Review: Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions (Xbox 360)

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions
Genre: Action Adventure
Developer: Beenox
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: 09/07/10

So as we’ve established previously, I’m a big fan of Spider-Man, and as such, it stands to reason that I’m a fan of his games. While the early days of gaming weren’t exactly filled with the greatest Spider-Man games, the nineties were populated with good games here and there until Acclaim got a hold of the license and basically produced mediocrity out of it for the next several years. When Acclaim took hold of the license, they converted it into 3D with what was, at that point, practically a religious epiphany in Spider-Man, a game that celebrated the existence of the wall crawler, complete with tons of different costumes, a bevy of Spidey villains, and some solid overall gameplay. The next two games, Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro and the game based on the first Spider-Man film, did little to add to this formula, and while fine for what they were, it would take Spider-Man 2, with its open-world environment and Grand Theft Auto inspired systems, to really give the series the evolution it needed. While Ultimate Spider-Man and Spider-Man 3 were not particularly good attempts to evolve this concept, and while Spider-Man: Friend or Foe discarded this entirely to make a two-player beat-em-up based around the character, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows showed that the open-world gameplay concept that the prior games had offered was a pretty good idea, and it was pretty much the best of the games to come out since Spider-Man 2. With the announcement of Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, the possibilities for a massive, open-world game featuring four different Spider-Men was enough to make me salivate upon the mere mention of it.

Instead, we were given a game that basically feels like the very first Spider-Man game on the Playstation all those years ago. While that’s a good thing insofar as the fan service shout-outs go, when it comes to the actual gameplay, it is the exact opposite, for a few reasons.

So, the plot this time around is that Spider-Man broke a magical tablet that can give people magical powers while trying to stop Mysterio from stealing it from the museum, which would immediately be confusing anywhere else (“Wait, all of these powerful magic users live in New York but NONE of them have thought to try and put this INSANELY powerful tablet anywhere other than the museum?”), but in the world of Marvel Comics, hell, it’s Tuesday. So, Madame Web shows up, berates Spider-Man for breaking the tablet, and then informs him that he, along with three of his inter-dimensional cohorts, will be tracking down the various pieces of the tablet to try and save their various different universes, usually by beating the tar out of the bad guys who have taken possession of said tablet pieces. On one hand, the plot itself is functional and generally pretty coherent all around, and it’s nice to see Mysterio and several of Spider-Man’s less notable rogues take center stage instead of the usual top-tier love-in most games work with, and the odd references to various parts of Spider-Man’s lore (“Is that a… cartoon pig?”), it’s a plot that will be pleasing for fans if nobody else. That said, the game generally feels kind of lazy with its villain usage. Spider-Man 2099 features two new villains (Hobgoblin and Doctor Octopus) and a villain from a one-shot “What If?” sort of storyline (Scorpion) instead of using any of the villains from that actual comic (and for anyone about to say “What villains?”, Venom, Goblin, and Vulture, so suck it), Spider-Man faces Juggernaut, and Ultimate Spider-Man faces Deadpool. Not that these aren’t cool villains, because they certainly are, but converting villains to the game universes you’re using because you’re too lazy to do any research or using villains that aren’t readily identifiable as Spider-Man villains instead of, say, using Vulture, Venom, and Goblin in the 2099 universe, sticking Kraven in the Noir universe (which resolves another problem we’ll address shortly), replacing Juggernaut and Kraven with Lizard and Rhino and sticking Doctor Octopus in the Ultimate universe, since these villains DO exist. Making up your own villains wasn’t okay in Marvel Nemesis and it’s not okay here guys, even if Hammerhead was perfectly fine. Do the research.

