Review: Spider-Man: Edge of Time (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Spider-Man: Edge of Time
Genre: Action Adventure
Developer: Beenox
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: 10/04/11

So it seems that Activision has come to the conclusion so many other companies have about licensed properties: while releasing good licensed games tends to make lots of money, releasing mediocre licensed games makes decent money and lets you focus your good developers on in-house properties. That might seem like a mean and perhaps unfair comparison, but look at the numbers. After the well received X-Men Legends and Marvel Ultimate Alliance games, Activision shifted from existing developer Raven Software to new developer Vicarious Visions, who in turn pushed out a game most people have charitably described as “tolerable”, which was a massive improvement from their PS2 and Wii ports of Spider-Man 3, which most people have charitably described as “intolerable”. Activision further handed off the X-Men license to Silicon Knights, who then pushed out the underwhelming X-Men: Destiny, which has basically met with almost universal ridicule (but probably met its sales goals). This change in direction is most clear, however, with the Spider-Man franchise. After a string of progressively less interesting games stemming from the excellent Spider-Man 2, Treyarch teamed up with Shaba Games to put out Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, which was one of the best games in the series in years. Activision responded by shuttering Shaba, letting Treyarch get back to Call of Duty and handing the Spider-Man franchise to relatively untested developer Beenox, who gave us Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. Now Shattered Dimensions did show some promise, thanks to its ambitious concept of putting four Spider-Men together with different art styles and mechanics, though it was hampered by poor continuity attention, linear gameplay, and a lot of little hiccups that made it a good try and that’s it. The hope was that Beenox was actually capable of turning out a good second game, and that they’d learn from their mistakes and were a good choice by Activision, instead of a cheap choice developer that got lucky.

Spider-Man: Edge of Time, then, is basically a glorious middle finger to those who were hoping Beenox had learned something, as it’s actually worse.

The game starts promisingly enough, of course; Miguel O’Hara, AKA Spider-Man 2099, is spying on his employer Alchemax, specifically, scientist Walker Sloan, who has come up with a time portal that will allow him to travel back to the 1970’s, establish Alchemax before it was actually created, edge out main competitor Stark-Fujikawa, and basically take over the business world, with him at the helm. Miguel isn’t able to stop Sloan before this actually happens, of course, so he reaches out to present day Spider-Man Peter Parker for an assist… because if things aren’t set right and the timeline restored, as a result of the changes both current and upcoming, Peter Parker will die at the hands of Anti-Venom. The concept on a base level is solid enough to carry the game, and the developers do put in a good amount of effort into making the concept work as well as it’s going to. Big changes to the world, such as Peter Parker now working for Alchemax alongside Doctor Octopus of all people, are handled well, but little changes, such as J. Jonah Jameson becoming a political talk radio host and various other supervillians becoming successes in non-illegal ways, also pop up here and there to point out how dramatic and far-reaching the impact of the events really are. The concept has legs from the word go and the game makes a lot of good use of that, and if intent and general execution alone were enough to carry a game, Edge of Time would probably be pretty good.

But Edge of Time has three fairly obvious flaws, as a game, that make its plot, no matter how well written it might seem, annoying in most cases. Now, Shattered Dimensions had some fairly obvious continuity issues in its plot, including wrong representations of characters, dead characters being not dead, and so on, and Edge of Time is no different, as from jump, we’re working in what is presumably a pre-Brand New Day storyline, as Mary Jane is a small but notable part of the plot. Now, far be it from me to complain about that in concept, as I hate Brand New Day and everything resulting from it with a passion, but that storyline is three years old at this point. You can’t go into the plot of the game saying “Oh, so we’re going to have Spider-Man and Mary Jane be together in some capacity but then also use a character from post-Brand New Day continuity (Anti-Venom)” and have that be a thing, because that’s going to make comic fans very confused and angry. Even beyond that, however, there’s the fact that unlike Shattered Dimensions, which featured a who’s who of villains in the Spider-Man universe, Edge of Time features a whopping six villains total, and of those six, one is Doctor Octopus in a “sniveling toady” role that sees no combat time, one is a brainwashed Anti-Venom (because he’s not a villain), and four were invented out of whole cloth for this game. Three of the villains are wholly inventions of the creators and the fourth is a 2099 version of Black Cat, and aside from reaffirming that any Black Cat battle in a Spider-Man game will be horrible, basically also reaffirms that Beenox likes the idea of Spider-Man 2099 but has no interest in the actual character. In two games we’ve seen them manage to avoid using any of Miguel’s actual villains, save for Scorpion who appeared all of once, choosing instead to invent new ones from regular Spider-Man characters, and at this point, when your entire cast of villains consists of brainwashed Eddie Brock and a bunch of your own invented characters, that’s just sad.

