Miles Morales does everything a spider can, but can he prove himself as Spider-Man? Insomniac Games’s latest title strives to answer that question. Much like its central protagonist, the new PlayStation 4 and 5 game “Spider-Man: Miles Morales,” carries itself with heart and style, despite lacking the freshness and finesse of the 2018’s “Spider-Man” video-game.
A lack of finesse refers not simply to Miles Morales, who became well-beloved after his popularization in 2019’s film “Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse,” but also to a bevy of technical glitches. The PS4 version of “Spider-Man: Miles Morales” comes saddled with glitches, both minor and major. Pop-in textures and animations break cutscene immersion, especially in the game’s latter half. Sound effects from the game’s frantic combat sequences sometimes stick around long after the fight ends, requiring players to restart at an earlier checkpoint to kill the noise. A bigger issue briefly killed this reviewer’s PS4: after unleashing Miles’s particle-slinging Venom Blast attack on unsuspecting foes, the game completely crashed.
Given the game’s relatively short 10-hour campaign, the little mistakes unfortunately add up over the course of the experience. These glitches and bugs indicate that “Spider-Man: Miles Morales” was built from the ground up for the PlayStation 5, making its older brother, the PlayStation 4’s original “Spider-Man,” a much smoother experience on the PlayStation 4, which also includes much more content.
Despite the number of errors and technical mishaps, Insomniac Games’s latest effort redeems itself through the standout cast that delivers an excellent performance. Nadji Jeter voices Miles Morales, lending a soulful energy to a character striving to live up to the legacy of New York’s favorite wall-crawler, assisted by Insomniac’s excellent understanding of character and writing.
New York itself also brings a soulfulness to the game that the previous “Spider-Man” game lacked. Whether in or out of costume, Miles interacts closely with his fellow Harlem residents. A fun game feature, the “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” app — accessible by swiping left on the PlayStation 4 controller’s touchpad — lets citizens call Miles for help.
However, Miles isn’t the established hero as his predecessor Peter Parker. The people Miles helps often frown or complain under their breath when they meet this younger, clumsier Spider-Man instead of the original. Each side mission gives Miles a chance to prove himself to the city he loves, cementing his role as a worthy Spider-Man.
The gameplay changes in this latest Spiderverse outing to reflect its new hero; Miles’s bioelectric Venom powers infuse a battering ram mentality to combat scenarios. Where Peter Parker dodged in the previous game, Miles Morales charges, throwing himself head first onto enemies to stun them before launching more agile attacks.
With added strength comes added verticality. Enemies from the first “Spider-Man” largely kept to the ground and used firearms to stop Parker from web-swinging around, but this game’s main threat, a group of terrorists called “The Underground,” arrive on the scene with rocket boots that help them keep up with Miles when he goes airborne. Choice members of the game’s second faction, Roxxon Corporation’s private military, come stocked with devices that pierce Miles’s limited Active Camouflage, along with shields that ricochet Miles’s “Venom” attacks back on himself.
When all these major players descend in one of the game’s massive battle arenas, “Spider-Man: Miles Morales” unlocks its full potential. Swinging frantically from floor to floor, Miles bulldozes “Underground” lackeys with Venom attacks and trips up “Roxxon” grunts with camouflage strikes, all while listening to the game’s electric hip-hop soundtrack. It’s in these moments of web-slinging madness that the game truly comes alive.
While Miles never hears the iconic Spider-Man phrase, “with great power comes great responsibility,” he finds himself ensnared in a story that demands both from him in spades. Peter Parker isn’t in town during the game’s events, called away on an important mission overseas. With a target on his back, Miles must determine what kind of Spider-Man he wants to be.
— Rob Sheridan (@rob_sheridan) November 14, 2020
Fortunately, the game knows its identity and wears it well. It’s a heartfelt mix of the first “Spider-Man” game and Sucker Punch’s “Infamous” video games. The latter’s protagonist, Cole MacGrath, also used electricity powers to fend off his foes, but MacGrath’s and Peter Parker’s adventures differ from Miles’s in their intended audience. The first two “Infamous” games released on PlayStation 3; “Spider-Man” came out on PlayStation 4. It’s for this reason that, due to a bevy of technical glitches and software crashes, “Spider-Man: Miles Morales” stops just short of being a home run on both consoles for which it was released. While the game wields its comic-book legacy and mesmerizing gameplay with great responsibility, sometimes, its great power is just too much for the PlayStation 4.