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Spider-Man is a hero that resonates with people not just because of his ability to propel himself high above skyscrapers and string up hoodlums, but because his humanity permeates through his mask and is a genuinely friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. You can’t help but root for him even though he has been in quite a load of fodder games and bad movies over the years. The one constant source of Spider-Man nirvana stems from the pages of comic books. His battles and stories are so compelling that writers have rejuvenated and rebooted the canon time and time again. Developer Beenox hopes to draw inspiration from some of Spider-Man’s greatest incarnations in order to deliver a game worthy of the fiction.
The game focuses on four different Spider-Man worlds ripped straight out of Marvel comics with The Amazing Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2099 and Spider-Man Noir. The average fan will recognize most of what The Amazing Spider-Man and Ultimate Spider-Man have to offer in terms of story and characters, but Spider-Man 2099 and, to a greater extent, Spider-Man Noir deliver more fascinating levels due to their less familiar narratives and their distinct authorial tones. The story is framed with Spider-Man accidentally shattering a mystical artifact called “The Tablet of Order and Chaos” during a fight with Mysterio. Madame Web, a powerful psychic who tends to pop up mysteriously in most Spidey fiction, explains that the shards have been scattered across parallel universes and it is up to you to retrieve every last piece. The setup is a bit contrived in order to shoe-horn as many iterations of Spider-Man as possible. Some wall-crawlers are arbitrarily granted new powers by Madame Web in order to create core game mechanics across all four dimensions which defeats the purpose of playing four unique dimensions. Thankfully, the narratives within each dimension are not fiddled with and maintain their authenticity for their respective universe.
The voice talent is an impressive array of actors who have filled the role of Spider-Man in the past. Neil Patrick Harris, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Dan Gilvezan and Josh Keaton all feel at home reprising their roles. Gilvezan’s Miguel O’Hara from 2099 is the most entertaining with a dry wit rather than the pun-filled ramblings from Harris and Keaton. Although the quips can become tiresome after a while, it is still an accurate portrayal of Spider-Man and feels organic to the mythos of the character. The game’s tendency to replay certain lines over and over again does hurt the overall experience by taking you out of the world momentarily. Barnes’ matter of fact confidence is a breath of fresh air and the villains from Noir are easily the most intimidating and that is almost all the result of the terrific voice work. The music of Shattered Dimensions, however, isn’t as noticeably well done due to its tendency to fade behind dialogue in most cases.
Each of the four dimensions has a distinct art style. Noir’s darker 1930’s realm is the most different looking of the four dimensions because of its Tim Burton meets Frank Miller aesthetic and its brilliant use of light and shadows. 2099 appears as the most realistic, but uses an intense neon color scheme and vibrancy. Amazing has a standard cell-shading technique and Ultimate has a vivid plastic-style look that also radiates color. Each of the dimensions also play subtly different from one another as well. 2099 is easily the most action oriented and uses a slowdown trick to simulate O’Hara’s hyper movement while Amazing produces more puzzle-solving during fights. Ultimate’s gameplay resembles God of War to some degree with hordes of enemies, quick-time events and a “Rage” mode which makes Spidey temporarily more powerful. Noir mimics Batman: Arkham Asylum with an emphasis on stealth and taking out bad guys discreetly.
The controls keep Shattered Dimensions from achieving the Holy Grail of Spider-Man gaming greatness. The game sufferers from awkward camera positioning and button miscues, but these issues are inherent for a game in which the main character crawls on walls and ceilings and swings from place to place. The more frustrating sections come from areas that require precise, deliberate actions. Spider-Man swings with his web by pressing one of the shoulder buttons. You are supposed to develop a rhythm that allows you to swing by alternating button holds and presses, but there is a catch. Spider-Man can also speedily pull himself to a specific area of the screen depending on if that area can be highlighted by looking at it. The web pull can be accomplished by tapping the same shoulder button used for swinging. The game has a hard time differentiating between whether or not you are tapping, holding or releasing. You will often find yourself mashing on buttons hoping to land where you had originally intended and settling for whatever completes the level.
Also, some movement actions are taken away from you at strange points in the game. For example, one level from Noir takes place in a burning building. Spider-Man should be able to simply crawl or swing up the levels in order to reach bystanders, but the game disables those actions because it wants you to use the web pull. This raises questions as to how much thought was put into the level design as a whole and what was altered for convenience sake. Every level allows for achievements which unlock new costumes, new attacks, and statistical upgrades. You purchase these new features with points collected from defeating enemies and collecting emblems. This produces a good deal of replay value because you have to play levels at different difficulty settings in order to see everything the game has to offer. Hopefully, Shattered Dimensions gets some DLC with more costumes and levels. The game feels like it is just a small piece of a much grander experience which might make you feel a little cheated.
As far as Spider-Man games go, Shattered Dimensions is an enjoyable game for fans but is marred by control issues. Some dimensions are more enjoyable than others and almost make you wish Beenox had focused on one universe to flesh out and explore. If anything, Shattered Dimensions acts as a Spidey sampler that will peek your interest and may even provoke you to learn more about Noir or 2099 comics. Each level is roughly forty-five minutes to an hour in length, but with different challenges and different unlockables based on what difficulty you set, you will find yourself a lengthy campaign. Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is worth checking out, just be prepared to deal with some unsightly gameplay quirks—Excelsior!