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Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions review: Mo' spiders, mo' problems

Justin McElroy

It's lonely out here.

I'm one of a handful of game critics that will, with little provocation, defend most of Activision's Spider-Man series (Friend or Foe can eff right off). We are not a well-liked or understood group, united only by our love of swinging through a virtual New York and our ability to forgive punishingly repetitive gameplay.

With Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, Beenox has closed off Spidey's world, containing him to strict levels rather than an open city. It may make for a better game, but those like me -- who are interested only in doing whatever a spider can -- may find Shattered Dimensions has broken what they loved about the series.

Gallery: Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions | 22 Photos

The hook this time -- and it's a good one -- is that the destruction of something called The Tablet of Order and Chaos has both ripped reality asunder and made classic Spider-Man baddies like Juggernaut, Kraven and Deadpool more powerful than ever before. Answering the call to put things right is not one, but four Spider-Mans (Men?) from different realities: Classic "Amazing" Spider-Man, futuristic "2099," stealthy "Noir" and symbiote-suited "Ultimate."

Whereas the movie-based games and Shaba's Spider-Man: Web of Shadows were open worlds, Dimensions is video-gamey to a fault, with the Spider-Mans politely taking turns on one mission after another, one boss per level.

Though they look different and swing through disparate settings, the Spider-Mans largely control the same. The sole exception is the dark Spider-Man Noir, whose stealth sections have been lifted right out of Batman: Arkham Asylum. Those sequences may be utterly unoriginal, but I'll confess that snagging thugs from the shadows and webbing them to walls before their buddies get wise is delightful.

Since it's a more tailored experience, Beenox is able to create some thrilling predicaments for Spider-Man to triumph over. It's an amazing, vicarious thrill web-zipping between pieces of debris in a sand tornado, desperately trying to find a water barrel in the wreckage that you can hurl at Sandman to gum him up -- and that's just one example of the creativity present throughout.

Of course, when creativity fails there's always punching, and Beenox has succeeded here too. Building on WoS's kinetic combat, the Spider-Man family has gained charge attacks, the ability to quickly launch debris at foes and some amazing animations. Dimensions loses some of WoS's fluidity, but when you see Spidey create a makeshift mace from gravel and webbing and smack a thug with it, it's an easy sacrifice to make.

There's also a sort of in-game achievement system that rewards Spidey for defeating foes in certain ways or finding specific objects. Completing tasks in each mission nets points that can be spent on new moves, better combos and alternate costumes. It's kind of a cheap way to make the game more compelling, but I'll admit it worked on me.

In fact, the only real conceptual "loss" from Web of Shadows to Shattered Dimensions -- and you may not even see it as such -- is the open world. Spidey's gone from freely swinging over a city filled with Average Joes to being hemmed into a series of levels where he's one of many super-powered beings. Beenox has missed out on that dichotomy between everyday people and superheroes, which makes Spidey seem more like a "video game lead" than ever before. Again, that might make for a better game, but as a Spider-Man simulation, it's missing a signficant chunk of the experience.

These problems are emblematic of a "rushed" feeling that pervades the entire experience.

This would all be a lot easier to swallow if Beenox had executed the idea perfectly, but that's sadly not the case. For starters, the value of having alternate dimensions is largely negated by having them (with some momentary exceptions) all feel very much the same, leading to a repetitiveness that's doubly grating considering the premise is designed to avoid exactly that.

While Spidey's zingers are occasionally cute ("That's so Kraven!"), they're more often repeated with sadistic frequency and are skin-crawlingly clumsy. The inclusion of both "See ya, wouldn't wanna be ya" and "Take a chill pill" had me convinced the dialog had been exclusively cribbed from yearbook signatures circa 1994.

These problems are emblematic of a "rushed" feeling that pervades the entire experience. I had a couple of glitches that forced me to load an earlier save; one-liners can be repeated 10–15 times in a given fight; mouths often aren't animated in cinematics; stuff like that.

Yes, you could level similar complaints at most Spider-Man games, but I'm typically too busy swinging through the city and channeling my inner-five-year-old to notice. When Beenox grounded the series, it invited comparison to every other action game on the market, and that's a battle Spider-Man still can't emerge from victorious ... no matter how many of him there may be.

This review is based on the 360 retail version of Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions provided by Activision.

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