It’s been over half a year since details first dropped about Activision‘s upcoming foray into the up and down video game franchise that is Spider-Man. And for those of us who remember the downs much more vividly than the ups, the initial announcement of Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions was not met with excitement, but the placing of bets on how bad the game would turn out to be.
And now, after weeks upon weeks of small details being doled out, from voice casting to villain vignettes, the game has hit store shelves, and is ready to be judged. So we know that Activision thinks that they have a winner in Shattered Dimensions, developed by Beenox, but do we here at Game Rant feel the same way?
I can’t explain why, but over the years Spider-Man has been a constant source of content for video game developers who all wish to explore a piece of Peter Parker’s adventures. But why is it that so many return to that same well for inspiration? In my mind, for whatever reason, Spider-Man has become a cultural touchstone for more than a single generation, and from the first flipped pages of the Marvel logo you get the feeling that even though the game is a new experience, the neighborhood is familiar.
It wouldn’t do me much good to spend my time discussing the introduction of the game, since that’s already old news. Long story short: the realities of four different universes have been fractured, and it is up to you, playing as each of those worlds’ Spider-Men to rejoin the pieces of a mystical tablet and save the day. This is certainly the most comic-bookish plot of the Spider-Man games I’ve played to date, and definitely took some getting used to. It’s become the trend to take comic book properties and strip them of their fantasy, so it’s nice to see them embracing a bit of the fun side with something original such as Shattered Dimensions.
Unfortunately, the story is never really developed beyond that simple premise, and although there are occasional twists and turns, the stakes are never really elevated. Don’t get me wrong, the game worlds that they have built for each of the Spider-Men are incredibly unique and entertaining, but you can only be so immersed when the narrative that is driving the entire game is little more than a premise for the game concept. If you play a Spider-Man title exclusively for the swinging and webslinging, that’s fine, but the lack of a truly compelling story (like many found in the comic’s long run) has always kept a Spidey title from reaching greatness, at least to me.
But the dimensions they have constructed for this game are, simply put, awesome. For reasons that we’ll get to later, let’s look at them one at a time:
The Amazing Spider-Man Universe is the one that will feel the most familiar to fans of the series, as this is clearly the reality-based world of the previous two Spider-Man games, and most resembling the feature films. The art style has been given a hand-drawn effect, the new hotness in titles like Borderlands and Prince of Persia, used here to reflect the game’s comic book roots.
If you had to say exactly what the game consists of, this universe is a blend of frenzied, leaping combat interspersed with swinging and web-zipping through the environment. The first level was very straightforward, and after about 10 minutes I’d already started to grow bored of swinging from one platform to another and destroying enemies. Although Shattered Dimensions does step up the action quite a bit with their combat engine, it’s always been hard to really feel powerful as Spidey. His fighting has always been based around weightlessly jumping from one enemy to the next, or pinning them to the ground with webbing. That’s here too, but I was pleased to discover that the secondary attack consists of Spidey shooting webbing onto the ground behind him, ripping the stone free from the earth, and slamming it into an enemy, crushing him into the dirt. Three times in a row.
Thank You Marvel.
That’s only the beginning of the vast upgrading and leveling system of the game, granting you the ability to add new bonuses and combos by redeeming tokens hidden in the environment. It’s a small addition to any fighting game, but it really goes a long way in making Spidey seem dangerous.
Even with the well-needed upgrade to Spidey’s combat efficiency, the game gave off a very distinct feeling of “been-there-done-that.” And then things took a turn. As I walked into the Thunderdome-esque battle cage (you heard that right) I realized that I needed to give this game a bit more time before passing judgment. What ensued was a boss battle very reminiscent of Batman: Arkham Asylum, or reading an enemy’s movement then attacking during recovery, keeping in mind the need to jump to a perch before spikes were launched through the floor. After working away at the brawling boss, Kraven, he got the better of me, and caught me in the favorite move of all mustachioed villains: the bearhug. Then Marvel hit me with their next jab: literally.
You see, when the fight gets “up close and personal,” you have the ability to take on your enemies in a good old-fashioned fistfight. Fans of the comics rejoice; this game has made Spidey a real fighter. Using the analog sticks, you can dodge attacks when prompted, then return jabs, hooks, or overhand punches; a completely surprising addition to the the type of combat I expect from a Spider-Man title.
It was clear that even though the advertising barrage from Marvel had reached critical mass, there were still a few major secrets that this game had in store for me.