(Xbox 360 Review) Spider-Man: Edge of Time

Developer: Beenox
Publisher: Activision
Genre: Action
Players: 1
ESRB: Teen
Reviewer: George Damidas

Overall: 5.5 = Average

Had you told ten-year-old me that he would be playing a new X-Men game and a new Spider-Man game within a few weeks of each other, he would have been elated—though he probably wouldn’t phrase it that way. But after X-Men: Destiny, I don’t think he could’ve mustered the enthusiasm to push through another middling superhero game. Instead of spending the six hours going through a technically superior but marginally better adventure, I’m pretty sure he just would’ve enjoyed a few issues of Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099 instead.

Unlike my theoretical younger self, I did put the time into Spider-Man: Edge of Time, but like him, I too would’ve preferred to have instead spent my time reading up on my favorite superhero. If you’ve just come off X-Men: Destiny, it wouldn’t be hard to mistake Edge of Time as a brilliant entry into the superhero-game pantheon, not to mention an excellent palate-cleanser. In truth, the game looks great, has tried-and-true combat and leveling mechanics, and a decent story that sees both Peter Parker and Miguel O’Hara jumping between timelines and alternate universes. On paper, it would sound as though developer Beenox had succeeded in rising to the challenge of besting their previous effort, Shattered Dimensions. But instead of creating a memorable release by building upon a solid base, their work was squandered on poor level design, spasmodic pacing, and an approach that is the antithesis of what makes Spider-Man…well, Spider-Man.

When you think of Spider-Man, what springs to mind? For me, it’s a graceful figure web-slinging through New York’s skyline, contorting his body to line himself up for another swing, another jump; crawling along ceilings and the sides of buildings; dodging bullets, fists, and lasers; twisting and bending with such fluidity that even infamous killers and hunters cannot find their mark. It’s not only his witty sense of humor, keen intellect, and heightened strength that make him so formidable but his acrobatic prowess and speed. Now think of the most boring, glitch-prone portions of previous Spider-Man games. The first thing that springs to my mind are the indoor levels. It’s no surprise that indoor levels are often so trying for players and developers alike, because a person that can bend at a ninety-degree angle to go from walking on a floor to crawling up the side of a wall is bound to play havoc with the camera and controls. Indoor levels simply don’t play to Spider-Man’s strengths as an agile hero or as an avatar, and they are best used sparingly.

Edge of Time ignores most of the above.

If you thought that Shattered Dimensions was too confining with its limited mission areas, then prepare to be disappointed. Edge of Time takes place in a building—a single, very tall building. A building that will be backtracked by both Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099 as they alter each other’s timeline to assist the other in order to stop the CEO of Alchemax from becoming the master of man’s fate and permanently altering their realities. An interesting premise, to be sure, and one told through some eye-catching cinematic shots, but it ultimately serves as little more than a means for stretching out a handful of elements into a six-hour grind.

Even the game’s cinematic qualities work against the design’s few strengths. For as much as the indoor environment hinders Spider-Man’s athletic prowess so too do the numerous cutaways and windowed cutscenes, sometimes occurring in the middle of a fight, which break the fluidity and momentum that had been built up to that point. The start-and-stop merry-go-round is frustrating, and even more so whenever you’re in the middle of a timed mission or challenge. Whatever rhythm that’s been settled into is brought to a sudden halt so that the two can exchange banter or yell for help.

Whenever the cinematics aren’t getting in the way, the environment itself is. Web-slinging, a staple of the comics and games, is only viable in a handful of areas. Even when there’s a little breathing room, it tends to take a backseat to web-zipping due to even the bigger areas being too confining. Spider-Man needs a decent amount of clearance to swing about unhindered, and the level design has zero interest in allowing for it.

