Like a vagabond Lothario who flees from a relationship the moment it turns serious, Spider-Man always seems to leave developers just short of something really special. Neversoft never quite cracked "the perfect Spider-Man" while it had the license, and Shaba Games came within inches of it before it was shuttered.

Now, with Spider-Man: Edge of Time, Beenox is taking its second pass at the Web Head, and if the quality I saw at my PAX demo was any indication, it may be time to start getting nervous when Spidey "just runs out to buy some smokes real quick." Unlike Beenox's freshman effort, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, this game narrows the focus from four Spider-Men down to just two: Classic flavor and the sci-fi blend, Spider-Man 2099. The two have been tied together by some chrono-shenanigans (including the death of Old-Fashioned Spidey) and the two must fight in their respective timelines to set things right.

The most significant and obvious change is the abandonment of Ultimate Spider-Man (who wasn't different enough to stand out) and the stealthy Spider-Man Noir (who had a lot of unrealized potential). Luckily, our two remaining heroes appear to benefit from the additional focus.

Everything looks great, for starters. Both timelines, which couldn't be more aesthetically different, look really crisp, with scads of effects punctuating the action (especially the shocks of neon in 2099). Both Spideys' combat animations are incredibly dynamic, though I'd like to see them flow between movements a little more smoothly.

Hard to communicate in text, but wait till your inner nine-year-old sees it. He or she is going to flip.


The camera showing off those animations also feels more cinematic. In a notable opening sequence, a dialog between two characters is presented by having Spidey silently follow them from air ducts. It's a far more deliberate presentation than Spidey has gotten before, and the additional gravitas is really appreciated.

Improvements aren't just skin deep either. Leaping between enemies, webbing up chunks of cement to hurl at them and blasting them with a spray of webbing mid-dive is, well, if not better than Web of Shadows, certainly an improvement over Dimensions.

Spidey can't be contained to mere brawlery, of course. His powers of locomotion will be tested too as he's forced to leap over laser gates and find secret keys that only his Spider Sense can detect.

(Important side bar for Spider-Man villains: If you at any point find yourself saying, "Well, this is impenetrable unless, of course, the guy we're guarding against can stick to walls," just stop. You've screwed it up as much as humanly possible. Start again.)

Ooh, I mentioned laser gates, but I didn't tell you the best way to avoid them. By holding left trigger, Spidey activates his Hyper Sense, which turns him into a blur of flips and dodges. The effect is similar to the comic book trick of demonstrating a character's speed by showing the blurred trail of where they've been. Hard to communicate in text, but wait till your inner nine-year-old sees it. He or she is going to flip.

Spider-Man will need his whole range of tricks to complete the game's optional built-in challenges. By pressing the back button when prompted, you can activate a challenge such as collecting 70 orbs in a certain amount of time, and those challenges can be revisited without replaying the level. Successfully completing the challenge nets Spidey some ... upgrade ... goo. Listen, I'm 30 years old now, and I can't keep learning what everyone calls their upgrade goo, okay? I'm just calling it all Omni-gel.

You may have noticed that I don't really have a central theme I'm tying these paragraphs to (in fact, I'm just noticing this myself). If it reads more like a list of improvements, that's because that's kind of how Edge of Time feels at the moment. No real big ideas pushing things forward, but certainly a lot of "better." But for a game that's following its predecessor by just 13 months, maybe that's the best you can hope for. Let's also hope Beenox gets a chance to make its Spider-Man opus someday, before the web-head's wanderlust starts tingling.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.

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