“Buried under a mountain of glitches, there is a good game begging to get out”
- Lots of content specifically made for Spidey fans
- The combat is good and geets better
- The diifferent farieties of Spidey play is refreshing
- Glitches, glitches, glitches
- Not all Spideys are created equal
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.
The gameplay should be the very first thing that any Spider-Man developer works on. The look of the game is always important, but people play Spider-Man to experience the awesome movements and abilities of Spidey in a video game world. The movie adaptations nailed this (especially Spider-Man 2), and I spent hours simply roaming around the city, climbing the tallest buildings, then jumping off and swinging down the streets at amazing speeds. The rest of the game was crap, but the gameplay was solid, and that almost made it enough to excuse the terrible missions. Shattered Dimensions has moments of greatness, but the gameplay can be spotty.
The first major issue with this game is the camera. I hated it, and I had the feeling that it hated me right back, and secretly wished me dead. Anytime Spider-Man (any Spider-Man) sticks to the ceiling, the camera will focus on the character, and only the character. So while you might be in a room, above several unsuspecting enemies, there isn’t much you can dobecause the hate-filled camera will stubbornly refuse to pan down without fighting you. At other times, the camera works fine, as long as you agree with what it wants to show you. If you attempt to deviate, you are simply guessing where you might end up.
There was also an issue with wall crawling. When crawling down, Spidey would become incapable of moving past a tiny ledge. The camera would spin as if someone punched it, and you would be stuck. This wasn’t a huge deal, as wall crawling is a minor part of the game.
To be fair, most of the time the camera is fine, especially when you are stationary and level. But since this is a Spider-Man game, that can be an issue when you want to- you know- move and stuff.
The game features a web zip feature, which allows Spider-Man to move quickly from point to point by finding a yellow icon and hitting a button which will take you to the yellow icon via a web. It is a great idea in theory, and when it works it works well, which is about three-quarters of the time. The rest of the time, you might be looking right at the place you want, then push the button just as the camera spastically shakes and you are suddenly attached to a different point. If you try to quickly correct yourself, you may end up somewhere wildly different than you thought.
The web swinging, a stable for Spidey, is also somewhat inconsistent. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The same is true for a web jump, which when done properly will allow you to continually jump straight up into the air. It works most of the time, and when it does, it is a good addition. When it doesn’t, which is frustratingly often, you will end up falling. Thankfully, developer Beenox had the foresight to include an automatic save when you are falling. Unfortunately, if you are trying to collect some of the many emblems, there will be several times when it is just easier to almost fall to your death and hit the auto jump back than to actually jump to your intended spot. This isn’t a huge deal, but it is frustrating, and an unnecessary problem.
While the negatives are easy to focus on because they stood out, when things work, they work well. Spidey can zip around a room and great speeds, and the movements can be graceful and sublime. Finding and identifying the limitations will be the first obstacle to enjoying this game, but once you do, the game can be fun and easy to play.
The combat in Shattered Dimensions is determined by the upgrades you have purchased. When you first begin, Spider-Man (regardless of the dimension) has only a basic set of attacks and combos. As you earn credits you unlock more moves that are increasingly more powerful. Once you get enough credits to unlock several new moves and combos, the combat does become a bit more robust, but for most of the game you will simply mash buttons and hope for the best. If you have the patience to wait for the upgrades, the combat is fun. If not, it is frustrating.
There are two features that all the Spider-Men share: Spidey-sense and Spidey-vision. The Spidey vision is a mechanic similar to the detective-mode in Batman: Arkham Asylum, which allows you to look through walls, see obscured enemies, and find hidden emblems. The Spidey-sense allows you to dodge incoming attacks, in theory. When you hold it down, Spidey will dodge most attacks and allow you to roll out of the way of the rest. It works well, but it will not interrupt a combo you have started. This combined with the fact that you don’t have much in the way of area attacks force you to continue to move and do hit and run attacks, rather than taking on multiple enemies at once- at least until you begin to upgrade.