Beenox has opted to use one uniform visual style this time around, so Edge of Time features a very polished, high quality 3D engine behind it that makes everything look very clean and polished. Both Spider-Men look great and have plenty of fluid animations to them, as do the more important enemies you face, and the regular grunt enemies look fine enough, though their designs repeat more frequently than one would want. The special effects are also very pretty and add some life to the experience, especially in the 2099 environment, where said effects see a lot more use. Aurally, the voice acting is generally top notch, though the Spider-Man voice actors have shifted around a bit. Josh Keaton takes on the role of Spider-Man this time around, and while he’s not Neil Patrick Harris, he’s fine in the role as he’s voiced the character plenty of times before and knows how to work with him. Christopher Daniel Barnes takes on the role of Spider-Man 2099 this time around, which is also fine, though awkward; Dan Gilvezan brought a more light-hearted spin to the character that fit in well, while Barnes brings the more serious tone he brought to Spider-Man Noir with him here instead. That’s fine, in that the conflict between the characters works well and having Spider-Man 2099 play straight man to Spider-Man’s more goofy personality works well, but it basically contradicts the prior game and it’s confusing as a result. The remainder of the voice work, though heard far less frequently than that of the Spider-Men, is also great, especially that of Val Kilmer as Walker Sloan, but he’s basically in the game for around a grand total of an hour, at best, and while his parts are great, there’s too few of them given how well he takes to the role. The sound effects are also generally pretty solid and sound as you’d expect, from the futuristic effects that pop up in locations around Alchemax to the more obvious explosions and strikes one gets from a battle, and they all fit in perfectly fine.

Edge of Time basically takes the core concepts from Shattered Dimensions and builds on them, so if you’ve played that (or most recent Spider-Man games) you’ll likely be okay here, but if not, here’s the gist. You’re offered two attacks, one light and one heavy, as well as web shots and a jump button on the face of the controller as well as a grapple mapped to the right bumper, 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, and web shots can tie up enemies and make them immobile, though this often only works on smaller enemies. The defensive stance from the prior game has been axed, but by pulling the left trigger each Spider-Man will engage a defensive aura of sorts, which we’ll address in a bit. 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 up panel on the D-pad kicks in spider-sense, which works as it did in the last game, allowing you to readily identify enemies, goals, 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. You can also crawl on walls by pressing up against them, and both Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099 mostly play identically, though their animations change somewhat based on their combat styles, so you should be able to work with both equally well.

Edge of Time employs a few new tactics and brings back others from Shattered Dimensions to keep things interesting, however. Spider-Man mostly plays through the game normally, though 2099 brings back the diving segments he brought to the prior game, so you’ll see a few of those pop up here and there, for example. One new element is that both characters have different defensive actions they employ in battle, that have similar functionality but different purposes. By pulling the left trigger, Spider-Man kicks in Hyper Sense, which basically accelerates his movement to a point where he can dodge most every attack thrown at him and move noticeably faster, allowing him to bypass slower traps and mess up enemies more quickly and safely. Spider-Man 2099 instead uses an Accelerated Decoy, which deploys a decoy of him that distracts enemies, allowing him to draw enemy attacks and retaliate safely, as well as lure enemies to shoot specific locations for battle or puzzle purposes. Both drain the energy bar below your life meter, though it refills quickly enough that you can make good use of these skills frequently in battle. The meters can also overcharge, allowing you added bonuses in combat until you deplete them, depending on what upgrades you buy. There’s now also a Time Paradox special move that you can employ after lumping up on enemies for a bit that allows you to massively slow down time in a small area around you, allowing you to unmercifully beat the mess out of any enemies within it, which is helpful is massively mobbed areas. The game also brings back the upgrade system from prior games, allowing you to improve the health and energy of both characters as well as unlock special moves and such, and you can choose to unlock boosts that affect both characters or each one, depending on what you most need at the time. Stat increases are unlocked with Gold Spiders, which are found or earned from challenges and combat sections, while attack upgrades are bought with general experience points you earn from collecting power-ups, passing challenges and beating down enemies.

The core campaign takes place throughout the Alchemax building, present and future, and you’ll spend most of your time beating down the enemies contained within it and passing the puzzles you encounter, but that’s not all there is to the experience. Aside from collecting power-ups throughout the stages, you’ll also routinely come across missions from the Web of Challenges, which will periodically pop-up throughout the game. Basically, pressing Back on the controller prompts you with an objective, like “Beat X dudes while taking Y hits” or “Race to X goal in Y amount of time”, for example, and passing the challenge gives you a Golden Spider and some experience, with better rewards for each of the three reward levels, using the standard Bronze, Silver and Gold measurements. You can only complete the challenges on Normal difficulty, oddly, but you can unlock them on any difficulty, so you can try them out on whatever difficulty you want. You can blow through the game in around eight hours, though you can also go back to the Web of Challenges at any point and take on a challenge independent of the campaign if you want to improve your score, and doing so unlocks more extras in the game, like artwork and new costumes to wear while playing the game, though other unlockables, like cutscenes and newspapers, are also available by different means. The game also has a pretty good variety of Achievements available, and while some of them are the less than optimal “Beat the game on X difficulty” kind, most are based around some more interesting concepts and should keep you busy if you’re into this sort of thing.

