Is Spider-Man: Miles Morales Better Than 2018’s Spider-Man?

miles morales and peter parker in spider-man miles morales
Screenshot: Insomniac / Kotaku

Spider-Man: Miles Morales, the new PlayStation superhero game from Insomniac, is pretty damn good. Foundationally, it shares a lot—a map, a core moveset—with its predecessor, 2018’s Spider-Man, but spices things up with new characters, shocking special powers, and a four-inch coat of snow.

Of course, this raises the question: Which game is better? By now, many of us at Kotaku have pored over every square inch of both. We (staff writers Ari Notis and Zack Zweizen) settle things.

Spoilers follow for Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales.

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Ari Notis: Zack, we’re here to talk about one thing: How freakin’ good is Spider-Man: Miles Morales?

Zack Zwiezen: Yes! And also, that I think it’s BETTER than 2018’s Spider-Man.

Ari: It really, really is. I saw, too, that you even ranked it this weekend as the best Spider-Man game of all time, which, as recently as three weeks ago, anyone in their right mind would’ve said Spider-Man. (Sorry, Spider-Man 2 fans!) So what puts Miles Morales head and shoulders above Insomniac’s last game?

Zack: I was thinking about this a lot after I beat it and I think it comes down to two things: It’s more focused and the game works really hard to make you care about Miles’ family, friends and even enemies. And what I mean by “more focused” is that by being smaller and shorter, the game cuts a lot of the meh bits from 2018. There’s no MJ stealth-like sequences, no padding in the middle of the game, and no tech puzzles you have to solve. It’s entirely focused on telling a story about Miles becoming his own Spider-Man. Harlem’s Spider-Man. Something different and unique from Peter. Did you feel that Spider-Man 2018 was a bit overstuffed with story beats? It almost felt like two movies stuck together.

Ari: For me, I wasn’t too put off on the story beats, because clearly Insomniac was laying the foundation for some sort of franchise. It was, as you mentioned, all the padding and extra bloat—the circuit puzzles, or those damn Ubisoft-style radio towers. Miles Morales, on the other hand, is an open world game that you can complete entirely—every little objective and collectible and optional challenge—in, like, under 30 hours. That’s so nice! More games should respect our time like that. On the flip side, if Spider-Man 2018 was a bit stuffed, did you think Miles Morales felt rushed at any point?

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[To note: Kotaku’s erstwhile Evan Narcisse wrote for Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Hey Evan!]

Zack: Surprisingly, no, which you might expect with a game this much shorter than the last one. But they stuff so much good shit into every hour of the game. For example, the way the game handles Miles and his uncle is wonderful. I thought that whole storyline and arc was perfect. In fact, it was handled better here than in Into The Spider-Verse, a movie I love for the record. Which is impressive.

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Ari: Woah.

miles morales upside down in spider-man miles morales
The two authors had a private conversation after Zack’s egregious claim.
Screenshot: Insomniac / Kotaku
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Zack: I know! But this game really does a better job of showing how that relationship changes as uh... other things are revealed to each other. Look, we are going to get into spoilers. It’s hard to talk about this game without spoiling some stuff. So... here’s your warning.

Okay, with that out of the way: This game’s ending made me cry and I wasn’t expecting that! I cried when Aunt May died in Spider-Man 2018, because I’m a lifelong Spidey fan and killing Aunt May will always make me cry. But I didn’t expect to connect so quickly to Miles and Phin. You totally get her pain and you almost agree with what she’s doing. And yet, you know, and so does Miles, that she’s wrong. And the last third of this game is building towards the inevitable clash between her and Miles. And Insomniac nails it. How did the ending hit you?

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Ari: I mean, the ending is just bananas—so many explosions. But kabloomers are secondary to the fact that, right, you, as Miles, fight Phin, technically beat her, and still don’t save the day. Miles absorbs the Nuform, but he’ll explode. And the explosion will still level Harlem (and, I’d add, probably parts of the Bronx and western Queens and the Upper East Side, if we’re being honest). So then Phin has her hero moment, carries a soon-to-detonate Miles into the sky, and….kaboom. He’s fine. And she’s just fuckin’ dead. There’s not even, like, an end-credits stinger to hint that she’s alive. [Kotaku staff writer] Ash [Parrish] and I spoke about this in regards to a Paper Mario character, but Miles Morales just goes there—killing a well-liked, well-realized character—and you gotta respect that.

Zack: Yeah. It also let her end on a heroic note, after the game spent some time showing that she’s gone too far. Anyway, we’ve talked enough about the story. It’s good. Can we talk about something else that I love about this game? Miles’ venom abilities are amazing and feel great on a PS5 controller.

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Ari: It is shocking how good they are! Just a totally electrifying feeling in your hands. They really jolt you, huh? Did you play the game across generations? Or just on PS5? (I played just on PS5.)

Zack: I only played on PS5. I think it’s hard to fully explain in words just how much the PS5 controller improves this game and how it feels. It’s going to sound like you and I are totally full of shit or making a big deal out of nothing. But so much of this game feels better because the controller on PS5 reacts in a way I’ve never experienced in a game. For example: Web-swinging was already great. (I assume you agree.) But in Miles Morales, it’s better! The way your triggers tighten up when you are web-slinging makes it feel like you are holding onto a tight bit of web while whipping through the streets of NYC.

