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Reviewed: Spider-Man Shattered Dimensions
Producer: Activision
Required System: Xbox360, PS3, Wii, PC
Overall Rating:
Author: Michael Ahlf
Date: November 4th, 2010

One franchise Activision definitely won't be putting down any time soon is Spider-Man; one of their "bread and butter" lines for years, even before the breakout smash that was Spider-Man 2, it seems the red-and-blue Peter Parker (or even in the black symbiote suit) is a fan favorite that survives through everything, even games as bad as Spider-Man 3.

For their latest effort, Activision handed the franchise to Beenox, arranged to get four past Spidey voices (Neil Patrick Harris, Christopher Barnes, Josh Keaton, and Dan Gilvezan), and cooked up a story with a feel much more of the "classic" Spidey mishap; Mysterio steals a mystic tablet, Spidey shows up to stop him, mayhem ensues, the tablet is broken... at which point Madame Web shows up and the story really gets wild as the player's tossed back and forth between the "real" Spidey timeline and three alternate Spider-man lines; Ultimate, Noir, and 2099.

The good news? Great visuals, lots of genre-appropriate humor, and controls that, when they work, work really well. Unlike a few previous Spider-man titles, web-slinging works well, and there's almost always something new to explore in a given level.

Graphically, Beenox did a beautiful job of capturing not just the way comic book art feels, but the feel of the specific art for each individual series; Noir is dark and gritty, 2099's full of tall, neon buildings, Ultimate is glossy and feels the most like cel-shading, and the "original" universe looks like it jumped out of the pages of a classic Stan Lee adventure. The vocal talent is all top-notch, and the writing spares no effort to slip in a fan-favorite joke or too - even if they have to mention a certain cartoon pig to break up Madame Web's serious vibes.

Beenox also spent a great deal of time getting the worlds right, graphically at least, and put in a token effort to differentiate the characters (more on that later). Most of the Noir levels are heavily focused on stealth and stealth takedowns. Spider-Man 2099 has an ability to "slow time" in combats, as well as certain sequences where instead of web-slinging, he's doing the freefall/gliding thing and dodging obstacles through the air. Ultimate Spidey's been equipped with the black spider-suit and has a "rage meter" effect to tap into for extra damage when he needs it. They also all feature slightly different attack animations, though it's not all that complex and combat certainly is more of a "mash buttons, beat up bad guys" system than a measured and graceful dance.

For leveling up, Beenox skipped the traditional "beat up bad guys" or "find tokens" method; instead, they have a list of challenges to be tried in each level, things like accomplishing a certain number of stealth attacks, or not getting hit by a certain number of attacks from enemies, or passing through certain map areas without touching the ground. Some challenges are also as simple as "defeat Boss X", to give even the non-leveling-oriented players at least a fighting chance. Once a challenge is complete, it grants a certain amount of "Spider-Essence." In other words, "Spider-Essence" is a fancy way to say "spendable experience points" that players trade in to Madame Web's "Web of Destiny" (also know as the upgrade screen) for new combo attacks and abilities.

There are two downsides to Shattered Dimensions, unfortunately. First up, it's a "level-based" game, and so while exploration is certainly possible, going back in levels and hunting around just isn't quite as fun as "open world" titles can be. At times, the developers needed to put the game on such tight rails that they actually turned off Spidey's powers, forcing him to not wall-crawl or web-swing, which just plain breaks immersion. In a few key sequences, the developers force the player into a first-person "fistfight" mode that doesn't work well at all, but must be suffered through to get back to the real game.

Second, there's a hand-waving effect whereby Madame Web is "enhancing" each Spider-Man's powers in different ways. Part of it is to include a visual mode helping the player figure out where to go or what to do, but part of it seems to be laziness on the part of part of the development team, trying to shoehorn in the different powers or power levels and ultimately make each Spidey work with almost the exact same control scheme. The best example is Spidey Noir; he was originally written without the ability to "sling" weblines, and instead his webs kind of gooped people to restrain them.

If one were to try to put Shattered Dimensions in its place, it probably falls in right behind the venerated Spider-Man 2; the fresh writing, attention to detail, and inventive storyline add in variety and entertainment value that the series hasn't seen in a while. For fans of Spidey, it's a must-have, and non-fans should still give it a shot.

Added:  Thursday, November 04, 2010
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 1/2

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