Superhero-oriented comic book publishers such as DC or Marvel don’t seem to get enough of cloning, resurrecting, era-swapping or mummifying their heroes for the sole purpose of launching new series in alternative dimensions featuring the same protagonists.
All of these prehistoric Wolverines, anti-gravitational Aquamen, Victorian Cyclopses daze me to no end and therefore I couldn’t honestly tell you that I grasp all the narratives and their intersections in all the comics series with prefixes such as “Ultimate” “Future” “Past” or “Present Tense”. On the other hand, I was tasked with reviewing a game that brings together multiple such derivatives and had to glance at two of the four universes that I had not previously known.
As you might expect (provided you read the title before entering the game), Shattered Dimensions swaps worlds in which we have a distinct Spider-Man, with a voice, look and attitude of his own. It just so happens that in the Amazing universe – the one we newcomers label as canon based on Sam Raimi’s flicks – the puniest of wizards, Mysterio, steals an artifact ominously called the Tablet of Chaos, but not before he is attacked with white goo and dumb jokes by your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
During the ensuing melee, the tablet breaks and the shards get transported to the four dimensions previously mentioned. In the Noir world, fitting jazz tunes mark the rhythm for shadow running, while the mechanics cover a stealth gameplay similar to that of Arkham Asylum. In the Ultimate universe, the Venom-infested suit gives Peter Parker rage abilities and in the future, aerial chases are a lifestyle, skydiving is business as usual and slowing down time is a button away at all times.
Back in the present, and when I say present I mean post-insurrection Romania, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions rolls the final credits. It’s been six hours and a half since its initial launch and I have a grim confession to make: I’m afraid I’m never playing it again. At least in this dimension.
However, it would be unfair to say that those six hours were unpleasant or tormenting. First off, it looks good, thanks to a very fine and well-contoured cel shading, underlined by professional lighting and a lush color palette, saturated, much like a comic book would present itself.
I’m glad that this Spider-Man video game gave up the overused comic book effects as a visual interface. The screen doesn’t split into frames, interjections don’t pop out as colored font and the cinematics don’t emulate the structure of a graphic novel. It feels like a video game and tries to make way through the inherent values of its interactive environment.
There are first person sequences, I dare say the game’s trademark. The ones included in the boss fights are pretty satisfying mini-games (even if terribly simplistic) after you manage to take down some arrogant mutant’s health bar. There are occasional first person transitions included in the cinematics as well, contributing to the dynamics through the accelerated perspective on leaps or Tarzan-like chase scenes. It’s not really an innovative trick, but it’s well implemented and worth mentioning.
The progression through the game’s world is as linear as it gets, although wide and often open spaces encourage leaping around using the web. Alternating open spaces with tight corridors offers a new perspective on a franchise that seemed to thrive on the most lacking in content open-ended worlds. I finally get a denser Spider-Man game, both in terms of background design but also rhythm and content, on the other hand taking an impact on pure length – you’ll finish every level in under an hour, even on the highest difficulty level.
The secrets aren’t really all that secret either, because we’ve got every lazy level designer’s favorite toy, which developers insist on injecting in every title nowadays: the ability to see through walls. Which brings along the highlighting of enemies. And, naturally, objectives. And golden spiders, which grant you experience and an achievement.
The brawls and combos are all patterned, borrowed from any action/adventure ever conceived after the whole combo concept was invented. Additional special abilities can be bought with experience and get unlocked as you complete achievements, as an improvement on attributes or alternative costumes granted to each of the four hero [sic].
Their use only gets slightly more complicated when striving to achieve the gold medal for the combo score on every level and not even the highest difficulty makes it mandatory to master Arachnid Kung Fu in order to finish the game. Furthermore, a button activating Defensive Stance guarantees nothing unexpected will hit you (through Parker’s Spidey Sense, graphically depicted above his head). And Spider-Man Noir knows he’s hiding in the shadows via the Sam Fisher technique, the utter de-saturation of the screen.
On the other side of the law, antagonists can surprise people unfamiliar to derivate Spider-Men and their obscure universes: in the future, Goblin looks more mecha than a Transformer and in another world, Dr. Octopus is actually Dr. Octopussy. But most of them are famous enough in concept to be appreciated by the less knowledgeable of gamers, all the more as themes which morph the levels are often dictated by the bosses themselves.
Levels which look great and sometimes even shine: traversing a massive sand quarry on flying crates caught in a whirlwind being one of the game’s Kodak moments. The change in perspective, seen through a sniper scope while fighting the Hunter Clique or from above, while falling to unfathomable depths – both the presentation and tension have nothing but gain from this. However, these small scripted episodes are negated by recycled level segments which do nothing but lengthen the game pointlessly.
Finishing a level rewards you with the usual bazaar of goods included in game’s extra section: concept art, cinematics or background stories. Or action figures. I imagine anyone collecting comic books from four different series featuring the same protagonist is the same kind of person who finds collecting anything entertaining, even the most redundant of extras. But the fundamental question remains: is the replay value fueled by an entertaining experience?
Is it a must-have for non-fans? No way. Is it a great game, a proud representative to its genre? Debatable, I tend to disapprove. Do note that it looks good, it’s fluent, excellently optimized, loyal to its universe(s) and eclectic in design. Poor, patterned and boring when it comes to mechanics, so therefore recommended rather to casual gamers, preferably diehard fans of anything Spider-Man since his first appearance.