Oh what a tangle web we weave, when first we practise to deceive. That sentiment, sadly, also applies to Edge of Time. It fails rather spectacularly to capitalise upon the potential of last year's Shattered Dimensions. Despite coming from the same developer, Beenox, it unstitches most of the things Shattered Dimensions did so well, creating a game that is in so many respects an unworthy follow-up.
The Spider-Man: Edge of Time Video Review
Whilst not a direct sequel to Shattered Dimensions, Edge of Time follows two of its protagonists – The Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099. And the plot is fairly straightforward. In 2099, crazed scientist Walker Sloan, using experimental technology, travels back in time to establish the nefarious Alchemax corporation back in the 1970's.
He succeeds and time splinters, creating an alternate universe. In the process the original Peter Parker dies at the tentacular hands of Anti-Venom. So Spider-Man 2099 dragoons Peter Parker from the new, alternate timeline to help him rectify reality. Got it? Although this may read like an epic backdrop for a game, with the fate of the universe and the life of Spider-Man himself at stake, the way in which it is rendered makes it feel anything but.
Instead, you spend most of your time blindly brawling through garishly-lit laboratories and web-slinging down the drab corridors of Alchemax, performing the most trivial actions. You deactivate switches. You destroy generators. You collect keys. It's the obscene banality of these tasks, and their seemingly interchangeable nature, that really undermines the scope and grandeur of the plot. Having to do the same things over and over quickly disengages you from what could have been a dramatic premise.
At one point, in a characteristic aside, Amazing Spider-Man wryly jests after doing something three times, "What is this? A video game?" Does the game then proceed to deconstruct this most cliched of gaming tropes? Nope. In fact the level design is crammed full of such devices, which arduously expand the game's running time to a meagre 7 hours. One of the most irritating ways in which it does this is the spontaneous 'teleportation' of enemies into an area (it is the future after all.) So wave after wave of robots or masked goons appear out of thin air, retarding your progress. Although you can often relieve the tedium by exiting an area without defeating the hordes of enemies, it's almost a tacit admission from the game that it should have let you out of a particular area by now.
I don't want to keep mentioning Shattered Dimensions, but it was a game that really optimised its form to suit Spider-Man. It smartly avoided repetition by having four leads, each with a slightly different gameplay style, and it had a neat episodic structure. Just like those early issues of Amazing Spider-Man, you encountered a single villain, oozing charisma, and ultimately defeated them in a climactic showdown. Recall how Electro continually antagonised you throughout a level, engorging himself on electricity, before you got up close and personal on the dam? Or how the camera shifted into a POV shot, letting you pummel Kraven's smug face, heightening the drama and shifting the pace?
Unfortunately, this attention and consideration is no longer present. By comparison, Edge of Time sends you repeatedly on a series of insipid quests that soon bleed into one another. And aside from Spider-Man 2099's free-falling sections - of which there are so, so many - there are very few differences in gameplay between the two protagonists. There are no stealth-based missions, no sequences that rely heavily on web-slinging, it's just hours of repetitive combat - it's a real shame, especially because the fight system this time around isn't as in-depth or as nuanced.
There are fewer special moves to unlock and master, and you no longer have the ability to evade attacks. Although as Amazing Spider-Man you can move at an accelerated speed, avoiding lasers and oncoming attacks, or delpoy a decoy as Spider-Man 2099, it doesn't allow you to counter as in Shattered Dimensions. You can't vault an opponent, attacking them unaware. It's streamlined, yes, but not in a good way.
Similarly, Spider-Man feels less physically mobile. Edge of Time doesn't provide you with a sandbox environment like Spidey games gone by, just a series of narrow corridors and enclosed rooms. But in the more open environments, like the Hydroponics chamber, the removal of the unlimited web-jump makes it difficult to gain altitude rapidly. Web-zipping isn't as fluid as it was, either.
To sell the illusion of being Spider-Man, traversal should never feel arduous; it should be effortless. Edge of Time fails to meet this expectation. You'll web-zip to the wrong location on more than one occasion, and as always in a Spider-Man game, you'll tussle with the camera in certain situations.
The graphics are perfectly passable but never impressive. Disappointingly, the contrasting art styles that offset and defined the four protagonists in Shattered Dimensions have been ditched in favour of a unified yet ultimately uninspiring art direction. Gone is the charming inky-black outline that highlighted the Amazing Spider-Man, making it look as if he'd just leapt straight from a comic panel into action. Voice acting is sharp and well-judged, though the brief yet spotlit appearance of Val Kilmer as Walker Sloan is puzzling. It's not really clear what he brings to the game with his very limited screen-time.
The campaign can be completed rather quickly, ao to extend the game's longevity the Web of Challenges returns, incentivising multiple play-throughs with previous achievements and alluring rewards. Given the banality of certain missions, however, it's really hard to imagine the lure of an alternate suit being enough to warrant extended play.