Developer: 7 Studios/Beenox/Torus Games
Release Date: June 28, 2005
Movies and games based on comic book heroes are all the rage these days. In the past year, we've seen new material for Batman, Spider-Man, Catwoman, Punisher, and X-Men in both mediums, each having met with varying degrees of success. One group of heroes that has not seen much recent media exposure is the Fantastic Four, but thanks to Activision, that is all about to change. The console versions are being developed by L.A.-based 7 Studios, and Beenox is handling the PC edition while Torus Games tackles the Game Boy Advance version. During a recent preview event, we were able to try out Fantastic Four on the PS2 and Xbox.
For people who aren't in the know, the Fantastic Four have been around since the early '60s, so there is a vast reservoir of material that is crying out to be used in the entertainment industry, be it in movies and/or video games. With the Fantastic Four motion picture premiere just around the corner (early July, for those of you keeping track), it was prime time for Activision to take the wraps off their latest super hero creation, so they invited the press to have a sneak peek at what was probably a near-final product. Upon arrival at the Cartoon Art Museum in downtown San Francisco, it became clear that this was the perfect setting for an evening of supernatural gaming, surrounded by Garfield and Peanuts comic strips and an out-of-the-ordinary historical baseball cartoon collection.
The game starts with an introductory sequence to give you some background information about the team and how they became their alter egos. Without going into much detail, suffice it to say that there was a big explosion – a disturbance in the Force, if I wanted to mix pop culture references – and all four of our protagonists, as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, became quite fantastic.
As soon as you start playing the game, it is unavoidable to make the comparison to one of Activision's other comic book-inspired titles, X-Men Legends, and rightfully so. You work with a team of people, there is a similar camera angle, and you beat up lots of enemies. While Legends took more of an RPG approach, Fantastic 4 goes in the other direction and is more action-based, with some minor RPG touches. You will still be able to upgrade your characters and learn bigger and better powers, but that will be the extent of it.
Each member of the team has his/her own specific powers and abilities, each suitable for certain missions. Sue Storm, aka Invisible Woman, has shielding and blasting powers, and of course, can make herself invisible, which is perfect for penetrating enemy strongholds undetected. Johnny Storm, aka Torch, is the airborne fellow of the team and has all sorts of, umm, flaming powers. Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic, is considered the brains/scientist of the gang and also has the ability to stretch his limbs into the weirdest shapes and forms. Ben Grimm, aka The Thing, could use some of Reed's intellect but makes up for it in sheer power, as he is the muscle of the team, and also quite indestructible.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are a bunch of villains and their henchmen strewn over almost 10 levels, each split up into four to five chapters. People familiar with the comic book series will be glad to hear that you will run into Diablo, Puppeteer, Dragonman and the lord of destruction, Dr. Doom himself. Most of these characters are being used as boss fights at the end of each level.
The early part of the game is situated in a medical facility right after the "accident" and is more of a tutorial, teaching you how to control the characters, and handling and learning their powers. You also become familiar with various mini-games that you will encounter throughout the title, such as Ben and Sue's smashing of doors (mash the A button), or Reed's connect-the-dots puzzle solving. Once past the tutorial, the game opened up quite nicely, and there was a wide variety of settings, such including a jungle, museum, spaceship, ruins and probably several more. Due to the game being tied to the movie, we were somewhat restricted in what we could see and play, which was a bummer.
Teamwork is a big part of the game, and it shows in how you must solves puzzles and bypass obstacles. Throughout the title, you will play as either one of the characters, constantly switching between the four of them. Depending on how many are on the screen at any given time, you can toggle between them by simply using the directional pad. At one point, our passageway was blocked by a big fire with no other way to go but forward. So it was up to Torch, being immune to fire and all, to fly through the sea of flames, and shut down a valve on the other side before your party could progress.
One of the most fun parts of the game became clear when we tried the two player co-op, where teamwork really comes through by means of team combos. One of the players can grab an enemy, and face one of the other team members, who can then pull off a team combo and smack the living daylights out of the foe. Each of the four characters has his/her own unique combos, and pulling those off was one of the highlights of the game and very fun. One important thing to note is that pulling off team combos is not just a gimmick; it is also rewarding and gives bigger bonus points, which in turn can then be used to acquire additional powers or upgrade current ones.
Graphically, the game looks quite nice. The Xbox version is obviously sharper in texture than the PS2, but visually, both platforms looked outstanding, especially in the later levels when your characters have gained some awesome powers, such as Torch's "wall of fire." The environment in Fantastic Four is mostly destructible in one way or another. Almost anything can be smashed, or picked up if it's not too big and heavy, and used as a projectile to whack enemies. Benches, pots, chairs, windows, and paintings are all fair game, whether to smash for fun or use as ammo.
The only troublesome part we encountered in Fantastic Four was its somewhat annoying camera angle, especially in confined places where it seemed to switch from isometric to an almost top-down view, which became confusing. Also, while playing as Torch in the underground facility, I seem to have encountered an awkward bug. Each time I tried to proceed forward, I was pulled back to another position on the map. Having notified the developers of the issue, let's hope these hiccups received some additional TLC prior to the game's release.
While Fantastic Four does not revolutionize any genres, the fact that you can finally play as the Fantastic Four should have comic book fans on the lookout. With the upcoming movie generating some good buzz, the game will certainly benefit from the exposure, and 7 Studios has done a good job putting together an entertaining game, especially in co-op mode.
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