(Xbox 360 Review) Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions

Developer: Beenox
Publisher: Activision
Genre: Action
Players: 1
ESRB: Teen
Reviewer: Philip Smith

Overall: 7 = Good

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is one of the few non-Treyarch-developed Spidey titles to hit the market since they got their hands on the franchise in 2002. Aside from Next Level Games’ Friend or Foe and Shaba Games co-developing Web of Shadows, it has been Treyarch who has shaped the franchise from a traditional brawler into an open-world action-adventure sandbox. The shift of development duties to Beenox means more than just a new team at the helm but a significant shift back to a more traditional, closed-world approach.

Not everything has changed, though, and some of the best bits from previous releases have been retained, such as an upgradable move list, great unlockables, and most importantly, an enthusiasm for the franchise. By setting Shattered Dimensions in four alternate dimensions, Beenox was able to explore more of the idiosyncratic and downright weird worlds of Spider-Man than any before them. After Mysterio, whose dome head I’ve had a soft spot for since childhood, steals and subsequently shatters a sacred tablet, the fabric of space and time is torn open and its four pieces are flung to the far corners of the multiverse. With the help of Madame Web, our Spider-Man, Amazing Spider-Man, will join forces with those in the alternate past (Noir), present (Ultimate), and future (2099) to restore the tablet and save the universe.

The story is split up into four sets of four levels, with a level per piece for each universe. The acquisition of a piece unlocks the next level set, which can then be played in any order.  Each universe varies slightly, though all but Noir tend to stick pretty close to the same formula. As the symbiotic Spider-Man, you will face greater hordes due to strong area attacks than in the web-centric Amazing or melee-focused 2099 but also share a fair number of combos and web attacks with the other incarnations. The biggest difference in the main three is that Ultimate has a Rage Mode, allowing for extra damage when engaged, while 2099 has an Accelerated Vision, which slows down time. Noir is by far the most different as it focuses on stealth over action. In a world largely black and white, Noir Spider-Man is forced to stick to the shadows, avoiding detection and hiding from enemies when they follow-up an alert, due to being weaker than his counterparts. The sharp deviation from the standard action approach will no doubt rub some the wrong way, but I didn’t mind them. Even though the missions for each universe take a half hour to an hour, the Noir portions seemed to go by the fastest.

The wall-crawlers not only share some basic moves but also a Web of Destiny. Each mission has secondary objectives that can be completed for extra experience points, and these are tied together by a large web that shows all bonus objectives per level. Completing one of them, be it burning so many enemies at once or performing a set number of air attacks before touching the ground, nets bonus points that goes towards the end-game tally that adds another boost based on performance being of a bronze, silver, or gold caliber. The web is actually pretty interesting, and it also allows for any objective to be ‘stickied’ to the main screen, in case there is one that is of particular interest. And with so many unlockables, it’s nice to be able to get as many bonuses as possible.

In addition to expanding the Spider-Mens’ repertoire of fighting moves, you can also unlock character upgrades in the form of extra health, boosts to Rage and Accelerated Vision, greater experience, and alternate costumes. Unlocking a way to extend health or gain access to more elaborate combos is all well and good, but the fun stuff is the dimension-specific abilities and extreme fan service that are the additional costumes. Unless you replay the levels for nearly all golds, which is an option, or hunt all spider symbols for extra experience, there will be a few abilities or extras that you’ll have to go without. Depending on how much of a Spider-Man nerd you are, you’ll either be sacrificing some extended rage or super-duper charged punch for a chance to don the Spider-Armor from Web of Spider-Man #100 or the more distinguished Elizabethan outfit from Marvel 1602, or stick with the standard garb to be able to pummel enemies with massive web hammers – hard to go wrong either way. Scoring enough points to unlock everything is incredibly addictive and a strong incentive to go back and knock a few bronze performances up to silver.

Of particular note are the phenomenal production values, including some gorgeous graphics and strong voiceovers, as well as a solid script. I was genuinely taken aback by how good the game looks, as each universe has its own style and is very well done. From the Unreal shine of 2099 to the haze of Noir and subdued cell shading of Amazing, the characters, animations, and effects are superb. The villains are also noteworthy, including Sandman’s massive, screen-filling sand-tornado form and Deadpool’s lively acrobatics. The voiceovers are also of excellent quality, though the voices don’t always quite match the characters: Neil Patrick Harris is great in Amazing, but Dan Gilvezan in 2099, while a strong actor, doesn’t mesh terribly well with the character’s imposing appearance. Some of the secondary lines are repeated far too often as well, with warnings and quips firing back to back without much deviation. But the script is largely good with a lot of genuinely funny lines and some great in-jokes, and Stan Lee is, as always, great as the narrator.

