As a longtime fan of Spider-Man, I never really understood why it seems to be nearly impossible to get a great Spider-Man game. There have been a few that have come close: The Neversoft game for the PlayStation One wasn’t bad, the gameplay in the entries based on the movies stood out despite a terrible series of repetitive objectives, and a recent slew of original Spider-Man games have been acceptable, but not great. Unfortunately, it looks like Spider-Man fans will have to continue their vigil and wait for that one truly great Spider-Man game to rule them all, as Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is a fun, but an average game that never really impresses, and is hurt by glitches.
The Story, So to Speak
The hook to Shattered Dimensions is that you play as four separate Spider-Men (Spider-Mans? Spider-People?) in four unique settings. The game begins with Mysterio attempting to steal a vaguely mystical artifact. Spider-Man shows up, they fight, and the mysterious tablet is broken into pieces that are split amongst four dimensions. Madame Web appears to the four Spider-Men and explains that there could be catastrophic consequences if the tablet is not reconstituted.
She also explains that evil men will be drawn to it, which of course, means that some of Spidey’s biggest foes are all going find a piece of the fragment and force you to fight them for it – typical superhero stuff. The story works for what it is. It is a bit disappointing for someone that grew up reading Spider-Man comics, but it is not a major emphasis of the game. It exists to justify the use of four Spider-Mans’… (whatever), each of which have their own look and feel.
The first Spider-Man is the traditional Amazing Spider-Man that we all know from the comics. The second is the Spider-Man of “Spider-Man Noir”, which comes from a recent limited series that re-imagined Spider-Man as a slightly less powerful version of himself set during the gang-ridden Depression-era times of New York in the 1930s. The third Spider-Man is the only one of the bunch that is not Peter Parker, but rather Miguel O’Hara, the Spider-Man of an alternate reality future set in 2099, who fights crime, as well as the corrupt company Alchemax in a futuristic version of New York City. The fourth Spider-Man is from the Ultimate Marvel line of comics, a younger version of Spider-Man who, for this game, is bonded to a symbiote suit, thanks to Madame Web.
Each Spider-Man operates within their own universe, and fights versions of villains unique to them, although generally recognizable to fans. For example, Spider-Man Noir fights the Vulture, a long time enemy of Spider-Man, but this Vulture is a former circus freak and cannibal that only shares a few traits with his counterparts in the other dimensions. No two boss enemies are the same, regardless of existing counterparts, so there is plenty of boss variety, and you do get to see a broad selection of Spidey’s rogues.
The game itself features 12 levels- 3 with each Spidey, plus final boss fight. Each level takes between 30 minutes to an hour, more if you try to complete challenges, but 8-10 hours might be about the norm to complete the game if you just want to rip through.
One of the best, and most noteworthy features of Shattered Dimensions is that each dimension features its own original look. It generally ties into the gameplay, but the art design is unique to each Spider-Man. The first setting you encounter is the Amazing Spider-Man’s dimension, which uses cell shading to give a look that feels very much like a moving comic book. The colors are also very bright, and stand in contrast to some of the other levels which use a different type of coloring the way different comics use different inks.
The next setting, that of Spider-Man Noir, is the most different. The look is much darker than the Amazing Spider-Man’s, and not just because the gameplay emphasizes stealth over head-to-head confrontation. It attempts to paint a picture of a slightly scary, very dark world, and of the four, it has the most differentiated look and feel. The coloring also plays a part in the level itself. When Spidey is in the shadows, the colors are more black and white to signify that Spidey is hidden and can move freely. When he is exposed, the lighting takes on a brighter, more yellow tint to signifies that Spidey is visible to enemies, and must seek cover or quickly take out the enemy who spotted him. It is an interesting use of shadow and light, very similar to last year’s game, Batman: Arkham Asylum.
The next world, that of Spider-Man 2099 is the most graphically intense, as the city of 2099 that Spider-Man inhabits is teeming with life, color and technology in every corner. It is perhaps the most “video game-like”, and looks like a top-notch video game as opposed to the other levels which emphasize the comic-book look, and I frequently stopped just too look around the well detailed and realized world.
The final reality, that of the Ultimate Spider-Man, has a look that is very similar to the Ultimate Spider-Man comics. That won’t mean anything to those that haven’t read that particular title, but it is a comic book look, but darker than the Amazing universe, and without the cell shading. As contradictory as it sounds, it is a more realistic comic book look.
Each level feels like its own world, and that is an impressive feat. The level designs are linear, which is a marked departure from the open world Spidey games of the past, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It means that free swinging around areas is gone, but it has been replaced by a more focused game. There are a few too many repeats- ie, save the civilian/scientist/person-who-can-open-the-door-for you, but these are rarely a major point.
Upgrades and challenges
One thing Shattered Dimensions has plenty of, is challenges, and this is actually one of the best points of the game. On each level you can access the “Web of Destiny”, a map that shows you the challenges for each level. It always begins with only one challenge visible, and while all the challenges are always there, sometimes you won’t realize it until you complete one of the other challenges to see what it is. This is likely a decision to try to convince players to go back through missions- or chapters as they are known- and try to complete everything.
The challenges are varied, and some are as simple as defeating a certain enemy- generally something you need to do anyway to progress- or collect a certain number of emblems floating around the level which is not difficult, but requires you to make the effort to seek them out. Some are level specific and may require you to complete an event a certain way, while others emphasize a certain combat move. They are mostly different for each chapter.
There is also a benefit for completing challenges in the form of credits. At any time during the game or at the menu, you can access the upgrade system. Once you have some credits to spend, you can purchase new combos, things like more health, and even a selection of additional costumes unique to each Spider-Man that you can play the level in. The costumes don’t offer any real benefits, but it is fun to have Spidey swing around in a Fantastic Four outfit with a paper bag over his head (old school fans of Spidey will appreciate that).
You don’t necessarily need to complete the challenges to progress through the game, but they do add an extra layer to the game.