It’s been over six years since gamers were given the opportunity to web sling around an open-world Manhattan in Spider-Man 2. Whereas whizzing through city streets once felt liberating and visceral, a string of three downwardly-slipping sequels seems to have reduced the exhilaration into humdrum convention. (Let’s not even mention 2007’s kid-oriented Friend or Foe, which proved to be an enemy to all but the most adamant arachnid aficionados.) Skillfully, developer Beenox has disavowed the formula, offering a largely competent title that flings the franchise back on track.
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions brings together four iterations of the wall-crawler. As the game commences, the courageous wall-crawler catches Mysterio attempting to steal an enigmatic artifact known as the Tablet of Order and Chaos. A skirmish ensues, fragmenting the relic, and sending pieces hurtling toward different dimensions. Auspiciously, each of these alternative realms has its own version of Spiderman. Beyond the traditional red and blue clad Amazing Spider-Man, there’s Noir Spidey, a stealth-based hero in a murky, 30’s-era world. Spider-Man 2099 exchanges his celebrated web-slinging abilities for the acrobatic abilities and time manipulation, while Ultimate Spider-Man’s symbiote-infused body allows him to liberate his inner rage upon a ceaseless cascade of enemies. Although the plot may seem contrived, it does lend Shattered Dimensions a refreshing amount of variety. Just as the tedium of a particular environment and play style is about to set in, gamers are whisked to another universe, keeping the title reliably fresh.
Between the four distinct visual styles , play mechanics and even lead voice actors, Shattered Dimensions could have easily seemed like a quartet of unfinished ideas, awkwardly spliced together. However, a handful of collective ideas keep the game feeling unified. Each level is brimming with Spider Essence, which is earned from defeating foes and completing special challenges- such as unseating snipers places along soaring watchtowers. Players can then spend the commodity on virtual action figures, new costumes, stat boosts, and a host on new abilities for their multi-dimensional hero roster. One of the more brilliantly primal accomplishments of Shattered Dimensions is the sporadic shift to a first-person perspective during boss battles, where players use the two thumbsticks to whittle away at an antagonist’s heath bar. Arguably, the game’s defining moment finds players in the midst of a giant silica cyclone, web-slinging from each precarious perch, as players desperately search for the mineral to reduce Sandman into innocuous mud. Generally, the title’s combat feels fast and responsive, allowing Spider-Man to charge attacks and use the ample supply of environmental objects against his foes.
The downside of merging four different varieties of gameplay is the possibility of multiplying the number of blemishes in the title. While Shattered Dimension‘s flaws aren’t quadrupled, they are unmistakable. Creeping around walls and ceilings as Noir Spidey will have players recalling the spastic, slip-shod camera found in Spider-Man’s Playstation One-era exploits. The number of quips allotted to each hero is painfully petite, leading to the same corny wise-crack repeated a dozen times in a protracted skirmish.
Visually, Shattered Dimension maintains a steady framerate, even if the title’s combat and web-flying animations aren’t as sinuous as previous entries. From the neon luster that is ubiquitous in 2099’s dominion, to Amazing Spider-Man’s cell-shaded graphical style, each of the title’s palettes is both vivid and distinctive. Kudos to Activision for securing notables from Spidey’s animated exploits; Neil Patrick Harris, Jim Cummings, John DiMaggio, Christopher Daniel Barnes, and even Stan ‘The Man’ Lee all do a brilliant job with their voice-over work.
With Peter Parker’s good name tarnished by a string of steadily declining sequels, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimension is just the public relations boost needed for the “friendly neighborhood hero.” Despite a handful of quirks, the title’s variety and craftsmanship restores fun back to the franchise. Between the game’s comprehensive cast of Spideys and notorious villains, host of collectables, and thirteen extended stages, this is one full-bodied piece of fan-service, which should appeal to even casual action game fans.