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Spider-Man: Miles Morales more than lives up to its predecessor, all while delivering a fresh take on New York's favorite web-slinger. PS4/Jan Cortes

In the paneled world of comics, mid-century America’s status quo held fast even in the form of its fictional do-gooders bent on always saving the day. The result? Superheroes that are oftentimes white, male, and universally straight, and for the longest time, this is the identity given to Spider-Man’s alter ego Peter Parker.

However, all of that changed in 2011, when Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli first breathed life into Miles Morales. The premise was pretty simple as well: Why not? New York in the 2020 is certainly more diverse than ever. And so the Afro-Latino teen became his own hero, swinging alongside Peter Parker before eventually becoming widely known with the release of the excellent animated film “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse.”

And now, a mere two years after the film, Miles gets his own turn in the world of gaming with the Playstation exclusive “Spider-Man: Miles Morales.”

Reaching new superhero heights

A direct semi-sequel/spinoff to Insomniac’s 2018 “Spider-Man,” “Spider-Man: Miles Morales” picks up right after the events of the first game, and focuses much on family heritage. In the wake of his father’s death, Miles is kept busy juggling him and his mother Rio Morales moving back to Harlem to restart their lives and training under Peter Parker as his co-Spider-Man. But while he’s still struggling with the former, it seems like he’s doing good with the latter, seeing as Peter is confident enough to leave him as “New York’s only Spider-Man” before leaving for a European work trip.

Unfortunately for Miles, the neighborhood he’s just moved back into is in the middle of a brewing corporate takeover. The militant megacorporation Roxxon is planning on building their new HQ right in the middle of Harlem, while a masked organization by the name of The Underground led by the Tinkerer go to war with them for unknown reasons. And so, Miles, who’s left on his own to hold the line, takes it upon himself to do right and protect his family, friends, and the neighborhood that’s still unaccustomed to the new web-slinger from the block. While the story may be on the shorter side compared to the previous title, it’s one that serves the game well, serving as one of the game’s stronger points, the other two being the new identity that New York shows, and of course, the game play.

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Spider-Man: Miles Morales picks up right where the last game finished, this time taking us for a brand new perspective of New York. PS4/Jan Cortes

Donning a new suit

And so we go back to the streets and skyscrapers of New York. While the first title doesn’t hold back in breathing life to New York, it does feel an updated ‘60s ideal. Miles’ New York however, feels more 2020, and is one that reflects both his Blackness and Latinidad. His late father is Black, and served as a distinguished NYPD officer that died in the line of duty. His mother is Puerto Rican, and the campaign starts with her having La Nochebuena with Miles and a couple of his friends. Majority of the side missions involve helping his neighbors in Harlem; one of which owns a bodega cat that you can eventually take with you on missions. One of the side quests involve going around the city sampling sounds for a mixtape. Miles speaks ASL (and Spanglish) with a neighbor who we first encounter while she’s spraying graffiti, while the blockbuster movie strings are now laced with horns and hip-hop beats. Jaden Smith and Kid Cudi even composed the game’s theme, which plays every now and then. Culture-wise, the game provides a very specific tone that big-budget games often lack. There’s even a Black Lives Matter mural that you unlock after helping the people of Harlem, which is a commendable gesture that is well-appreciated.

In terms of combat, the core gameplay loop hasn’t changed much, meaning that it’s still as infectious and exciting as the 2018 title. Make no mistake however, as this is no Peter Parker re-skin. Sure, controlling Miles as he swings around and fights enemies is the same, but the changes go beyond cosmetics. While Peter swings through New York with finesse and grace, Miles oftentimes stumbles and swings backwards, even flailing as he flies in the air. This amateur aspect of Miles character is used to his advantage however, as Insomniac Studios ends up giving him more actions and animations that are well-stitched together, making his swinging feel more exciting than Peter’s.