The four Spider-Men play in a similar fashion, not counting the odd character specific attack. Spidey of 2099 features and “accelerated vision”, which is like a slom-mo, while the Ultimate Spidey features a “rage mode” that makes him more powerful for a short period. The Amazing Spidey is noticeably missing these enhancements, and the Noir Spidey plays in a different manner altogether.
Of the four, only the Noir Spidey really feels unique. The gameplay is more based on stealth, and you can sneak up on enemies for silent takedowns- actually, you have to sneak up on them, because of an oddly inconsistent enemy. There are brawler parts in the Noir dimension that play out just as the other Spidey fights do, but if you alert an opponent that you are trying to sneak up on, they will utterly dominate you. It is disjointed, and leads me to my next point about the game…
And now, Spider-Man’s most deadly foe- Enter the deadly Glitch!
The biggest problem with this game is a fairly substantial one- it is filled with glitches. Now, the odd glitch here and there is understandable and forgivable. As long as the glitches are minor, you can generally overlook them. When they stop the game dead and force you to restart, that can be an issue.
While I am all in favor of fighting enemies that have weird and unusual powers, I tend to draw the line at opponents that have the ability to distort space and time and exist in multiple levels of reality simply to spite death. You have to tip your hat to the opponent that clings so dearly to life that even after you beat him his soul refuses to shuffle off the mortal coil, and he refuses to allow you to continue.
In several instances, Spidey will be put in a situation where he must defeat all the enemies in a certain area to advance; once he does, a door will open. Typical gaming stuff, especially for button mashers. What sets Shattered Dimensions apart- and not in a good way- is that you will frequently find yourself having punched an opponent through a door after beating him, but they refuse to give up that last ember of life. This means that they are out of range, and you will never be able to advance. Spidey is then trapped in a time bubble to forever live out his days in an unchanging limbo. And this wasn’t just an issue with a certain type of enemy, but it could happen in any dimension. At one point during the final battle against the Goblin (Norman Osborne for the Noir dimension), he simply disappeared into the Earth, never to be seen again. Another Goblin- Hobgoblin- attacked Spider-Man 2099 and fluttered above, taunting him, just out of range. And that’s it. He didn’t attack, or throw things, he just sat there and threatened Spidey, forcing me into the ultimate defeat, the dreaded restart.
These glitches aren’t a huge issue thanks to a decent checkpoint system that you can restart from, and the same glitch rarely happens twice, but they do happen enough that when you reach a section where the mission objective is not entirely clear, your first instinct might be to start over even if there is no glitch.
And the camera. Dear lord, the camera. You know you have a glitchy game when the camera will suddenly stop following you, and refuse to move the way you ask it to. This doesn’t happen off, but once is one time too many.
While not technically a glitch, there is also an issue with the dialogue as well. The voice work is not bad- Neil Patrick Harris as the Amazing Spider-Man does stand out- but the one-liners and quips are generally bad, they are repeated over and over, and they will occasionally pop up during someone else’s speech, which is just weird.
I am convinced that buried deep within Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, there is a good game crying to get out. Shattered Dimensions isn’t a bad game, it is just a deeply flawed one that feels rushed, which is odd, as there really doesn’t seem to have been a specific reason to rush it. There is no current movie tie-in, nothing seminal in the comics is currently going on that would make the September release necessary, and just a bit more testing would have helped significantly.
Overall the combat is fun and it gets better as the unlockables add to your arsenal, but it suffers from a lack of depth until late in the game, as well as a rotating cadre of similar enemies such as the Amazing universe’s “guy with stick”, or his 2099 counterpart, “guy with hi-tech stick”. The enemies can be bland and identical regardless of dimension, but later in the game more chapter specific enemies help keep it fresh. The web swinging is also hit or miss. Some levels like the Ultimate Spidey’s trip around an oil rig at sea work well, others like all of the Noir levels do not. There is also an invisible ceiling on the world that won’t allow you to move beyond- or above- the very specific routes. It makes sense for the game, but it feels confining for Spider-Man.
Fans of Spidey and/or button mashers will probably enjoy, then quickly forget, this fun but glitchy entry into the Spider-Man universe. It is not a bad game, but it definitely isn’t a great one either.
7.5 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the PS3 on a copy provided by Activision)
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