It's tough to make a great game of any kind, but license a comic book property with millions of nerdy, detail obsessed fans, and it’s even harder. Still, Spider-Man has had a pretty good relationship with gaming this last decade, but for every Spider-Man 2 and Web of Shadows there was a Spider-Man 3 and Friend or Foe. Things were getting a tad stale for Spidey games, so Activision and developer Beenox decided to try and shake things up with Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions and its collection of four different Spider-Men. Did that gamble pay off, or should this have remained a What if… ?
The main conceit of the game is that due to the destruction of some magical artifact, the bonds between dimensions have weakened, bringing together four Spideys from alternate universes. Each works independently of the others to find fragments of the artifact in each of their worlds, which is usually held by some baddie who’s enchanted by the artifact’s power. Thus each Spider-Man has to take down a member of their rogues gallery and hundreds of goons to get back another piece of the puzzle.
Above: From left to right - 2099, Amazing, Noir, and Ultimate Spider-Men
All the Spider-Men are both different and the same. All their movements are generally the same, as are the combo-heavy attacks and web-swinging controls. But the big differences are in the details: the Amazing Spider-Man plays mostly like a no frills, classic action game; Spider-Man Noir is very stealth-based; Spider-Man 2099 has some free-falling sections; Ultimate Spider-Man occasionally goes into a berserker rage when the symbiote he’s wearing takes over. This is almost like reviewing four different, smaller, but eerily similar games.
At first I was most drawn to the Amazing universe, as I think superhero comics don’t get much better than classic red and blue Spidey. Amazing has the most creative combos and the best voice acting in the title, which I’ll go into later. However, as I continued playing, I began to find those portions less amazing, or spectacular for that matter. After going through the other worlds, regular Spidey, who lacked all his brothers-by-another-mother’s abilities, got to feel pretty vanilla.
Just comparing Amazing to its most identical universe, Ultimate, it comes up short. Taking a similar approach to graphics as the Ultimate Spider-Man game from a few years ago, the Ultimate levels have almost all those same combos, and traversing the levels is very similar, in spite of the world’s unique feel. But at the very least Ultimate’s Rage mode lets the player cut loose and feel like an unbeatable god for a little while as he pounds his 100th faceless goon into the ground.
Outside of its techo, Blade Runner-inspired, futuristic look, Spider-Man 2099 has some other nice tricks to separate it from the pack. Firstly, each level has a free falling segment that plays on 2099’s true-to-the-comics gliding abilities. Each time these parts play like a miniature racing game, a snazzy change of pace from saving your literally 30th civilian from drone-like henchmen. Additionally 2099 possesses the ability to slow down time, where he can beat up guys in slo-mo, a slightly tired trick, but still fun.
Spider-Man Noir is the most unusual of all the worlds, as his levels are based almost entirely around stealth. His are the most inventive levels of the whole game, as you jump from perch to perch, doing your best to hide in the shadows and quietly take down guard after guard. The mechanic owes much to Batman: Arkham Asylum’s sneaking system, but when compared to that game it seems a little lacking, especially when you meet some very sensitive and overly perceptive guards.
But for all those differences, playing through each world becomes familiar path, which gets a little predictable. All of the levels are just so linear, which is certainly a change from the open world of recent Spidey games, but it gets old fast. You may have noticed me mentioning all faceless nobodies you have to beat up on your way to the boss. Let’s just say that getting the Achievement/Trophy for beating 1000 foes is definitely within the reach of anyone who simply completes the game.
Speaking of Achievements/Trophies, one of the game’s best features takes a cue from the success of that system. The Web of Destiny is how you unlock power-ups and new moves, and you do that by completing different tasks within each level. These little mini-goals make each level a little deeper and gives you something to focus on during parts that get a little repetitive. It scratches the same itch that Achievements/Trophies do, and the hunt for completing the Web of Destiny even distracted me, a genuine Achievement junkie, from increasing my Gamer Score.
