One of the biggest reveals during Sony’s PS5 reveal event was the announcement of the next step in Sony and Insomniac’s Spider-Man universe. It’s called Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and it’s a bridge between the first game and whatever will inevitably be next. There was some confusion over what exactly this game is, but ultimately it’s expected to be a standalone game at a smaller scale. This is cool, but it’s also kind of disappointing in a way. Miles Morales is a more than well-established character, and absolutely deserves a top spot in a “full” game.
It’s important to note we don’t have all the details yet. After all, it wasn’t even clear if Miles Morales was a standalone game or not at first. The messaging was muddled, and even a Sony rep said it was a remaster and expansion. Insomniac later clarified it’s a standalone game, but did not challenge assumptions that it’s a smaller scale experience in a similar vein to Infamous: Last Light or Uncharted Lost Legacy. And that makes sense, anyway. There’s no way a full sequel to Marvel’s Spider-Man is ready for the PS5 launch. I’m of two minds about this, and it isn’t just me, either.
On one hand, it’s awesome to see this. We’re living in a moment culturally in which there’s a crack on the dam so to speak, and representation of black people and other persons of color in blockbuster media is growing. Miles Morales was already the main character of Into the Spider-Verse, which is known as one of the best superhero movies out there to date. It’s even getting a sequel, and is being treated as animated movie royalty. It’s only natural that Morales, who has steadily grown his presence in Marvel media, gets the lead role in a big video game.
But the problem is, like many other projects like this, is the connotation associated with its scale. This is not a sequel to Marvel’s Spider-Man, and won’t be seen as such. It won’t be considered essential by the audience, in the same way a full sequel would be. It’ll have a particular spotlight on it thanks to it being a PS5 launch or launch window title, which is nice. But like Last Light and Lost Legacy, despite the fans and critics typically enjoying and recommending them, they aren’t treated the same way. And why would they be, when they’re smaller experiences ahead of an inevitably bigger sequel?
The games industry has come a long way when it comes to diversifying its lead characters, but some of the remaining stumbling blocks are weird. In this case it’s another example of a member of the supporting cast in the “real” game getting the lead role in a smaller pseudo-sequel, with the character being a PoC or part of a similarly marginalized group. It’s weird in an optics sense, especially since this kind of thing can easily be considered a trope of its own. Why bother making this when Miles Morales is such a big deal, when a full sequel could have been held off on for later and received just as well if not better? It feels like an out, so Sony/Insomniac can get their cake and eat it too without rocking the boat too much. Miles Morales comes on screen right in the middle of Black Lives Matter affecting the world around us, but the fine print is “this isn’t Spider-Man 2 though.”
I’m sure this take will get the usual eye rolls and SJW pejorative nonsense like I’m trying to cancel the game or something. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales will certainly be a great game. And perhaps it’s leading the way for more from Miles in future games. Personally I’m hoping for something wild, like the next game to borrow from earlier comics and have the “Spider-Men” title. But Miles Morales being cool doesn’t absolve it from criticism, and right now, in this moment, this aspect of it stands out even more than it would have normally.