After the kid focused Spider-Man: Friend or Foe and the somewhat redundant nature of Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, Spidey fans have been clamoring for a change in the Spider-Man formula. Since Spider-Man 2, most titles have revolved around a sandbox view of Manhattan where everyone’s favorite webslinger traverses back and forth in the city, sometimes racing against time, to match up against his more fearsome foes and crossing paths with various small time criminals committing minor offenses along the way.
While it has proven a successful formula, it had started to grow stagnant. Influenced by that criticism, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions puts together four versions of the Marvel icon, including two who have never been seen in video game form, in a variety of diverse levels and constantly changing gameplay.
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions plays differently than most previous Spider-Man titles, and not just because of the change away from open world environments. While button mashing combined with Spider-Sense dodging is the focus of combat, traversing through the levels seemed looser in terms of control.
Slinging through levels doesn’t feel as natural or fun as it did in Manhattan in days of Spider-Man’s past. Possibly because of the level design system, less emphasis was put on traversing areas at fast speeds.
Combat also doesn’t feel as diverse. Because each Spider-Man only has three individual levels, there is not a huge diversity in combat abilities. Previous titles, because of only having one or two versions of Spider-Man, had a larger number of different attacks to work with.
One thing Spider-Man does very well, even better than Batman: Arkham Asylum, is the use of Spider-Man’s activated Spider-Sense ability (or Detective mode as it appeared in Arkham Asylum). Unlike Arkham, players cannot simply play through an entire level in this special viewing mode. While it does a great job of making enemies and hidden items stand out, it greatly hinders traversing through the level and can be fatal at times.
This isn’t a negative however. Instead, it forces players to wisely choose which view to play at specific times unlike Batman where players were able to venture through the entire game using Detective mode without consequence.
Also new to an action adventure game is the inclusion of the first person combat minigame. At critical points in various boss battles, the camera will switch into Spider-Man’s perspective. This creates a small boxing minigame where players use the analog sticks to lay a serious smackdown on their opponent. While this minigame doesn’t provide much challenge, it is pretty fulfilling when you have the feeling that you get to smash in Kraven’s face after he wouldn’t shut up for the jungle level.
Noir comes across very much like Splinter Cell light. There is much more focus on stealth gameplay than any sort of direct combat. Spider-Man must traverse out of sight either up high or through the shadows. The Noir Spider-Man doesn’t have anywhere near the agility of the other versions and is unable to dodge gunfire as easily. As a result, the pacing changes drastically and most of the time is spent jumping from perch to perch waiting to grab enemies from behind.
The freefall combat in 2099 helps switch up the gameplay slightly, although there is not much depth to it. During the vertical chase scenes, Spider-Man 2099 must catch up to the escaping baddie while dodging various projectiles before jumping on its back and laying some smackdown. Sadly, there’s not much else to it.
Penned by Dan Slott, a current scribe on the Amazing Spider-Man, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions closely ties together four different versions of Spider-Man using Marvel’s multiverse as they must track down pieces of the Tablet of Order and Chaos, which was mistakenly destroyed when Amazing thwarted a museum heist by Mysterio. Scattered across the various worlds, each Spider-Man must face off against three different foes. Using the now deceased Madame Web as a connecting force between the four, players alternate between the four simultaneous stories.
Slott stuck to classic villains for Amazing such as Kraven, the Juggernaut and Sandman and some other more midlevel characters for Ultimate such as Carnage and Deadpool. In 2099 using Alchemax as a higher tier unseen villain, Slott was able to create three “new” characters for the game with 2099 versions of the Hobgoblin, a female Dr. Octopus and Scorpion. None of these have ever appeared in comics before but seem like if Miguel O’Hara and the 2099 world was going to be revisited, they could have a place in it. Using the already established Vulture and Goblin, Slott also added in the new-to-Noir villain of Hammerhead as well.