Beyond that, the plot basically feels like another self-contained Spider-Man plot that is basically a throwaway to avoid any sort of awkward continuity issues, which is funny, because the plot has at least two. Now, I don’t expect my comic book video games to be champions of continuity or anything, but if you can’t give the Ultimate version of Deadpool the proper personality to go with him, well, you probably shouldn’t include him. But the big issue here is the fact that the game includes both the Sergei Kravinoff “Kraven the Hunter” as well as Madame Web. The problem here? Well, turns out that Marvel just resurrected the Sergei version of Kraven… in a story arc where they killed Madame Web. So, uh, good job guys. Oh, and before anyone argues that the developers couldn’t possibly have known this was going to happen? Shut up. Kraven has been dead for many years now, and if you needed to have one kicking around for this game, Al Kravinoff would have worked fine, since he wasn’t dead when they started making the game, like Sergei was. So if Marvel HADN’T decided to bring Kraven back, this game would be stupid for using a guy who’s been dead longer than half of the people playing have been alive, so either way it’s inane. Of course, they could have just not put Madame Web in the game, which would have been a fine choice on account of the fact that 1.) I hate her with a passion and 2.) I know I’m not the only one who feels that way, but since they did, WAY TO NOT PAY ATTENTION GUYS. Points off. Deal with it.

Visually, the biggest positive of Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is the user of different visual styles for each of the Spider-Man characters and their universes. Spider-Man and Ultimate Spider-Man have a very cel-shaded look to them, and their universes look straight out of the comics they appear in, which looks pretty fantastic all around. Noir Spider-Man looks like he lives in a Sin City sort of universe, complete with heavy emphasis on dark visuals and heavy contrasts. Spider-Man 2099 uses a straight 3D look that’s very futuristic and colorful and really makes the character stand out when compared to the other characters. In short, the visuals are a real treat across the board, on top of the fluid animation style and the lively game worlds. There are some mild clipping and visual glitches here and there, but the game suffers little for them and is a visual treat all around. The audio in the game is also fantastic, thanks in large part to the outstanding voice cast. The four Spider-Men are voiced by people who’ve voiced Spider-Man in the past in his various cartoon entities, and while everyone is likely to have a favorite (my money’s on Neil Patrick Harris as Spider-Man), they all do an outstanding job all around. The various villains also have standout voice acting to match up with the various Spider-Men, which helps immensely. The in-game music feels appropriate to each section of the game, regardless of the universe you’re in at the moment, and the sound effects are generally appropriate all around and fit the game nicely. As such, the game is an aural treat, which, while not surprising, is good all the same.

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions plays enough like its predecessors to feel familiar to fans of Spider-Man games and third person beat-em-up action games in general. You’re offered two attacks, one light and one heavy, as well as a grapple and a jump button on the face of the controller, and the sticks control movement and the camera as needed. The two different attacks can be used in sequence for some devastating combinations, while the grapple can be used at close or long range, as well as to pick up objects to throw at enemies. You can also hold the left trigger to engage a defensive stance, where Spidey will dodge light attacks like crazy with no further input. Heavy attacks will cause Spidey’s spider-sense to go nuts, which means you can’t normally dodge said attack, which will require you to dodge with a flick of the left stick and a press of the A button while in said stance, and mastering this move will make it very hard for the enemy to hit you, ever. The right trigger controls Spider-Man’s web swinging and web zipping from place to place, allowing you to move around the various game areas with little trouble when needed. The right bumper is used to fire web balls at enemies, which act as more of a distraction than an actual combat tactic in this game, but you’ll still find them useful at times all the same. The up panel on the D-pad kicks in spider-sense, which in this game allows you to readily identify enemies, usable items, and collectibles, among other things, which can be useful when looking for the next location to swing to or more enemies to bash.

While the core controls for each character are functionally identical, each character has their own unique gameplay elements that make their stages different from one another. Spider-Man is the least gimmick-oriented of the characters, as he receives no added benefits beyond the above, and as such, his stages tend to be the most gimmicky to compensate. Ultimate Spider-Man gains the use of the Venom symbiote, allowing him some more interesting combat options as well as the ability to kick in Rage mode with a press of the left bumper, which allows him to do added damage and hit enemies across larger areas until the meter depletes, and his stages tend to be fairly straightforward overall. Noir Spider-Man relies on stealth gameplay to survive as he’s the most fragile of the lot, using takedowns from the shadows and spider-sense that allows him to see enemies through walls to survive, and his missions are mostly similar to the stealth segments in Batman: Arkham Asylum in a lot of respects. Spider-Man 2099 is given the ability of Accelerated Vision, allowing him to slow down his own perception of time to make critical moves, which is beneficial as his stages are the most fast-paced of the lot and often involve free-falling segments through traps and such. Each character can also be upgraded in various ways as you earn experience points to do so, either in ways that improve all characters (increasing health and combos, among others) or in ways that improve individual characters (increasing the Rage meter and learning charged attacks, among others), making each Spider-Man into a force to be reckoned with as the game progresses.

