Review: Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions (PS3)

Title: Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions
Format: Blu-ray Disc
Release Date: September 7, 2010
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Beenox
Price: $59.99

Gameplay:
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is the latest evolution and the most recent attempt at bringing that web-slinging, wall-crawling superhero into the world of video games.  The Marvel comics character has been such an icon for so many years it seems like developing a strong, highly anticipated gaming franchise should be a no-brainer and a piece of cake.  Unfortunately, what gamers have been given over the years has been less than stellar and far from iconic.  It seems that many of the Spider-Man video games have been easily forgotten . . . until now.

With Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, Beenox developers have established a unique take on the Spider-Man story and have put together a package that, for the most part, includes enough variety to keep things interesting.  They accomplished this task, previously unattained by other developers, by allowing the player to slip into the suit of 4 separate and very distinct Spider-Man characters: 2099, Amazing, Noir and Ultimate.

The Spider-Man universe (from a comic book point of view) has typically involved exciting stories filled with interesting and creative characters.  Shattered Dimensions, unfortunately, was not able to capture that same sense of wonder and awe that Marvel comics began more than 40 years ago.  Instead, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions provides gamers with a bland and rather shallow story.  Essentially, the game begins with a beautifully rendered cinematic involving Spider-Man disrupting Mysterio’s attempted robbery of a local museum; his attention focused on the Tablet of Order and Chaos.  As one would expect a fight breaks out between these 2 rivals and just as Spider-Man attempts to inflict the final blow, the Tablet is “Shattered” into multiple pieces that immediately disrupt the various “Dimensions” of the Spider-Man universe.  And so, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is born.  Although the story is rather weak it does allow the player to travel from one dimension to the next in an attempt to recover the various pieces of the Tablet; and it’s this variety in gameplay that really helps Shattered Dimensions slingshot itself ahead of most, if not all, of the previous Spider-Man games.

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is very much a linear game.  Gone is the free-roaming New York skyline that Spider-Man has swung from for so many years.  Instead the environment is replaced with Jungle foliage, train-yards, carnivals and sand quarry’s, just to name a few.  Each of these new set pieces is attached to a different dimensional version of Spider-Man and with each new version of the superhero comes its own style of fighting and abilities.  Although the Ultimate Spider-Man’s fighting style, combos and abilities might differ from Spider-Man 2099, Spider-Man Noir and the Amazing Spider-Man they aren’t varied to the point of control schema confusion.

On top of the variety in scenery and combat each dimensional chapter comes with its own boss battle inclusive of some of the most recognizable villains known to the millions of Spider-Man fans from around the world.  Although these chapter-ending boss battles, for the most part, give this game promise, Beenox relies heavily on a rinse and repeat formula.  The game is divided into 3 Acts with each Act inclusive of 4 chapters.  Each of these chapters begin with the introduction of the Spider-Man villain that has obtained a piece of the Tablet.  From that point forward the chase begins and Spider-Man jumps into battle against wave after wave of the common goon.  Throw in a smattering of helpless civilians before the big fight and you’ve got yourself the foundation of Shattered Dimensions.

Throughout all the repetition, Beenox has provided an interesting fighting style that automatically switches the gamer’s point of view from 3rd person to 1st.  I remember reading about this function of the game before it’s release and being skeptical of its ability to engage the player further as opposed to it being a laughable attempt at originality.  Although the player has no control over when this change in view occurs, and it is reserved solely for some (not all, thankfully) of the villain boss battles, it breaks up the gameplay enough to live up to its hype.

So far, readers of this review might be thinking that Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is the Spider-Man game we’ve all been waiting for.  Unfortunately, Shattered Dimensions falls short of that mark and, aside from the lame story, can primarily be blamed on faulty game controls and buggy gameplay (sigh – moan).  It’s true, not only does Shattered Dimension carry with it many of the problems that have plagued prior Spider-Man games but it also includes my single, most-hated game control failure – camera angle; particularly when attempting to swing from your web and climb a wall or ceiling (you know, those things that really make Spider-Man who he is).  It’s really too bad that the game developers at Beenox didn’t let the game sit with it’s quality assurance testing department just a little bit longer before being released.  Had they taken the time necessary to resolve these all-too-common Spider-Man issues, along with the handful of other glitches and bugs that forced me to restart a chapter on several occasions, this could have finally been the Spider-Man game many fans have been waiting for.

Visuals:
The visual style and variety of Shattered Dimensions often makes up for various bugs, glitches and repetition.  Each of the Spider-Man dimensions is unique and provides the player with a completely new look and feel.  The Amazing Spider-Man bases its visuals on a very comic-book style of art direction formatted after the more popular cell shadings of Borderlands while Spider-Man 2099 displays a much more polished and sharply futuristic look; everything is fast moving and has its fair share of camera flare.  It’s both sterile and inspiring.

After completing Shattered Dimensions it became difficult not to have a favorite dimension of the four.  They each had their positives and negatives but, for me, the dimension that stuck out the most would have to be Spider-Man Noir.  Perhaps it’s because I was such a big fan of  2009’s game-of-the-year contender – Batman: Arkham Asylum.  From the distinct separation of light and shadow and the need to play more stealth-like everything about it screamed Rocksteady’s Batman; and I loved every minute of it.  It was dark and gritty and the Noir chapters made for a harder edge to the otherwise comically-based gameplay.


Audio:
The musical score of Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions came across as less than epic.  It was present and provided for some filler but not much more than that.  What is most interesting to note are the voice actors that were brought on board to fill the various Spider-Man roles.  The Ultimate Spider-Man was voiced by Josh Keaton who was involved with the voice work from the 2008 series.  1990’s Spider-Man: The Animated Series’ Christopher Daniel Barnes did a great job of doing the voice of Spider-Man Noir.  Probably the most impressive resume is Neal Patrick Harris taking on the role of the Amazing Spider-Man.  That’s right, NPH!  Throughout each Amazing chapter I couldn’t help but picture his wild side from the Harold and Kumar movies.  The man is a legend and did an “Amazing” job as the voice and attitude of the web-slinger.  His, like all the other Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions voice actors truly caught the natural banter and one liners between Spider-Man and whatever foe he may be engaging.

I was also pleasantly surprised in hearing the voice of the man himself, Stan Lee, as the narrator at the beginning of each of the 3 Acts.  I think it’s great that Activision and Beenox decided to include this legend of the comic universe into their game.  It gave the game a hint of class and style and should remind us all that without him how bereft our lives would be of all the wonderfully creative characters he has provided throughout his life.

Conclusion:
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is nothing short of a noble effort on the part of the Beenox development team.  They took a near-dead gaming franchise, gave it mouth-to-mouth and a shot of adrenaline.  They came close . . . so damn close!  Unfortunately, where they excelled in creativity and interesting game design wasn’t enough to overcome the nagging bugs and game controls that seem to forever hold this arachnid from swinging to greatness.  Although the same issues continue to haunt us time and again I do believe this game is worth taking a look at as the good most certainly outweigh the bad.

Score:
7.5

Written by Bill Braun

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