Spider Man Miles Morales
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Credit: Insomniac

Spider-Man: Miles Morales gives the hero a chance to shine, but is it just a side story?

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Jun 16, 2020, 2:09 PM EDT (Updated)

Last week's PlayStation 5 showcase began with a trailer for Spider-Man: Miles Morales. After the success of 2018's Marvel's Spider-Man game, it was expected that a sequel would be underway, but seeing a follow-up nearly two years later and as a launch title truly took everyone by surprise. Not only that, but the new game will be putting Miles as the leading man after he was teased for a larger role at the end of the original game and its subsequent DLC. For many, this has become their sole incentive to buy the PS5.

And then that excitement gave way to confusion as Sony and Insomniac had to do some clarification the following morning. No, Miles Morales isn't actually Spider-Man 2 like some had assumed. It's a standalone adventure in the vein of Infamous: First Light or Far Cry: New Dawn. Not a full sequel — sort of an expansion, but a middle ground that will give Miles some experience and provide excitement for when we finally see him and Peter Parker team up in the actual Spider-Man 2 that's almost certainly in development.

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Giving Miles a game to stretch his legs is the right call. While he's a well-written character in the original game and has a compelling story, he also fought for screen time among a large cast of characters. His playable segments are fine, but they're focused on stealth just as in Mary Jane's, and you don't get a full idea of what he could be when he takes up the web-swinging mantle. In the DLC, he doesn't even physically show up until a post-credits cutscene at the very end of the third episode.

From that conclusion, there were only two real paths to take: Either Miles gets his own game, or we wait until he shows up in Spider-Man 2 as another playable character, not unlike members of the Batfamily in the Arkham sequels. And while the idea of switching between the two Spider-Men is cool in theory, Peter has nearly a decade of experience that permeates all throughout the original Spider-Man, both in terms of gameplay and narrative. Putting all of that with a rookie Miles could be jarring and actively undermine Miles' growth throughout the game, making him be seen as the "lesser" Spider-Man. In that regard, I'm more interested in seeing the ways in which Insomniac makes Miles feel like he's growing without coming across like a downgrade.

Most interesting is seeing what Insomniac does to make Miles his own person. Other Marvel games featuring him have been light on characterization due to being expansive team-ups, where he's just one hero of an interchangeable many. Comics writers have begun to get a grasp on who he is, but the same doesn't hold true for gaming, simply because the opportunity never presented itself before. Beyond featuring his uncle Aaron Davis (aka the Prowler), how do you make a Miles Morales video game feel unique when he shares the same world as Peter Parker? What did Insomniac learn from the artistically minded Miles of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and the Miles of the comics who writes in his journal to apply to their version of the character? Jaden Smith's song "On My Own" was in the trailer for a reason, as was the tagline "Be Yourself."

Credit: Insomniac

What sadly deflates the announcement is that Miles is just part of another regrettable trend in the gaming industry. The criticism of black characters being relegated to side stories isn't without merit; Assassin's Creed's sole two black protagonists were in the side games Freedom Cry and Liberation, as was Uncharted 4's Lost Legacy standalone, which starred the non-white Chloe and Nadine as leads. None of those games are short, but they're also not as expansive as the other entries in their respective franchises, inherently implying that they're lesser-than; first and foremost, they are side stories that could be scrubbed from canon or wholly ignored if a fan wished to.

Yes, there have been multiple games with black leads in recent years like Mafia III and Watch Dogs 2, but the number of games starring black superheroes are very few and far between. Blade had a pair of games based on the first two films, there were various Spawn-based games through the '90s and early 2000s, and 2012's Prototype 2 also comes to mind. Otherwise, heroes like Black Panther, Storm, and Cyborg are relegated to the ensemble titles like Injustice, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, or the LEGO games. In the case of John Stewart and Vixen, they're literally just skins for pre-existing characters in Injustice 2 rather than characters in their own right. At a certain point, black superheroes should be afforded more solo games where they and their inner worlds can shine, the same way Batman and Peter Parker's Spider-Man have gotten to for decades.

For a character who's almost ten years old, seeing Miles Morales evolve to where he's the star of both an Oscar-winning movie and the lead of his own next-generation video game is pretty great. I'm curious to see how it fares as both a prelude to Spider-Man 2 and as the first Miles content to capitalize on the goodwill he earned with Into the Spider-Verse. It's just unfortunate that it's become tangled in a web of confusion.

Spider-Man: Miles Morales launches for the PS5 this holiday.

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