Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions
- September 07, 2010 10:00 AM PT
While Spider-Man is a comic book icon and a successful movie star, his track record as a video game hero isn't nearly as good, with his games ranging from the awesome and to the just plain awful. Thankfully, his latest adventure, Shattered Dimensions, is one of his best yet, offering four unique worlds, classic Spidey action, and an engaging story that puts it near the top of the franchise both in terms of quality and impact.
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Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions made a lot of promises that I wasn’t sure it was going to keep. Four unique worlds, four different styles of gameplay, and four unique versions of Spider-Man sounded like an incredibly ambitious house of cards. Other games in the franchise have tried much less than that, and they still failed miserably (cough, Web of Shadows, cough). But after three full days of web swinging, wall crawling, and old-fashioned fisticuffs across several amazing, action-packed levels, I’ve never been happier to be wrong. Shattered Dimensions is easily one of the best Spider-Man games I’ve played yet.
Everything in Shattered Dimensions kicks off like an average issue of a Spider-Man comic – Mysterio breaks into a New York museum, plotting to steal a magical artifact called “The Tablet of Order and Chaos.” Like clockwork, Spider-Man swings in and quickly trounces Mysterio, but the tablet is accidentally broken in the fight. As a result, fragments of the tablet are thrown into different dimensions, where they inevitably fall into the hands of several supervillains. This attracts the attention of Madame Web, Spidey’s telepathic part-time adviser, who enlists the help of Peter Parker and three alternate dimension versions of Spider-Man to collect the pieces of the tablet before the mystical fallout causes the universe to collapse on itself.
Using this storyline as a springboard, Shattered Dimensions offers up four very different and very unique dimensions to play through: the “Amazing” universe is home to the original Spidey; an alternate “Noir” world brings us the gritty and dark Spider-Man who prowls a 1930's era city; the “Ultimate” world stars an alternate, younger Peter Parker bonded to the Venom symbiote; and “a future yet to pass” dimension draws from the Spider-Man 2099 comic book where a geneticist named Miguel O'Hara takes on the webslinger's mantle.
By far, this is the one aspect of Shattered Dimensions that impressed me the most. Instead of the wide-open GTA-style sandbox environments that were popular with Spider-Man 2 and Ultimate Spider-Man (and later botched with Spider-Man 3 and Web of Shadows), the development team at Beenox created over a dozen linear levels, tailor-made to compliment the respective villain at the end of the mission. Overall, the result is both unique and stylish. Kraven the Hunter’s level treks through a tropical jungle ruin, the Juggernaut smashes through various New York construction sites, and Deadpool traps Spider-Man on an oil rig that serves as studio for his new Running Man-style reality TV show. Moreover, each of the levels are short enough that you’ll get to the boss battle before boredom sets in.
One thing that I also enjoyed about the levels was the relative freedom of space. Shattered Dimensions actually gives you plenty of room to swing around -- Deadpool and Sandman’s levels are especially good at this -- which lends itself well to Spidey’s acrobatic combat style. It’s very rare that you’ll ever feel claustrophobic, and once you get past the slight learning curve, racing through the levels with long jumps, web-based acrobatics, and smartly implemented web zip-lines feels very natural. It’s so good that I actually don’t miss New York City and its whiny inhabitants at all.
Stylistically, the Noir universe is the most distinct, with missions that revolve around Spider-Man staying concealed in the shadows and silencing thugs with stealth based sneak attacks. Additionally, it’s a nice break from the fast paced levels in the other universes. Sure, the mechanics needed some fine-tuning (you can web up enemies right in front of other goons without them seeing a thing), but the minor kinks aren’t a big deal. The bosses in this dimension are also delightfully ugly, and the sepia-toned levels are etched with fine details; the dialogue is also period appropriate and sound as though the lines were ripped straight from old Dick Tracy comics. In particular, I really enjoyed the Green Goblin’s level, which takes place in a twisted carnival park that would make the Joker green with envy.
For the most part, all of the Spider-Men fight pretty much like you’d expect -- they’re strong, spin webs, and catch thieves like flies. Even though the hundreds of minions you’ll fight aren’t much of a challenge (and some upgrades make later levels far too easy), it’s balanced by the fact that you’ll still look awesome kicking everyone’s butt. Where Shattered Dimensions especially shines is the boss battles, especially with Sandman and Electro (to whom Ultimate Spider-Man hilariously complains about the villain’s lack of pants) – most of them are just plain fun, and come off as a nice reward at the end of a long level.
Surprisingly, I was slightly disappointed by the levels in the alternate future 2099 universe. While they’re no less flashy and expansive than the other universes, each one felt like the same, Tron-inspired, neon-lit area. It’s further exacerbated by the fact that there’s actually way too much color, which becomes a problem when you’re trying to pinpoint enemies, navigate a web swing, and look for tiny collectibles.
Still, that’s an incredibly minor gripe that I can pretty much ignore, especially with the production value that went into Shattered Dimensions. For one, I’ve never heard better voice acting in a Spider-Man game before. Beenox and Activision did a smart thing by hiring the likes of Neil Patrick Harris, Christopher Daniel Barnes, John DiMaggio, and Jim Cummings. (And once again, Nolan North absolutely nailed the part of Deadpool.) Paired with a script and dialogue penned by long-time comic book writer Dan Slott, Shattered Dimensions is legitimately one of the best “one-shot” Spider-Man stories I’ve seen from Marvel.
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is something that webheads have been owed for a while now. It easily deserves a spot at the top of the franchise’s long video game history, along with the first two Spider-Man movie tie-ins, Maximum Carnage, the first PlayStation game, and Sega’s 1991 arcade title. After a long string of epic disappointments, it’s nice to enjoy a Spider-Man game so much that I’m actually looking forward to replaying the missions with new abilities and new costumes. Even if you’ve been burned on lackluster Spider-Man titles before, don’t miss this game – Shattered Dimensions simply isn’t the one to skip.
PROS: Excellent art design, decent camera, top-notch voice acting, and plenty of cool unlockable content. Colorful, unique levels and boss encounters really make the gameplay both engaging and memorable. In particular, the 1930’s Noir universe looks and sounds amazing.
CONS: Awkward wall crawling controls, spotty enemy A.I., some slightly repetitive challenges. Overall, the levels in the 2099 universe aren’t as visually diverse or eye-catching as the rest of the bunch.