I'm slightly conflicted with Miles Morales' PS5 debut. It is great, looks incredible and packs in a satisfying story in its short time - but it is brief, to the point where placing it front and center of the PS5 launch lineup feels a little... dishonest. For all the visual spectacle and genuine joy of seeing Miles step up as a character, there's no getting away from the fact that you'll likely see the credits roll before your other launch games have finished downloading. There's nothing wrong with that, obviously - I'm all for short games - just be prepared to see the main campaign through in a couple of evenings. It's a little longer, obviously, if you take on more side activities but, nonetheless, there's days of content here at best, not weeks. And, while Sony did align it with other standalone expansions like The Last of Us' Left Behind and Uncharted's Lost Legacy, this has a much more DLC feel in comparison; an extension of the original game, rather than a companion.
It is good though, let me make that clear, as well as a great demonstration of what the PS5 can do. Even before the action starts, the intro - with Miles on a subway - introduces the new DualSense haptics with a 'holy shit that actually feels like a train!' moment. Throughout the game the pad physically pops and crackles with Miles' electrical Venom abilities, and recreates many recognizable sensations through some sort of vibrational voodoo. The load times, or lack of, are also amazing. Whether you fast travel across the map, or leave an interior to go outside, it's instantaneous, with the only noticeable delay being the second or two it takes to start from the PS5 menu. It also looks incredible, recreating a snowy New York at a near photorealistic level. There are moments in the latter half of the game, when gentle flurries set in and distant buildings fade into the weather, where the only thing that gives it away as a game is the little guy swinging past in an onesie.
That little guy, Miles, is a great character too: he's naive but keen, desperate to live up to his title but plagued with self-doubt and questions. He's already got his abilities but he's still learning the ropes, while feeling his way both as a young adult and a new superhero. The recent death of his father is just as life-changing as his new Spider-life and there's a great 'story so far' recap at the start that reframes the original 2018 game entirely from Miles' perspective - the focus obviously heavily on his loss, with Pete's story as a sidebar that leads into how he became a new Spider-Man.
Throughout, the focus is on the human part of 'superhuman'. The original game did a good job of using Peter's relationships to add some heart and emotional weight when the story needed it. Here it is all about a kid dealing with his life, of which superheroing is just a part. The opening places a firm emphasis on community and family, making his responsibilities, relationships and hopes outside of Spider-Man clear - the latter just one more thing he has to deal with. It does a great job of conveying the pressures of youth: that inexperienced overload from experiencing everything for the first time and feeling like it has to all be dealt now or it's a disaster. Being young can be a lot to take in at the best of times and this somehow channels that in a believable way, even if it is about a kid from Brooklyn who can stick to walls. Full credit to actor Nadji Jeter here, who provided the voice, face and mocap, who's excellent as Miles, creating a character full of enthusiasm and charm as he navigates his hopes and fears for the future.
Miles' life as a superhero plays out in a similar way to Peter Parker's, with a city to protect and crimes to fight. Again, like the last game, there's just an exhilarating freedom to being let loose with those powers. Diving from a skyscraper to swing at the last possible minute as street sounds rush up to meet you never gets old. Even here Miles' character comes through, with lovely animations as he occasionally flails through the air or overbalances as he lands, showing how new he still is to everything.
Combat is the only mechanic that's really overhauled, with Miles' new Venom powers letting him unleash splashy area-of-effect ground pounds, or distance covering crackling dashes that can launch enemies into the air. There's a rhythm that builds around charging and unleashing the ability to maximum effect. It's also tactical, with opponents using equipment that can only be disabled or destroyed by Venom attacks. The new ability to turn invisible is fun as well, but feels under-explored in a game with an already heavy stealth emphasis. You spend much of your time unseen as it is, hopping between high spots searching out takedowns, so the idea of stealth camo never really feels meaningfully utilized as a mechanic.
As enjoyable and satisfying as the combat is, it also underlines how short the game is. The skill tree is light and lacks any real game-changing upgrades while there are only four gadgets. They're all fun and functional but never capture the improvisational magic of things like the last game's trip mines or web bombs. The brevity of the story also means it sometimes feels like you're unlocking things faster than your ability to master the combinations and options. Even chasing street crimes and side challenges I don't think I really got a complete feel for some abilities and interplays until almost the end, as there isn't enough to practice with unless you rerun repeatable objectives.
There aren't really any side mission threads either. There's one main storyline, some enemy bases to clear out, things to collect, repeating street crimes and slightly structured one-off events like knocking ice off a crane to stop it falling or finding a stolen car. There are a few side missions but they're mostly single hits unlocked by story progress - not because they're related to what's happening but more to space things out and make them last until the end.
The main story does at least make what time it has count and it's impressive just how much it packs a full-size game feel into a barely double-digit run time. There are some good set pieces and even better narrative moments. One of my early concerns was that everything was moving too fast for you to really care much for the characters, but it pulls it off. When the game wants you to really feel something, it hits all the right buttons and I was genuinely affected by the ending on more than one level. There's also a moment that is very clearly trying to be PlayStation's version of the 'Leap of faith' from Into the Spider-Verse. It's not quite as good, but nails that 'hell yeah! surge of excitement of when the music and the mood comes together perfectly. It also ends its crescendo with you seamlessly in control, soaring above the city still buzzing from the build-up.
Overall it's been a weird one to review. I really enjoyed it, but the brevity feels like something to warn you about given that this is presented as a launch title. Even if you were expecting a small 'full' game, this is smaller. It plays like great DLC, because it is great and also clearly DLC, rather than a stand-alone expansion. Things like Left Behind and Lost Legacy worked because they were linear and gave the developer precise control over the pace and punch of a single story lasting a few hours. Here you've got a great story but one that takes place in a huge open world with little else overly meaningful to fill it. The story, characters, and action are all enjoyable, but if you unboxed your shiny new PS5 on Friday night and settled in to play this over the weekend, you'd likely reach the 'hoovering up collectibles because it's all that's left' stage before Monday came around.