‘Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions’ is the Spider-Game You’ve Been Waiting For [Review]
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a great Spider-Man game. “Spider-Man 2: The Movie” was the last time a Spider-game was genuinely great (balloon missions aside) and the games that followed hit a few aspects of Spider-Man dead on, but never enough at the same time to actually be worth it. Activision’s “Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions” dropped on Tuesday for the Wii, Xbox and PlayStation 3, though, and it’s a big, fat bundle of good news for Spider-Man fans who have been thirsting for something good.
I know what you’re thinking. “Is it better than ‘Batman: Arkham Asylum’?” Survey says… quite possibly.”Shattered Dimensions” features a story penned by Marvel web-head Dan Slott that traipses across four different Spider-dimensions. Considering Slott’s interest in and reputation for dealing with continuity-related matters, and his position as part of the team guiding “Amazing Spider-Man” over the past couple years, this is pretty much a match made in heaven.
The game’s story drifts a bit and isn’t all that much to write home about. There’s a magic rock, bad guys have it, good guys want it, and whoops there you go into an alternate dimensional adventure. The stakes often feel non-existent thanks to the checkpoint system and a little too much vague exposition. But the characterization is on point, and that’s where “Shattered Dimension” really shines.
You can play in the Amazing Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man, Spider-Man Noir, and Spider-Man 2099 universes, each of which have their own distinctive personalities and play styles. Each of the various Spider-Men sound how you’d expect them to sound, whether that means talkative and annoying or brutally quiet. Spider-Man 2099, befitting his high-tech setting, requires a lot of fast-moving acrobatics and chases. Ultimate Spider-Man is wearing the symbiote, so he’s a little angrier and more brutal than the other Spider-Men. Amazing Spider-Man? He’s a little more jolly and a little funnier than his brethren.
When you fight against Sandman, Deadpool, Hammerhead, or other villains, they sound just like they would have in the comics. Sandman is a little dopey, Electro is eager to prove his superiority, and Deadpool just won’t shut up. For once, the characterization in a superhero game is dead on across the board, and the sprawling cast is a delight. Slott also peppers the game with several references to other Marvel characters, including Princess Python, which helps to build the feeling of this being not just a Spider-Man game, but a Marvel Universe game.
The stand-out universe, though, is Spider-Man Noir. They did a great job of transplanting one of the best Spider-Man stories in recent memory into a video game, and did it in such a way that they also went directly at the neck of “Batman: Arkham Asylum” at the same time. Noir is composed of a series of stealth missions, since Spidey Noir isn’t as gifted as his more superheroic brethren. You strike from the shadows and fade into the darkness, because otherwise you’re going to get a savage beating.
How does Spider-Man Noir’s gameplay stack up to “Arkham Asylum?” Pretty well, I’d say. What “Shattered Dimensions” lacks in gadgets it more than makes up for in situational takedowns. Depending on your position when grabbing an enemy — on a wall, on the ground, perched on an outcropping, or right behind him — the attack will trigger one of several randomized takedowns. There are a couple dozen in Spider-Man Noir alone, which is both impressive and a huge bonus to what can easily slip into boring stealth gameplay. You still spend a lot of time running from fights, and even more time surveying an area to see the best way to take someone down, but you never get bored. When you use your webs to grab an enemy, yank him toward you, and slam him into a wall, you grin. When you yank another foe up a light post, web him up, and send him to sleep with a couple of hard punches to the neck and a quick one-liner, you cheer.
Variety is the spice of life, and variety is what makes “Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions” go. You have four kinds of gameplay, each just different enough to be interesting, and the fact that each boss fight is different is a huge positive for its gameplay. The bosses have classic weaknesses (Sandman gets big and dumb, Electro is weak against water, Deadpool is weak against punches in his big fat mouth), but they’re spun in a new way. You can’t just vacuum up Sandman or punch Electro with rubber gloves any more, but if you’re familiar with the characters, you’ll get a kick out of them.
The game’s voice acting is also worth noting. Neil Patrick Harris, voice of Spider-Man in the vastly underrated MTV “Spider-Man” cartoon, provides the voice of the Amazing Spider-Man. Dan Gilvezan voices Spider-Man 2099, and he’s come a long way since “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends” in the ’80s. Josh Keaton voiced Spider-Man on the recent “Spectacular Spider-Man” cartoon puts the role of Ultimate Spider-Man on his shoulders, and Christopher Barnes, Spider-Man in the ’90s cartoon series, voices Spider-Man Noir. It’s very cool to hear all these familiar voices again, and it lends some real weight to this being a true Spider-Man game, something that the creators involved cared about producing, rather than something dashed off to fulfill a contract.
Both games share similar gameplay that take you through each hero’s rogues gallery, though “Shattered Dimension’s” unlocking system is much more user-friendly than “Arkham Asylum’s” plot-driven system. But if you really want to know if “Shattered Dimensions” is better than “Arkham Asylum,” it really comes down to one specific thing. In “Arkham Asylum” Batman saves people constantly, only to find their corpses later one, covered in chattering and laughing Joker teeth. In “Shattered Dimensions,” the people you save actually stay saved, and even joke around with you a little. If you want a gameplay experience that isn’t crushingly depressing… go with Spider-Man’s latest.