Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions isn't just a Spider-Man game but a Spider-Men game. At the start of the story, the Amazing Spider-Man swoops in to stop one of his more pathetic villains, Mysterio, from stealing an object called the Tablet of Order and Chaos. During the struggle, the tablet is shattered, thus causing space-time to break, and pieces of the tablet are sent to other dimensions. Some of them end up in the Ultimate dimension, a universe where Spider-Man is still a teenager struggling to make it through the day. Others end up in Noir, where Peter Parker is a gritty crime fighter known as The Spider who is trying to clean up the dark city. The last went to the far distant future of 2099, where Spider-Man is a scientist known as Miguel O'Hara, forced to battle the evil Alchemax corporation and the corrupt police. Together, these four Spider-Men have to find the fragments before evil villains can get their hands on them to remake reality in their corrupt image.
One element of Shattered Dimensions that really needs to be praised is the writing. This may be the first funny Spider-Man game. The quips and lines are legitimately amusing and do a great job of evoking the various characters. Despite them all being Spider-Man, they're written differently enough that you get a distinctive feel for each protagonist. The levels are interesting and do a great job of capturing the feel of each villain, especially the Deadpool stage. My only real complaint is that the inclusion of X-Men villain Juggernaut feels out of place, especially since the iconic Spider-Man villain Rhino is missing from the lineup. When you think of "big," "dumb" and "unstoppable" for a Spider-Man foe, Rhino is a lot more likely.
The basic gameplay in Shattered Dimensions is a combination of other Spider-Man games and Batman: Arkham Asylum. The controls seem awkward at first glance, but they serve their job reasonable well, if not fantastically. Movement and web-swinging is done in a few different ways. You can pull yourself into the air with your webs by holding the X button. You can also web-zip à la the grappling hook in Arkham Asylum by using the R2 trigger to reach a yellow-highlighted object nearby. Finally, you can web-swing by holding down the trigger, although the levels are generally contained enough that you'll rarely use this ability.
In combat, you can mix up the weak and strong attack buttons (Square and Triangle, respectively) for various combos. You can use the Circle button to grab or web-zip to enemies. You can also shoot web globs using R1, but this ability will probably never be used for more than amusement. The most unusual mechanic is dodging. Holding down L2 causes Spider-Man to enter a defensive stance during which Spider-Man is immune to most attacks. The exception is powerful attacks that trigger his Spider-Sense. If this happens, the iconic "wavy lines" appear above his head, and you have to manually dodge the attack by pressing the X button. It's a neat idea for a defensive mechanism, but it feels really awkward to hold down a button 24/7, and most enemies are not threatening enough to bother with it.
For three of the universes, the characters are rather identical. Amazing, Ultimate and 2099 Spider-Men have some variation in attack animations and design, but you can use pretty similar tactics to play all three of them. There are some slight differences in Ultimate and 2099's Super Modes. Ultimate Spider-Man wears an evil black suit, so he occasionally goes into fits of rage. In Rage mode, the screen tints red, and Spider-Man does a lot more damage. He also blows back any enemies who were nearby. The Rage Meter lasts only a short time but is maintained by beating up foes, making it useful in basically any fight.
Spider-Man 2099 has Accelerated Vision, which is basically bullet time. Activating it slows down everyone for a brief period of time, making it easier to handle large groups of foes. He also has the ability to skydive, which lets him chase after fast-moving enemies by playing a short on-rails action sequence. This is used a handful of times in the game, but it really sets apart 2099. Aside from these powers, the Spider-Men are controlled very similarly and play pretty much the same.
The major difference in the characters is in their level design. Amazing Spider-Man is geared most toward platforming, although he has his fair share of combat. Fights are generally smaller in scale, and there's a lot of web-swinging and zipping around. Ultimate has a greater focus on combat than his counterpart, although he's still got a lot of swinging to do. Both characters feel pretty similar, and it's more a matter of degrees. As Ultimate, you can expect to be fighting more, and as Amazing, you'll probably be swinging around more. Spider-Man 2099, on the other hand, is basically a brawler. The 2099 stages are extremely straightforward and linear and heavily geared toward beating up large groups of foes as quickly as possible. There are some minor web-swinging elements, and one of the later levels offers you a choice of paths, but 2099 is clearly about fighting — and occasional skydiving.
