Comic book games have earned themselves a bad reputation over the years. Justifiably too, as there have been some woeful offerings from big name developers and publishers.
Just recently though, a number of lesser-known developers have shown it was possible to create a good game based on a comic book character. The transition was truly possible for next-gen gaming.
There are an abundance of lack-lustre Spider-Man games – which is a crying shame for such a popular, main-stream character of the Marvel universe. Indeed, you could count the good games in one hand.
Beenox’s latest, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions takes a number of classic Spider-Man series back to their roots and delivers a new experience in the long list of Spider-Man games.
We find Spider-Man embroiled in a battle with the classic villain, Mysterio, who happens upon a powerful artefact known as the “Tablet of Order and Chaos”.
During the fight with Mysterio, the artefact is shattered into multiple pieces. Sections of the tablet are dispersed across multiple dimensions and quickly wind up in the hands of many of Spider-Man’s foes.
Under Madame Web’s guidance, Amazing Spider-Man and his three alter-realities must confront the villains of their respective dimensions and recover the lost pieces of the tablet, before reality itself becomes completely unbalanced under Mysterio’s wicked plan.
Gone are the open-world city environments we’re used to in recent Spider-Man titles. Where games like Web of Shadows offered you a single sandbox world, Beenox’s Shattered Dimensions has created four completely separate and very distinct environments to play in.
Even free-roam has been culled considerably. Spider-Man can no longer go where he pleases and can no longer web-sling to what often seemed like the sky in previous iterations. With Shattered Dimensions, your web sling is actually linked to the environment. You can only web-sling when your web has something to web-sling to – and rather than open-world, free-roam environments, you’re offered a more linear, story driven world.
Before you write this off, let me say that this function is probably what Spider-Man games have needed for a long time. All of the hallmarks of Spidey’s movement and action are preserved and it’s done in a world that is specifically designed to make it work. There’s no glitches, no odd grappling and it ensures the action is always close by.
There’s still some reason to veer off the designated path though, the worlds are full of collectibles and bonuses. Each level has 8 very well ‘Hidden Spiders’ to collect – and dotted all around the landscape are various Spider Emblems which contribute to an XP system that allows you to upgrade your Spider-Man powers, unlock combos and bonus costumes.
There are 13 levels in total and each level picks a specific villain from each respective dimension as the main protagonist. As a result of acquiring a shard of the Tablet of Order and Chaos, they all have specific new powers or abilities which make Spider-Man’s job of reclaiming the piece even harder.
At their core, all of the levels are similar in layout; Chase the villain until he can go no further and defeat him – but what makes them so special is the absolute unique variation in each of the four dimensions.
The battle with Sandman for example, has to be the coolest and most memorable set piece in a Spider-Man game ever. Spending the vast majority of the level as a massive tornado of sand, Sandman’s control of the artefact shard is growing. You web-sling around a broken down Quarry, as the level literally disintegrates around you, jumping from piece to piece of the swirling carnage to make it to the next area. All the while fighting little sand minions by ‘solidifying’ them with water and figuring out how to apply the same effect to Sandman’s massive tornado.
Boss battles are done on such an epic scale and do superb justice to both the villains portrayed and the comic book style to which they have been originally adapted from. There’s an hilarious sequence on Deadpool’s reality TV show. A great chase event with Juggernaut destroying buildings in his path. A S.H.I.E.L.D facility corrupted by a certain evil symbiote, turning all of it’s inhabitants into symbiote-driven zombies.
The Noir dimension offers a completely new Spider-Man game play element as well. Stealth.
Without a doubt, some creative liberty has been taken from Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Asylum, for Shattered Dimensions’ Noir sections. Sticking to the darkness, you’re effectively invisible to enemies, aided by your suit, and the goal of these Noir levels is to avoid raising alarms and silently taking down everyone in your way. You web-sling between building outcrops, power lines and various 1930′s city infrastructure, waiting for the perfect moment to web-sling the enemy into a web cocoon, or rip them off the ground to web-pin them to the same wall you’re clinging to.
Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed these Noir levels, but some of the purists, the players who are used to more conventional Spider-Man game play won’t find as much excitement here. Pace is much slower, the reward is for pre-planning and patience.
While there are some absolutely brilliant sequences, there are those that don’t feel as memorable or exciting, and even somewhat repetitive (notably in the 2099 dimension), but I feel this is more as a result of a selection of the other levels being absolutely brilliant, rather than the rest being lacking.
It’s also not a long game, with my original play-through taking roughly 9 hours to complete. That said, I hadn’t even cracked 50% of total completion and the game really compels you to go back, replay levels at the Hardest difficulty, harvest XP for unlocking new costumes, combos and abilities – and completing the Web of Destiny (basically your challenges tracking).
Each level has a ranking, based on your Combo, Collection and Completion time. Maxing out each of these can prove quite tough as well, particularly the completion time requiring a well planned speed run on some stages.
The style is great. It’s a blessing to see Beenox’s direction in Shattered Dimensions work out for the fans. It is an amazing accomplishment to have created four very different environments and one unique Spider-Man game play mechanic with the Noir dimension. The game feels like a labour of love and you want to keep playing it to further your experience. I imagine 100%’ing this game would take in the region of 20-25 hours. And frankly, it looks like it’s going to be an enjoyable ride.
Graphics & Sound
The art choices are superb. The Amazing and Ultimate dimensions have a cell-shaded, cartoon feel to them which honour the characters perfectly. The Noir dimension is set in the 1930′s and reflects the style and architecture of the era; You find yourself in creepy old circus tents and fairs, using the darkness to your advantage. 2099 is a super-futuristic vision of a bustling metropolis, complete with towering skyscrapers and hovering cars.
Beenox have done great justice to the characters and their respective environments. Truly, it’s like viewing pages of a comic book in motion. There are some incredible set-pieces and memorable boss battles that feel even more special thanks to the art choices.
The sound team have truly made this one special also. Neil Patrick Harris reprises his role of Amazing Spider-Man, continuing on from his vocal work in the 2003 TV series. Josh Keaton (of “The Spectacular Spider-Man” TV series – and a number of other “Spider-Man” games) voices Ultimate Spider-Man. Dan Gilvezan (of the “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends” TV series) voices Spidey 2099 – and to top it off, Christopher Daniel Barnes (from 1994-1998′s “Spider-Man” TV series – a personal favourite) takes on the voice of Noir Spider-Man.
Spider-Man has all of his usual quips and one-liners, but unlike most past iterations in this gaming saga, they actually work here. They’re actually funny. The writing is reminiscent of the TV series’ originality, rather than the quick money-grabs of some of the games. It’s been a labour of love and it’s doing justice for the fans.
Voice acting all-round is what you’d expect of a top-of-the-line comic cartoon production.
Chalk up another notch. We have another good Spider-Man game to add to the short list. Beenox was an unlikely candidate for developing something from the Spider-Man universe, but in much the same way as Rocksteady delivered with Batman: Arkham Asylum, Beenox have delivered in sensational fashion, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. It is easily the best Spider-Man game in a long time, right up there with the best of all time.