Spider-Man’s had a rough go of it over these last few years. His movie franchise has tanked. He’s had his marriage erased by the devil. The Broadway musical based on his life was delayed, canceled, restarted, and now looks like one of the biggest disasters to ever take the stage. Thankfully, there’s been one constant in Spidey’s life: mediocre video games. It’s been a long time since we’ve gotten a great Spider-Man game, but hopes were high for the latest title, Shattered Dimensions. Combining Spidey’s from four different universes, Activision’s latest entry into the franchise looked like it might be one of the definitive statements on the character. Unfortunately, the execution falls a bit flat, and instead of getting the best Spider-Man game of all-time, Shattered Dimensions ends up being another also-ran.
A mystical artifact, known as the Tablet of Order and Chaos, is shattered during a fight between Spider-Man and Mysterio. The pieces are sent to different dimensions, and the Spider-Man of each particular dimension is responsible for getting the pieces back. Along the way, you’ll tackle familiar foes who’ve been empowered by the tablet pieces they’ve found. Taking place in the universe we know from the traditional Amazing Spider-Man books, the Noir universe, which is a pulp-fueled prohibition era world, the Ultimate universe, where a teenage Peter Parker just got his hands on the symbiote suit, and Marvel’s alternate future timeline 2099, where Miguel O’Hara has taken up the mantle of Spider-Man, both die-hard and casual Spider-fans will get to see the web slinger in some very new and different roles. The script by regular Amazing Spider-Man comic writer Dan Slott is up to his usual high and hilarious standard, and it’s probably the best-written Spider-Man game ever. Sadly, even though there are a handful of memorable moments, the gameplay doesn’t quite live up to the story at all.
Each of the four Spider-Men all have slightly different abilities at their disposal. For the most part, combat plays out exactly the same for each and every one of them, save for Noir Spidey, who relies much more on stealth takedowns than close-quarters combat. Utilizing two- or three-button combos, you’ll be able to fend off the hordes of enemies your arch-nemesis throw at you. There are a multitude of new moves to earn using the in-game experience, Spider Essence. Taking down enemies, completing level-specific challenges (defeat “x” amount of enemies, finish in “x” amount of time, etc.), and collecting spider symbol icons will give you more Essence. You can then upgrade any of the Spider-Men with new moves or abilities. It’s not particularly deep, but there are a ton of different techniques to earn.
You’ll also make use of spider-sense a lot. Working almost identically to the way detective mode did in Arkham Asylum, your spider-sense shows you the locations of your enemies on screen, as well as unique objects to interact with, and where to find spider icons. It’s pretty helpful when you have to do the tedious civilian rescue missions, or need to find that last icon in the level. While there is a healthy dose of web swinging to do, it’s probably the most annoying part of the game. Without having a fixed camera on Spider-Man the moment he starts swinging, the game tends to freak out a bit, and isn’t able to give you a clear view of where you’re going. The other issue with swinging is that each level has a definitive beginning and end. Despite how open some of the locales are, they’re still very linear. It’s almost as if the game was designed as an action-platformer, and the web swinging was put in as an afterthought. It’s a shame one of the most important aspects of Spider-Man’s abilities isn’t up to snuff, but Shattered Dimensions has the worst web swinging of any game made so far.
The most impressive part of the game is without a doubt the boss fights. Nobody is playing a Spider-Man game to fight hordes of no-name bums. They’re playing because Spider-Man’s rogues gallery is easily one of the top two in all of comics, and they want to take on classics like the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, and the Sandman. Longtime fans won’t be disappointed at all by the choices made for level bosses, especially since many of the classics are re-interpreted in the alternate dimensions. Getting to see the 2099 version of the Scorpion and Doc Ock, as well as Noir versions of the Green Goblin and Vulture, go toe to toe with that world’s version of Spider-Man is a blast. It helps that each of the boss fights is also fairly unique, providing more of a challenge than the rest of the game. Disappointingly, nearly every single level plays out the exact same way, and no matter how enthralling the boss fight was, it feels like more of the same. Each board introduces the bad guy, and has him run away, leaving you to fight jobbers. This will happen a second time, only you’ll have to fight slightly tougher thugs, while stopping to save a few civilians, before finally you get to the final boss fight. Ten times this happens. I know that there are four entirely different universes where this is happening, but it’s still pretty tedious and boring after the first batch of levels.
As bland as the gameplay is, the visuals are amazing. While both the Amazing and Ultimate universes are cel-shaded, the 2099 and Noir worlds are brought to live with much more realistic graphics. The cel-shading is phenomenal, and reminds me a lot of the look and feel of Borderlands. It works terrifically for both dimensions, and really allows characters to pop off the screen from the backgrounds. Though the Noir world is mostly shrouded in the cover of night, you do catch glimpses of how well it’s all been rendered and realized, right down to the stitches on Spider-Man’s gloves. Without question, the 2099 universe steals the show. Though a small percentage of people may find the world much too busy with dozens of skyscrapers, hundreds of flying cars, and thousands upon thousands of flashing lights, the 2099 world felt perfect. It’s a future that combines the flash and pizzazz of the Fifth Element with the neo-noir, over-developed cityscapes of Blade Runner, and it looks phenomenal on screen. Voice acting in the game is also top notch, and that’s to be expected. Calling back almost every actor who ever voiced and animated Spider-Man at one point or another to provide the voices for all four Spideys was a genius move. While each Spider-Man sounds completely different, they also sound familiar and true. It can’t easy emoting for a character hidden behind a mask, but all four actors do an impeccable job. It’s just a shame the camera issues are so prevalent that you’re constantly jarred from the experience, and are instantly reminded you’re playing a game.
Though Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is an impressive effort to get Spidey’s video game franchise back on the right track, it doesn’t quite do the job. The writing, acting, and graphics are stellar. If only the gameplay, camera, and lack of variety weren’t so stifling. Shattered Dimensions is still a solid, if unspectacular game, that will give Spider-fans some hope for the future of the franchise. I can only hope the next time a Spider-Man game comes around, as much attention as was paid to the presentation and plot is paid to the core combat and exploration mechanics.