September 22, 2010
It's been a lean couple of years for our favourite web-slinger, as the latest gaming iterations have been a touch sub par to say the least. What better way to rejuvenate the franchise than drawing upon four different Spidey universes to create a slice of tasty goodness? Shattered Dimensions takes our hero back to the drawing board in terms of vivid characters and locations, not to mention that trademark humour as well; after all, Spider-Man just wouldn't be the same without a plethora of snappy comebacks to brutally lash his foes with.
The issue with the open-world Spider-Man games of late was always the fact that things seemed a bit empty and repetitive. Sure, it was fun to zip through the streets of Manhattan, but without any kind of fun factor, what was the point? Beenox have scrapped that idea and gone for a more linear experience, albeit one that draws upon four unique worlds and experiences. Despite the lush visuals, great voice work and, at times, impressive level design, there still exists the same old problems.
In terms of story, while the general writing and dialogue is top notch, and really brings Spider-Man and his foes to life, the actual overriding plot is decidedly weak. Mysterio is trying to get his hands on an all powerful tablet, but in the most obvious twist since you read the game's title, it gets split into pieces and sent into four different dimensions. In the most unlucky turn of events ever, they all end up in the hands of a local super villain in each dimension – super villains that clearly don't have any sort of autonomous reasoning, otherwise they'd be asking themselves, “Gosh, a piece of rock, why the hell am I hanging onto this?” Thankfully each locale also happens to have their own version of Spider-Man who is harassed by Madame Web to try and set things right. It's pretty bog standard stuff and is really only an excuse for Spider-Man to beat on a bunch of bad guys. It would have made the whole game a bit more intriguing to have a bit more mystery surrounding the proceedings, rather than just slapping a basic plot on top of it all.
Each level sees one of our varied Spideys tracking down a super villain and snatching back the tablet piece from them. Obviously things are never that simple, and there are waves of foes, some tricky platforming sections to negotiate and plenty of derring-do along the way to justify its super-hero roots. Once you finally track down your esteemed opponent, you then have to try and pummel them into submission, which is not the easiest of tasks thanks to the fact their powers have been enhanced by the mysterious tablet.
The levels themselves are suitably varied and really highlight the different genres. The Noir levels are presented in monochrome, with splashes of colour used to highlight danger or objects of interest. Ultimate Spider-Man has some of the more outrageous looking foes, and the benefit of the Venom suit to boot – though the difference between these levels and those of the regular Spider-Man - AKA Amazing Spider-Man - is pretty minimal. Finally we have the futuristic 2099 setting, replete with things that seem amazingly familiar, but have a nice technological twist to them. There can be no doubt that the art style is spot on throughout, and every time a new villain makes an appearance, it's suitably impressive.
All of our heroes share some common abilities, with most of the web swinging, combat and wall crawling that you would expect. While the Amazing Spider-Man's abilities are as standard as you'd expect them to be, the Noir levels on the other hand rely heavily on stealth and instant take-downs, while 2099 Spider-Man has access to accelerated vision (read: bullet time) to weave around attacks; and Ultimate Spidey has rage powers that let him unleash a whole load of vicious symbiote attacks on his foes.
It is fair to say that, the Noir era aside, everything else feels far too familiar, and one or two different powers really don't do enough to instill that much needed variety to break up the repetition. The stealth element of the game is also perhaps not as sharp as it could be. The screen is meant to be black and white when you are hidden, but the difference between that viewpoint and the regular colour scheme is so minimal that you will often get caught out. There is also some bizarre one-on-one fighting sequences that see you using dual stick controls to dodge and attack, and while these may be a bit of fun, they do seem a touch out of place. Unfortunately, all of our motley crew also fall foul of a frankly shocking camera, that at times feels like some kind of off-screen enemy itself. It really seems to do its best to spoil your good times, especially at key moments.
Where the game really excels is in its great set piece moments, like chasing after Sandman, plummeting from a building after the Hobgoblin while dodging potential hazards or taking part in the Deadpool reality show. The problem is that for every moment of sheer fun, there are equally as many times where you are ploughing through the same hordes of generic enemies or taking on the same boss for what seems like the millionth time. In order to combat the tedium there are specific challenges and collectibles on each level, that require you to defeat foes in a certain way or hunt down specific items. While these do help matters somewhat, they are pretty much a stopgap measure against what becomes a rather generic procession of foes. At least there is a suitably fitting climax, replete with comedy ending.
Sadly the achievements are not as varied as the game's environments, with plenty of points on offer for just getting through the game and doing so on the hardest difficulty to boot. You will also need to take down a bunch of foes and get the best ranks (on hard) to maximise your points haul. The real sore point though will be all of the collectibles that need to be found out and all of the challenges that need doing to finish up the Web of Destiny. Part of the problem here is that trying to aim for these two tasks can make the game more of a grind than it should be. Barring one specific achievement for each version of Spider-Man, there really isn't enough variety and fun linked to them, to tempt you into getting the full thousand.
Despite the issues, there is still plenty in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions to be happy about, and the whole vibe about the game is a positive one. This is certainly a game for Spider-Man fans, and anyone else with even the slightest interest in some third person brawling. While the game is by no means perfect, thanks mainly to repetition and a highly dubious camera, there is plenty to be applauded. The roster of villains is a who’s who of Spider-Man’s greatest foes (and Hammerhead) and some of the levels are a pure delight, not to mention the lovely visuals and superb voice acting. This is not going to go down as a classic, but you are certainly going to be able to squeeze plenty of fun out of it.
Top notch audio work, and the vocal talents of most of the TV versions of Spider-Man are all present and correct. Plus, the music is a pleasant surprise too.
Cel-shading is back in a big way, and it really has more of an impact with a character who has rich comic book roots. All of the characters and environments are brought vividly to life in one of the best representations of the web-slinger yet.
Shattered Dimensions falls just short of greatness thanks to some mediocre moments and far too much of the same combat over and over again. Plus, the stealth sections just don't feel polished enough. Still fun, but nothing you have not seen before.
A quality Spider-Man title, but it's dragged down by a very poor camera, and the fact that all of the heroes feel far too similar when it boils down to it. The plot is pretty much paper thin as well.
Not a terrible list, but one that is far too generic and really doesn't offer much in terms of innovation. At least it will be a fairly manageable thousand points.
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is thoroughly entertaining, but a combination of niggles and obscure design decisions drag it down. Despite that, it's still probably the best Spider-Man game on consoles and is well worth a look for that reason alone. Just don't expect to be blown away.