If there's one thing that Spider-Man: Edge of Time teaches us, it's that sometimes we have to revisit the lessons of the past in order to move forward.
It's still up in the air as to whether or not Spider-Man 2 hurt the Spider-Man video game license more than it helped. Released on the previous generation of consoles, Spider-Man 2 was the first game to provide an open New York City in which Spider-Man could swing around. After the success of games like Grand Theft Auto 3, this sort of design was inevitable and made for a great game on its own merits for the time. Unfortunately, the Spider-Man game series became a victim of that title's success; though Spider-Man 2 was received with rave reviews and super-high sales, every subsequent Spider-Man game either treaded water or fell in terms of quality in the name of trying to make lightning strike twice. The bottom finally fell out with 2007's Spider-Man 3, a rushed and broken mess of a game that drove away many players — myself included — from the property.
Fast-forward a few years later, where mild irony intervenes: Developer Beenox, first with Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions and now with Spider-Man: Edge of Time, has officially shifted the design of Spidey games back to the linear action-fests of old ... and I think I'm OK with this.
When a fugitive CEO from the year 2099 heads into the past to eliminate all corporate competition, both the Amazing Spider-Man and the Spider-Man of 2099 find their timelines warped into dystopia. Now, through the use of a handy time portal and an even handier mind-link, the Spider-Men must team up to battle twisted versions of their rogues' gallery to restore time back to the way it was. Unfortunately for Amazing and 2099, the game starts out with the death of the former. This hook is only the beginning of a twisted time travel story written by Peter David — longtime comic writer, novelist and creator of Spider-Man 2099 (and on a personal note, one of this reviewer's favorite scribes). The overall theme of this story explores how actions in a past timeline can affect conditions in the present or future. Your mileage may vary on how well you'll be able to follow said story; it does its best to keep things understandable, but sometimes dives into technobabble without remembering to come back up for air. Still, the story is one of Edge of Time's two strongest points, and it's brought home by fitting music and excellent voice acting.
The second strong point is the focus on non-stop action, even more so than Shattered Dimensions. Edge of Time is a fast-paced, straightforward gauntlet of challenging action set pieces that lasts anywhere between 8-12 hours on the first playthrough. The result, for the first time in years, is a Spider-Man game where you actually get to do things more often than crawling and swinging around looking for things to do. Half of this Spider-Man game is a reflex gamer's paradise, offering combat that is speedy, responsive and satisfying from the start, and it only gets more fun as upgrades are applied. Said upgrades are provided via tokens and points from defeated foes, offering more incentive to relish the action instead of trying to skip through to the next story point. The other half of this game is a combination of webbing around, freefall maneuvers and platforming, which prove less satisfying due to their 3-D nature, a slow camera and web-targeting that can be iffy at best. Fortunately, these are also masterable with time, and the sequences/challenges tend to be quite short. They're still a sticking point, though, so more refinement could have been used here.
Over the course of the game, the objectives never stop coming, the difficulty never stops increasing (fortunately, neither do your abilities), and the game rarely gives you a chance to catch your breath unless you consciously make the decision to save and quit. There are also ample challenges that can be repeated as many times as possible, demanding the player master the game engine in terms of speed, skills, precision and overall performance, as well as unlock even more upgrades and abilities, which adds to the replay value.
All isn't roses, naturally; the game's short development time (just under a year) ensured some rough spots. Aside from the iffy platforming mentioned above, the most glaring is the lack of overall environments. Eschewing open-world gameplay is one thing, but this game literally takes place in the exact same building with two different skins slapped on it. Old 16-bit games have better settings and more color to boot. Heck, Metal Gear Solid, a game all about infiltrating a single terrorist base, has more and varied locations to its name. It's the same problem The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile has: a joy to play, but depressing to look at when not playing it. Also, last year's Shattered Dimensions is twice the game this is, with better aesthetics and two more Spider-Men to play with, so fans of that game may be disappointed with the lacking scale of this one.
Spider-Man: Edge of Time is hardly flawless and really could have used more development time to turn a decent game (with an excellent design base) into a great one. It goes back to what 3-D Spider-Man games were like before Spider-Man 2 mandated atmosphere over interactivity, and it comes out a better game than it has any right to be given its abysmal production values. Instead of once again showing you what it feels like to have Spider-Man's responsibilities, Edge of Time goes back to inviting you to feel what it's like to be as powerful as him. That, in itself, is worth at least a look.
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