With Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions' fourth and final locale out of the bag (it is "Ultimate" Spidey, as many surmised), Activision was showing off the first playable build of the game at a pre-Comic-Con event last night. I played both the newly revealed Ultimate Spidey, in his black symbiote suit, and the Noir version.

While I wasn't clued in to the game's multidimensional, overarching story (perhaps at the Comic-Con panel then?), I did get a feel for the combat, which is arguably the make-or-break component of the game. Though I only played within two of the game's four universes, I found the combat to be solid -- if a little shallow -- and in practice it came together better than I had expected after watching a developer play the game last month.
As with most action games, the basic move set is spread across the four face buttons: there are light and strong attacks, a grab and jump function. A few of the essential maneuvers cross over the two universes, including double and triple jumps, and, though the animations are slightly different, both Spideys shoot out webs to gain a little more air.

While I felt like I was controlling the same basic character throughout, the two universes offered distinct experiences. The Noir Spidey level was designed almost entirely for stealth play. When confronted head on, enemies blocked nearly every attack I threw at them, forcing me to quietly webswing from above, until I could drop in for stealth takeouts, which played out in short, canned cut-away shots. By contrast, the Ultimate level allowed my symbiote-driven Spider-Man to focus on flashy and vicious combos, heightened further be a "Rage" mode that gave me access to longer and bigger combos. The symbiote "suit" can even grab various objects in the stage (like gas canisters) and hurl them at enemies, black tendrils flaring out wildly.

I found myself doing plenty of mindless button mashing, but overall the combat satisfied with a free-flowing nature that matched up with the established Spider-Man character. (I didn't see evidence of a special move or combo unlocking system, but I assumed that most if not all moves were unlocked for the purpose of the demo.) The game's camera was competent too, and when I wanted to turn to the next enemy and chain a few light and heavy attacks together, the action switched perspective without any trouble.

Unfortunately, the web swinging mechanics are not nearly as polished yet. As you move around the stages, a pointer will highlight different areas of the screen and you can zip to them with a press of a button. You can also swing around on your line by holding the trigger button, but even after some practice I had trouble controlling my movements while swinging. The mechanic is not very intuitive, especially in situations that call for quick maneuvers. This was most apparent in the Noir world, which calls for a lot of web navigating, while the Ultimate universe played out as a more traditional beat-em-up with a few simple platforming elements.

Both stages I played featured short cutscenes that revealed a few bits of the sub-plots. The Noir level had me rescuing civilians from a mobster-controlled trainyard, and the Ultimate segment sent Spidey fighting through symbiote spawn in search of Ultimate Carnage -- but there was no apparent narrative thread connecting these two levels. It remains to be seen if developer Beenox can fit all four dimensions together in a way that's not only interesting, but also satisfying to Spider-Man fans.

In the two short stages I played, though, the combat worked, and the stylish visuals and overall fluidity made up for relatively small set of moves. We've been waiting quite a while to get our hands on Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, and now that I've tried it, I'm still optimistic about what Beenox will ultimately do with a game franchise that's had its up and (mostly) downs in the past.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.

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