Having said that, however, the single biggest issue against Edge of Time is that the game is, simply put, unexciting. Shattered Dimensions came across as something of an unfocused and repetitive experience at times because of the design, but by focusing on only two Spider-Men in one uniform location, Beenox has removed the “unfocused” part… and somehow made the game more repetitive as a result. Every sequence of the game boils down to “fight some dudes, pry open a door/solve a puzzle to open a door, fight some more dudes, watch the world completely shift, repeat” with the odd break-up of a Spider-Man 2099 diving sequence that becomes grating after the second time and continues to be so the next several times after that. The game is exceptionally linear, and the whole gimmick about the changing world and the concept of events affecting both timelines boils down to scripted changes that are fifty percent in place to create tension and fifty percent in place to make you say “Oh COME ON, what do I have to do NOW?” when the simple door you were about to enter disappears or changes into a massive gauntlet of traps, for instance. It’d be an okay gimmick if it weren’t used so frequently and so much to frustrate the player, but as it is you’ll come to dread the effect as it’s almost never to your benefit. Aside from the linearity and repetitive nature of things, the game doesn’t feel like a Spider-Man game, thanks to the frequent tight corridors and the sloppy designs of the few open areas web-swinging is actually useful in. Compared to Shattered Dimensions it’s a more linear, more cramped, less imaginative, more frustrating experience, which is especially frustrating given that this is a sequel; compared to, again, Web of Shadows, it’s basically a massive step backwards in nearly every respect. Spider-Man: The Movie for the last generation consoles felt less restrictive than this, frankly.

If Spider-Man: Edge of Time is indicative of what Beenox is really capable of after the promise they showed with Shattered Dimensions, then Activision’s announcement that Beenox will be the development head for all future Spider-Man games is pretty much a warning to players to avoid the franchise until such is no longer the case. It features a promising storyline concept that passes along some cute moments and ideas here and there, the game looks and sounds pretty good, the gameplay is easy enough to learn and understand, and there are challenges, Achievements and unlockable content to bring you back if you’re interested. However, the game is in all other respects a step backwards from the last two Spider-Man titles at the very least. The storyline is a continuity mess and features mostly made up or out-of-character villains, the game itself is obviously and exceptionally linear, and the experience is incredibly repetitive after about the first hour of gameplay and never lets up until the end. There’s little variety to the experience at all, and the cramped corridors and awkward environments when you’re given larger areas to web-swing around make the game feel less like a Spider-Man game and more like an awkward knock-off. Frankly, Beenox has brought nothing new, interesting or exciting to the table and has actually produced a less interesting game than Shattered Dimensions, and it doesn’t matter if Edge of Time only had a year of development time; if anything, that makes it worse. Spider-Man: Edge of Time is the sort of game that is really only going to appeal to the diehard Spider-Man fan who loves the character so much they have to play anything he’s in, because for anyone else, this is basically going to be a disappointment.

The Scores:
Graphics: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: MEDIOCRE
Replayability: POOR
Balance: POOR
Originality: DREADFUL
Addictiveness: POOR
Appeal: POOR
Miscellaneous: BAD


Short Attention Span Summary:
Y’know, I don’t even know what to tell you here. I’m a huge fan of the Spider-Man character and franchise, I’ve enjoyed most of the games Activision has published featuring the character in the past decade or so, but even handed a game that features five characters from the franchise that I like and pretends Brand New Day isn’t an existing thing, I still didn’t like this game very much. The plot is borne from a good idea, the game looks, sounds and plays just fine and dandy, and there’s a solid amount of extra content to the game to keep it interesting if you like what’s going on here, to be certain. However, the plot is a continuity nightmare and features a whole one actual, active, existing villain from either franchise part, and the game is excessively repetitive and linear to a point where it actually regresses from Shattered Dimensions. The game almost universally doesn’t seem to understand the character it’s based around and rarely takes advantage of the character’s strengths, and the game smacks of being pushed out the door which, given the fact that there’s been only one year between Shattered Dimensions and this, is unsurprising. Diehard fans of Spider-Man and everything about him may be able to find some joy in this game, but most players will find the game to be adequate at best and frustrating at worst, and if this is any indication, next year’s The Amazing Spider-Man will likely be more of the same.



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One response to “Review: Spider-Man: Edge of Time (Microsoft Xbox 360)”

  1. Alex Lucard Avatar

    I was a bit optimistic when I saw Peter David was doing the script and dialogue as he has always done a good Spider-Man, but he also created Miguel o’Hara. However I was so unimpressed with Web of Shadows (oh the bitchfest over IM you and I had on that game) that I passed on picking this up.

    It also kind of boggles me that they switched voice actors around. They should have left it the same actors playing the same spider-men for aural continuity.

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