The game crosses three acts, each featuring four chapters, as well as a final act against Mysterio that each character participates in. Aside from fighting off the various thugs and bosses you encounter, you’ll also be collecting various Spider-Man emblems and hidden spiders around the various stages. Both increase your experience, which is useful, as noted, for upgrading your characters. Each stage also offers a web of challenges (no, seriously, it’s in an actual web shape, I’m not trying to be cute) to complete, which can range between beating a certain number of goons a certain way to accomplishing specific tasks in boss fights to finding all of the hidden spiders in a level and beyond. Each task rewards you with more experience, and after accomplishing so many tasks you unlock more moves and bonuses to use for the characters so long as you’re willing to buy them. The core game lasts about eight to ten hours for a straight playthrough, and between the various difficulty levels for each stage, the numerous challenges to complete in each stage, and the tons of unlockables, including concept art and new costumes from across the Spider-Man universe, fans will have plenty of reasons to come back to the game time and time again.

Which is unfortunate, because the game itself probably won’t. Now, the game has some technical issues that make the game somewhat less than ideal, including some awkward camera issues in tight spaces and some targeting issues when you’re trying to pick up a box with your grapple and instead end up grabbing onto an enemy, but Activision seems to be working on a patch to resolve these issues, and they’re not game-breaking on their own in any case. Annoying though they are, you can progress past them, so let us simply acknowledge them and move on. The big issue with Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is that the game is, simply put, repetitive. Here’s an example: in the first mission you take on, as Spider-Man, you face off against Kraven, and as you’re fighting him in a cage style arena, the game suddenly switches over to a cute little Punch-Out style mini-game where you have to use the analog sticks to dodge attacks and whallop the guy in the face. This is fine, all in all, and it’s a cute little addition that is fun enough on its own and breaks up the gameplay enough to be interesting. The problem is that the developers were apparently so enamored with this gimmick that they kept cramming it into the game over and over again until it stopped being fun and started being tedious, when simply using it a few times in the first act, ignoring it for the rest of the game, and then sticking it into the Mysterio fight along with some OTHER novel gimmicks would have been more interesting in the long run. This happens a lot, actually, as you play through the game. While Spider-Man and Ultimate Spider-Man are essentially just by-the-numbers characters for the most part, every Noir Spider-Man stage works the same: play through some annoying stealth bits, save some hostages, get into a small combat sequence, fight the boss, repeat until the stage is over. There’s literally no variety to the sections whatsoever. Spider-Man 2099 also suffers from this thanks to the speed-fall segments that the developers felt the need to cram in like fifteen times throughout the game, which become more and more stale as the game wears on. It also doesn’t help that, while Ultimate Spider-Man and Spider-Man see enemies that get mild face-lifts as the game progresses, Noir Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099 basically fight the same thugs (Noir fights basic mafia enforcers, 2099 fights Public Eye officers) over and over constantly with little variation. Compared to Web of Shadows with its wide variety of gameplay elements and constantly changing rogues gallery, Shattered Dimensions can’t help but feel tedious in comparison.