But while it looks and sounds great, Shattered Dimensions doesn’t always play great. While there is a lot of web slinging, face pounding, and theatric near misses, there are also a lot of camera hiccups, inconsistent controls, and repetitive portions. Spider-Man games have always had problems with their cameras being unable to accurately adjust to all of the weird positions that he can get in to, what with being able sling around objects and stick onto any surface, but Shattered Dimensions is a clear step back in almost every respect for both camera and controls. Treyarch had a solid system down for web slinging, crawling, and camera adjustment, but Beenox wasn’t able to get the same kind of results. The controls are both looser than before and, at times, unresponsive, with the result being that web slinging is noticeably less rhythmic and zipping less reliable. A failsafe of sorts has been included, which allows you to shoot one last line (in a nifty first-person view) before splattering on the ground, but even that can lead to some awkward situations, like when there isn’t a platform nearby and you must inch slowly towards one a save at a time. There are also fewer moves to quickly get around on walls, which makes crawling feel like a chore. Latching onto walls can also be problematic due to Spider-Man’s inconsistent response, sometimes nothing happens but often most are stuck to the second he brushes against them, often leaving the camera and you confused. A marker system helps to zip to certain spots, though it too would randomly miss an input. While the markers are pretty easy to get a handle on, the targeting is not. For some reason, nearby enemies would be ignored in favor of far-off and largely harmless targets; and there is a frustrating lack of a close jump, resulting in some severe overshooting. It’s important to keep in mind that there are plenty of times when the controls work just fine, but these issues crop up enough to mark a clear regression from its predecessors.

As creative as some of the levels and takes on characters are, the game lacks imagination when it comes to encounters, save for some cool first-person boxing segments, and can be awfully repetitive. Most levels take the form of extended boss fights with henchmen filling in between the encounters before the big finish. This isn’t a bad approach, and it could’ve led to some pretty epic fights, but here it simply results in encounters being dragged out way, way too long. The Deadpool level is the perfect example. As entertaining as Deadpool is, with his interns/fans helping him run a TV show set around fighting to the death on an oil platform, I could not wait for the level to end. Like the other levels, it starts off fine, with you having to destroy some cameras so that he can’t get a bead on your location. Then you have to destroy more cameras. Then more cameras. And then more cameras. Before you get to outrun giant tidal waves – which is awesome – you destroy somewhere around six sets of cameras. When you’re not punching cameras, you’re punching one of two enemy types – and that’s it. The Deadpool fights wouldn’t be so bad if I hadn’t thought the game glitched on me when he didn’t fight nor call for reinforcements but instead just kept teleporting around. And that wouldn’t have been too surprising considering that the game froze during the Hobgoblin fight in 2099 and might as well have in Amazing whenever Kraven knocked me out of his makeshift thunderdome, leaving me stuck in place and him unable to hit me. Fortunately the game is largely generous with checkpoints, which I suppose is more of a glass-half-full viewpoint. Had it frozen up, I wouldn’t have thrown for a loop. The core of each encounter is great, it’s just that there’s a lot of padding that tends to make them wear thin after a while.

It’s a shame, really, because Shattered Dimensions has most of the elements that have made previous Spider-Man games so great. The leveling systems, presentation, and even core combat mechanics are all spot-on and will no doubt suffice for the diehard fan, but there are some definite problems. At around 10 hours, it’s just the right amount of time for its hang-ups to irritate but not so much to quit – and right in rental territory.

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions isn’t a bad game, and can be a very satisfying experience, but it is a disappointing one. With the incredible presentation, awesome small touches, solid combat system, and dimension-spanning approach, this had the potential to be one of if not the best Spider-Man title. While it still has a lot of positives, more so for long-time fans, it’s undoubtedly one of the more unpolished releases: a finicky camera and targeting system continuously slam head-on into a design based on repetitive encounters. It’s right at rental length, though, and that’s right where it needs to be.

(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)

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