For a game that revolves around time travel, and involving two powerful superheroes, there must at least be some exciting things to do, right? Not really. Despite the sci-fi setting and all the talk of time paradoxes and causality, you spend an inordinate amount of time tracking down keys to unlock doors. If you aren’t looking for the key-holding guard, helpfully aided by a spider sense that highlights waypoints and important enemies, then you’re freefalling or scaling up a veering booby-trapped path. There is little variety, and what’s there is so banal and repetitive that even Spider-Man can’t make time-traveling villains and alternate universes interesting.

A good example of the designers not meeting an element they didn’t want to exhaust completely is a battle with Black Cat 2099. After fighting her once, she appears a second time, only this time, it’s a three-stage fight. Not only that, but between each encounter, she runs away, heals herself to one-hundred percent, and then proceeds to spawn a new horde of clones. By the second round of the second encounter, I just didn’t care anymore. The fight wasn’t remotely interesting, and everything about it only served to stretch out the play time at the expense of pacing. For instance, she doesn’t simply run to the next battle area but jumps around to four or five different spots, waiting each time for you to follow, before reaching the proper platform. If there is one slight upside to this battle, it’s that it allows Amazing Spider-Man’s new ability to come to the fore: using his spider-sense, he can quickly dodge attacks (and as it happens, lasers). While definitely cool looking and an interesting concept, the move also serves to mask the fact that those skills aren’t able to be properly demonstrated here as in past titles.

That battle is just one of many tasks that have to be repeated over and over. Whether it’s finding keys, beating back Doc Ock’s mutated tentacles from blocking passageways, dodging an obnoxious long-range attack that distorts the screen, or fighting off waves of mutants and robots, everything is done ad nauseum. The repetitive bits from previous titles (e.g., saving eerily similar citizens from falling off of ledges or stopping fleeing robbers) will be viewed in a whole new light after forcing open the twentieth door by jamming on the B button. Seeing as how Edge of Time has come out so quickly after Shattered Dimensions, so much asset reuse isn’t surprising, but any admiration for a breakneck development process that put out a title ten times more stable than X-Men: Destiny does little to make the game itself any more enjoyable.

It’s really a shame, because so many of the core mechanics are decent. Fans of the previous games will be familiar with the leveling system, with orbs going towards the purchase of combat abilities and gold spiders towards character upgrades. There are also shared abilities, with a time-stopping move being the most potent. Both can web over turrets, zip from one targeted point to the next, and perform special moves. Amazing Spider-Man’s repertoire revolves around turning his webbing into hammers while 2099 uses his claws to rip through enemies, and both can pick up and throw objects to fend off approaching foes. Again, not much new here, save for 2099’s ability to move so fast he creates a dummy that distracts enemies, but the system works and is both familiar to fans and easy for newcomers to grasp. However, I did find it strange that it’s no longer possible to zip from enemy to enemy, with Spider-Man’s latching ability now restricted to the original target. That was an incredibly handy move.

These abilities can often be put to the test with the various optional challenges that are scattered throughout the tower. These typically involve collecting ‘X’ amount of orbs or defeating ‘Y’ amount of enemies before a time limit expires, breaking up the monotony somewhat and offering a chance to score some extra orbs. If a challenge is missed, it can be accessed at any time via the Web of Challenges, which is an interlinking system of all the game’s challenges available from the main menu. In addition to orbs, rewards also include  special points that can go towards alternate costumes and concept art. Also, as a nice touch, those who have a Shattered Dimensions save on their system will receive a thank-you notice and a few extra alternate costumes without having to unlock them.

Spider-Man: Edge of Time isn’t a bad game, but it is a boring one. The single location is more confining than not, and the adventure contained therein is made longer by a reliance on backtracking and repetitive tasks that often feel like chores. The lack of wide-open areas also strips away what made Spider-Man such an interesting hero to control in the past: the feeling of freedom as he slung about a city and zipped from one towering structure to the next. The few segments added to break up the monotony range from frustrating (freefall sections with all their view-hindering obstacles) to decent (challenges), but none come close to tapping the franchise’s possibilities. A clear step down from Shattered Dimensions.

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

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