relate.
Miles Morales is no different. His younger age means he’s troubleshooting super heroics alongside high school and all the baggage that comes with it. He also has a close circle of family and friends that he cares deeply about. But he’s not Peter and Miles distinctions are what makes his stories so fun. Miles’ world is entirely new to me as of the recent “Spiderverse” movie, so it’s great to see his twist on the Spider-Man themes and the further emphasis on family and community. Now with his own game, we get a new look at New York and the legacy of Peter Parker’s Spider-Man.
It’s fitting then that in Miles Morales we get the same structure as 2018’s game, but with a fresh new perspective. It was refreshing to have an aged up Peter Parker as his lived experience and as Spider-Man allowed the game to sidestep a lot of the ground that the many, many films have covered. The “wow” and the reticence of being Spider-Man had worn off and he had found a mostly stable way to juggle his secret identity (minus income). Miles on the other hand is beyond eager to be involved with super heroics. He’s grown up in a world with the Spider-Man and now he gets to live the fantasy of being one. Miles is an unapologetic nerd and his excitement toward learning new skills, making gadgets or fighting enemies is infectious. He’s a kind and gentle teen who’s curious about the world and doesn’t let his awkwardness get in the way. It’s so much fun seeing just Miles interact with the neighborhood. He’s generally interested in being involved with the people around him and in contrast to Peter doesn’t keep them at a distance. The cowl is heavy but he doesn’t let that interfere with being open with his family. He’s just exciting to play as and that is in large part to Nadji Jeter’s performance. He imbues him with a warmth or awkwardness and it’s genuinely funny when he stumbles over really cheesy comebacks when he’s fighting enemies.
As the new Spider-Man around, Miles depends on the mentorship and guidance of Peter. Only problem is Peter is away on vacation with Mary Jane (a very smart way to have him exit from the game). Luckily he planned ahead and left AR training missions for Miles to engage with. Not only are they based around specific gameplay mechanics (stealth, combat, traversal) but Peter takes the opportunity to regale some of his career highlights. They all come off incredibly hokey in a good way; Peter is a hokey guy and the game clearly understands that. It’s very funny to hear his recordings try to make light of a hostile situation in the most uncool way possible. Miles eats it up in only the way an impressionable kid would. One line that stood out in particular had Miles wondering about if he’ll have the accumulated stories like Peter does with both excitement and terror.
Miles is really trying to differentiate himself from the other Spider-Man all throughout New York. Peter has been doing the job for over half a decade and at first no one really knows what to make of this new version. This is Miles’ story though and the game does a great job of centering his progress as a superhero. As you progress, the more people regard you with excitement especially in Miles home borough of Harlem. Miles connects directly with locals through his new Spider-Man app, the game’s clever way of moving side missions to a menu rather than the random world events that would happen in the original game. This also allows them to move away from the awful, invasive police station mapping of the first game (there’s really very little mention of police which is strange given that Miles’ dad was a cop). While this doesn’t change the gameplay, Miles still has a more tangible connection with the locals within the context of the world. Hailey Cooper, a deaf street artist you work with, mentions off-handedly that she’d heard that “we have a new Spider-Man” which filled me with so much joy. Miles also has some great chemistry with her so I hope they bring her back for future games. The side quests in general are paired down; this was intended to be a smaller spin-off. It actually makes the game better. The 2018 game had a ton of side missions which cluttered the map. By the time I got to the end, I was worn out. The more focused amount of side quests prevent them from being too overbearing and drowning the map in colored icons.
The game also uses one of my favorite aspects of the first game, the different Spider suit costumes, to differentiate Miles from his mentor. Miles has 19 suits that you can unlock ranging from his humble beginnings (homemade costume) to armored up police officer (S.T.R.I.K.E. suit) to a nod to Spider-verse (the frame rate breaking animated suit). They’re all unique and my favorite reward in the game. They’re all very suited (get it) to Miles; his homemade suit has him wearing store bought gloves and timberlands and the much talked about Bodega cat suit allows him to carry a cat (!) in his backpack. Even the Daft Punk inspired 2020 suit is over the top in a great way. I thought it looked hokey in screenshots, but seeing the lights move as you zip around the city works perfectly. The 2099 suit is my personal favorite, a great update to the future Spider-Man Miguel O’Hara’s suit. The suit is sleek without the extra edges on the original Spider suit, has a hood and glowing white eyes. It walks right up to the line of edgelord without going over (my perfect style).
Miles is inexperienced though and hasn’t grown into the full Spider-Man yet. He has to learn tough lessons on his mission against Roxon (the “new energy” Amazon stand- in looking to expand into his neighborhood). He’s not the only one who opposes them unsurprisingly and he has to learn how to navigate with other competing factions. There are definitely twists in the story that hit the landing for the emotional stakes. Like the first game, Insomniac cleverly plots around more known comic book stories by establishing real emotional stakes. There are plenty of moments divorced from action heavy superheroics that allow you to invest in the key relationships. Even with my passing knowledge of Miles’ lore I was able to see a few twists coming. The surprise didn’t matter ultimately and they still stuck the landing. The villains are typically great per Spider-Man stories, even the ones that are explicitly not sympathetic. Simon Krieger, head of Roxon, is the best mask-off approximation of Elon Musk, a seemingly charming “tech innovator” who prizes innovation over everything. Getting background on his horrible business practices, including company wide office memos about how great Roxon is, is perfectly on the nose. The fact that he appears on Jameson’s radio show draws fantastic parallels to the real life approximation’s Joe Rogan appearance.
The ones that are sympathetic cause some story problems though. The game falls into the familiar trap of making the villains correct but that their actions “go too far.” It’s especially incongruent with the current moment; I won’t get into super spoiler details here but suffice it to say that when your plot revolves around property damage it sparks comparisons to this year’s protests. The story eventually has to jerry rig some reasons why this would be a problem that Miles would need to interfere with. It would be a better story if it let him be wrong honestly, but they don’t go that far. While the final fight is fantastically executed (it’s visually and emotionally very effective), the ending “sacrifice” didn’t land for me.
Miles Morales is great because it’s about his journey to differentiate himself from Peter. He’s a warm hearted teen learning exactly what being a superhero means. The game shines when it’s focusing on his relationships and his relationship to the legacy of Spider-Man. There’s nothing about this game that says “spin off” even with its abbreviated runtime. Insomniac would be wise to center him with the inevitable upcoming sequels.