Review

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions Review (PS3)

Other dimensions, parallel realities, alternate universes and the like have always been something I never really understood. The world is full of possibilities - was it really necessary after several decades, that comic book writers were forced to create unique realities to further their respective hero's stories? Had they really taken the original concept as far as it could go? Yes or no, Spider-Man is one of the most popular comic book heroes, and thus has perhaps the most incarnations. Even then, the web slingers' latest videogame outing proves to be both forward thinking and ridiculously annoying.
 

The cell-shaded look works great for Spider-Man
Shattered Dimensions bases itself around what we think is one of Marvel's weakest premises for a videogame. Mysterio, while attempting to steal ancient artefacts to sell on the black market, accidentally breaks a tablet which contains the power to unravel space and time, thus requiring our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man to pick up the pieces. Except that the tablet broke into twelve parts across four alternate realities: our own, the "Ultimate" universe, the "Noir" universe, and in the year 2099.

In each of these universes, a different Spider-Man exists. This allows for completely different and unique gameplay for each one, as well as a varied narrative. Unlike past Spider-Man games (or even beat-em-up titles in general), Shattered Dimensions doesn't get boring because everything, from the gameplay to even character dialog, is so different from level to level that the game rarely gets dull. With 12 levels averaging at 30 minutes each, only some of the later, more drawn out missions become tiresome.

What really makes Shattered Dimensions interesting is the varied gameplay. Normal Spider-Man feels like any past title: standard attacks, web slinging... the usual. Ultimate Spider-Man dons the Venom costume, giving him the ability to become super-powerful for a short period of time. The suit is also more powerful, so enemies all appear weaker compared to the other Spider-Men. The 2099 Spider-Man lacks many web-slinging techniques, but includes a time-slowing power. Unfortunately, this power is mostly useless, save for one boss fight and a few outside instances. He also has several fast-paced falling battle sequences, which are a welcome change to the rather bland gameplay he features.

But the most interesting is the Noir Spider-Man. The gameplay is unlike any past Spider-Man game, bordering on a mix between Batman: Arkham Asylum and Splinter Cell, though overly simplified. Spider-Man must stay out of the light, attack foes stealthily and go up against armed enemies. This mixture of differing gameplay styles does work, if only because they are spread so thinly across the game. Sharing 25% of the spotlight enables players to play their fair share, though the 2099 and Noir Spider-Men did end up a little dull towards the game's end, and the normal Spider-Man felt surprisingly weak, especially during the final boss battle.
 
The Noir Universe is fun at first, but can soon become stale
Even the dialog is, for the most part, improved over previous titles. Spider-Man's wit returns in a big way, though it's G-rated to a fault. On top of that, every Spider-Man voice actor was, at one time or other, the voice of Spider-Man during one of the different TV series, so if they sound familiar, know that they should. Stan Lee even plays the role of narrator, and his handiwork is all over this game, from the lessons it teaches to how each of the different Spider-Men behave.

For all its plus points however, Shattered Dimensions still manages to get it wrong in several key areas. First, there simply isn't enough sound bites - Spider-Man will repeat the same lines, not just once or twice, but up to five times in a row, within the same minute. This can get on your nerves pretty quickly, and if we're being honest, ruins the gameplay experience. What's worse is when you're fighting a major boss battle, and both Spider-Man and the boss keep repeating themselves, over and over again - it's infuriating.

The relative weakness of Spider-Man, except for the Ultimate universe, is also troubling. Towards the second half of the game, two of the four Spider-Men feel too weak to really do well in battle, and it becomes a chore to take out individual enemies instead of a challenge. Most enemies are fairly simple to defeat, but Spider-Man just doesn't get any stronger as the game progresses. More attack combinations and moves become available as more experience is collected, but it doesn't affect combat enough to make a difference.

The Noir universe also becomes a droll chore to complete. The stealth gameplay seems fun at first, but the enemy AI isn't intelligent whatsoever, and the attacks are simple one-button presses. It's no challenge to sneak up behind someone and suddenly remove them from play with the push of a button.

Like all Spider-Man (and most comic book based) games, there are significant collectibles available including character art, in-game costumes, backstory, videos and more. These can be collected by finding all the secrets in the game and by completing all in-game achievements, which can include anything from jumping off a number of buildings to shooting a web a certain number of times. Whether Spider-Man fans are in for a treat is hard to say, though the die-hards will appreciate the bonuses.
 
2099 Spider-Man's falling set peices are a surprising twist
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions pushes the envelope with a few tried and true techniques used in several great games from this year and last, and does a fairly decent job at it. The plot is bland and often corny, but the gameplay is mostly solid and enjoyable. It's certainly the most authentic game I've played, and stands out from the crowd not just for being openly awkward and just plain weird, but for giving players a very diverse playing field to enjoy.

Top Game Moment: Having a 150 plus hit combo without any powers activated.

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