Last year, the mediocre world of superhero video games received a potent shot in the arm in the form of Batman: Arkham Asylum . Rocksteady Studios not only proved a fantastic, elite superhero-based game could exist, but they also produced the current measuring stick against which all other superhero titles will be judged. Of course, this makes it tougher on everyone else, but that’s sorta the point. The guys at Beenox had their work cut out for them; we’ve had solid Spidey games in the past but you know, we really needed something great. Rocksteady admittedly spoiled the crap out of us. The good news is that Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is pretty darn close to great. It lacks the high-gloss sheen and polish – in terms of both visuals and mechanics – that was evident in Batman , but it gets most things right. It’s really fun, it gives you a ton of bang for your buck, and the various “dimensions” keep you coming back for more.
The graphical presentation has its highs and lows but its mostly consistent throughout. The slickness of the levels in the Spider-Man 2099 world and the dark, intimidating Spider-Man Noir levels offer nice contrasts, and the overall detail is actually quite impressive. There’s some shimmering and other small issues going on but in general, this is about how a Spider-Man adventure should look: despite the lack of a supreme professional veneer, it’s very “comic-book-y” in appearance. The cut-scenes are surprisingly good and although I wasn’t the biggest fan of some Amazing Spider-Man levels, the environments remain diverse, engaging, and mostly appealing. I suppose the special effects could’ve used some work as a lot of the combat feels just a bit bland, but you gotta love that web hammer. Most fans will be satisfied with these visuals, and that’s what matters.
The game boasts decent voice acting, a soundtrack that fits almost perfectly with every dimension (but isn’t quite as prominent as I would’ve liked), and combat effects that are sharp and properly enhance the fighting aspect. Beenox really didn’t bring out the music enough, as I found myself hoping the tracks would kick in at certain points, but that’s a relatively minor complaint. Everything from the web-related sounds to the fulfilling cracks and crunches heard during combat works well, and some of the villains really shine in the voiceover department. I still think the Amazing Spider-Man had a few too many one-liners and his offhand, bantering comedy sort of got annoying, but I guess that’s more subjective than anything else. The sound would cut out here and there but it only happened for brief seconds in hours worth of play time.
Unlike past Spider-Man efforts, this one didn’t have you swinging around a wide open city, taking on missions and exploring ala sandbox style. Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions features a lot of linear, traditional levels, and there are four distinct Spider-Man incarnations. You don’t switch between those four during gameplay; you play as Amazing, Ultimate, Noir, or 2099 Spider-Man for the entirety of any given level, and given that each level can take about an hour to complete, you’ll quickly become familiar with each form. You’ll meet well-known villains like Hammerhead, the Green Goblin, Kraven, Mysterio, and Doctor Octopus, and your job is to reclaim the busted pieces of the Tablet of Order and Chaos. Considering that you busted it when Mysterio tried to steal the item, it falls to you to find the shards, which have been blasted off to various time periods and alternate realities. In the future, as Spider-Man 2099, there are flying vehicles and a lot of sci-fi slickness; in the past, as Spider-Man Noir, it’s like the Al Capone gangster era, where Hammerhead reigns.
The different Spider-Man incarnations all have different skills and even a few different basic mechanics. In terms of control and general gameplay, let’s deal with the negative- firstly, I think you move a touch too quickly and due to the linear environments, such a rapid pace can cause problems. See, the camera can go absolutely bonkers and I kept thinking that if they had knocked the speed down a few notches, it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as big of a problem. Secondly, the collision detection can be wonky; the Amazing and Ultimate Spider-Man would be standing on a pillar, but half their body is floating in mid-air. That’s just a for-instance. It was also a little difficult to get big swings under control; I’m not sure they should’ve used the R2 button for both “zip jumping” (shooting to a particular perch instantly) and swinging (you hold the button down to swing).
I also found the speed to get in the way of the combat. It almost undermined the fighting mechanic’s potential; there’s a lot you can do, especially after you unlock some of the later abilities. You often want to sit back and plan an attack but the speed almost forces you to button-mash your way through most encounters. But other than that, it’s almost a guarantee that fans of the web-slinging hero will have a good time. The different Spider-Mans continue to add diversity and freshness throughout and due to the amount of gameplay for all forms, it almost starts to feel like four games in one. That’s no easy feat, especially considering the significant differences found in the environments and overall gameplay. The animations are fluid and fast, the pacing is good, the level design allows for a bit of exploration while keeping you entertained, and there’s even a solid variety of enemies. Boss fights are often quite original, too.
And then there’s the longevity. The Web of Destiny reminded me a lot of the Sphere Grid in Final Fantasy X , believe it or not, even though it’s mostly just a branching tree of Challenges arranged in web form. There are a total of 180 different Challenges to attempt in the game, and with each successful completion comes more Spider Essence, which is used to claim both Character and Combat upgrades. It’s a really deep system and because you can replay any level as many times as you wish, no Challenge is off-limits if you miss out the first time, and if things are proving too difficult, you can always go back and get stronger. The Challenges add a lot to the gameplay, too, because they ask you to sample the game’s great variety. For instance, you’ll have to zip kick five opponents off their perches in the first Amazing Spider-Man level, and then take down three foes each from the wall, the ground, above, and within arm’s reach when playing as the stealthy Noir Spider-Man.
Speaking of the latter, the stealth in the Noir levels is sort of like stealth Lite if you’re heavily into games akin to Splinter Cell but then again, this is an arcade-style beat-‘em-up and considering that, this level of stealth felt just about right. When you snag someone from the shadows, you don’t have to worry about other enemies noticing your action, although you do have to worry about passing through well-lit areas. There’s a small problem concerning their detection, as they can’t seem to hear you, but if you wander into the light, they can see you…even when they’re not really facing in your direction. Still, performing stealthy takedowns never stopped being fun, and this acted as a cool complement to playing in the bad-ass Venom suit (where you can use Rage mode) and the futuristic 2099 suit, which lets you utilize Accelerated Vision (essentially, this game’s bullet-time). The bottom line is that when you finish one level, you want to play the next…isn’t that what matters most?
The collision detection is definitely a bit off, the camera can cause problems due to the speed and a bit of swinging inaccuracy, the gameplay graphics aren’t as polished as the cut-scenes, and I wanted a bit more musical accompaniment. But every level is really well done, the combat mechanic is loaded with potential and is almost endlessly entertaining, the variety and diversity keep your enjoyment high, and the voiceovers, characters, and patented Spidey flair are all big bonuses. The positives definitely outweigh the negatives and with a touch more polish, this could’ve been an elite title. As is, it’s well worth playing for most all superhero fans who will definitely get their money’s worth. Don’t even bother with the lack of multiplayer; there’s plenty to do. In short, despite the obvious drawbacks, I’m happy with the way it all turned out.