Any concerns fans have about Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales not living up to the excellence and ambition of its predecessor are squashed within minutes of donning the teenage superhero's mask.
Set during the first months of winter, the PlayStation 5 launch title kicks off with an extended, pulse-pounding enemy encounter that can proudly stand alongside any of the previous game's epic set pieces. Containing two Spideys, one iconic super-villain, and more cinematic action than you can shoot a web at, the scene immediately establishes the fact this follow-up is no cash-grabbing spin-off.
And it does this before you even mount the boss baddie and steer it like a bucking bronco through a mall packed with Christmas shoppers.
With 2018's Marvel's Spider-Man, Insomniac Games delivered one of the best open-world superhero romps to ever grace a console. With its sort-of sequel, the studio has doubled-down on what worked so well the first time around, while also trimming some of the fat that occasionally made its predecessor feel a bit formulaic.
While it's a shorter experience – clocking in at about half the playtime of the original – it's a leaner, meaner, more polished affair. The somewhat tedious Doc Ock mini-games have been excised, the map contains far less arbitrary collectibles, and Miles is the only playable character.
There's still ample opportunity to tackle optional challenges and gather hidden items, but whether you're thwarting a crime-in-progress or digging up an old time capsule, every activity feels more organically tied to progressing the story or your character.
WITH GREAT (NEW) POWER
In terms of only playing as the main protagonist, this also favors a tighter, more focused experience. Rather than meandering around museums as Mary Jane, you'll take a more direct approach to bringing the bad guys to justice.
Most notably, you'll be beating the stuffing out of them from behind Miles' bioelectricity-fueled Venom powers (which, by the way, have no relation to Eddie Brock's famed alter-ego.) Miles Morales retains the smooth, combo-driven combat of the last game, but blends the more familiar moves with powerful ground pounds, punches, and other table-turners that leverage this new resource.
Venom abilities also sport their own skill tree, allowing players to improve and evolve the glowing powers over time. And while they're extremely devastating, capable of clearing entire clusters of enemies, they feel well balanced against the game's extra-powerful foes. The story introduces a pair of primary antagonist groups – The Underground and Roxxon Energy Corporation – both of which pack their own secretive brand of anti-Spider-Man weapons and gear.
Thankfully, Miles also brings a fresh camouflage skill to the fight, allowing him to temporarily disappear and satisfyingly eliminate clueless targets. This neat trick also gets a dedicated skill tree, making strategic stealth play a viable option for those who enjoy clearing a room without raising an alarm. Balancing the camo and Venom skills, while also peppering in the benefits of Miles' various suits, mods, and gadgets, makes for deep, dynamic combat that has an identity all its own.
SWINGING GOOD STORY
Whether swinging through New York City's bustling streets or busting up bad guys in a warehouse, the game's seat-of-the-pants action frequently steals the spotlight. Still, some of the story's most memorable moments are also its quietest – when Miles isn't wearing the mask, but just hanging out with family and friends.
This new Spidey's a charming, humble hero who's an absolute joy to hang out with, even when he's not shooting webs. Whether he's exchanging fun banter with his best friend Ganke, amusingly attempting to keep his mom in the dark on his day-saving activities, or thumbing through his deceased father's old record collection, he displays the kind of nuanced warmth and heart typically reserved for characters played by live actors.
THE PLAYSTATION 5 EDGE
Of course, some of that realism and emotion comes courtesy of the PlayStation 5's immersion-ratcheting tech. The game's a visual stunner, and while all the talk of raytracing and other technological wizardry might not mean much to more mainstream players, there's no denying the eye-popping presentation the game consistently produces. If the immense detail packed into Spidey's surroundings don't convince you, seeing it all realistically reflected back at you in a window or puddle should do the trick.
If you're playing on PS5, you can switch at will between the standard 'Fidelity' mode, which features all of the technical flourishes at a locked 30fps, and 'Performance', which enables buttery smooth 60fps swinging at the expense of raytracing and some other visual elements. The game looks fabulous in motion either way, but it'll be interesting to see whether this becomes the norm on PS5 games going forward.
The hardware's new DualSense controller deserves just as much credit for putting you in the spandex suit like never before. The gamepad's triggers tighten at the top of web swings, the vibration mirroring Miles' powers slowly travel from one side of the peripheral to the other, and just about every action – whether you're petting a cat or pummeling a bad guy – supports its own, specific haptic feedback.
MARVEL'S SPIDER-MAN: MILES MORALES VERDICT
Miles Morales is a top-to-bottom must-play for both fans of the original game and newcomers craving a cinema-rivaling superhero action-adventure. An unbeatable blend of polished gameplay and fantastic storytelling, it perfectly retains and refines what worked so well in the last game, while adding multiple welcome features – and cutting some fat.
If you've been anxiously awaiting this next entry since rolling the credits on Spider-Man, want to experience it as a standalone Spidey tale, or just need an excuse to show your friends what the PlayStation 5 is capable of, Miles Morales more than delivers the goods.