Spider-Man has been one of the few comic book heroes to have had video games based upon him since the advent of the Atari 2600. Unlike most of his Marvel counterparts, though, his games got better as he went through the 8- and 16-bit eras. Adventure games like Spider-Man on the Sega Genesis and beat-'em-ups like Spider-Man & Venom in Maximum Carnage are fondly remembered to this day. The 32-bit era saw Neversoft, the developers behind Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, take the reins and deliver an excellent adventure game while the last generation saw the release of what many fans consider the best title: the open-world adventure, Spider-Man 2.
As the friendly neighborhood web-slinger entered the latest generation of consoles, though, the game quality began to decline. Spider-Man 3, like the movie, failed to capture the spark of the previous game, even though it was structured in the same manner, and fans were suddenly not enjoying the franchise anymore. Spider-Man: Friend or Foe was a decent title aimed at kids, though fans lamented that it was too easy. While Spider-Man: Web of Shadows tried to bring back an open-world setting with a darker theme, fans still didn't bite, and the game languished on shelves until the price dropped significantly.
The head honchos at Activision feel that there is still a chance for old webhead to capture the imagination of gamers, and with the help of Beenox, developer of Spider-Man: Friend or Foe, they've decided to go for something a bit unorthodox. On the surface, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is indeed a departure from the last few games. It remains to be seen whether the differences are enough to make a Spider-Man title good again.
The story is more straightforward this time around. Mysterio has broken in to a New York museum and attempted to steal the Tablet of Order and Chaos, an ancient artifact that he hopes will net him a fine price in the black market. As expected, Spider-Man arrived on the scene to stop him. In the process, however, he broke the tablet, which scattered throughout different realities and dimensions. With the help of Madame Web, it was revealed that the tablet is one of the more powerful objects in existence. Its destruction means that the universe is in danger of unraveling, but those holding the tablet pieces have amplified powers. The task falls on Spider-Man and his dimensional counterparts to retrieve pieces of the tablet and put the artifact back together before everyone's world is doomed.
The focus of Shattered Dimensions is different since you're dealing with four different versions of Spider-Man instead of just one. The Amazing version is the most familiar, since it has been the basis for almost every iteration of the web-slinger on the small and big screens for years. The Ultimate version takes Peter Parker back to high school with a few twists, such as his father and Eddie Brock being the scientists responsible for the black goo that gives him the infamous black suit. The 2099 iteration doesn't feature Peter Parker at all but a scientist who became Spider-Man through experiments and decides to fight against the corporation that controls the city. Finally, there is the Noir version, which takes place in the 1930s and has Spider-Man going up against Norman Osbourne, a big-time gangster in New York City.
For the most part, playing as the Amazing, Ultimate or 2099 version of Spider-Man provides a similar gameplay experience. Spider-Man can punch and kick as well as any superhero, though the webbing makes him a bit more versatile and acrobatic. While you will see him use a few combos on the ground, don't be surprised if he introduces jump attacks into the mix or uses his webbing to smash chunks of the ground into the enemy. His added agility also comes into play when he moves around the level. Jumping, running, and web-swinging are par for the course, but he also has web-assisted jumps if you want greater height and the ability to zip from one port or beam to another. The webbing also means that Spider-Man can save himself from falling into a bottomless pit — definitely a well-received feature.
Each level of the adventure follows a similar pattern of play as Spider-Man swings from one area of combat to another, taking out henchmen in creative ways and dealing with the level boss several times over. Along the way, you can collect spider emblems to gain back energy and points. Several challenges are also available per level; once completed, the challenges unlock the ability to spend points for more combat maneuvers and stat upgrades. The challenges cover a wide range of activities, from letting the boss destroy an object a certain number of times to dispatching henchmen in a certain manner or dodging a certain number of attacks in a row. Considering the benefit of completed challenges, their addition is welcome since it makes the player vary his combat style a bit. Another addition comes in the form of first-person sections in boss fights. Instead of Quick Time Events (QTEs), the game has a few sections where you get up close and personal against some of the main villains. The game turns into a Punch-Out! Clone, where you spend time dodging attacks and dishing out punishment of your own. It's initially silly first to trade movement for close fighting, but the technique makes boss fights feel more exciting.
The lack of differentiating factors seems like a letdown for these three dimensions. Despite the change in environments, it feels like you're going through the same paces over and over again per level. The costumes may be different, but Spider-Man still has the same moves in these dimensions. The same can be said for the enemies, who, despite looking different, always come in 3-4 different sizes and attack in similar ways. It doesn't dampen the overall fun of the combat system or make the challenges feel lifeless, but when only one dimension offers something different from the norm (the freefall sections of the levels in the 2099 dimension), one realizes that the dimensional changes are mostly cosmetic.
