Review: Spider Man: Shattered Dimensions
Coming off the huge disappointment that was Spider Man 3, I could use some Spidey-related good news. And I have to say, true believers, I got what I was looking for with Spider Man: Shattered Dimensions. The respect for the source material in this game was immense, and it was a lot of fun over-all. Read on, web heads, for details on the game-play after the jump.
One thing I cannot emphasize enough about this game: if you really like Spider Man and the Spider Man comics, you will really enjoy this game. Heck, if you’re a comics fan in general, there are plenty of nods to the Marvel Universe and beyond for you to pick up. Stan Lee himself narrates before and after each section of the game. Spidey’s lines are chock-full of the almost-but-not-quite lame jokes and puns that are his trademark, and these are especially well delivered by Neil Patrick Harris, who provided the voice-acting for the original Amazing Spider Man. On a personal level, I’d also like to say that I really enjoyed Christopher Daniel Barnes as Spider Man Noir. He was the voice actor who played Peter Parker in the Spider Man animated series from the 90s, and that show was probably single-handedly responsible for me being a comic book nerd and superhero lover. It was my door into this world, so I was really happy he was part of this game. As for references to other comics, an advertisement in the background of the 2099 universe proclaims, “So easy a wolverine could do it!”. Similarly, in the Ultimate universe, Spider Man derides the Ultimate incarnation of Electro, who has grown to be 10 stories tall and is naked and completely blue, for not wearing any pants. The reference to Dr. Manhattan’s now-infamous nudity is almost certain. Oh, also, Ultimate Spider Man is wearing the nerd saliva-inducing symbiote Black Suit, which is just straight up awesome.
The structure of the game is where the beauty of this whole “Shattered Dimensions” concept comes into play. In the game, the original Spider Man is battling Mysterio, who is in the process of stealing the Tablet of Order and Chaos. Spidey smashes the thing by accident, and as a result, shards of the tablet are scattered into 4 different universes. Madame Web recruits the Spider Men of the Amazing, Noir, 2099, and Ultimate universes to recover the shards. Now for other characters, this might be a little convoluted, but for Spider Man, this kind of things happens ALL THE TIME. Alternate universes and multiple Spider Men are a frequent trope of the comic, so it doesn’t feel like the makers of the game have forced the story at all. Another reason to love the multiple universes is that the graphics for each are not only different, but mimic the art style of the comic they’re based on. The Amazing universe looks like the standard coloration of a comic book panel; the Noir universe is entirely black and white (with some yellow seeping in as Spidey walks into the light and out of his preferred cover of shadow); the 2099 universe is nice and shiny and high-tech looking; the Ultimate universe has the rounded lines and highly stylized coloration and gloss of the artwork typical of the Marvel Ultimates books.
The linear structure of the game, however, may put players out of sorts if they are used to the open-world style that has become much more frequent in games. It is rather nice, though, that there is an explanation as to why certain styles of gameplay are emphasized in different parts of the game. Instead of a level where a game simply forces you to arbitrarily stealth through this one area when you could normally fight through it, here you are playing that level as Spider Man Noir, whose fighting capabilities are greatly reduced and so stealth is his most advantageous method of progressing through the level. You are not randomly flying in one section of the game, you are flying because that is one of Spider Man 2099’s abilities. Multiple universes FTW.
As for the gameplay itself, the combat is quite good, but some of the mobility, especially with Spidey’s web-slinging and wall-crawling abilities, is frustratingly and arbitrarily limited. The one exception is the Amazing universe level against Sandman, in which Spidey has to zip from box to box as a giant sandstorm controlled by Sandman is hurtling them through the air. That was a blast. That said: if I am Spider Man, and I can shoot webs hundreds of yards, swing easily through the air, and cling to any surface, then why do I have to be within a certain distance to web-zip to some perch points, and why do I sometimes reach a corner or a ceiling onto which I simply cannot crawl? It detracts from the feeling of being Spider Man, which is otherwise well served. The combat in the game is a lot of fun. Button-mashing is certainly possible, but combos and specific combat moves are also emphasized, and the upgrade system is quite good. The moves in different universes, although they have the same effect, are performed differently, so heavy attacks by Ultimate Spider Man are a strong melee animation, while the same button combo for Amazing Spider Man results in him swinging webs with lots of debris at the end like giant flails. The stealth set-up of the Noir dimension is a heck of a lot like the take-down mechanics in Batman: Arkham Asylum, and so clearly I thoroughly enjoyed it.
One thing that did drive me a bit nuts was the camera. It is designed to automatically move behind Spider Man. This can be maddening when trying to change directions while wall-crawling, or trying to fight multiple enemies at once. It’s not always frustrating, but when it is, it really can get on your nerves.
If you’re only into open-world games or incredibly precise games similar to FPSs like Call of Duty, this might not be your thing. If you like a third person action game with a good story that changes up enough to let you play a fair amount of different styles of gameplay, you’ll almost certainly like this game. But if you have even a mild affinity for Spider Man, you have to play this game. In the end, this game’s most winning feature is the faithfulness to the source material. Everything about this game feels like it is part of a distinctly Spider Man universe, and it definitely won me over.