I am a huge fan of comic books, this enjoyment of the medium goes back to my early teens; today I have a Marvel Digital Comics subscription to slake my thirst. When I heard that Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions was coming to consoles and featured a ‘what if’ style of storytelling centering around four alternate Spider-Men I was quite excited. The last Spider-Man game, Web of Shadows, was excellent, unfortunately the ambitious undertaking in Shattered Dimensions falls short of the mark and while fun at times it is not the innovation I hoped for.
The premise behind the game is told in a striking cutscene with everyone’s favorite useless villain Mysterio. Spider-Man easily beats Mysterio but in the aftermath an ancient tablet is broken and scattered across multiple dimensions. Mysterio escapes and Spider-Man is summoned to Madame Web’s domain and she explains that the tablet could cause the end of all dimensions and needs to be recovered by Spider-Men scattered across multiple dimensions.
The featured Spider-Men are Spider-Man Noir, Spider-Man 2099, Ultimate Spider-Man (with symbiote suit), and Amazing Spider-Man. The game allows you to choose your Spider-Man in each act and you cannot progress to the next level until you finish each of the four dimensions. Each Spider-Man has different environments and looks, but unfortunately they are not incredibly varied in play styles. The Amazing and Ultimate dimensions are basically indistinguishable. Aside from an extra power in the Ultimate dimension (a rage mode that increases your attacks) the action, attacks, and play style are essentially identical.
The 2099 dimension has some differences in the fact that you fly (or coast) at times and the action is all really high up in futuristic skylines. It is between and within buildings still, but you do get a feeling of frantic energy and craziness that is actually quite exciting to experience. Once you land in a building though it is exactly the same as Ultimate and Amazing as far as the action goes. The final dimension is Noir and it is the most original dimension, but is unfortunately a blatant rip-off of Batman: Arkham Asylum. You routinely sneak around in shadows and ‘takedown’ bad guys, the mission generally fails or forces you to hide if you are detected. There is even a Spider sense vision mode that is eerily similar to detective vision. In a silly design choice, you get one-shot killed by bad guys during sneaking sections, but in brawling sections you can take on a horde of baddies. Essentially they neuter Spider-Man Noir when the gameplay scenario demands it.
Thankfully, the engine is solid and as you progress through the game you can complete challenges (that are logged and explained) for more abilities. There are dimension ‘specific’ attacks but they are simply the same attacks, just specific to each dimensions’ Spider-Man. All the other powers are shared amongst all the dimensions. The real differentiators between the worlds are the art style, varied villains, and the dialogue/actors. Each dimension looks amazing and is really quite varied. The Noir and 2099 dimensions are true standouts and represent something really different from traditional Spider-Man games. The animations are exceptional (and I think better than Web of Shadows) and while they don’t transition perfectly, they are really effective, especially the dodge mechanic.
The sound is well done, but I do have a major issue with the voice acting. By and large it is terrible, not because of the actors (except for 2099) but because of the dialogue itself. Neil Patrick Harris (2003 Spider-Man TV series) plays Amazing, Josh Keaton (2008-2009 Spectacular Spider-Man TV series) plays Ultimate, Dan Gilvezan (1981-1983 Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends TV series) plays 2099 and Christopher Daniel Barnes (1994-1998 Spider-Man TV series) play Noir.
Each of these actors has a pedigree with the character; unfortunately some of them played their role far too long ago. The 2099 dimension version of Miguel O’hara is voiced by a 60 year old and Amazing has Neil Patrick Harris saying ‘Yo’ (horribly) a thousand times. At least Ultimate and Noir sound appropriate, but they have their share of abysmal dialogue. I know it is just the dialogue but when you play the 2099 dimension and the Spider-Man voice is so jarringly out of place the issue will become clear. The dialogue repeats far too often as well, I had to mute the game a few times during long boss fights so I didn’t hear Madame Web’s same tip over and over again.
The action in the different dimensions is still fun, albeit repetitive as the game essentially recycles levels with different looks and bosses. The basic premise of each level is this: Enter zone (there is no sandbox world, you have levels to play on), meet the boss, fight the boss, they run away and you fight minions till you reach boss again, fight boss once more but now powered up via the tablet. Each level is pretty much the same except with Noir and 2099 throwing in stealth or pseudo-flying levels. There are some random challenges like hitting switches, melting doors, soaking sand creatures, and battling other level specific enemies. There are also 180 challenges that you can complete which add some compulsive tendencies, but the repetitive nature of the game discourages replays.
The game also throws in a strange gameplay mechanic in the form of first person cut-scenes and fight sequences. At odd times with a boss you will grapple in first person, block, then retaliate. It is always the same and grows old very quickly. I have to wonder at this inclusion, I would think a better choice would be controllable first person web-slinging. Again, an interesting concept that is not used to it’s potential.
The level design is solid within each stage with a clear path always in sight and in certain cases there are many places to web zip around and have a great time. A standout section is the Sandman level where you go web zipping on flying debris around a tornado, but like the rest of the game they stretch this out too long until it becomes repetitive. The other issue for the games levels is that they are completely disjointed. As this is not a ‘sandbox’ game, you are not swinging from place to place to find each mission, they start and you just appear at the new place. There is no continuity between levels and this pulls you out of the game slightly. I don’t think it is a bad thing to abandon the sandbox mentality, but transitions could have helped maintain the interest better.
The web-slinging action is solid, and the combat is also quite fun but, as mentioned, incredibly repetitive. I think if the developer had made a specific dimension game we haven’t seen before (Noir or 2099) it could have been very compelling. There is nothing exceptionally wrong with this game, there is just nothing exceptionally right about it either.
As a huge comic book and Spider-Man fan I did enjoy my time with the game, but the repetitive design choices, disjointed level design, and painful chatter makes this game fall short of the high bar set by Web of Shadows. There are some great ideas in here and when things click they do so with amazing results, but a tighter game design and more refinements would be necessary to make this a standout game.
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence. This game can also be found on: Nintendo DS, PC, PS3, Wii and Xbox 360.