Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is the best Marvel team-up this side of the Avengers. Activision’s new superhero title opts for four Spider Men instead of the usual one, and the designers have wisely used the premise as a steppingstone into a wonderfully diverse visual universe.
To elaborate, the developers have managed to create a game with four distinct graphical and gameplay styles built around four different incarnations of Spider-Man, and the combination is unexpectedly effective. The Amazing Spider-Man is the blue-and-red-clad hero that most people are familiar with, while Spider-Man Noir, Spider-Man 2099, and Ultimate Spider-Man are culled from various Marvel offshoots that are all equally important within the context of the game.
A threadbare plot serves to bring the titular heroes together. After the Amazing Spider-Man destroys a mystical artifact known as the Tablet of Order and Chaos, the enigmatic Madame Web steps in and asks the respective wall-crawlers to recover the dimensionally scattered shards before the fabric of time and space collapses and consumes all reality. You’ll have to face off against thirteen prominent members of Spider-Man’s extensive rogue’s gallery in order to obtain the lost pieces of the tablet.
The thirteen corresponding stages – three in each dimension and one four-Spider team-up at the end – follow a relatively linear pattern. You’ll be immediately introduced to a level’s villain, and then you’ll have to pursue that villain through a gauntlet of henchmen and traps. You’ll fight each boss at least once before the final encounter, while a host of other objectives – most of which involve rescuing civilians – will crop up to pad the playtime.
Some of the villains are more recognizable than others – casual fans may not be familiar with Hammerhead – but none of them phone it in and the level design is absolutely fantastic. Each stage can take more than an hour to complete, and the game seldom recycles bad guys or environments.
Strong combat mechanics bolster the experience, as Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions competently blends melee strikes, web strikes, and evasion into skill-testing concoction with dozens of web-based possibilities. You can leap into the air, grab a barrel, throw it at a crowd, and then web zip towards an enemy to kick him in the head. The battlefield is vertical as much as it is horizontal, and the combination of movement, strength, and agility feels wholly unique to Spider-Man.
That’s ultimately what makes Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions such a blast. It’s fun to play the hero, and the game allows you to live that vicarious thrill to the fullest. Shattered Dimensions lets you be Spider-Man, and every element of the design, from the web swinging to the incessant banter to the overbearing burden of responsibility, enhances the colorful comic book charm.
Even as a game, Shattered Dimensions has a surprising amount of depth and variety. Some boss battles will temporarily shift to a first person perspective in order to give you a closer look at face-to-fist interactions. Meanwhile, the Noir dimension contains stealth sections that allow you to perform one-button takedowns from the shadows, while Ultimate Spider-Man can trigger a Rage Meter and Spider-Man 2099 can slow down time with his Accelerated Vision.
That may seem like a long list of gimmicks (and there are plenty more), but the developers have been thankfully judicious with the execution. Shattered Dimensions is packed with interesting gameplay ideas to keep things fresh, and the excellent tutorial makes what could have been a dangerously complex game more accessible and intuitive. Most of the new combos and abilities you acquire flesh out the solid skeleton constructed in the game’s first fifteen minutes.
The Web of Destiny upgrade system provides additional value for more dedicated gamers. The Web consists of 180 challenges that usually require you to beat enemies using specific techniques or within a predetermined amount of time. Completing challenges unlocks character and combat upgrades that can then be purchased with the Spider Essence released by defeated enemies.
It’s not a great system, but it does encourage you to try new moves and combinations. The challenge conditions are always reasonable, and the upgrades scale nicely to allow you to take on increasingly powerful opponents.
Unfortunately, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions isn’t always technically proficient. There are many invisible walls that seem incongruous in a Spider-Man game, although that’s not as much of a gameplay issue as you might expect. Shattered Dimensions is not a sandbox, so there’s never any real incentive to go exploring. If you can’t hit it with your fist, it’s probably not important.
The occasionally frustrating combat isn’t always so forgivable. Spider-Man automatically targets one enemy to the exclusion of all others, and the distribution of attacks becomes haphazard when the action starts getting busy. It’s virtually impossible to focus on one target while battling a swarm, and you’ll often find yourself accidentally picking up boxes instead of grappling opponents.
Dodging can be similarly problematic once you reach the later stages of the game. Your Spider-Sense will tingle whenever you’re about to be hit by an unavoidable power attack, but those indicators will eventually vanish or become meaningless, to the point that you’ll have to resort to guerilla tactics in order to get a punch in edgewise.
The controls just are a little too loose when measured against more refined action titles like God of War. Add in some minor-yet-noteworthy programming flaws – controlling the camera can be a nightmare and more than a few enemies will fall through digital walls – and Shattered Dimensions falls well short of perfection. The game is functional, but it would have benefited from a bit more time in quality assurance.
Despite those concerns, Shattered Dimensions never stops being fun, and it’s neither broken nor unfair when it comes time to tackle the criminals. It’s a superb translation of a superhero into another medium, with great atmosphere, great voice acting, and plenty of fast-paced superhero action. Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is a must buy for any and all fans of the character, and even otherwise disinterested gamers should find enough here to justify a rental.