Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is back. In fact, four Spider-Men are back for Shattered Dimensions, a game that celebrates the wallcrawler's various incarnations. These four Spider-Men inhabit different worlds with different gameplay styles and unexpected variations on well-known villains. If you think you've seen it all with Spider-Man games, think again. (Go ahead, think. I'll be here waiting.) Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions has some incredible Spider-Man moments, but plenty of familiar issues that prevent it from being the Arkham Asylum of the Spider-Man universe.
Mysterio is after a powerful tablet that will make him more than just a lame illusionist. But the pieces of the tablet have been spread out across four dimensions. Fortunately, each dimension has its own version of Spider-Man. There's the Amazing Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man, Noir Spidey and Spider-Man 2099. Each has unique abilities, a different visual style, and even different voice actors pulled from Spidey's long television history (including Dan Gilvezan of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends fame).
As you hunt down the pieces of the tablet, you'll get a first-hand look at Spidey's notorious Rogue's Gallery. What's cool about Shattered Dimensions is that each world can bring drastic changes to familiar foes. The Noir Green Goblin is a circus freak, 2099's Doctor Octopus is a chick, Ultimate Electro is living electricity sans lame green and yellow costume. The intros for each boss, which come at the start of the level, are handled brilliantly. There's a sense of drama in Shattered Dimensions that has been missing from Spidey games for years.
But that drama is all in the way the villains are presented (along with some truly epic boss battles). The story itself is weak. I mean, Spider-Man goes from level to level chasing and then beating a boss to collect a piece of the tablet… that is the plot. Spoilers.
The story has no pull to it, but here are plenty of good things that kept me playing, even as the plot fell completely flat. Each level has 15 challenges to tackle and those challenges unlock upgrades to your character and a slew of cool bonus costumes. Who wouldn't want to play as Bag-Man Spidey of Fantastic Four fame or the Scarlet Spider? The challenges are sensibly constructed and pretty much always stuff that doesn't force you to break from the main game. You might disarm five mercenaries instead of smacking them with your fists to win a challenge, earn some Spidey points to spend on upgrades, and reveal more of the level's available tasks. These challenges were a big help in keeping the naturally repetitive nature of an action game like this from feeling tedious.
The biggest change from recent Spider-Man games is that there's no giant, open New York City to swing through. Instead, you have well-crafted, linear levels that offer little freedom for exploration but have more flavor than Activision's usual virtual Manhattan. This is a smart break from the usual formula and probably saved Shattered Dimensions from becoming a big empty world filled with fetch quests. But it also leads to one major problem -- too often the levels take place in confined indoors areas, which causes the camera to flip out. Why can't anyone make a Spider-Man game with a good camera? Some of this can be blame on the nature of a Spidey game -- quick pace, lots of swarming enemies -- but some of this lies firmly on the shoulders of developer Beenox. If I am crawling on a ceiling to get the drop on enemies below me, the camera should not be focused on Spider-Man. That's just too obvious not to have been fixed before this game hit store shelves.
I did mention there's a lot of fast-paced action. And that's handled well. Much of the action is stuff we've seen before. Spidey kicks, punches, and webslings his way through enemies. But there are some welcome wrinkles, mostly brought on by the four different versions of the Webslinger.
The Amazing Spider-Man world is the classic Spidey world and ol' Webhead has the same powers and skills as would be expected. The strength here is in the unique levels and in the boss battles, which are, for the most part, really solid.
The Noir Spider-Man isn't nearly as strong and relies of stealth to take out enemies. He needs to use the shadows. If spotted, alarms are raised and Spidey is shot to hell. It's not a perfect stealth system, though. Noir Spidey takes a page from the recent Splinter Cell, where the colors in the world bleed out when you are in shadows and (presumably) hidden. Problem is, the world's design is heavily desaturated to begin with, so there's not a ton of visual different between being in shadows and being in the open. In other words, sometimes I thought I was hidden only to still be spotted. The stealth stuff is a great idea, but it's far from perfect.
Ultimate Spider-Man wears the Venom suit and can enter rage mode to truly punish his enemies. While this Spider-Man isn't too different from his Amazing counterpart, the big difference is in seeing the change in enemies. Carnage is just a dumb, dumb enemy in the Amazing world, but is actually quite horrific in the Ultimate world. So using the Ultimate version leads to this uniquely horrific level unlike anything in previous Spider-Man games.
And the 2099 version can enter an Accelerated Vision mode that slows time, allowing him to dodge missiles and pummel enemies with greater ease. There are also some slick HALO jump sequences where Spidey has to chase villains while rocketing towards the ground.
Regardless of the version of Spider-Man, all of them have a few moments where they enter first-person hand-to-hand combat. I've got to imagine someone thought this would be cool to test out, then everyone realized far too late into development that this idea was completely stupid and not something anyone would ever, in a million years, want in a Spider-Man game. What were they thinking?
The good news for Spidey fans is that there are some spectacular levels in Shattered Dimensions, enough to overcome some dumb design choices and annoyances (Oh boy, save more civilians!). The Sandman level is so incredibly cool. For much of the level, Sandman is a giant tornado, destroying the level as you chase him, forcing Spidey to zip along the pieces of debris. And the enemies are sand creatures, which must be doused with water to harm. What a great level.
That's not to say every level is a work of genius. There are a few that are a little frustrating or, at least, less inspired. But I'll take a few mediocre levels if it means getting to enjoy a few fantastic ones.
And most importantly, the four Spider-Men are brought together in an intelligent way for the final battle. I was really worried that some dumb final gimmick would ruin this game, but that's not the case. Don't worry, you won't have some sort of super-merged Spider-Man battling Mysterio for the fate of the world.