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Ari: Dude. Yes! That first moment, during the tutorial section, when you first swing between buildings, blew my mind to the moon. It’s so cool how the trigger tenses up when you hit an apex, or how it hums like a motorcycle when you land a venom punch. I don’t know what it’s like to be Spider-Man, obviously, because I would never wear red spandex, but the controller conveys that feeling way more than the visuals ever could (as good as they are). But the Venom powers are awesome regardless of what console you’re playing on. Like: How much do they singularly improve the combat in this game?

Zack: They make combat more exciting and give you more options. And then you have the ability to go invisible at any point too. I found myself more excited to fight people in this game than in 2018, and I already liked fighting people a lot in that last game. But here I felt I had more ways to handle a fight and I had more ways to get the hell out of there if things got too scary. That’s a lot of what I like about Miles Morales. It takes things from the 2018 game and tweaks them or builds on them in smart, interesting, or cool ways.

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A great example of this is the city itself. I was worried that playing another Spider-Man game in the same map as before would be boring. But the shift to winter and Christmastime makes NYC feel totally different and I loved exploring this new wintery take on the city. It also feels like the perfect game to play this November and December, as you are eating Christmas cookies and wrapping presents or however you celebrate the holidays!

Ari: Oh, I’ll be celebrating Christmas in the holy tradition of my people: eating takeout and watching total-groaner action flicks. But yes, Insomniac really did nail the winter-in-New-York vibe. To wit: I played the entire game in the Santa outfit (once I unlocked it, from Hailey Cooper, the best character).

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Zack: As someone who lives in NYC, how does it feel running around Miles Morales? Do you stop and go, “Oh, that place!” a lot?

miles morales on the side of a skyscraper in new york city
To think that Kotaku staffers could get photos of Spider-Man by simply looking out the window...
Screenshot: Insomniac / Kotaku
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Ari: Ha! The second I was free from those opening narrative obligations, I went hunting for the Kotaku offices… and found them! I found the Bloomberg offices, which have been recreated to a tee. I stood on top of Grand Central and looked down Park Ave (right around my old neighborhood) and marveled at how accurate the frat bro homeland of Murray Hill looked. Having lived here for some time, I didn’t even need the map to get around. From a surface level, Insomniac created such a spot-on facsimile of Manhattan it’s hard not to be impressed.

But then you look closer. I went to find my actual old apartment (I live in Brooklyn now), and it turns out the east side of Third Ave and the west side of Park Ave have been meshed together, squashing not only my old apartment but also a Dos Toros taco shop, a CVS, a foreign embassy branch, two banks, a cobbler, a dry cleaner, and an illicit basement brothel out of existence. They also didn’t even include Washington Heights!

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Zack: Sorry to all our readers who live in Washington Heights. And who work at that illicit basement brothel. Squished NYC map aside, it’s hard to find anything in Miles Morales I don’t like or love. And like you said earlier, this game can be totally completed in under 30 hours. That’s a huge plus in my book too. And while it is smaller than the 2018 game, we’ve barely talked about all that’s in here. The great sidequests you get through the Spider-Man phone app, the costumes, the time capsule collectibles that take the place of Spider-Man’s backpacks and so much more.

But I want to wrap up our chat with a question: Do you think Miles Morales should be a playable character in the next big Spider-Man game? It feels like his world, his friends and family, deserve to be in the next big Insomniac Spidey game. In fact, I feel like I would be a bit disappointed if the next game pushed Miles back to the side entirely. I understand that asking the developers to build a game featuring TWO superheros with different skilltrees and moves is asking for a lot, but I don’t want to lose my Venom powers!

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Ari: How’s this for an idea: Co-op?

Zack: Ohhhh.... go on.

Ari: Oh, I haven’t really thought it through, and certainly don’t have the technical chops or understanding to do so. I just think it’d be fun as hell to run around the 65 percent of Manhattan that actually made it in this game alongside a friend: one playing as Peter, one playing as the way stronger and cooler Miles.

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Zack: Yeah. That does sound rad. Just like Miles Morales! A game that I could talk about for hours and hours! I think we agree this is one of the best games of 2020 and is the best Spider-Man game ever made.

cat suit in spider-man miles morales
In fairness, if this suit unlocked before the endgame, no one would wear anything else.
Screenshot: Insomniac / Kotaku
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Ari: Most definitely. But that doesn’t mean it’s without its fair share of bullshit. Case in point: the cat suit, and how you can’t get it until you beat the game.

Zack: Oh right. Nevermind. Bad game. I take it all back.

I’m kidding. I love this game and I didn’t expect it to be soooo much better than 2018's Spider-Man game, yet here we are!

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Ari: A high bar for the next game, which will only be able to clear it by making the cat suit available from the tutorial.

Zack: You hear that, Insomniac!? Cat suit at the start and you got the best game. That easy.

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Kotaku Weekend Editor | Zack Zwiezen is a writer living in Kansas. He has written for GameCritics, USgamer, Kill Screen & Entertainment Fuse.

Staff Writer, Kotaku

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DISCUSSION

I hope that the outcome of this game’s success is that publishers become more willing to make games that are 1. shorter and 2. not “full price”. If a developer has a great idea for a game but it just breaks down when stretched to 15+ hours, then make a shorter game! Not every title needs to be a $100 million open world 20-80 hour blockbuster, and in fact I’d prefer that there were only a few of those a year so I had time to actually finish them.