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Unlocking the "Into the Spider-verse" suit lets you recreate moments from the 2018 hit-film like this. PS4/Jan Cortes

As for fighting, a lot has been taken away, and new ones take its place. For example, whereas Peter has a wide array of gadgets, Miles only has four, with even fewer upgrades. But while veterans may miss Pete’s impact webbing, it’s easy to get accustomed to Miles’ powers, which include invisibility and bio-electricity, referred to as his venom powers. Achieved via L1 + a combo of face buttons, these attacks add great depth to Miles character, all while bringing in a variety of flair and style. Using his temporary invisibility to get around enemies also never gets old, and opens more variety to how you can approach brawls. You can for example, use it to take down enemies one by one without getting detected, or you can get some real eye-candy by sneaking in the middle of a group before unleashing a venom strike, rewarding you with gorgeous animations and effects that you can then pause to capture in the game’s extensive photo-mode. In fact, Miles “Into the Spider-verse” suit also makes an appearance in the game, complete with visual effects and 24fps animation to really mimic the film’s aesthetic. Play it on the PS5 and the DualSense’s haptic feedback will do you good, as the crinkle of electricity Miles discharges is simulated in the controller.

And that’s only half of the immersion you get when playing Miles Morales on the PS5. Start the game for example, and you are greeted with Miles riding the subway, the rhythmic thumping of which can be felt in the DualSense. When Miles gets a text, his phone is on his right pocket, which means only the right part of the controller buzzes. Press the R2 to swing, and you can feel some tension in the button, mimicking Miles effort to grasp onto his web. While not essential uses of the controller’s technology, the game does a great job of really showing you the potential of the system, especially as developers start focusing on making next-gen titles. The game is also quite the looker thanks to improved lighting and reflections. Thanks to ray tracing and 60fps, swinging through buildings feels more fluid and satisfying, complimented by Miles’ reflection on the windows and glasses.

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After rescuing a bodega cat, the game unlocks a suit that lets you carry it around, even assisting you in battles. PS4/Jan Cortes

Smaller but tighter package

In terms of length, it’s no secret that Miles Morales is much shorter than its predecessor. Playing through the main campaign will give you around 7-8 hours defending on difficulty, while 100 percent completion will net you about 20+ hours, or even shorter if you already mastered it. But what it lacks in length it makes up for content, as the game’s shorter story and smaller side quests do so in service of the entire package.

The sidequests for example, focus mostly in Harlem and the people there, making Miles feel more like a “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” than Peter, while the shorter story do a good job of amplifying how POC communities are often undermined while their neighborhood gets gentrified. It’s a closer story, and it’s easy to care for Miles and the people around him that by the end of the game, seeing him transform into his own version of Spider-Man feels incredibly rewarding.

It’s not without its downsides however. For example, the boss fights, while fairly balanced in difficulty, feel too few, while some people may find issue paying $50 for a short game. There are also points where it feels like the game may be a bit pandering in regards to the experience of black and brown New Yorkers, although that’s not to say that Insomniac’s efforts aren’t admirable and not in good faith.

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The game includes an unlockable BLM mural, which is a well-appreciated gesture. PS4/Jan Cortes

A great next-gen experience

Overall however, the game more than lives up to the standards set by its predecessor, and even surpasses it in some regards. The game runs incredibly well on the PS4, and there is an apparent improvement in terms of visuals and graphics. Run it on the PS5 however, and it’s easily one of the best examples of a next-generation experience, thanks to 4k nativity, 60fps, and ray tracing.

It’s hard to go back to Peter’s shoes (or rather, suit) once you get used to using Miles. Sure, the game is an overall shorter experience, but what it packs is more focused on aligned with the game’s central theme, without any of the bloated content the first game had to offer. In Miles Morales, you get a package that is short but sweet, filled with gratifying combat, interesting side stories, jaw-dropping set-pieces, and a story that is no less powerful. It’s able to stand on its own easily, and while it may stumble here and there like its teen protagonist, it also recovers fairly quickly, much like its own Spider-Man.

“Spider-Man: Miles Morales” is now available through BestBuy by clicking here. You can get the standard PS4 version here, while those who prefer the PS5 version have two options: the Standard Launch Edition and the Ultimate Launch Edition, which comes bundled with a remaster of “Marvel’s Spider-Man (2018).”

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Despite being mostly unchanged, the game's combat still feels fresh thanks to Miles new fighting style and abilities. PS4/Jan Cortes