The release of Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is right around the corner, so we met up with Activision to take a quick look at each of the four different Spider-Men in the final version of the game before diving headfirst into the review. We've covered the basics of game in our E3 preview and went into more detail when we interviewed Thomas Wilson, so this time around, we're going to cut right to the chase. Rather than rehashing the story, it's time to focus on how the game plays.
With the magic of the cheat code, an Activision rep warped us into our first level, a stealth experience with the Noir world Spider-Man. Presented with a strong '30s vibe, Noir world is black and white (with shades of yellow) most of the time. In fact, when you're in Noir world, black and white is good. If color bleeds into the screen, it means that Spider-Man is in the light. If you're in the light, you can be seen. If you can be seen, you can be shot — and guns do a decent bit of damage here.
Set in a train yard, the goal here was to rescue a number of hostages that were being guarded by mafia thugs. With Spider-Man at a physical disadvantage, we couldn't just charge right in and go toe-to-toe. Instead, it was a matter of staying in the shadows and picking off the thugs one by one. The boxy train cars offered plenty of cover on the ground, and the metal scaffolding meant plenty of options for a quick escape if need be. When in doubt, running for the high road always worked.
Sneaking around as Noir Spider-Man was plenty of fun, although the lack of enemy intelligence left something to be desired. Assuming they caught direct sight of Spider-Man, the thugs would give chase, but if one of their buddies suddenly disappears in front of them, they can't be bothered to look around and see what caused the vanishing act. Ultimately, this meant that completing the level didn't require as much stealth as we initially thought. So long as we stayed just out of visual range, picking off the thugs was a simple matter.
Next up on our list was the world of Ultimate Spider-Man. For this incarnation, Spidey was wearing the Venom symbiote while in pursuit of Carnage. Between you and Carnage is a whole level of zombiefied opponents, which made for some easy combos. Breaking things up were larger, hulking cybernetic creatures that packed both bigger guns and a stronger punch.
Making the switch to Ultimate was a major change from Noir, as it meant moving from one extreme to another. Whereas Noir encourages the player to fight at a distance, Ultimate is designed to get you up close and personal. Defeating enemies fills up the rage meter, which can be used to boost Ultimate's attack power on demand. When in rage mode, the screen tint changes and you dish out massive amounts of damage.
One interesting thing about the level design was the simple fact that the game doesn't gate the player. Yes, there are plenty of enemies to fight through, but there's nothing artificial forcing you to take out every one. If you just want to zip through the level by taking the high road and ignoring the opponents below, you are free to do do.
Facing off against Carnage was the first taste of a boss fight. The game quickly switched into a first-person view, where it required the use of the analog sticks to fight off the psychotic symbiote in an up-close-and-personal manner. Fighting in first-person is very much a QTE-style affair, but it does afford a nice excuse to show off the character models.
After finishing the first-person bit, the fight switched over to a more standard combat segment. The boss arena was multi-leveled and asymmetric, which made it both visually interesting as well as easy to navigate. Carnage attacked directly most of the time, though once sufficiently damaged, he would set off a ground spike attack with his tendrils, forcing Spider-Man to retreat to high ground. Keeping true to the comics, the trick to ultimately defeating Carnage was to exploit his weakness to fire by repeatedly forcing him into an engine.
With Carnage down, we skipped levels again, this time to the far future with Spider-Man 2099. Here it was another boss fight, this time against the Goblin. The first half was a controlled fall through a series of enclosed areas. This afforded an opportunity to highlight 2099's special power: the ability to slow down time. With plenty of obstacles to dodge, the increased reaction time was much appreciated.
After landing on a platform, the fight continued with 2099 catching the Goblin's bombs and lobbing them back before they exploded. This continued for a bit before the Goblin took off again and we were forced to pursue. An Activision rep moved us on to the final level before we could finish the final segment of the fight (we're assuming it was an attempt to avoid spoilers), but the one thing that stuck out about the 2099 world was the sheer height of it all. Because you're fighting amongst the skyscrapers, there is very little solid ground. Sure, there are platforms and the occasional hallway, but most of what we saw featured a lot of jumping and web-slinging without much below.
The last bit we played featured the Amazing Spider-Man world. The most familiar of the four to the average fan, Amazing sports the traditional black-and-red costume. He's also voiced by Neil Patrick Harris, who is recognizable in the role even if you're not a fan of the cartoon series. Harris does a great job of emphasizing the banter that Spider-Man is known for while fighting enemies.
Here the objective was to rescue a series of construction workers from menacing enemies. The construction site area provided plenty of opportunities for combat, with multiple levels and platforms. Enemies could move up and down as easily as Spider-Man here, so combat happened both vertically as well as horizontally. Because the area sports a circular design, there was no real "safe" area. If you didn't take the fight to your opponents, they were going to take it to you.
Having experienced a sampling of Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, we were left with some mixed feelings about the game. Overall, Shattered Dimensions has a lot going for it. The levels we experienced featured intriguing design elements that both looked good and offered plenty of opportunities for creative play. Character models were visually impressive and easily recognizable, which is a great bit of fan service. Harris was noted earlier, but all four of the main voice actors put in admirable performances.
What's going to make or break the game, however, is the camera. Although you have limited control over its movements, the camera is constantly tracking Spider-Man as you move through the world. Given that Spider-Man can move fairly quickly, it's very easy to get disoriented as the camera snaps back and forth across the world. This is perhaps our biggest concern with the title.
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions ships next week, so be sure to check back to find out if the game is a fresh take on Marvel's classic superhero or merely a web of confusion.
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