Review: Miles Morales swings into starring role in new 'Spider-Man' game

·4 min read

TORONTO — Taking down a corrupt energy corporation. Foiling an armed robbery. Rescuing wayward pigeons.

It's all in a day's work for Miles Morales, your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man.

Morales, who came to mainstream prominence as the web-slinging hero in the award-winning animated film "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse," now gets the starring role in the new video game "Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales."

The superhero simulator, out this week as a launch title for the new PlayStation 5 console and also available for PlayStation 4, is a sequel to 2018's "Marvel's Spider-Man," which ended with Morales revealing to original Spider-Man Peter Parker that he too had spider-based powers thanks to an encounter with a radioactive arachnid.

In the newest "Spider-Man" title, Parker goes off to Europe on a Spidey sabbatical, leaving 17-year-old Morales in charge of protecting Manhattan from an ever-encroaching host of supervillains.

While Morales is in charge of the Big Apple, he must contend with an energy company's plan to force a dangerous power source on his city, a criminal gang armed with cutting-edge technology, and increasingly complicated relationships with friends and family.

Structurally, "Miles Morales" deviates little from its predecessor. You swing around a virtual version of Manhattan, stopping crimes and helping New York's citizens with their problems. Some of the random crimes that pop up around the game's map are straight out of the 2018 version of the game.

The key differences are derived from the new protagonist. Morales has some nifty powers that the original web-head doesn't.

Morales can conduct bioelectricity through his body to add extra power to his punches, or stun opponents to gain the upper hand in a fight. He can also turn temporarily invisible to get the drop on a villain or get out of a sticky situation.

The combat, which was already excellent in the 2018 version of "Spider-Man," feels even more fluid in this game. Morales still has access to the balletic aerial attacks and web powers as his predecessor, but his increased arsenal allows for more options when deciding how to approach a big fight.

Morales's adventures take him all over Manhattan, but his heart is in his adopted home of Harlem. Morales, who is of Black and Puerto Rican descent, leads a wonderful and diverse cast of characters, and one of the game's strengths is showing the way Spider-Man makes connections in his community.

While not as quick with a quip as Parker (though he tries, often with cringeworthy results), he has a sense of relatable empathy that is often missing from the brooding or overconfident realm of superheroism.

Whereas Spider-Man is usually portrayed as a lone wolf, Morales has a partner in tech wizard Ganke Lee. Lee acts as Spider-Man's remote eyes and ears, getting info on any developing crimes and using his hacking skills to get Spidey into enemy strongholds. The interaction between the high school students is a highlight as they sprinkle in mundane teen talk (Lee is very much into his English assignment on "Jane Eyre") among the heroic derring-do.

"Spider-Man" games have always highlighted their transversal aspects, and "Miles Morales" is no different. Swinging past towering skyscrapers and leaping between rooftops feels effortless.

The game does stumble into occasional technical problems, with Spider-Man getting stuck and forcing the player to load up a recent save. At one point in the playthrough for this review, the game froze entirely and had to be restarted. These problems, however, appear to be rare.

The PlayStation 5 version of the game is a nice introduction to the system's advanced graphic capabilities. But even those not on the leading technological edge of gaming will find a lot to like in the PS 4 version, which still has the same good story and great combat. 

"Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales" has an ESRB rating of T (recommended for players 13 and up) and retails for around $65.

A PlayStation 4 version of the game was provided for this review.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 11, 2020.

Curtis Withers, The Canadian Press