Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions Review

By Jason D'Aprile - Posted Sep 07, 2010

Activision gives fans four times the Spidey action in this dimension sprawling game. Shattered Dimensions focuses on mostly linear levels and hefty doses of combat, all wrapped around a comfortably familiar character with plenty of humor. The game won't steal Arkham Asylum's title for best super-hero game ever, but it should definitely satisfy Spidey fans.

The Pros
  • Excellent Presentation that captures the look and feel of four different Spider-Men
  • Fun and satisfying combat
  • Nice variety of locations and characters
The Cons
  • Stealth portions are problematic
  • Camera issues, especially when wall-crawling
  • Design is pretty old-school overall

Now that Batman: Arkham Asylum has significantly upped the ante on super-hero games, it’s not surprising to see more developers trying to broaden the horizons of other comic book-based do-gooders. Spider-Man has at least had a reasonably decent track history for games, but Activision wisely decided to mix things up for the web-slinger’s latest adventure. Shattered Dimensions moves away from the open-world format, which felt precariously in need of a revamp, and instead, chooses to focus on character and combat.



Does Anything a Multi-Dimensional Spider Can!

As it turns out, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions has plenty of both. The made-for-video game plot opens with Spider-Man accidentally destroying an ancient magical tablet during a museum fight with Mysterio. As it turns out, the tablet has the power to cross dimensions and, rather obnoxiously, empower anyone that holds one of its fragments with super human abilities. Or, in the case of the game, even more super abilities, since only Spider-Man’s villains seem to find the fragments.

The cross-dimensional aspects are key to Shattered Dimensions’s success. While the traditional Amazing Spider-Man is still the narrative focal point, game time is shared almost equally by three other Spider-men. Spider-Man Noir is the 1930’s era, hard-boiled tough guy who is far more susceptible to damage, and works completely in a world of night and stealth.

Ultimate Spider-Man is the younger version of Spider-man, but the game puts him back into the black symbiote suit for this adventure. Most interesting is Spider-Man 2099—the only ethnic version of a major super-hero you’ll find (not that you’d know from the choice of voice actor). This futuristic hero lives in a shiny, future world run by evil corporations, and constantly has the cops hot on his trail.

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Four Times the Spider-Action!

Shattered Dimensions tries hard to ensure that each Spider-Man has his own distinct feel and moves. For the most part, the designers succeeded, though it’s due less to the gameplay and more to the atmosphere of each hero. They all share a basic set of moves—particularly when it comes to web-slinging, climbing walls, and general combat. Enhanced spider senses gives you a much more detailed look around (and is a direct copy of Arkham Asylum’s detective mode). Special moves are specific to each character though, and as you earn more points, you can upgrade all four heroes across-the-board with extra health and enhanced combos, or buy character-specific enhancements.

The game is largely a linear affair, which is a distinct departure from previous Spider-Man games like Web of Shadows and the movie-based titles. Thankfully, this design decision largely addresses the problems of aimlessness and repetition that dogged those games. The downside is that many of the levels—particularly the 2099 and Ultimate levels—feel more like extended boss fights or chase sequences instead of whole, well-rounded missions.



Noir or Never

Since the game has four main chapters—each divided into four levels—any levels that don’t work feel like a missed opportunity. Levels can range from 20 minutes to almost an hour to complete, and the overall action and the characters are more than enough to pull players through the shortcomings. The Spider-Man Noir levels suffer from the most flaws though. Focused almost entirely on stealth, the Noir levels blatantly copy Arkham Asylum’s stealth mechanics. Spider-Man hides in the shadows, and when an enemy is in range, a one-button take-down icon appears.

In theory, this gameplay mechanic is fine, but the already iffy targeting system is much worse here. The game suffers from erratic sweet spots for setting off a stealth attack and is at times frustratingly imprecise. Making matters worse, the wall-crawling camera doggedly focuses on Spider-Man, giving you a great view of a guy stuck to a wall and no view of your enemies unless you manually fight with the camera view.

The rest of the game is essentially focused on heavy-duty combat. The Amazing Spider-Man levels tend to have more exploration (and variety) to them, but everything boils down to fighting off waves of thugs in between tiered boss fights. End boss battles are usually fun, but always old-school pattern based. So aside from the visual appeal of these fights, there’s nothing particularly ground-breaking about any of the combat.

Crash! Bam! Pow!

The fighting system is basic, but entertaining. Weak and strong attacks combine with defense and web moves effectively, and fighting against large groups of bad guys is both fluid and fun. As you build up your Spider-Men, an array of new combos, special moves, and aerial attacks keep the combat from getting too stale.  The lack of obnoxious Simon-says-like quick time events is also a welcome change.

Shattered Dimensions lays a basic, if not particularly innovative or genius framework with its gameplay, but the presentation is definitely worth raving about. Neil Patrick Harris leads the line-up as Amazing Spider-Man, and the voice acting for all the heroes and villains (not to mention Stan Lee as the narrator) is universally excellent. One-liners are much too over-used, but the dialogue is well-done otherwise. The musical themes change with each dimension as well, adding to the atmosphere nicely.

The visuals are superb. Even the minor, repetitious goons and monsters look great, and the super villains and various Spider-Men are sharp, detailed, and well-animated. The locations within each dimension provide a great variety of ambience and visual styles, and the frame rate remains solid even with tons of enemies and huge bosses on the screen.



Not Much Dimension, but It’s Got Personality!

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions doesn’t re-write any rules of super-hero gaming. Indeed, it streamlines the usual trappings of the genre to focus on combat and personality. It’s true that the linear gameplay and old-school combat sensibilities don’t put it on par with Arkham Asylum, but the game succeeds regardless. It’s fun, fast-paced, and long enough to make it well worth checking out.