Without a doubt, Slott knows his Spider-Man. The fact that he writes arcs in the current Spider-Man series doesn’t hurt. But he also does a good job taking on the less mainstream versions of the character. Slott is able to add a more lighthearted voice to Brian Michael Bendis’s Ultimate Spider-Man. He also is able to tackle Peter David’s use of “shock” as a expletive from 2099 well. The only spot that seems a little forced is Noir. While the voice was probably changed to make it friendlier for the video game audience, the Noir Spider-Man was not a jokester like the other versions of Spider-Man. Hearing him make wisecracks in combat just feels off.
A standout feature of Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is the four very distinctive art styles present for each of the four Spider-Mans (Spider-Mens? Spideys? Whatever). Amazing takes a nod to the classic cell shaded look of comics past. This set of three levels looks, sounds and feels the way one would expect from a comic book game. Ultimate Spider-Man is aesthetically close to Amazing but, similar to the Ultimate line of comics has a much brighter and more vibrant art style.
2099 and Noir take distinctly different paths. Noir has the look and feel of a 1920s mobster movie while 2099 is most comparable to Bladerunner mixed with Tron: Legacy. Noir sticks to a nearly complete black and white color scheme with a few exceptions such as Spider-sense showing villains in red and collectables in yellow. Beenox also added a filter that gives the feel of a classic grainy television with subtle tube twitches so everything looks a little more worn. 2099 on the other hand is bright and loud. Peter David’s Spider-Man 2099 feels like it never got its due in terms of color now by comparison since it was printed on classic newsprint paper back in the 90’s which never allowed for such bold and striking images.
Character models are crisp looking and well animated. The art design, especially on the characters who were created specifically for the game such as Hammerhead in Noir and all of the 2099 villains are quite impressive and do great jobs fitting into the environments they are being dropped into. Especially with the 2099 villains, these new characters look as though they could have been ripped right from Spider-Man canon. Speaking of environments, the stages do a fantastic job of giving unique feels to each of the villain’s levels. The Goblin’s Noir stage is just creepy.
The voice acting stands out as a highlight in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. As we mentioned before, the voices of Spider-Man’s past have been brought back for this game. Amazing is headlined by one of the most animated (pun intended) voice actors, Neil Patrick Harris. NPH made his original Spider-Man debut in Spider-Man: The New Animated series on MTV. His stands out as the best performance and most identifiable to the Peter Parker fans know and love. Younger gamers will recognize Ultimate Spider-Man as the voice from 2008’s The Spectacular Spider-Man, Josh Keaton. The most youthful voice, he does a great job delivering the youngest Spider-Man’s attempts at witty banter. Dan Gilvezan from the classic Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends takes on Spider-Man 2099 and has a drastically different feel than the other younger voice actors. Finally, Christopher Daniel Barnes from the 90’s Spider–Man: The Animated Series takes on the heaviest role with the Noir Spider-Man, who must not just face the monstrous Hammerhead and Vulture, but the Goblin who is directly responsible for the death of his uncle Ben.
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is a strong addition to the Spider-Man franchise from Activision. There are some fun moments contained within along with an entertaining story and fantastic visuals. The combination of four different characters doesn’t feel forced, although it is somewhat strange how easily the 1920’s Spider-Man Noir accepts this concept of alternate versions of himself across different worlds but that is probably being nitpicky.
Tiny additions to the game like the first person combat, the different voice actors all pulled from previous animated Spider-Man shows and even subtle animations like the cybernetic mesh on Spider-Man 2099’s costume give great nods to Beenox’s appreciation of the character and source material. Though not announced yet, the game gives an indication of future downloadable content to keep players looking back for more once they complete the story mode. Going back to complete challenges and earn more unlockables also looks to be a strong selling point for further play. While there are some gameplay issues, some features that could be a little more fleshed out and the game being limited to a single player experience, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is highly recommended for fans of the character for the chance to see four favorite versions of Spidey all at once.
Xbox 360 (Also available on PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, PC and Nintendo DS)