While three of the dimensions are fairly similar, the fourth is something else entirely. Spider-Man Noir is not quite as super-powered as his fellow web-slingers. He's got powers, and those powers were boosted by Madam Web, but he's far closer to a regular Joe than his pals. He can't dodge bullets, and small groups of bad guys are a bigger threat to him. Instead, Noir's sections are a clone of the Predator rooms in Batman: Arkham Asylum. You're given a large fairly open room with a number of guards inside, and you're tasked with getting by them or taking them out. Spider-Man can't fight them in direct combat; for no adequately explained reason, every enemy is basically immune to damage during these Predator segments. You have to find a way to sneak up behind them and perform an instant-kill takedown. If you're spotted by foes, you have to quickly dash back into the shadows or get torn to shreds by bullet fire. While Noir is in the shadows, the screen grays out a bit, letting you know that enemies can't see you unless you step into the light, so it's relatively easy to remain hidden.
Noir's feats don't match up to the excellent Arkham Asylum Predator Rooms, and that casts a shadow over the entire proceeding. Whereas each of the rooms in Arkham Asylum was carefully crafted to give you variety, Noir feels mostly repetitive. There isn't anything you can do to distract the guards or lure them into traps because they have set patterns and will only deviate if they spot you, at which point takedowns are not an option. Furthermore, the guards are way more stupid than Batman's prisoners. They barely react to their fellows being taken out, and the only thing that seems to determine whether they notice Spider-Man is how much darkness he is in — even if he's a foot in front of them.
These segments are still fun, but they're colored by every aspect reminding you of a better game that it's copying, from the level design and takedown animations to your archnemesis taunting you over the intercom. There are some excellent set pieces, but it's not enough to disguise that this is a repetitive copy of another game. One sequence has you sneaking into a carnival while fireworks are being set off, forcing you to keep track of when the explosions are going to occur. If you're in the wrong shadows when the light goes off, you're visible to every guard in the area.
Another aspect borrowed from Arkham Asylum are the concept of challenges. At the start of each level, you're given a Web of Destiny with a challenge node. This node has some kind of task, usually a required action you have to complete early in the level. Once you finish that challenge, other surrounding nodes open up, showing you the two challenge types that you can complete. Some complete the level, and others are optional tasks, such as "defeat all enemies in an area in four minutes" or "defeat 50 soldiers in a single level."
Each time you complete a challenge, you're rewarded with experience points, also known as Spider Essence. (You can also gain Spider Essence from fighting and finding collectibles.) In addition, you have to complete certain challenges to unlock further upgrades for Spider-Man. I finished the game with 165 of 180 challenges completed during my first playthrough, and the remaining ones were mostly hidden item hunts that could be easily finished in another runthrough.
The challenges are a nice idea, but they're not really varied enough to add spice to the game. Noir has the best of the lot, encouraging players to use different kinds of takedowns or defeat multiple enemies without being spotted or touching the ground. Other levels tend to ask you to defeat a few foes or throw around some objects. Compared to Arkham Asylum's Riddler challenges, these feel distinctly lacking, as they don't make you look outside the game's linear nature. More creativity and care could have gone a long way toward making them feel fun.
Shattered Dimensions has a few exceptional moments, but they're padded out by a lot of repetitive and unenjoyable combat. The awkward targeting system locks on to nearby enemies or objects without giving you a way to control it. This is annoying when you're trying to target a specific foe or grab an object. Even if this weren't a problem, combat just isn't very fun. Battles basically boil down to mashing buttons, with little room or reward for finesse and style. You have a few different moves available, but most aren't more effective than pounding the attack button over and over. Any attempt to mix it up makes combat more awkward, not more enjoyable. There are more than a few levels that would have been more enjoyable if they had half the length but also half the combat.
