Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is a mad mish-mash of - well - just about everything. Most notably, it spans the whole shebang of Spider-Man fiction, with a story that tenuously straddles four separate incarnations of he-who-sticks-to-the-walls. In addition to the original Amazing Spider-Man, we're also treated to Spider-Man: Noir, Ultimate Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099, in a game spread far and wide across the Marvel Multiverse.
It means that Spidey's world is presented with glorious variety. The game takes place across three chapters, each containing a mission for each of the different Spider-Men, and all are rendered spectacularly. Amazing's world is crisp, sharp and outlined, a striking colour palette shining through. Noir's world is dark and dingy, colour draining from the picture entirely as Spider-Man hides in the shadows. The Ultimate universe is defined but washed out, while Sider-Man 2099 is a fierce face-punch of sci-fi sheen. The engine copes remarkably well with the abrupt switches of art design. The game never looks anything short of extraordinary.
You're switching between these worlds thanks to a shattered artifact: the Tablet of Order and Chaos. Its destruction during a fight between Spider-Man and fishbowl-headed foe Mysterio has caused a rift between the different Marvel universes, and it's up to you - as each of the different Spider-Men - to put things right. This rather contrived conceit means you'll be tracking down a whole range of renowned bad guys, across levels which are generally centred around their eventual boss-fights.
It might sound troubling that the game concentrates so heavily on these encounters, but in practice it's quite smart. From the very start of each section, you're being taunted by the nemesis in question, often engaging in smaller versions of the eventual fight at various points beforehand. It means there's never a lull in the action, or in your motivation. You're always kept tightly focused on your goal.
As you bash and brawl your way around these worlds, you'll gain points with which to top-up your character. In much the same system as Arkham Asylum before it (more on such comparisons in a bit), Spider-Man can unlock a lengthy list of new abilities as you clamber forwards through the game. It's just a shame that, despite the enormous variety in visual style, the actual mechanics of beating the living bejaysus out of people never switch around as much as you'd hope. And aside from the odd creative segment, there's a lot of familiarity to what's going on.
Which brings us to the other reason that Shattered Dimensions is a bit of a mish-mash: it's also a game which borrows liberally from its interactive competition. Last year's Batman: Arkham Asylum is the most noticeable, but there are shades of plenty of other titles all working together here too. And it's this willingness to draw inspiration from other games that is both Shattered Dimensions' greatest strength, and its most nagging drawback.
2099's levels have all the absolutely ludicrous carnage of Bayonetta, which is great, because Bayonetta was wonderful. And Noir takes the best stealth sections of Arkham Asylum and has a go at replicating them almost exactly. But when you're chaining combos at lightning-pace, or perching on a beam in a darkened warehouse, waiting to pounce at the right moment, you can't help but draw unfavourable comparisons.
For all its quality - and there is a great deal of it here - it's difficult to shake the feeling that Shattered Dimensions is a poor man's version of its inspiration. Instead of building upon them, it simply lifts ideas wholesale, but never quite implements them to the same effect. Its standard button-bashing brawl combat, while satisfying, never quite finds a rhythm like Arkham Asylum. 2099's intensity is fun, but more frustrating than it ever was in Bayonetta. And Noir's level design is never elegant enough to pull off this particular brand of supercool stealth - especially when Spidey's ability to hide by climbing up walls and suchlike is so bloody impossible to control.
Because of the standard of those which inspired the title, it's never anything like a bad game, or even a mediocre one. There's a certain bar of quality that's set by default. It's just always lagging slightly behind the front-runners, in both the superhero and action-adventure genres.
And that's a real pity, because Shattered Dimensions is at its most exciting on the few occasions when it becomes its own game. I particularly adored one sequence, right near the start, which sees Spider-Man simultaneously beating up bad guys, evading bullets from afar, and working out how exactly to progress to the next area of the map. You see all the action - still playable throughout - from the scope of your enemy's sniper rifle. It's such a marvellous change of pace, properly delightful, and then it's gone. It was a quick and effective format-breaker, the sort that brings a real smile to your face. The game needed so many more of these.
Nevertheless, it's a consistently strong game which occasionally hints at being an excellent one. If it were more original, more creative, or even more tightly designed, it could have been a real triumph. As it stands it isn't quite, but there's not an awful lot to dislike here. It's a good few hours of decent, lighthearted action-adventuring, and some of the most brilliant Marvel fan-service you could hope for.