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Activision chose a fitting event during which to take the webbing wraps off of its latest Spider-Man game -- the annual WonderCon comics convention in San Francisco -- but based on what I saw of Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions today, it might have been best to hold off for an E3 debut in June.

After a rousing reveal trailer earlier in the week, I have to admit to some fairly high expectations going into my first live demo of the game. What had been shown of two out of the game's four unique Spider-Man universes looked great in the video, after all, and had us excited enough to start pondering what the other two might be. While I'm still completely sold on the concept of a game based on the comics that visits four different Spideys, each in their own dimensions and each of those featuring a different gameplay hook, the actual execution as it stands doesn't live up to the team's ambitions.
Back to the premise: An item known as the "Tablet of Order and Chaos" has shattered, causing the various Spider-Man universes -- dimensions, in this case -- to begin bleeding into one another. It's up to the wall-crawler to recover the fragments of the tablet in four of the universes before they're all doomed. Each of the dimensions has Spidey going up against one of his well-known nemeses, all of whom possess pieces of the item and are growing more powerful by the moment with them in their grasps.

What this setup boils down to is four game worlds in which Spider-Man draws on powers and abilities that are trademarks of the comics they're based on (two have been revealed so far: Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Man Noir), and each dimension is broken up into three acts. There's one main boss per dimension and two "sub-bosses," also from the comic's rogues gallery.

Unlike the past several console Spider-Man games, this one won't feature large sandbox-style environments.

The gameplay I saw was prefaced by the revelation that, unlike the past several console Spider-Man games, this one won't feature large sandbox-style environments in which players can forge their own paths, take on side missions and so on. Rather, the game is level-based, with each being scripted so as to steer clear of what its developer, Beenox, felt was a lot of "filler" in the past titles. I was told that Spidey will encounter each dimension's boss character multiple times as players make their way to its final level, and, each time, the bosses will have gained new powers and abilities. The dimensions themselves will take him outside of the franchise's familiar Manhattan setting at times. The action in the Amazing Spider-Man dimension I was shown, for example, takes place in a rain forest peppered with ancient ruins.

That was the first dimension I saw. It can be best described as this: Spider-Man swinging through the first level of X-Men Origins: Wolverine with the visual presentation of Champions Online. That doesn't sound so bad, right? Unfortunately, in the portions demoed, Spider-Man himself was a great-looking character model that animated terribly, swung through a canyon on webs attached to thin air and used web-weapons (hammers, in this case) during some very awkward, messy-looking combat. This dimension's boss is Kraven the Hunter, whom I saw causing giant, sharpened posts to erupt out of the floor of a large arena during a confrontation with Spidey.

One thing about this portion of the demo did impress me: At one point, the game entered first-person as Spider-Man and Kraven fist-fought up close in a style reminiscent of Punch-Out!! I could see the pain on Kraven's face when Spidey punched it, and was told that the final game would feature unique voice-over for these sequences.


Next, I was shown the Spider-Man Noir dimension, which -- apart from more poor character animation -- looked great. The Sin City-esque silhouette effect used to denote that Spidey was in the shadows was a real stand-out, and, although he lacked the fedora and trench coat from the recent Noir comic (the latter wasn't possible to pull off, I was told), he still looked really cool. The demo's train yard level was a bit sparse, with gun-toting enemies pacing along patrol routes, but the overall visual style was a definite step-up from the Amazing dimension.

The Noir dimension was, for now at least, a very basic aping of Batman: Arkham Asylum.

The actual gameplay -- well, what I saw was Spidey stepping out of the shadows, grabbing guys and webbing them to train cars. At one point, he performed an inverted takedown while perched atop a spotlight. Then it clicked: This was, for now at least, a very basic aping of Batman: Arkham Asylum. Hammerhead, a lesser-seen Spider-Man bad guy, was the Noir demo's boss, stood in the middle of the switching yard firing a Gatling gun at Spider-Man.

And that was it.

Activision wouldn't confirm (or deny) what the two additional dimensions are, saying that more will be revealed at E3 and San Diego Comic-Con. The game is due out in September on every console (the Wii version is being handled by Beenox as well, and I was told will be feature-exact) and Nintendo DS. The latter version is in development at Griptonite Games by the same team responsible for the DS version of Spider-Man: Web of Shadows. A cast of well-known video game voice-over actors was promised, including four actors who've voiced Spidey in the past. Christopher Daniel Barns, who voiced Spider-Man / Peter Parker for the mid-'90s Spider-Man animated series, is providing the voice of Noir Spider-Man and, as I was told, has already recorded his dialog.

Like I said at the outset of this preview: I think the premise of this game -- the four dimensions, each with a unique look and gameplay hook -- sounds great, and I know I'm not alone in feeling that way. I just really hope that the actual game part of the game gets a lot better than what I saw today over the next six-odd months, or it could end up a case of shattered expectations.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.

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