Beyond that, however, the game is also incredibly linear and feels like a step backwards as a result. Games like Web of Shadows, Infamous, Batman: Arkham Asylum, and Prototype have massively raised the bar for superhero-based games, with free-roaming environments and large varieties of things for the player to do outside of the main game, and Shattered Dimensions, again, feels like the first Spider-Man game for the PS1. The obvious invisible walls and bottomless pits the game throws at you feel insulting after spending the past four Spider-Man games swinging around an entire city, and the game really does nothing to make the linear, walled in environments feel organic. When you’re inside of a building of some sort or another the game at least feels somewhat appropriate, but when in an open environment where the game simply will not let you climb on top of a building for no reason or makes the character complain at you for “going the wrong way”, the illusion is instantly broken. You can’t give the player a character who can stick to walls and swing wherever he needs to go, then make said character unable to progress until he lifts a platform high enough to proceed, okay? Spider-Man would not care about that. He’d web the ceiling and pull himself through the hole, because who cares about the platform? Honestly. Noir Spider-Man is not going to sneak around within the train yard to take out the thugs before him, he’s going to climb a nearby building to scout the scene and THEN take the thugs out because THAT’S INTELLIGENT, okay? It’s not even so much that the game is linear and walled in that’s the problem as it is that you feel like you’re just accomplishing objectives within the confines of the game’s parameters instead of playing as Spider-Man, and that’s annoying.

As a fanservice game, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is fine enough for what it is, but it feels like a step backwards for the character and the game franchise as a whole. The story is serviceable, though it does nothing exciting, spits on continuity more than a few times, and basically feels like it was written by people who don’t actually pay attention to the comics. The graphics and audio are outstanding all around, and really make the game shine from start to finish. The gameplay is fine enough, as the characters are generally responsive, the game is simple enough to learn, and there are enough gimmicks in the game to be interesting at first. There’s also plenty to earn and unlock in the game, between the various character upgrades, challenges, difficulty levels, costumes, and more, and anyone who enjoys the overall game will have plenty of reasons to come back again and again. That said, the game has some technical issues that, though likely to be patched, do nothing to help the experience. It also doesn’t help that the game feels repetitive, as the developers reuse the same tricks over and over again with little change, turning novelty set-pieces into tedious exercises in repetition, and half of the game features you beating on the same two types of thugs in the SAME costumes instead of beating on said thugs in DIFFERENT costumes, which doesn’t help. The game also ultimately feels like a step backwards when compared to most of the superhero games of the past few years, especially other Spider-Man titles, as it’s a linear, boxed in game that completely discards the free-roaming aspects of prior games in favor of a much more start-to-finish experience that is underwhelming in comparison. Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is really a game for die-hard Spider-Man fans and people who love third person action games alone, as Spider-Man fans will likely be annoyed by the backwards step in technology and the continuity errors, and casual genre fans will find the repetition and technical flaws frustrating enough to drive them away, which is a shame, as this could have been a great game instead of a passable one.

The Scores:
Story: MEDIOCRE
Graphics: GREAT
Sound: CLASSIC
Control/Gameplay: MEDIOCRE
Replayability: GOOD
Balance: MEDIOCRE
Originality: BAD
Addictiveness: POOR
Appeal: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: BAD
FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
As the score implies, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is a decent game, neither good nor bad, but simply adequate. The story is fine enough for what it is in that it’s basically a game about multiple incarnations of Spider-Man trying to save all of their universes, and there’s plenty of fanservice to go around, but the plot craps on continuity more than a few times and creates villains out of whole cloth or uses villains that aren’t normally identified as Spider-Man villains instead of actually using his rogues gallery to great effect. The game looks pretty and sounds nice, the gameplay is easy enough to learn for anyone to jump in and play, and there’s a ton of replay value to the game between numerous difficulty levels, unlockables, challenges, and more to keep fans coming back for more. However, the game features technical issues that, until patched, make the game more frustrating than it should be, and even without those issues, the game is repetitive to a point where it becomes boring in later stages of the game. Further, the game feels like a major step backwards when compared to many of the superhero games of the past several years, including its own predecessors, as it’s a linear walled-in game with little variety, and the genre, frankly, passed this sort of game experience by years ago. For diehard Spider-Man fans or diehard fans of the genre, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is likely to be a fun experience worth checking out, but most will either be put off by the game’s awkward story, regressive design, technical issues, or repetition, making this hard to recommend to anyone who hasn’t more than likely purchased it already.

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