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Friday, 5 September 2014

Spiderman: Shattered Dimensions.



Spiderman: Shattered Dimensions.



Here's a question: Why do game developers seem to struggle so much with making superhero games? You would kind of think it'd be one of the easier things to adapt, since they are practically the perfect fodder for action games, but I think the only real hit amongst superhero games has been the Arkham series, and as of most recent entry Arkham City you can kind of see that particular series slowly sickening and dying.

Meanwhile, there seems to be an unending stream of superhero games that are either bad (Superman Returns, a notoriously bad tie-in with the film of the same name) or mediocre (Deadpool).

I played Shattered Dimension's sort-of-not-really sequel, Spiderman: Edge of Time, several years ago and found it to be aggressively mediocre. After hearing much effusive praise over how Beenox were the Spiderman game developers, I had expected something less, well, boring and lifeless. So that rather put me off playing its sort-of-not-really predecessor, a game with much the same premise, only instead of time periods colliding, it's alternate universes.

Spidermen? Spidermans?

The game's plot is thus: After a failed heist by Spiderman villain Mysterio, a powerful magical artifact, the Tablet of Order and Chaos, is shattered and scattered across four dimensions. Under the guidance of precognitive mutant Madame Web, four Spiderman – the one everyone knows, cyberpunk hero Spiderman 2099, gritty Chandler-esque antihero Spiderman Noir, and enthused young'un Ultimate Spiderman – must hunt down the fragments in their respective universes, which almost invariably end up being temporarily snatched up by supervillains, who then end up with enhanced powers.

Actually, the villain line-up of this game is really good. Each mission – there are thirteen in total – has a different villain, including big names like the Green Goblin, the Vulture, Carnage and Electro; small names like Hammerhead and Hobgoblin; and villains who aren't even Spiderman rogues, like Deadpool and Juggernaut.

(Yes, yes, Deadpool is an antihero – but it's Ultimate Deadpool, who is pretty much unambiguously villainous, okay? Okay?)

He has a TV show. Deadpool, I mean.

The gameplay, however, is – well, it's not bad. It's pretty enjoyable in short bursts, but the 'in short bursts' is key here. I could, at most, complete about two missions before I'd end up bored and needing to switch off the game for a while, and a large part of that is that no matter what villain you're facing, the gameplay is essentially exactly the same (sort of – we'll get to that in a moment), in that you'll usually be beating up a variety of the four or five mook types coming at you in waves, with occasional bursts of having to flee from things with web-slinging. It's okay, but it's not going to sustain anybody's interest over a long period of time, especially as the game often likes to trap you behind energy walls or closed doors and have you fight waves and waves of enemies until it deigns to let you through.

The big exception to this is Spiderman Noir, whose levels are almost entirely stealth intercut with the occasional bits of beating people up, and make a refreshing change to the rest of the game. The stealth mechanic is very well made, feeling fluent and not prohibitively difficult, with the one place that isn't true being your first battle with Hammerhead, whose senses are apparently so good that he may as well have eyes in the back of his head.

Spiderman Noir is great, by the way. Make a game about him, Beenox.

Blissfully, incredibly frustrating gameplay moments like that are few and far between. It's that boss battle, and one irritating section in Deadpool's level where you have to web-swing towards tidal waves and get to high enough ground to avoid them. Once you figure out the trick to it it's not too difficult, but actually figuring it out is a little bit of a pain.

As many critics have pointed out, the story isn't very deep at all. Ancient artifact is broken, and you have to pick up the pieces, and that's essentially it, without any plot twists or turns. The most you really get in the way of any kind of deeper narrative is a loosely sketched out story of Spiderman Noir (really, that guy is the standout star of this game, the sequel should have just been about him) trying to take down his crime lord arch-nemesis, Goblin, and an equally loosely sketched out story of Spiderman 2099 discovering the existence of a shadowy science division run by his universe's version of Doctor Octopus.

(She makes puns. I ship them.)

He even remarks that he thinks she likes him at one point,
I mean c'mon.

But that's fine. The story has one goal here: Get your four Spidermen to tangle with as many different supervillains in as many different settings as possible, and it completes that goal admirably. While I'm a great fan of deep narratives and engaging storylines in video games, this isn't a game that really needed one – and, to be honest, if the chokingly bad attempt at creating a storyline in Spiderman: Edge of Time is anything to go by, the fact that Beenox didn't attempt a deep story for this game is something of a blessing.

(As a side note, one nice touch is that every Spiderman has a different art style to his world. Spiderman 2099 is rendered in the standard video game shiny 3D animation, while the other three are all various degrees of cel-shaded, with Original Flavour Spiderman and Ultimate Spiderman having bright colours, and Spiderman Noir having everything in muted shades of black, white and yellow. It's a nice touch.)

It's not a long game at all, in fact it's quite strikingly short – while my playing of it was stretched out over about four or five days, I don't think my total playing time could have possibly exceeded eight hours, maybe even less. In general, I get slightly annoyed with how short games are these days, but in this case it's no small blessing, as I think that even another two hours would have made the game outstay its welcome something rotten.

To be honest, Original Flavour Spiderman was the least interesting.

So, it's a – game. Enjoyable, especially compared with Edge of Time, but not really groundbreaking. Maybe Spiderman just isn't a very easy character to do video games for, and maybe Beenox should stop trying: As I write this, they've already created two more Spiderman games, both tie-ins to the Amazing Spiderman films.


But still, this isn't a bad game. Unfortunately, that's probably the best thing I can say about it.

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