There’s a few lines in Johnny Cash
’s “Folsom Prison Blues
” that ring true here.
“I bet there’s rich folks eatin’ from a fancy dining car… they’re probably drinking coffee and smokin’ big cigars...
“But those people keep a-movin’, and that’s what tortures me”.
Poignancy here, beyond me writing this while I listen to JC, is exact. Yep, Miles Morales
is great. Is it excellent? Well, ask Peter, or thanks to jolly cooperation
me over two years ago. But the reality here is as plain as prison bars and a single bunk -- what we get is known; largely expected and, because everything else around us is in the same lockdown, regimented. Miles Morales’s greatest thing is its story. Or, specifically, Miles’ full tale in following on from Pete’s initial narrative. Just like that unexpected cell-mate who rolls into your digs with stories of grandeur, Miles Morales is kind of a wanted commodity -- a tale of someone Spider-crawling on “The Line”.
"Frustratingly, this is aesthetic only and doesn’t come into play outside of story, despite myriad opportunities there...”
Silly preamble over, the basic point here is you’ll know what you’re in for with Miles Morales -- Arkham-lifted (not “-Like”) combat, a heavy narrative and an ‘open’-world. Sharp words-wise eyes might see our sleight of hand there, but the reality is, like so many VR rollercoaster demos, Miles Morales now delivers the same experience as its predecessor in webslinging, with the only shift being the time of the year -- see, in Miles Morales, it’s winter. But frustratingly, this is aesthetic only and doesn’t come into play outside of story, despite myriad opportunities there. Like, Spidey was awesome and MM is great but… just look beyond a core mechanic and attached playground as your main draw.
Let’s not forget, Pete or Miles, we’re freaking Spider-Man, for Pete’s sake.
So additionally we’d be remiss to avoid talking more about combat, which hasn’t changed much from the last game. It’s ever-forgiving where combo counters are concerned, but it does throw in Miles’ unique electricity Spider-Power, and this becomes a playable (and welcome) addition, while also playing a part in game-world puzzles. The problem here is, like Batman’s Detective Mode, which had a “eureka” radius less than 20 metres, it sort of becomes redundant. Like, it’s needed, but it’s not always welcome, and contextually, as much as we in the post-Victorian era embrace, know of, and even need electricity, there’s only so many ways you can flog its need to open a door.
To that end, as a sequel it feels lite-on in the addition department. It’s pretty, has great voice-acting and an excellent story, but MM feels more separated from its different focuses. As if they were all plugged into a previous blueprint, but no one at Insomniac bothered to speak to an interior designer or Marie Kondo-type, leaving it all feeling kind of like a kit house, rather than your forever home.
"There’s a sense of the brilliant Into the Spider-Verse about it all but, problematically, is that Miles’ tragedy is a very, very known and public...”
If we’re still rolling with ‘out there’ metaphors, then at least the game’s story is Your Friendly Neighborhood (you’re welcome), and tonally the studios has embraced Miles and Miles’ world. There’s a sense of the brilliant Into the Spider-Verse about it all but, problematically, is that Miles’ tragedy is a very, very known and public position. So the game leaves very few twists and turns where storytelling is concerned, instead those are left to traversal, and that’s sort of hitting the nail on the head -- in Miles Morales there’s a great delivery of story, but it’s an expected quantity, so more often than not you’ll start feeling like the game is paint by numbers than an engaging and “I need to know more!” experience.
And, like Miles, it’s short. The world is full of activities and things to do, but they’re super-checklist heavy, and don’t flesh the world out enough. You can knock the experience over in about half the time of the original and while you unlock requisite NG+s and the like, you’re kind of left hanging. Upside down. Like a spider, man. The thing is, with the PS5 being somewhat quiet at launch on the new exclusives front, Miles is still an experience to behold, and gives a very good indication of what’s in store, technically, from the platform in games to come (especially as this is a fresh, baby-faced release… to maintain the Miles metaphors). And it’s a sequel in narrative form, so don’t go thinking this is Marvel’s Spider-Man, with a Morales skin, it fits in, fills gaps and leaves plenty to question, but if we had to put a Thwip on it: Miles Morales is more ‘expansion’ than standalone, at least in feel.
"I’d have waited another six months for a more fleshed-out experience, and one that doesn’t overly mimic the foundation of its origins...”
That said, Spidey fans will dig it. Sony fanpeeps will sing its praises from Manhattan rooftops and it fills a gap. There’s just a question of “is it enough?” and even as a massive comic book geek and lover of all things wall-crawling, I’d have waited another six months for a more fleshed-out experience, and one that doesn’t overly mimic the foundation of its origins. Miles might learn from Peter, and Peter might be the ‘A’ Spider-Man, but that doesn’t need to mean Miles lives exclusively in his design shadow.