Superhero games come and go so often it’s hard to keep up.
Take Spider-Man, an iconic Marvel Superhero: we all know the story of Peter Parker, and even though (from memory) I presume he is the most-used Marvel hero on any game platform ever, I cannot remember a single standout title.
Shattered Dimensions does try something new by bringing four Spideys to the table, each from different chapters of the legendary story and each with their own unique visual style. The back story is classic Marvel Universe hokum: Mysterio and Spider-Man have a fight during which a sacred tablet is shattered and along with it our entire reality. The player must work to unite the broken pieces of tablet across four separate dimensions. Guided by the enigmatic Madame Web, the wisecracking Spider-men have to fight their way through to the pieces one at a time.
Enter stage left: Classic Spider-Man, future Spider-Man 2099, a younger Spider-Man in the infamous black costume and, finally, the most intriguing Spider-Man Noir.
Each Spider-Man has his own very particular style and setting. The classic Spider-Man, for example, fits suitably into cel-shaded levels that remind me very much of the Todd MacFarlane era, a time when Spider-Man comics became cool again. On the other hand the noir Spider-Man has a "Splinter Cell Lite” feeling about it. Its stealth mechanics hold their own in a grim and gritty sepia/greyscale style that borders on a '40s steampunk environment.
The levels are predictable enough, with the location depending on the Spider-Man and/or villain at hand. Bear in mind that whichever villain is currently in play will be lying in wait at the end of the current level, wielding some ungodly power courtesy of the fragment that you are trying to retrieve. Each level is broken into segments or arenas, which is probably a good time to note that this is not an open-world game; it is a tightly designed collection of areas, populated by henchmen that are itching for a fight. This is right about where the game loses some appeal for me. The story and the environments could have been well implemented in an open world game, but they are funneled into a repetitive exercise of button-mashing combos and leaps of faith.
The game offers some levels of character customisation that allow the player to build on the abilities of each Spider-Man. The currency for these upgrades comes in the form of collectable spider emblems resulting from your actions in the game, either in combat or fulfilling level-specific challenges. The challenges are nicely presented on the ‘Web of Destiny’, which is a fancy way of displaying the information and not much else. Basically as a menu it does a great job. The upgrades themselves consist mainly of new combat moves or buffs like increased health. In fact the wealth of combat moves available can be overwhelming, and it soon becomes too easy to rely on a handful of favourite combos.
The third-person mechanics are slightly jumpy, failing most often with some odd camera angles and thwarting my attempt to crawl across a ceiling every time. The other issue with this style of game is the reliance on combat when it is badly utilised. Take last year’s Batman: Arkham Asylum for example: hand-to-hand combat was a joy to experience. This game feels like sequences of poses linked by whichever button you hammer the hardest, and this soon becomes tiresome.
There are, however, a few redeeming moments amongst the chaos, the occasional and obligatory slow-motion takedown when you wipe the floor with a bad guy being one of them. The other that took me by surprise and showed some sense of innovation was the first-person superhero fisticuffs. At first, finishing off a boss battle by getting up close and personal may seem like a good idea. Once the fists start flying and some of the graphical touches come in to play it still seems like a good idea. However, a protracted and stale exchange of blows with another boss character soon dampens any enthusiasm. Nice try, but it's not quite there just yet.
Spidey’s trademark Spider Sense is also integrated into the mechanics. Sadly, however, we may as well just call it permanent ‘Detective Mode’ and leave it at that. That’s not to mention that the various takedown animations for stealth attacks could also be considered homage to a certain DC character’s recent outing.
The game can often feel all too forgiving, and for all the spit and polish it really is aimed squarely at the younger generations.
Overall, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions has some fun moments, but there is too much formulaic and tired gameplay on offer to make it anything other than a long-weekend rental. With its nice presentation (apart from the sometimes over-cheesy dialogue and dodgy camera work), the title may satisfy comic nerds for a touch longer than the rest of us.
Personally I think the Amazing Spiderman has done his dash in gaming. If we really have to face another, let it be an open-world version of the Spider-Man Noir character, please.