Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions
Spider-Man 2 - the game - was a great success, defying licensed roots to inspire one publication to gleefully dub it 'Grand Theft Spider-Man'. Six years late, after relatively middling recent efforts and with the next movie delayed, the decision to embrace the comic book origins in Shattered Dimensions was somewhat forced. In the wake of the triumphant, movie-free Batman: Arkham Asylum, there's expectation of a return to form for Peter Parker's gaming forays. Arguably, it's due.
Beenox hasn't shirked the pressure. It would've been tempting for the developer to standardize and go with something generic but shiny enough to tread water. Instead, it's taken a risk. Shattered Dimensions will source four different Spider-Man comics, meaning it will house four different aesthetic and play styles in one humble game. Maybe that's overstating it. It's not quite as dramatic as, say, as a puzzling, shooting, action-adventuring, flight simulating all in one. That would be some game.
Last month I went hands-on with three of the four different styles (or modes) so let's start with the one I didn't: Amazing Spider-Man. Even if you're no Spider-Nerd, you'll recognize this mode as the look Spidey swings to at the cinema: red and blue, clear Manhattan sky, and textbook villains like Sandman and Electro. As producer Stephane Gravel put it, it's the Spider-Man we've grown up with.
Before I tried out the other modes, Stephane demonstrated for me some of Amazing Spider-Man's arsenal, his thumbs twiddling frantically as Spidey dispatched a swarm of goons causing havoc at a construction site - very Spider-Man 3. Spider-Man conjured his web into a variety of destructive shapes, like a chain-whip and a chain hammer, both lashing and squishing in horizontal and vertical attacks.
Shattered Dimensions appeared to be very combat-heavy. That's not to say there's no story - you don't unify four Spider-Man comics and employ Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott for nothing. Just don't expect to be traversing the metropolis too much, even as Amazing Spider-Man. But do expect Amazing Spider-Man to be voiced by Neil Patrick Harris - he of Starship Troopers - and it's a well-known fact that Patrick Harris doubles the quality of any game he's involved in.
The first mode I got hands-on with was Spider-Man Noir. Spidey was one of several Marvel heroes to feature in the Noir series, its bold black and whites somewhat riding the coattails of the style's upsurge through folk like Frank Miller. Stephane openly cited Sin City as influential on the game's visual style, at least. The dichromatic style dotted with the yellows of lights and collectibles, all in a grainy, filmic filter, may be patent but it's still alluring.
In contrast to the metamorphic attacks of Amazing Spider-Man, Noir is all about the stealth - makes sense when you think about it. The mission I played involved rescuing civilians from an abandoned railway terminal, and was a matter of staying out of the light, getting up close, nice and slow, and performing some quick-fire one-button stealth takedowns before running to safety, good citizen in tow.
Sounds simplistic - and it felt a bit simple yet a little flimsy to me - but long range takedowns with web pulls provided more of a challenge, while using the Spider Sense to reveal enemies' locations proved a neat trick too. Also, each mode has scope to develop as players gather currency to purchase and upgrade moves with.
There are three acts in the campaign, and each act will have four episodes, one for each mode, so play should develop through the game - which should last around 10 to 12 hors in a regular play through. Also, episodes can be played in any order. With the play and art styles ever changing and new skills aplenty, Shattered Dimensions will hopefully feel customizable kind of chameleon, an unusual quality that ought to keep players on board throughout.
The danger, however, is that they'll be overwhelmed by constantly switching ply styles. Beenox has employed a uniform control scheme to combat this; a button performs the same basic action in each mode. Indeed, I don't suddenly implode when switching from Noir's stealth to the fracas and frenzy of Ultimate Spider-Man.
Ostensibly it reminded of Crackdown 2 with its vivid cel-shading and horde of mutant wanting to rip Spidey to shreds, all to the backdrop of burning helicopters and blaring sirens - good old New York. The melee, however, is much more Devil May Cry. This Spidey has the - rather scary - black symbiotic suit with which his arms can extend into vicious tendrils, sweeping and lashing out to let him lock on to enemies and pull them towards him. The tendrils can, of course, launch luckless enemies skyward, letting our lithe hero batter them with some showy aerial combos. Then there's the Rage meter, which fills up as Spidey makes and takes beats. Once filled, Spidey predictably loses his rag, his attacks becoming bigger, stronger, and wider. Where Noir felt beautiful but possibly too simple, the Ultimate mode felt rougher but that much deeper.
Last but not least, Stephane guided me through a sequence in Spider-Man 2099. The style here is sumptuous, its blues, pinks, and purples filling in the vast animated billboards and eccentric architecture of a glossy, Blade Runner-like future. We joined a gliding Spider-Man chasing down the Hobgoblin, a winged demon kind of bastard, as they freefell through an immense vertical tunnel. I tried to guide Spidey through, barely avoiding a plethora of large, painful-looking metal poles, all while trying to catch up to my fugitive and slap him about a bit. I may have got a single punch in.
Finally we fell to a ring-like platform, with Hobgoblin setting his minions upon me. 2099's Spider-Man is a close quarters kind of superhero, lots of fluid-looking uppercuts, kicks, and sweeps. It was too brief a fight to gauge too much, but the accelerated vision ability that can slow time Max Payne-style and dodge and counter should give the mode an edge. Once again, it wasn't a chore to switch from one mode to another, but that left me wondering how well each mode's more complicated, character-specific combination moves will cross over - or not, which would be a worry. This pondering nearly got poor future Spidey KIA, so I decided to leave it there and thank Stephane for his time.
It would be easy to trot out some cliche about trying to do too much in one game, but I don't think the risk here is about each mode's separate quality, but more about how they mix with each other, and the fine balance between making the switches feasible and maintaining depth. But that's more speculation than anything. Shattered Dimensions didn't quite bowl me over during my brief time with it, but conceptually it's interesting, and as with any brawler - which is what the game is at heart - you can't judge without putting some real hours into it. And on the back of Batman's tour de force of last year, what's to say another game sticking true to its comic book roots can't slip out of the shadows and pull the carpet out from under our feet?