With the introduction of the Spider-Man movies, Spider-Man: The Movie (the videogame) made a big multiplatform splash in 2002. While there had been Spider-Man video games practically since there had been video game consoles, Spider-Man 2 made an even bigger splash introducing a new sandbox format that finally made for a good web-slinging title. Unfortunately, no solo Spider-Man title had captured gamers that way since. Activision and Beenox set out to change that with Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions.
Shattered Dimensions begins with Mysterio stealing the fabled (yet never-before-heard-of) Tablet of Order and Chaos. In a failed attempt to thwart the illusionist villain, Spider-Man shatters the tablet, sending shards flying through time and space. These not only land in his own dimension, but in the dimensions of Ultimate Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2099, and Spider-Man Noir. If all this sounds a bit far-fetched, keep in mind Marvel Universe has a Canadian redneck ninja whom has fought giant bug-like aliens in space. His name is Wolverine. This story is pretty standard dimension-crossing fare.
So Madame Web guides the four Spider-Men as they each gather the pieces of the Tablet of Order and Chaos in order to prevent the annihilation of all existence. Problem is Spidey’s biggest, baddest foes from all four dimensions are finding them before Web-Head does. Oh, and they gain extra abilities by holding even small fragments of the Tablet. Carnage, Sandman, Electro, and many other storied and re-imagined villains from the Wall-Crawler’s history are after this augmented power, and who are they to argue if that means beating Spidey to a pulp?
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions abandons the sandbox formula of previous Spider-successes for a more linear, single-player adventure. The game is divided into three acts, each of which has four missions: one for each of the four Spider-Men. These can be played in any order, choosing difficulty for each one separately. Each mission is then rated based on combo originality, collectibles percentage, and speed. Each mission has numerous challenges to chase after, all rewarding Spider-Essence for unlocking combat and character upgrades.
While previous Spider-Man games have struck a nice balance between combat and acrobatics, Shattered Dimensions really focuses on combat. Unfortunately, the combat system is deep but flawed. Holding L2 puts Spidey in a defensive stance allowing him to passively dodge most attacks. When an attack is coming that must be manually evaded, his Spidey-Sense shows around his head. In advanced levels, though, there are so many enemies your Spidey-Sense never stops going off so you never know when it’s safe to attack without getting hit.
Combat is especially a pain in Hard Mode, where the game amps up difficulty by simply decreasing your damage and increasing enemy defense. This means hordes of enemies take a surprising amount of damage from a guy who can lift a car. This is especially true in the 616 Universe (Amazing), who has no extra abilities. The combat also has major issues with targeting. The computer seems to pick the ‘best’ target for you--even if you’re mid-combo with a particular enemy, it may switch for no reason.
Speaking of abilities, Spider-Man 2099 has Accelerated Vision, which allows him to move extra-fast. Actually, everything around Spidey just moves extra-slow. This is really useful when dealing with the multitude of guided missiles heading toward you. Ultimate Spider-Man is wearing the black symbiotic suit which gives him Rage Mode. You’ll wish every other Spider-Man had Rage Mode. Spidey becomes extra strong and uses attacks that go every direction. The Rage Meter also builds by landing blows on enemies, so you can keep your Rage Meter up as long as there are thugs to pummel. Even late-game hordes of baddies can be mowed down with but a modicum of skill using Rage Mode.
Then there is Noir. Rather than being combat intensive, Noir is basically a cheap knock-off of Batman: Arkham Asylum. Your goal is to sneak around in shadows and take down enemies without being seen. The use of light and shadow in Noir is actually quite creative, making some of the level designs even more challenging than Batman’s greatest game. However, you have fewer tools than Batman and if you actually get caught, fighting is futile. When Noir does force you to fight, it suffers from the same tedious problems as the other dimensions. This was still my favorite portion of the game, as even a cheap knock-off of Arkham Asylum proves to be fun and challenging.
Acrobatics and locomotion come with their own problems. Web-swinging is perfectly manageable, if not very useful for most of the game. Wall-crawling can be tossed right out. The camera constantly tries to orient itself to Spider-Man’s direction, which makes it nearly impossible to actually navigate on a wall or ceiling except the few sections where wall-crawling is required. The most useful movement is web-zipping, which is simply moving quickly from one perch to another with web lines.
Presentation is where Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions really shines. The development team at Beenox really went out of its way to make each of the four different dimensions look and feel different. Amazing Universe has pretty standard Spider-Man graphics, plus the addition of Neil Patrick Harris providing Parker’s voice. Ultimate Spider-Man utilizes cell-shading to reflect the more youthful Spidey of the continuity-clean Ultimate Universe.
Spider-Man 2099 is sleek, futuristic, and teeming with energy and speed. Even his costume has waves of energy perpetually washing over it. Noir is one of the coolest sections I’ve ever seen in a superhero video game. These levels really capture this alternate 1930’s Marvel New York City. So long as Spider-Man is in shadows, the levels are in black and white. Stepping into the light transitions the game from black and white to muted sepia tones, always alerting you to when your stealth may be blown.
This game is pure fan-service. In addition to the awesome Neil Patrick Harris, Stan Lee provides some enthusiastic narration, while the rest of the voice acting is fairly stock but passable. The rest of the soundtrack and sound design is great, varying the soundtrack by dimension and really taking advantage of the 5.1 mix for effects. Several unlockable costumes are available, tapping into fan favorite and obscure one-offs like the Spider-Armor, Iron Spider, and Negative Zone costumes. Even the interface for tracking challenges in missions is laid out on a giant spider web called the Web of Destiny.
Shattered Dimensions provides a healthy single-player experience. The thirteen missions will run 15-20 hours the first time through. To upgrade ranks in combos, collectibles, and time will require multiple replays to master. Where Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions really misses is the lack of multiplayer. Spider-Man has never been a multiplayer experience because Spidey is a solo hero. However, the point of the game is four Spider-Men working together to save the universe. No co-op. No competitive. Not even leaderboards for the various missions are provided. Beenox could have added substantial value to Shattered Dimensions by offering some sort of multiplayer experience.
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is a bold step in the right direction, an attempt to infuse a stale franchise with a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, the combat makes major missteps, and the lack of multiplayer is a deal breaker in a game that screams 'four-player co-op'. One can only hope Activision's policy of giving every franchise a second chance will provide a much better entry down the road.