What could be better than a video game featuring the amazing Spider-Man? How about a video game featuring four amazing Spider-Men?
The Tablet of Order and Chaos has been shattered, and the Spider-Men from four different dimensions must act together to retrieve it before reality completely unravels. Rather than the free-roaming sandbox Spider-Man games of ages past, developer Beenox gives us a mission based game in which four different versions of Spider-Man - Amazing, Ultimate, 2099, and Noir - face off against the webslinger's most dangerous foes in order to keep reality from crumbling apart.
Four spider-powered superheroes are better than one, right?
Spider-Man and His Amazing Enemies: Taking on the role of multiple incarnations of Spider-Man and several different versions of villains from his extensive rogues gallery is a real treat. It helps that the game's writers have a firm grasp on the characters and settings; any mission could easily be used as a basis for an issue of a Spider-Man comic book. Fan service abounds, from classic comic book dialog brought to life to billboards and advertisements featuring classic characters littering the hero-worshipping future of 2099. There's even a surprise cameo from the best version of Spider-Man ever created. As a comic book fan, I'm quite satisfied with what I've seen here.
Worlds Apart: The four different worlds depicted in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions are four very different worlds indeed. Each is lovingly rendered in its own distinctive graphical style, from the crisp realism of the regular Spider-Man's New York City to the shadow-drenched streets of Spider-Man Noir. The Ultimate Spider-Man world is bright and colorful, giving it an almost cartoon-y feel, and the high-rise towers of the 2099 universe are filled with the buzzing glow of the neon that hides corporate corruption lurking just below the surface.
Spider Fights: The combat in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is fast, fluid, and quite satisfying. Spider-Man in his various forms leaps gracefully between opponents, pummeling them with a vicious combination of punches before effortlessly leaping to the next enemy in line. As you upgrade your powers your moves will get even more impressive, making you more than a match for the hordes (and I mean hordes) of enemies you'll encounter later in the game. Boss fights put your skills to the test, spicing things up occasionally with a first-person punching mechanic which, while not all that complex, adds a great deal of immersion to these epic battles.
Swing, Swing, Swing: An important part of any Spider-Man game is the swinging, and while Shattered Dimensions might not feature the huge open-world areas of previous Spider-Man titles, it still manages to make navigating the game's diverse levels an enjoyable experience. Levels are littered with little yellow arrows indicating areas where the player can hit the right trigger and instantly zip of out harm's way. Holding down the jump button causes Spider-Man to throw out a pair of webs, launching him even higher in the air. The web swinging itself has nothing on Spider-Man 2, the ultimate web-swinging game, but it gets the job done nicely.
Mission-Based Upgrades: How do you keep a player from saving up upgrade points and pumping them all at once into the most powerful skills available? Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions' mission-based upgrade system has the answer. Every level in the game is littered with side missions that you'll discover as you play. One might require you disarm a certain number of gunmen. Others might have you performing a certain number of special moves. As you complete missions you earn points that can be used to unlock new costumes, combat styles, and upgrade character attributes. The limiting factor here is that upgrades are based on the number of missions you've completed. Complete 10 missions, and you'll have access to one tier of upgrades. After finishing the game I've only completed 107 of 180 challenges, which means I can squeeze a little more replay value out of the game by going back and getting them done.
Separate Yet Unequal: Three out of four Spider-Men play pretty much the same, with only one or two gameplay mechanics separating them from each other. Normal Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man, and Spider-Man 2099 are almost interchangeable, aside from some character specific combat moves and the 2099-specific free falling segments. 2099 Spidey's time-slowing power and Ultimate's rage are fun to play with, but leave you feeling naked when playing plain vanilla normal Spider-Man.
Spider-Man Noir breaks the mold, forcing players to sneak around in the shadows and defeat enemies using stealth takedowns. If an enemy spots him he has to flee or risk being taken down quickly with a few bullets. It's an entertaining game mechanic, but it's also a forced game mechanic. At certain points during his missions, Spider-Man Noir proves himself just as capable in hand-to-hand fighting as the other three, but in stealth missions he can barely take out one gunman without getting killed. This seeming morphing of the character's abilities to fit the gameplay style doesn't sit well with me.
Repetition: For every dimension there is a Spider-Man, and for every dimension there's a big guy with a hammer. No matter which dimension you travel to in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions you'll come across large numbers of similar enemies, re-skinned depending on the setting. There's the big guy with the melee weapon, the shooting guys that can be easily taken out by disarming them, and the guys with shields you have to jump behind to take down. While there is a little bit of diversity, especially in the 2099 dimension, for the most part you know what to expect.
The repetition carries over to mission goals as well. You'll find yourself saving a lot of folks in order to open up doors and switches. Each of the three Noir levels contains segments where you need to sneak around, taking out enemies in order to free prisoners from cages. After a while these objectives begin to feel like exactly what they are: obstacles between you and the end of the game. That shouldn't happen.
Broken Webs: This Spider-Man game catches more than its fair share of bugs in its web. On multiple occasions the camera locked in place, leaving me running about blindly getting shot by enemies I couldn't see. At one point Spider-Man became rooted in place; all of the other controls worked, I couldn't move from the spot I was standing. Then of course there's the problem with bosses falling into the world. Add to those issues frequent sound drop out, scripted spoken dialog tripping over random Spider-Man quips, and some amusing enemy "freak-out" animations, and you've got a game that could have spent a few more weeks in the oven.
Invisible Walls: After years of playing Spider-Man games in which you could go anywhere at any time, not being able to climb on top of a rooftop due to invisible barriers is extremely disappointing. It's a device that many games utilize to limit powerful heroes from running all over the place, but in a Spider-Man game it feels particularly restrictive.
On the surface Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is a Spider-Man fan's dream come true, weaving together four iterations of the iconic hero and filling the resulting web with twisted versions of his classic foes. Dig past the fan service, however, and the web begins to unravel, largely due to the multiple bugs and glitches caught in its threads. The experience never completely falls apart, and there is certainly enjoyment to be found, particularly for fans of Marvel's heroic arachnid, but Shattered Dimensions' grip on this reviewer was tenuous at best.
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions was developed by Beenox and published by Activision for the Xbox 360, PC, PlayStation 3, and Wii on June 16. Retails for $49.99 to $59.99 USD. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played single-player campaign to completion.
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