Spider-Man: Edge of Time Review
I really don't have any idea how many millions of copies the Spider-Man games have sold over the years, but they must at least be breaking even, because publisher Activision has been cranking them out at a furious pace for quite a while now. I think last year's Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions took at least a few gamers by surprise as it completely dropped the open-world formula of previous games and instead took players on four separate storylines as the Spidey suit crossed time and dimensions to give players variety and unique looks at how the character has evolved.
This year, Activision and developer Beenox, the new stewards of the Spidey franchise, are probably going to wind up disappointing a good number of gamers with Spider-Man: Edge of Time. From one of the most basic ways to look at it, it's half the game that Shattered Dimensions is since it's Amazing Spider-Man and 2099 Spidey - ditching the other two versions of the character for what Beenox and Activision have said is a more focused, interwoven story.
And that is true about the story, as Spider-Man: Edge of Time weaves two tales together in a way that we haven't really seen. The Spider-Man in 2099, Miguel O'Hara, starts off with a vision of the 2009 timeline's Spider-Man, Peter Parker, getting killed. O'Hara then discovers that in his timeline, a scientist named Walker Sloan, working for a company called Alchemax, has developed a time machine to go back and help his corporation achieve domination. Sloan drops back into the 1970s and changes future timelines, and O'Hara has to watch as his neon-lit, futuristic New York suddenly shifts into a run-down, smog-ridden ruin. In all of this, O'Hara gains the ability to communicate with Parker, whose own timeline also changes as the Daily Bugle shifts into Alchemax and Parker is suddenly working for the company that winds up causing ruination to the world. Now, by communicating through time, O'Hara and Parker have to work inside both timelines to change history back to the way it was - and avoid Parker's seemingly inevitable death.
Beenox has developed a rather clever gimmick to make this all seem really cool - or at least, for a while. Essentially, one Spider-Man will appear in a sort of picture-in-picture window to communicate or just show the player what's going on in the other timeline, and often the game will switch, as you'll be swapping back and forth between the two Spideys as the story continues. All of this is done seamlessly without loading times, which is rather impressive from a technology standpoint, but it's also used in the story, as the things each Spidey does in one timeline affects what happens in the other. You'd think the past would only affect the future and not the other way around, but that'd be boring, wouldn't it?
Throughout the game, you'll be picking up orbs from fallen enemies that can be spent on upgraded abilities, and by finding special golden spider icons throughout the game (and by completing story elements), you'll unlock bigger, more key abilities for both versions of our web-slinging hero. Some of the unlocks work for both versions of the character, while others only work on one - but those tend to be a bit more potent overall. It's nothing you haven't seen before, as comic book games have been doing this for years now, and there's nothing that's really terribly surprising in there.
Both Parker and O'Hara have some basic control similarities, like the ability to fire out webs to swing around and grab or disable opponents, and the button scheme is very similar. But where Parker ties up enemies with webs, O'Hara uses it to pull himself or enemies around, and relies more on speed than on range or power to deliver beatdowns to several enemies at a time. The combat in Edge of Time doesn't really improve much on what we've seen in past games, as Beenox seemed to spend most of the scant year they had to make this game on working through the story and setpieces. It's kind of unfortunate, then, that you spend a lot more time having to focus on the things that Beenox worked on the least.
Beyond that, the dialogue between Parker and O'Hara is classic Marvel stuff, but I feel like it still doesn't quite reach the potential when two Spider-Men should be making legitimately funny jokes back and forth. The time-spanning plot requires the two characters to constantly try and explain things like quantum causality and time paradoxes to the player through seemingly endless expository dialogue, and it kind of weighs down the whole game with a storyline that just might wind up being too smart for its own good. Opinions on this matter will likely differ depending on your time spent with the original subject matter, though; life-long Marvel fans will probably enjoy Edge of Time's story a little more than those who just enjoy video games. Serious fans will enjoy the game's unlock system as well as the hidden objects throughout every level, but even that will only rope in the most dedicated players for a second or third time through the game.
Visually, Edge of Time doesn't really excel, but I do like that the "window" into the other timeline is actually being rendered in 3D - it's not just some slapped-on, pre-rendered video. The game's combat and boss battles are mildly exciting for someone like me who's a casual Spidey fan at best, but I'm not sure that's enough for most of us to really matter in such a crowded fall gaming season. But the biggest issue I have - and this was true with Activision's recent X-Men: Destiny and this summer's Transformers: Dark of the Moon - is that for a title that could potentially be so fun for a serious Spidey fan, there's very little replay value and the game is simply too short - especially at the full $60 price. And in the case of Edge of Time, I just don't think that such a unique concept can really be done justice when the development team only has about a year from start to finish.
While Spider-Man: Edge of Time delivers a slightly better experience than Activision's other similar licensed games this year, it still falls a bit short of the expectations set by last year's Shattered Dimensions. So now, in the last six months, Activision has delivered three licensed games, all at the full $60 price point, all with similar problems with fun and longevity. I'm hoping that maybe we can get a short break from these games in 2012 - or at least get some staggered releases from different development teams - and see them come back later on with better stories, graphics, and feature sets.