Spider-man has done it again. He tries to do the right thing by stopping Mysterio from stealing the powerful Tablet of Order and Chaos. Unfortunately, the tablet shatters during the fight and pieces are strewn across four different Marvel dimensions. Madame Web, an advisor and telepath, contacts the Spider-man in each reality and gives them the task of tracking down all fragments before they fall into evil hands. The stage is set and the curtain lifts on one of the more enjoyable games that I’ve played recently, Spider-man: Shattered Dimensions.
Beenox uses the story as a springboard to craft four different worlds. You spend equal time as the famous web-head in the Amazing, Noir, 2099 and Ultimate universes, each with their own “feel.“ Amazing Spider-man is the red and blue costumed hero everyone knows and loves who uses web-based attacks like nobody’s business. The Ultimate Spidey wears the black symbiote suit, which comes with a rage meter that gets filled up through combat. Once activated, the temporary rage will increase the power of all of his attacks. Both dimensions are presented using an appropriate cell-shaded style that does a good job of imitating comic book artwork.
Spider-man 2099’s futuristic action happens in and on top of high-rise buildings. His suit gives him accelerated vision to dodge incoming missiles and attacks. That reality is full of bright colors, clean surfaces, and flying vehicles. The most distinct dimension, though, is experienced when playing as Spider-man Noir. Set in New York City during the 1930s, these stealth-oriented levels have a film grain to add a gritty aesthetic to the environment. When Spider-man Noir stays hidden in the shadows, the world’s color drains to black and white. It’s a simple visual cue to indicate when you’re completely hidden and assist you in sneaking up on enemies for silent take downs.
Other than a tutorial level and the final fight, Spider-man: Shattered Dimensions is broken into three acts with four levels each. Within an act, the four levels (one per dimension) can be played in any order and on any of the three difficulty levels. It makes it easy to replay levels as much as you would like. There is also a mechanic that’s been used by comic books for years; namely, each issue (level) has it’s own boss and mini-story to complete. This allows plenty of familiar enemies both from Spider-man and Marvel lore to show up and take over their dimension.
I found the level variety to be enjoyable whether I was traipsing through the jungle, free-falling from a skyscraper, racing across a capsizing ship, or lurking in the shadows of a train yard. Great care was taken to create an enjoyable standalone experience on each level that encourages playing through them again just to see everything. They are also very lengthy, taking me an average of 30-40 minutes to complete unless I was going for a speed run. Much of it is progression from point to point beating up everything that moves, which as you can guess becomes too formulaic; beat up weak minions, encounter mid-level boss fight, battle more weak minions, and then take out the boss at the end of the level.
One thing Beenox added to spice up encounters is a first person punching sequence. Spider-man gets up close and personal with the boss to punch him into submission. It’s done well and used sparingly to give a nice change of pace in the various levels. The bosses themselves are also unique in their strengths and weaknesses, which leads to impressively staged encounters such as inside a tornado or on a weakened dam. Unfortunately, the battles can often feel too long and drawn out; it’s simple to find out how to beat the boss but then you have to go through the motions for six to eight repetitions. Additionally, the targeting system in the game is problematic. It’s smart to attempt to allow Spider-man to web-sling to most ledges and areas; he should have such freedom. That inherently creates problems when the game automatically tries to figure out exactly where you want to go and sends you off to the wrong perch. While sometimes helpful, the controls tend to try to hard at anticipating your next move and can be frustrating. It’s often exacerbated by a wildly uncontrollable camera when Spider-man is crawling on the wall. In such instances, it’s difficult to direct him into one direction or to even jump or walk off of the wall.
In addition to finding the missing fragments, there are many challenges in each level to complete (a total of 180 in the game), eight hidden spiders to uncover, and spider coins to collect. All of these plus each fallen enemy adds to your spider essence - basically the experience points for your character. The more challenges you complete, the more character upgrades (like increased health and alternate costumes) and combat moves you can unlock. A “Web of Destiny” screen keeps track of all of your accomplished and unfinished challenges to the delight of those who like to fully complete their games.
All of the brawling sections can become bothersome, because enemies like to interrupt your combos with a weak shot. That’s another reason why you’ll want to pay attention to unlocking more powerful combat options. A greater variety of moves will help dispatch enemies quicker and have them flying all over the place, although sometimes unintentionally. In fact, I noticed numerous occasions where enemies (or Spider-man) would float straight up into the air after being hit. Or you might notice a certain boss picking up an invisible item to launch at you. The few bugs are visible but infrequent and rarely interfere with the actual gameplay.
The last main thing to talk about is the wonderful voice acting and in-game cut scenes. The game has a definite comic book charm, from the over the top evil strain in the enemies’ voices down to the lame joke wielding web-head. Each Spider-man is voiced by a different actor (including Neil Patrick Harris) but they all do an exceptional job of delivering their lines. The dialogue and audio pulled all of the visuals together for an entertaining treat.
Spider-man: Shattered Dimensions is a delightful game that I am glad to have played. It has considerable substance with a wide variety of environments, encounters and bosses to fight. It does become a little repetitive, contains a few bugs (other than Spider-man!), and have some controls issues. However, the overall experience is not to be missed by any action fan, especially those that love superheroes.