Superhero games haven’t had the greatest track record. For a long time, very few of them did anything special. And then last year, Batman: Arkham Asylum set a new standard. Activision’s Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions doesn’t quite live up to that standard, but it clearly takes a lot of inspiration from the game and the result is the best Spider-Man game in years.
Developed by Beenox, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions begins when Mysterio accidentally breaks a magical tablet. The pieces scatter between four dimensions, and four different Spider-Men must pick up the pieces. Unfortunately, each piece is picked up by a supervillain before Spider-Man can get to them. While the story’s pretty boring, it’s just a plot device allowing players to travel between four dimensions, as well as an excuse for thirteen different supervillains to get even more powerful, so who cares?
As you play through the game, you’ll rack up combos and complete challenges. As you complete more challenges, you can trade your points, called Spider Essence, for better attacks, more health, and even alternate costumes. Challenges can be requirements (such as beating a boss) while others are completely optional (like defeating five enemies a certain way). Each level has quite a few challenges, and they definitely add some replay value to the stages, since you can unlock more abilities and costumes by completing them.
Cash in your points to unlock more devastating web attacks.
The three non-traditional Spider-Men each have a unique gimmick. Spider-Man 2099′s accelerated vision allows you to enter into bullet-time, where things slow down and you can attack more quickly. He also often dives off of the gigantic skyscrapers of the future, allowing for free-fall segments. Ultimate Spider-Man wears the symbiotic black suit which allows him to enter rage mode, making him stronger and able to attack from longer range. The most interesting of the four is Noir Spider-Man. He’s required to keep to the shadows, using takedowns to defeat enemies stealthily. By pressing the B button when prompted, you can neutralize enemies quickly, by webbing them up or knocking them out (depending on how close you are). It’s simple, but it works well and it’s fun. If you’re spotted, you have to return to the shadows until things calm down. As a result, it plays quite a bit differently from the rest of the stages.
Rather than swing around New York City for the umpteenth time, the game features thirteen linear levels throughout four dimensions. There’s a huge variety in areas, including a jungle, an oil rig, and an underground mine, not to mention the futuristic and 1930s versions of New York. The linearity allows for interesting scripted events, like trying to escape an explosion or a tidal wave. In each level, you encounter a villain early on, and battle them multiple times throughout the level. Each of the thirteen bosses feel unique, and even the battles within the level differ. Because of the magic tablet, they are granted new abilities, such as growing to gargantuan sizes, so that fighting them again is a new experience. Boss battles sometimes feature a first-person boxing match, similar to Punch-Out. Using the analog sticks, you dodge the enemy’s attacks, and then punch back. It’s an interesting addition to the already great boss battles. The bosses are all based on classic Spider-Man villains, but some have been reimagined to fit into a different dimension, so it’s tough to know what to expect.
Like Batman: Arkham Asylum, Shattered Dimensions draws voice talent from its title character’s animated past. However, where Arkham Asylum primarily used the voices from the popular 1990s animated series, Beenox went a bit further and drew from almost three decades of Spider-Man’s rich animated history. The four Spider-Men are voiced by the actors who voiced the character in four different animated series in the past 30 years, and they all do a great job. With help from the script, each of the four sounds distinctly different and yet familiar — for example, Ultimate Spider-Man sounds like a cocky teenager, whereas Spider-Man 2099 sounds a bit older and more grizzled, and even curses (assuming that “shock” is a curse word in the future). Even beyond the four, voices are drawn from animated series, Marvel animated films, games, and even Spider-Man creator Stan Lee appears as the narrator.
“Do my armpits smell?”
The game also looks great. It’s by no means the best looking game on the system, but Beenox did a great job of not only making all four dimensions look visually interesting, but also unique. The Noir levels are dark and gritty, and turn black and white when you hide in the shadows. Both the Ultimate and the Amazing levels are cel-shaded, but the Ultimate’s colors are brighter while Amazing is more subdued. The 2099 levels are darker (with no cel-shading), and do a great job of conveying the futuristic look. Spider-Man’s character models and animations are great too, with plenty of little details: the futuristic Spider-Man’s suit glows, while some bits of the living symbiotic suit slither around.
Despite all of these improvements, there are still a few issues. The web-swinging isn’t quite as fun as previous games. It still works well, but it’s been simplified from previous games, since it’s clearly not the focus it was in Spider-Man 2. The camera can become problematic, especially when crawling on walls. It’s never game-breaking, but it’s annoying. It’s also annoying when despite the well-written script and great voices, they begin to repeat the same one-liners. It doesn’t happen too often throughout, but in a few instances, it’s quite irritating.
While much of the gameplay of Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is somewhat similar to previous Spider-Man games, there are plenty of improvements. There’s more variety in the levels, the voice acting is a huge improvement over the previous games, and the different Spider-Men’s abilities (especially Noir) make the gameplay much more interesting. It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot of fun, especially for Spider-Man fans. Overall, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is a very good game, and easily the best Spider-Man game yet.
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions was reviewed using the Xbox 360 version.