While the other three versions of Spider-Man might feel too similar, Noir Spider-Man gives you the feeling that you're playing a much different title. There are still situations where combats feel like the other Spider-Man levels, and the level structure still results in multiple fights with the same boss, but stealth is the main mechanic in the Noir dimension. Like Splinter Cell or Batman: Arkham Asylum, you use the shadows to conceal yourself as you dash from light pole to building beam to crate stack. You can catch enemies off guard and tie them to walls, floors or hang them upside-down. Your fighting capabilities aren't as good as your dimensional counterparts, so you must try to avoid capture.
The focus on stealth for the Noir dimension is a good move since it keeps things fresh and prevents the title from becoming a button masher. The stealth mechanics are quite basic compared to some of the masters in the genre. You get attacked once you are spotted, but since you can easily evade most attacks, getting killed isn't as easy as it sounds. Once you evade them, enemies don't make much of an effort to find you, despite their constant cries that everyone should be on high alert. Strangely enough, the only way you can be detected is if someone sees you, which is fortunate since you usually take care of unaware thugs in rather a noisy manner. As said before, the stealth mechanic is fun, but if you were looking for something deeper in this category, Shattered Dimensions won't fulfill that craving.
The sound is well done and is a treat for fans who have paid attention to the various Spider-Man cartoons over the years. Almost all of the voices that have been involved in Spider-Man projects in the past are reunited in Shattered Dimensions. It might not be surprising to hear the voice of The Amazing Spider-Man reprise his role for the Ultimate universe version, but hearing the voice from Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends in the 2099 universe is sure to elicit cheers from older fans. The same goes for the villains, and actors like Jim Cummings and Thomas Wilson make the overall cast sound better than you'd expect from a typical video game. The effects are nice, with web shots having just the right pitch and each punch providing the right amount of bass to accentuate the impact. The music isn't too memorable, but it fits well with the surroundings. Overall, the audio package is quite solid.
Graphically, the game handles the style changes rather well. Each of the four dimensions has a completely different graphical style that is by no means subtle. The Noir universe is a combination of sepia and black-and-white tones, with small hints of muted colors. The effect is great and certainly delivers a better visual impact as opposed to having the stages colored normally. The Amazing universe uses some cel-shading but with thinner lines to make it feel more like a comic book come to life. The Ultimate universe goes for the cel-shading of the old Ultimate Spider-Man game for the previous console generation, with thicker lines and brighter colors for a more dynamic-looking play space. Only the 2099 universe goes for the more traditional graphics scheme we've come to expect from current-generation titles, but the texturing of the suit and the constant presence of neon lighting don't make it any less impressive.
The character models look nice and animate well; there aren't any noticeable hitches when transitioning from one move to another, and the particle effects are fine. The only issue that one would contend with would be the camera. There aren't too many spots where the camera could cause problems since most of the environments are open, but there were a few spots where the camera would get caught in walls, causing Spider-Man to shake violently in place before returning to normal. Again, it doesn't happen too often, but it is noticeable when it does.
For the most part, the controls feel solid. Players of all skill types can pull off fluid-looking combos that showcase the hero's agility. The first-person fighting mechanic also works well since it only uses the analog sticks for actions. Having the sticks emulate the actions of their respective hands feels natural and makes you hope that someone makes a boxing game using this scheme. On the defensive side, the execution is simple but highlights Spider-Man's use of dodging and body contortions more than blocking. Character movement is smooth, and you always feel like you're in control of your character during web-swinging segments. You can easily change directions, the height of your swings, and how far you jump without much difficulty. The only issue with the controls comes from unleashing the zip as opposed to the swing, since the actions are both mapped to one button. A quick tap of the right trigger lets you zip from one object to another while a longer press initiates a web swing. However, because the timing window is so small, players will initiate the swing command more often than the zip command, so the move feels more difficult to pull off than it should be, and it slightly dampens the enthusiasm for the controls in the process.
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions delivers a good Spider-Man experience for the current generation of consoles. The combat is done well, even in the first-person battles, and the feeling of being Spider-Man translates well, despite the lack of an open-world setting. The different graphic styles used in each dimension work nicely, the sound is top-notch despite some line repetition, and the average of 10 hours of gameplay provides some substance to the overall adventure. The stealth mechanic for the Noir dimension could have worked out better, and the controls could have been tweaked for a more refined experience. For those who have been burned by the last batch of Spider-Man games, Shattered Dimensions will help you put some faith back into the franchise.
More articles about Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions