“You don’t like Spider-man!!?” Fellow comic book enthusiasts often greeted me with the above line, complete with the raised eyebrows to give a dramatic flourish to their gasp of incredulity, whenever I mentioned my dislike for the…. web-head… is he? Fast forward to today; I’ve read about 25 issues of the Ultimate Spider-man, and a bit of Marvel Noir as well. Does Spider-<an: Shattered Dimensions have anything to do with it? Hell yeah. Does that mean a hearty green tick underscored with a spider-smiley in my review of the game? Again, hell yeah!
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At this juncture, where everything looks like a walk among a field of roses, I’ll take a complete U-turn and tell you everything that’s not right with Spider-man: Shattered Dimensions, and then I’ll tell you why all that doesn’t matter. So let’s begin shall we?
First up is the story; or rather, the lack of it. Stan Lee’s narration sets the grand stage at the scene of the crime – New York City Museum. Spider-man arrives in the nick of time to stop Mysterio from stealing an artefact called the “tablet of order and chaos”. Things don’t go exactly as planned for either of them, and the tablet shatters with a force that scatters its pieces not only across a wide variety of locations, but across four dimensions as well. This sets the stage for the Spider-man in each of these dimensions to find these pieces and restore order by putting the tablet back together.
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And that’s that. Across 13 levels set in four dimensions, the four Spider-men – The Amazing Spider-man, The Ultimate (symbiote) Spider-man, Spider-man Noir and Spider-man 2099 – fight their way to collect the pieces. Apart from the tablet, there is no common thread between levels, and the complete lack of the man behind Spider-man or any of the support cast (such as JJ Jamerson, Aunt May, or Mary Jane) leaves no scope for a deeper story to be told.
The other hitch with the game is the lack of enemy variety. Again, apart from a few minor variations, enemies literally come in three shapes and sizes – light, medium and heavy – with roughly the same tactics to handle each. Considering that you’ll be beating up a lot of goons, the lack of variety, coupled with the thinner than a spider’s web plot, had the potential to make this game very boring.
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The stars of the show here are the rogues’ gallery and the excellent dialogue, which not only complete nullify the aforementioned drawbacks, but make each level a joy to play. Every level focuses on one villain, opening with a dramatic introduction to the featured fiend who has usurped a piece of the tablet, and the first of a series of boss fights that one has to go through to complete the level. Beenox has taken extreme care in the design of each boss and boss battle, leveraging their strengths to make each encounter exciting and unique in itself. As you pursue each boss single-mindedly across the level, the lack of enemy variety doesn’t pinch as much as it otherwise would.
Whatever little misgivings one might have left are totally obliterated by the brilliant script and the top notch voice acting. The script is the cream of signature Spider-man stuff, with great attention to detail to the quips and banter as Spider-man takes on his foes. One particular level where Spider-man squares off against a foe with an equally big mouth stands out as a testament to the brilliance of the script (Do my enemies find me just as irritating when I talk?… wait… don’t answer that). Of course, the presence of veteran Spider-man voice actors such as the legen-wait for it-dary Neil Patrick Harris ensured that the delivery of the excellent script was equally outstanding. Between this and the boss encounters, the weaker elements of the game are more than taken care of.
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There’s a lot of fun to be had with both the combat and movement in the game. It’s easy enough to get by with button mashing, especially on lower difficulties. However, those who invest in the surprisingly deep combo system will discover a bevy of moves which are a joy to use. In order to earn these combos, you need to not only collect Spider emblems that are scattered across each segment, but also perform specific tasks like killing enemies in a certain manner, or completing the level in a set time. This implementation adds another layer of challenge to the game, as it is very easy to get addicted to completing these challenges.
Apart from Noir, the dimensions play out mostly the same, with the same combos spanning across dimensions. The additional variety in Spider-man 2099 and Ultimate Spider-man comes from the Accelerated Vision (slowing down time), and Rage (more damage) meters respectively. This allows for some subtle variations, such as homing rockets in 2099, and a larger number of enemies in Ultimate Spider-man.
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Spider-man Noir features a stealth mode, which seems like a mash-up of Batman: Arkham Asylum and Splinter Cell: Conviction. Faded colours when hidden and the last-known-position has been lifted straight out of the latter, while the brutal single button take downs are more reminiscent of the Caped Crusader. That said, it is probably the weakest segment from a gameplay perspective, mostly due to the utter incompetence and the laziness of your enemies in putting some effort into locating you once spotted. This, coupled with the powerful takedowns, make these segments among the easiest in the game as they lack the kind of tension that is paramount to a stealth experience.
Shattered Dimensions is a gorgeous game. With its cel-shaded graphics, and colourful art and locales, it feels like playing out a motion comic book, and each dimension stays faithful to its comic book counterpart in look and feel. The camera plays fair mostly, except on rare occasions when you decide to do some crawling. At these times, the camera tends to go haywire, especially when you crawl across edges.
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Comparisons to Batman: Arkham Asylum are inevitable. Is Spider-man: Shattered Dimensions as good? I’ll boldly state that I had as much fun with Shattered Dimensions as I did with last year’s subliminal journey through the madhouse of Gotham City. Sure, it doesn’t hold a candle to Arkham Asylum’s atmosphere and story, but the script is equally apt, and the boss battles truly stand out. The biggest compliment I could give Shattered Dimensions is its ability to pique my interest in the Spider-man universe; something which three big budget Hollywood blockbusters couldn’t do. For those already hooked to it, there’s amazing fan service here. So what are you waiting for? Go get ‘em, tiger!