The standard was set, wasnâ€™t it, last year? I think so. Arkham Asylum rose up as king of the superhero romps. All that Stealthy McSneaky, bat flappery, Hitty McPunchy and Harley Quinn Jokery. It was a delight, and refreshing to see very old IP used in such a respectful way; respectful to gamers and Batman fans, and respectful to the intent of the original source material.
Now, Iâ€™m not saying that Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is as good. At least not in the same way. But it feels similar in its comic-to-screen transition. It has flung a silken line from one medium to the other and swung across with the speed and trajectory appropriate to make a really good impression. Metaphorical as.
The titular Shattered Dimensions refers to both the fragmented pieces of a powerful magical item called the Tablet of Order and Chaos and the four alternate realities into which it falls. Mysterio and Spider-Man throw down when the bubble-headed evil-doer attempts to nick off with it, and the tablet smashes, spreading itself across multiple Marvel Universes. Each universe is inhabited by a different Spider-Man, and youâ€™ll use all four as you search the world for the fragments.
Broadly, this is it in terms of story. Each of the levels - which are set out in a very linear fashion, with one set unlocking the next - contains its own goings on, and its own villain-boss. The premise is that you battle from one end to the other and reclaim the fragment of the tablet in that level. Shattered Dimensions is very arcade-like in this way, and thatâ€™s really the intention.
The premise of having the game split between four different realities is an excellent one, and one it would have been good to see it explored through the use of a more complex narrative. But, then again, this is possibly the rambling of a story-hungry gamer who has recently been spoiled by the industryâ€™s rich fictional offerings. No matter; the shallow dive doesnâ€™t take much away from the f word.
Shattered Dimensions is ultimately a third-person beat em up, with a few RPG elements thrown in to keep it spicy. There are a number of challenges to complete in each level - which you can explore on the Web of Destiny - with challenge milestones unlocking character upgrades. At five, youâ€™ll unlock three upgrades; some of which apply to all four Spider-Men (Amazing, Noir, 2099 and Ultimate) and some that apply only to one or two. With 25 challenges complete, the next set is unlocked, and so on.
Combat upgrades are also available, and itâ€™ll be no surprise you need to unlock these, too. In order to buy all this stuff, you need to collect Spider Essence, which sounds as if it might be some kind of new line of fragrances targeted at emos. These are represented by little spider tokens in three colours that you collect as you run, swing and climb your way around the levels.
The combat mechanics in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions are fairly good. Bashing baddies is satisfying and there are a range of approaches at your disposal, ranging from the old three-button mash combo to mid-air grabs and of course the delightfully suggestive web attacks. Each of the different Spider-Men have different abilities and limitations, and exploring these is a good portion of the fun herein. Noir Spider-Man, for example, is all about stealth, creeping from shadow to shadow ensnaring goons from behind. The top-down stealth takedown will put many in mind of Battyâ€™s death-from-above attacks in Arkham Asylum, which isnâ€™t a bad thing. In terms of pace, itâ€™s all fairly frenetic. The simplicity is both a good and a bad thing: it wonâ€™t take you long to master combat, but once you have learned three or four good moves itâ€™s all too easy to stick to them.
Some very shoddy camera work makes some combat sequences and general getting about quite frustrating. Itâ€™s so important in games like this one to keep things nice and steady, but a mixture of Spider-Manâ€™s delicious pace and enemies that move with speed rivalling that of our hero himself combine to force the player into some strange corners at times. Occasionally, itâ€™s best to forget about your webs and just run the hell away to reassess the situation. If you can look past this sticking point, you wonâ€™t find much to dislike about the game otherwise - I shouldnâ€™t like to understate its impact, however.
Some other critics have lauded the voice acting, but I think Spider-Manâ€™s success in this area is more about quality writing than quality delivery. There is plenty of wry humour to be found, and the delivery is mostly quite good. Itâ€™s really the arrangement of words that sets the action off, though. Some of the enemies, especially, are a bit hammy. Then again, that may be a very intentional device.
Visuals arenâ€™t set to stun, but they do fit the game very well. Youâ€™ll never see a focus on realism in a game like this one, and for that we should always be grateful. There a few graphical anomalies that make themselves known; vanishing walls, for example. But overall Shattered Dimensions is very easy on the eye.
Between the base premise (forgetting the fact it would have been cool to see more done with it) and the fun (but perhaps a little repetitive) combat, gamers have in Shattered Dimensions a better-than-average outing for one of our favourite lycra-ed heroes. Iâ€™d be wary of sending every Arkham fan flocking to this one, but the similarities are noticeable. And with plenty of unlockables, enemies that will bring a smile to the dial of comic book nerds world over and action thatâ€™s just a good bit of old fashioned fun, it surely deserves an NZGamer.com recommendation.