The strongest sections have light or nontraditional combat. There are some impressive sections where you have to save endangered civilians or outrun a tidal wave by web-swinging across a capsizing ship. During those instances, Shattered Dimensions feels more like a Spider-Man game. They're exciting and interesting, and the design is good enough to overlook repetition compared to beating up a pallet-swap of the same enemy over and over. Some of them suffer from the same wonky targeting problems as the combat, due to the fact that the game uses the Arkham Asylum targeting system for grappling, but it's less pronounced. If more of the game had been like these sections, it would have been easier to overlook the title's other foibles.
Generally, the Shattered Dimensions boss fights are at their best when Spider-Man is fighting an enemy he can't just punch. Some of them are incredibly clever, such as the first Noir fight against Hammerhead. Instead of fighting head-to-head, you're forced to skulk in shadows and find a way around his Gatling gun to perform takedowns. On the other hand, the last fight against The Goblin is a boring brawl that eschews almost all of Noir's most interesting aspects in favor of the bland combat.
This, however, brings up what is perhaps the game's most inexplicable mechanic. During some of the boss fights, Spider-Man goes into a first-person view and the game turns into a simplified version of Punch-Out. You are locked in a close grapple with the opponent and have to beat him up. The analog sticks control your punches, and pressing any direction except down causes you to unleash a different punch. Pressing both sticks down at the same time is a dodge. There's no strategy or challenge; the game tells you when to dodge and punches can be mixed up at random. These sequences add nothing to the game and feel distinctly out of place.
Shattered Dimensions' biggest problem is that it is an incredibly glitchy game. During my time with the game, I encountered a staggering number of glitches. Some were relatively minor, such as broken challenge markers or screen tearing, but others couldn't be ignored. On more than one occasion, the cut scene to activate the next area wouldn't trigger, forcing me to restart from the last checkpoint. On other occasions, Spider-Man would freeze into a position and stop doing anything. One boss' AI pattern broke so badly that he leapt into a pit of fire, making it impossible for me to attack him and impossible for him to get back up to me. On two separate occasions, the game locked up my PlayStation 3; it's enough to sour an otherwise pleasant experience.
Shattered Dimensions is a great-looking game. Each of the four universes has a distinctive look and animation. The color choices make each one look like the comic they were inspired by. Amazing has a more traditional comic book look, while Ultimate's colors are more like the computer coloring you see in comics nowadays. Noir is a classy blend of shadow and light that creates some of the most distinctive visuals. Even 2099 manages to capture the '90s feel of the comic. The character animations and models look pretty top-notch, and while there is some unfortunate bad texturing and screen tearing from time to time, it isn't enough to sour the visuals.
While the graphics are great, the choice of voice actors really shines. Taking another cue from Arkham Asylum, Shattered Dimensions cast the voice actors from the Spider-Man cartoon. They got four different voice actors from four different Spider-Man cartoons. Neil Patrick Harris, who voiced Peter Parker in "Spider-Man: The New Animated Series," steals the show as Amazing Spider-Man. Christopher Daniel Barnes, from the '90s Spider-Man cartoon, is Noir. Ultimate Spider-Man is done by Josh Keaton, who voiced Spider-Man in the recently canceled "Spectacular Spider-Man" show. Finally, and perhaps most amusingly, Spider-Man 2099 is voiced by Dan Gilvezan, who also did Spidey back in the 1980s show, "Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends." Each of the four actors does an absolutely stellar job and brings a lot of life and personality to the writing. Gilvezan's voice is nothing like I'd imagined Miguel O'Hara's to be, but he makes the character charming and likeable. Stan Lee also provides the narration, adding an extra bit of Marvel flavor to the proceedings.
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is a flawed experience. When it hits the mark, it hits hard, and it manages to capture a lot of the charm and fun of playing as Spider-Man. Unfortunately, this charm and fun is soured by the repetitive and unimaginative gameplay and the number of glitches. The constant comparisons to Arkham Asylum only hurt the game, as Shattered Dimensions isn't as well-made or polished as its Batman counterpart. Spider-Man die-hards will find a lot to like in this fun game, although its short length means they may want to consider a rental instead. More casual fans may want to hold off, as a love of Spider-Man is really necessary to overlook the game's other problems.
More articles about Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions