How Spider-Man: Miles Morales uses the sounds of Harlem to immerse you into its world

Spider-Man: Miles Morales
(Image credit: Insomniac/Marvel)

While Spider-Man: Miles Morales might look familiar to its 2018 web-slinging predecessor, it certainly doesn't sound the same. From the bustling open-air party in C.J. Walker Park to the hard-hitting beats you hear in the lair of The Underground, the music and sounds of this latest superhero adventure reflect its hero, his city, and the influences on his personality. With it, Insomniac manages to immerse you in Miles' world, and make exploring New York from his perspective an entirely refreshing one. 

Jazzy Christmas

Spider-Man: Miles Morales

(Image credit: Insomniac/Marvel)

Insomniac hint at how important music is to the story early on, as a Christmas dinner is set to the sound of crackling vinyl, one which Miles' chooses from his dad's old collection. As Miles flicks through the LPs, we get a sense of the sort of music that Miles would have grown up with, with Jazz records coming to the fore. It's a subtle nod to Harlem's real world musical heritage, where clubs such as The Cotton Club and The Savoy, helped to shape and popularise the genre.   

But it's not just moments like this that showcase the game's new sonic outlook. From the moment you swing through NYC as Miles, you can hear the differences in the score. Returning composer John Paesano weaves influences from hip-hop into his orchestral music, with skittering drums that help give them their own musical texture, while keeping the sweeping elements from the original. You can listen below to Be Yourself to get a sense of how these new and returning elements sound together. 

On top of this, there's plenty of licensed hip-hop tracks throughout the game as well. Run The Jewels' The Ground Below is played in The Underground's HQ in Fisk Tower, while Lecrae's This Is My Time is the song that soundtracks the montage of Miles designing his Spider-Suit. Not only do we get a sense of Miles' character, but that of the city he fights to protect as well.  

Sample the City

Spider-Man: Miles Morales

(Image credit: Insomniac/Marvel)

This focus on music and sound culminates in one of the game's best side-quests, as your Uncle Aaron tasks you with collecting sound samples from across NYC to reveal more about his relationship with his brother and Miles' Dad, Jefferson Davis. From the familiar rhythms of a train running through Harlem to the distant bellow of a Ferry's horn out in the Hudson River, these collectibles help to tell the story of Aaron and Jefferson's complicated brotherhood, while also showing their relationship with the sounds of the city. 

The pair would record the sounds of the city together, hoping to eventually build a song out of it, which they never finished. As Miles starts to gather up audio recordings to polish it off, he can hear the potential for these samples; the beat of water dripping onto ice or the melodic clam of windchimes in Chinatown. 

Spider-Man: Miles Morales photo mode

(Image credit: Insomniac Games)

It's a clever use of the game's diegetic sounds, allowing you to take a beat (sorry) and listen to the world that Insomniac has created, getting a feel for its rhythm and how Miles is in tune (again, sorry) with it. Once you've collected all nine samples, you'll be able to hear what they sound like mixed together, creating a catchy and vibrant tune that illustrates just how closely the city and its music are entwined together. 

There's no better illustration of this when you first wander into C.J. Walker Park. Here, you'll find a DJ spinning up some songs for the crowd, people dancing, with horns barely audible in the distance. You can even wander over to the DJ to dance in front of him, even if Miles' moves aren't quite there yet. But it shows how important music is to this new Spider-Man's city, and by extension, the game he's the star of. 

Ben Tyrer

Hello, I'm GamesRadar's News Editor. I've been working in the games industry since 2013, after graduating from Bournemouth University with a degree in multimedia journalism. Since then I've worked for Official PlayStation Magazine as a staff writer and games editor, as well as writing for Official Xbox Magazine, Edge, PC Gamer, GamesMaster, PC Games N, and more. When I'm not moaning about being beaten on FIFA and Warzone, I'm writing news, features, and reviews for this wonderful site.