Some of the Web of Destiny’s goals are focused around the many boss fights in Shattered Dimensions. The boss battles come in two flavors, normal-sized, tough but predictable baddie, and giant, predictable boss with god-like, but ultimately useless powers. The way you encounter and fight the same boss multiple times through a level is an inventive touch, much better than battling some lame midboss, (not that there aren’t more than a few “special” battles against slightly tougher henchmen). Though once you get to the final encounter with the big baddie, it all goes down pretty similarly to the last intense final fight you had.
Above: Like much of the game, the first-person moments start off cool, but eventually get old by never going any deeper or changing things up
But some effort was made into having each level have its own feel, whether it’s the tight areas in Noir, or the shiny future of 2099. We just wish there were more than the 12 included, as each of the four Spideys gets only three separate levels. Sometimes the levels are long enough, but others feel like they’re stretched to fill time. For example, when a level with Deadpool as the bad guy starts, it feels like easily the best part of the game. But as I swung around for what felt like forever hunting for that one last doohicky, I just wanted it to end.
And there are just too many moments hindered by a frustrating lack of polish. Sometimes it’s a sloppy camera that makes it easy to lose track of whomever you’re fighting, including one heartbreaking situation where I was ONE hit away from scoring the 200-hit combo Achievement/Trophy, only to be denied by an enemy I failed to swing the crummy camera around to see. And though the dialogue is at times legitimately funny, too many lines get repeated or said at the wrong time, hurting their impact and making them just annoying.
Above: Despite our complaints, the Deadpool/Ultimate level is a real highlight of the whole thing
That’s not to say this traditional gameplay isn’t fun, because there is still a place for a standard, action-oriented beat ‘em up. And I’m not saying that web-swinging with Spidey isn’t still a grand old time, it just doesn’t feel very deep. And when you have a scenario like this one, and the possibility of four different types of Spider-Man adventures, it’s a little disappointing to see just how parallel they all are.
Despite those flaws, for long time Spider-Man fans, this is probably the most rewarding of any Spidey title ever. The attention to detail in each universe is astonishing, especially compared to the kind of rough bits in other places. Take for example the 2099 levels. The game continually mentions things that a very small percentage of Spider-Man readers will remember, like what Spider-Man 2099’s secret identity is (Miguel O’Hara) or even where he works. All of the sequences, except for possibly the Amazing Spider-Man levels, would work perfectly in the pages of the comics today, and fanboys will eat that up.
That kind of tone keeps going with the very inspired voice casting that makes each level all the better for it. Each Spider-Man is voiced by an actor who’s played him previously on an animated series, including Neil Patrick Harris who plays the Amazing Spidey, and he’s the real standout of the bunch. The other three Spidey voices are great too, though at times 2099 sounds a little too old for his character.
Along with all that, there are some really great Easter eggs and unlockables, including alternate costumes like my personal favorite, the Amazing Bag-Man. If the developers had given as much thought to the level variation as they did perfecting the Spider-Man mythos, we’d be looking at a real classic. Instead, Shattered Dimensions is a good game, but it fell short of an Ultimate Marvel Team-Up.
Spider-Man: Web of Shadows? No. The most recent open-world Spider-Man game had the great hook of a symbiote invasion, more appearances by fellow Marvel characters, and just a more epic feel. Dimensions may have better boss battles, but it doesn’t stop me from longing to swing through New York City again.
Spider-Man: Friend or Foe? Yes. The previos linear, solo Spidey game was just aimed at kids and had little to no respect for the source. Shattered Dimensions is a real production, instead of the kiddie side-project that Friend or Foe felt like.
Batman: Arkham Asylum? No. Making the Noir levels so similar in style to Arkham only hurts Shattered Dimensions in the comparison. Problems like the touchy stealth and the shallower combat, among other things, keeps this one from taking Arkham’s crown as greatest comic book game of all time.
Filled with enough fan service to make it an undeniable treat for Spider-maniacs, Shattered Dimensions is a fine game that’s a little too uneven and repetitive to be more than the sum of its parts.
Sep 7, 2010