Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions Preview
I'm just gonna come out and say this right now: I've never been a huge Spider-Man fan. I bought and read some of the comics when I was a tween, and of course the first movie was pretty awesome, but the games have never really caught my attention. They were full of great ideas and plenty of fun for the web-slinger's fans, but I never played them much longer than the time it took to complete them.
Even the last Spidey game, Web of Shadows, didn't do much for me. I didn't care for the huge amount of crossovers and having so many heroes and villains constantly meddling in my fights. The open-ended battles in New York brought back some of the old glory days of just having fun swinging around the city, but it still just didn't hold my interest, and I feel that a lot of gamers who aren't huge Marval fans felt the same way.
But Beenox's Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is very different. The number of major Marvel characters running around has been pared down to just Spidey and a solid assortment of the classic villains he's faced along with their henchmen. The most notable thing here is that this game takes place across four different universes, each with a unique version of our hero: the 1970s world of the original Amazing Spider-Man, the Ultimate Spider-Man's darker themes and his tendril attacks and black suit, the minimalistic Noir version where he takes out gangsters with stealth and more tactical combat instead of huge whiz-bang powers, and then the over-the-top futuristic 2099 version with his claws and fast attacks, all taking place in a New York with skyscrapers so high you'll never even see the ground.
The story is that Mysterio is trying to steal an ancient tablet when Amazing Spidey starts to foil his plan, but in the scuffle, the tablet's broken and now he has to put the pieces back together in order to save not one, but four dimensions. The Spider-Man in each dimension will have to work to collect all of the pieces, and you'll be up against unique enemies and villains in each of the dimensions. The game's in three acts, and each act has one chapter for each of the four versions of our hero. You'll get to choose which order you do them in, although you'll still have tackle every chapter to beat the game.
The action here is as sharp as it has ever been, with a huge range of upgradeable attacks all fueled by points you gain through taking down enemies, completing challenges in given stages, and finding hidden stuff. The game's given you a few basic moves that are shared for all versions of Spidey: he can crawl on walls, web swing, and do some basic fighting with weak and strong attacks. But going beyond that, each one has unique strengths and abilities. Noir Spidey can hide in the shadows to escape enemies' powerful machine guns and regenerate his health when he's unseen, Amazing Spidey can use his webs to create powerful "weapons" in his combos, Ultimate has very powerful tentacle/tendril attacks and a rage meter which can be unleashed for massive damage, and 2099 Spidey uses more martial arts-style quick attacks and can slow down time, Max Payne-style, once his meter has filled up.
What surprises me most about Shattered Dimensions is just how different each of the four themes are. You're piloting a Spidey with unique abilities against vastly different enemies and challenges, and I do enjoy the more classic battles where a villain will both taunt you and throw obstacles in your way as you go through the level - instead of being nowhere to be seen and then only magically appearing at the end of the stage. There are a lot of ways for Spidey to banter with these classic villains like this, and this structure keeps the player focused on his ultimate objective, which is to defeat these old villains and take the tablet pieces back.
While I wasn't allowed to see much of the actual boss fights, we did get to see previews of how they become more powerful with the tablet fragments, gaining abilities that Spidey has to deal with on the fly. These abilities haven't really been seen before in any Spider-Man property, although we hear that some will be based on ones seen in the classic comics. Still, this is a completely new story that many of the people behind actual Marvel productions are involved in - including four distinct voice actors playing the different versions of Spider-Man, all of whom have played him in the past (sometimes the distant past). And before you ask - yes, Neil Patrick Harris is in!
The DS and Wii versions were up for show as well, and the Wii version of the game was content-complete - as in, it was exactly the same game, just in lower resolution with Wiimote-friendly controls - but the DS version is an entirely different game. The Wii port looks very nice compared to most Wii games, and while some of the controls took some getting used to, it's just as good a game as the bigger console versions. The DS version is a side-scroller that's mostly controlled by the D-pad and buttons, but a few stylus sequences come through as well. In this version, the four Spideys help to unlock new abilities in each other, and you traverse the world in the Metroid/Castlevania style of an open ended, side-scrolling world with a minimap on one screen and the action on the other. It's a wholly different game, but with strong production values like voices by Marvel patriarch Stan Lee (who does various voice bits in all versions of the game), it should wind up being much more entertaining than most DS games I've played.
While I don't expect Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions to go down in history quite as well as, say, Batman: Arkham Asylum did, I do see this one getting pretty close to it. It's got enough signature material to make any fan happy, but it also focuses on the hero(es) and villains that make comics so great in the first place. With solid, fun action and exciting, fresh ways to play with the four realities to conquer, this looks like the comic game to beat this fall. Get ready, because it hits soon: it's available on DS, PS3, 360, Wii, and PC this coming Tuesday, September 7th.