Developer: 7 Studios
Release Date: June 28, 2005
In light of the recent release of the relatively disappointing summer film of the same name and storyline, the Fantastic Four have gotten more attention recently than they did in their heyday in the Marvel Comics franchise. With all of the focus on Mr. Fantastic, The Human Torch, The Invisible Woman and The Thing recently, it isn't a very large leap to assume that a video game bearing the name and character likenesses of the summer blockbuster hopeful would be released. The question that was left up for grabs was whether or not the game would actually be entertaining enough to justify its purchase.
Fantastic Four, created by 7 Studios, is a linear action game that offers relatively straightforward level design, although there are bonus unlockables for those who feel the need to explore the levels more intensely. After you finish installation (which seemed surprisingly time-consuming and required the use of four separate discs), you're presented with a well-designed launcher. The in-game menus are just as easily manipulated, after a brief acquaintance period.
You're presented with a cinematic introduction, and then you actually begin playing the game. The graphics are not awe-inspiring, but they are sufficient for what the game is trying to accomplish, and although the stages themselves aren't very demanding in an exploratory sense, they are pretty interactive in a lot of ways. Furniture breaks or catches fire, and cars, mailboxes and other fixtures can be hurled or swung for added destruction.
For the most part, however, you guide any of the four members of your superhero squad through a series of distinct environments, utilizing some button mashing and minor problem-solving in addition to some mutant abilities to punish foes and pursue justice. Your heroes are each equipped with a number of different combos of varying lengths that are unlocked as you proceed through the game. In addition to these, each character can add cosmic power at the touch of a button to utilize their own unique group of active and passive powers in tune with the Marvel comic storyline from which they came.
The storyline of the game roughly follows the story from the comics and the recently released movie. Fantastic Four does a good job of introducing each individual character and their powers. As you play, it becomes relatively clear which role each character is most adept at playing, and the narrator does a good job of providing background information when appropriate. The game does drop the ball in a sense, as it introduces extra assorted villains in order to add levels and content, for which there is oftentimes a complete lack of backstory or plot content. On the whole, though, the story is forgivable and relatively entertaining, which helps because any comic-inspired game has to bear a certain amount of story weight and validity.
The creative aspect that 7 Studios threw in is that throughout different parts of Fantastic Four, there are times when more than one hero is at your disposal, and you have the option of controlling one member of the Four while the computer takes over bashing foes by your side. What makes this feature pleasing is that the artificial intelligence is actually quite intelligent and plays like an actual friend might. As I played, I noticed that the computer was quite skillful at defeating enemies and even assisted when they overwhelmed me. In addition, if I called for a superpower buff, the computer promptly delivered it and then went on carrying out its beatings. There are a variety of team finishers to end bosses, as well as team throws and combination attacks, all of which are innovative ways to keep the game from seeming as repetitive.
Had the multiplayer system been more reasonable to use, it would have made the two-player experience that much more enjoyable. As it stands, however, seeing the computer run over and assist you in pounding a foe just feels good. Besides, it's about time somebody started programming computer friendlies that actually helped. If I had to pinpoint the strongest component of the Fantastic Four, the AI in the single player mode is certainly it. The game would have been a much stronger offering if other facets of Fantastic Four received as much attention as the A.I. portion.
Unfortunately, some of the flaws of the game are apparent once you begin playing, and they don't exactly go away with time. The first thing that confused me upon booting up this game was that the computer instructed me to press specific buttons to perform certain tasks. The problem was that instead of using the actual keypad layout for these instructions, they used different colored symbols that represent light attacks, hard attacks, grabs, and blocking, respectively. Now, if you've managed to memorize the controls and keyboard settings before you finished installing the game, then you're good to go. If not, then prepare to refer to your gameplay manual all the time.
I cannot count the number of times during the beginning of the game when I was forced to pause and shuffle through the manual to find out which key corresponds to the red circle with a hand insignia in order to try and complete an objective before time ran out. Additionally, targeting in this game is simply not effective or in any way easy to use. Since targeting requires the use of multiple buttons and releases, once any of said buttons is released, it becomes somewhat of a hassle to try and single out specific targets. This can clearly be problematic when there is something you're trying to hit with an attack from far away, or there is a specific objective that you are supposed to destroy.
Last, but not least, in the pitfalls of this action/adventure title is the lack of a viable camera control. Having to manually turn the camera becomes a mammoth hindrance when you execute a maneuver that turns you around, or when you need to see what your teammates are up to, or generally trying to fight while still observing your surroundings. Given the fact that the camera controls aren't close to the action controls, you're moving your hands from their primary positions in the heat of battle. I often found myself ignoring certain enemies until I had eaten plenty of projectile damage before I realized that I was getting pegged by some mysterious source outside of my line of sight.
The developers did add a multiplayer mode to this game, but there's a catch. In order to use it, two players must hunch over the same keyboard in a state of perpetually bumping elbows in order to use it. This is a completely pointless feature and quite the deal-breaker, seeing as how there are few people who would want to share one keyboard in an attempt to play an action PC game. Apparently utilizing something novel like the internet seemed less appealing than dual-person, single-keyboard, close-quarters action.
To be quite honest, there is not much here to justify picking up this game if you are not a fan of the comic and its characters. The fact of the matter is that Fantastic Four, while not a bad example of its genre, offers nothing particularly special to set it apart as a must-have title. There aren't any ridiculously awesome animations or eye-popping visuals that would grab the attention of a casual gamer, and the actual gameplay and content are much more enjoyable if you actually have an appreciation for the special powers and possibilities of the Marvel characters that appear in the game. This game is not something that a comic book fanboy would write home about, but he might consider playing it, and he probably would enjoy it. However, even as a fan of Marvel and comics in general, you'll say the same thing about the game that you said about the movie: it had much potential, but it could've been better.
More articles about Fantastic Four