Over the past week we’ve been so busy covering the release of PlayStation Move that we found ourselves a bit behind on reviews, though we’re now attempting to rectify that with a title that certainly deserves some time in the limelight; Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, a new game from Activision that features four different versions of our favorite Webslinger. While not as compelling as the stellar outing Batman: Arkham Asylum (itself based on another iconic comic book hero, Batman), Shattered Dimensions is still worth a look even if you aren’t especially acquainted with Spider-Man.
Shattered Dimensions follows a very basic plot. Co-creator, and all-around smooth criminal, Stan Lee does quite a bit of narration, but the real draw is the four different incarnations of Spider-Man you’ll play as during your 10 hours with the game. Each version gets his own level, truly unique presentations, different abilities, and wonderful voiceovers pulled from the different iterations of Spider-Man television shows.
The four Spider-Men are on a mission to hunt down fragments of a broken tablet. Mysterio, the grand illusionist in the Marvel world, is also trying to hunt down pieces of the tablet. These tablet pieces end up in the hands of the various Super Villains in Spider-Man’s past, and you must get your hands on them before Mysterio, or else something decidedly catastrophic will transpire; at least, that’s what we gathered from the loose story.
Still, the actual plot isn’t the real draw in Shattered Dimensions. It’s not a horrible story by any stretch of the imagination, but it won’t win any awards for its narrative qualities. The real brilliance is the unique differences among the various Spider-Men. In the game you’ll play as the classic Amazing Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man, Noir Spider-Man, and Spider-Man 2099. Ultimate Spider-Man dons the Venom suit and is essentially the same as Amazing Spider-Man, just with some extra beef in his strength. He also gets the rage boost, which is able to clobber enemies with relative ease. That extra rage certainly comes in handy, as enemies in this section are noticeably more difficult to neutralize in comparison to the foes found in the Amazing Spider-Man levels.
The two real unique versions of our friendly neighbourhood spidey are Noir Spider-Man and 2099. Noir is all about stealth. He hides in shadows and rarely enters in hand-to-hand combat. The levels are mostly black and white, creating a nice backdrop for you to spin your web fury. Stealth is not perfect, though. It’s often difficult to tell if you are actually in the shadows, and it’s a bit too easy to swing away when you are found. The main issue with Noir is actually the same problem the plagues the rest of the game: a decidedly dodgy camera.
Everything in Shattered Dimensions happens fast. There’s very little downtime, which is a good thing, but there seems to be some serious issues with camera angles, especially during major combat encounters or when Spider-Man swings about the place. We found the camera looking up from below Spidey during some combat sequences, making it virtually impossible to see who we were fighting. The camera also glitches when you swing around. There’s a few sequences where Spider-Man (actually, every version has parts like this in his level) has to swing fast to escape oncoming debris or tidal waves. We found ourselves having to repeat these portions of the game more than any other because of poor camera angles. There are also some issues with controls, which could actually be tied into the camera. Sometimes it seemed the commands that we entered didn’t register on-screen, especially during swinging and web-jumping feats.
When you play through 2099 levels, you get a nice futuristic presentation, complete with bosses to match the setting. You also get a special ability that slows time, allowing you to leap out of incoming artillery, or attack fast-moving enemies. There are also some moments where you fall to the ground, almost like a flight-sim, or the memorable moment in God of War III. These moments work fairly well, but again, the camera and controls sometimes create problems.
Each level revolves around a boss. Ultimate Spider-Man faces Deadpool in a reality TV-style game show. Amazing Spider-Man faces Sandman in a vast level that takes players through a deserted mine and out onto a sprawling landscape. Both levels, along with Goblin’s level, are some of the best in the game. They are unique, well crafted, and a joy to play. Still, there is one thing that really confused us when playing Shattered Dimensions. For some reason developer Beenox added a first-person combat mechanic to boss battles. The camera zooms in to the boss’s face, and you must use the analog sticks to punch them in the face. Likewise, you must pull the sticks back to avoid advances. The problem is none of this works that well, and it really just breaks up the otherwise free-flowing gameplay.
While the different levels offer unique presentations, you end up doing the same thing in every level: Save a bunch of civilians, kill a bunch of enemies, fight the boss, watch the boss run away, fight more enemies, fight the boss some more before it runs again, kill more enemies and then finally face the boss. The levels are not bland by any means, but they do get a bit repetitive after a while. Luckily enough, the eye-catching presentation of each level helps drive the game along, even when the story and gameplay mechanics get a bit dry.
Shattered Dimensions uses a leveling system similar to some RPGs. The Web of Destiny holds 180 challenges to unlock. Challenges range from rudimentary tasks such as taking down a required number of enemies, to disarming 10 armed-guards. As you accomplish challenges, you unlock different combat abilities and player boosts. You need to collect points from collectable spiders and emblems scattered through each level. You can really spend a lot of time to look for all the spiders and emblems, but it’s not a requirement to beat the game.
Overall, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is a far more competent affair than recent games staring Spidey, and it certainly provides some great moments. If you can get past some repetitive gameplay, and some camera and control glitches, you’ll find a lot to enjoy about Spider-Man’s latest videogame outing.