Review: Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions

The past few Spider-Man video games have been decent. They weren’t fantastic by any means, but they were but they were playable and even enjoyable. Sure, Spidey was a whiner who loved Mary Jane’s present more than life itself in Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, but the game’s go anywhere and do anything sandbox stylings made for a frenetic good time. Since Spidey has free reign over most areas he travels to thanks to his famous webslinging, it only makes since to offer large, open areas which players can explore. Those are the venues in which I enjoy playing as Spider-Man the most, and the games that typically work.

That’s why the latest Spidey journey, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, confused me so. Why force Spidey to navigate such linear and uninspired levels? I can’t say what prompted this design change, but at least the end result makes for a good time…for a while. It’s got variety by way of the four different versions of Spidey in different eras, some truly hilarious dialogue, and an intriguing set of villains to contend with. Unfortunately, repetition and some truly abhorrent fetch quests and fighting mechanics mar what could have been an outstanding contender.
Players follow Spidey on a journey through alternate dimensions to recover pieces of an artifact, the Tablet of Order and Choas to be precise, broken during a brawl between Spider-Man and Mysterio. As this tablet single-handedly keeps balance between the different dimensions, Madame Web summons Spidey to recover all of the pieces spread across separate universes. These foreign lands are populated by Amazing Spider-Man, Spider-Man Noir, Spider-Man 2099, and Ultimate Symbiote Spider-Man. From the menu, you’re able to choose which version of the popular superhero you want to play as in separate, self-contained levels spread across acts.

Each outing begins with an introduction of the level’s villain (obviously in possession of a piece of the Tablet), the dimension’s Spider-Man in hot pursuit, and various nondescript baddies to contend with. One to three boss encounters are sprinkled throughout linear stages with literally nowhere to go but where the game wants you to go, and some final boss fights are peppered with strange boxing-like brawls akin to more interactive quick time events. And that’s the basis of every single mission you’ll knock out across the decently-sized campaign.

All of the Spideys can handle themselves decently with a large repertoire of melee moves and web-based tricks. You might find plenty that feel similar to the most recent Spider-Man title, Web of Shadows. All of these moves can either be upgraded or purchased via completing challenges for points. The more challenges you complete, the more you can purchase for each different “character.” This includes different costumes and even extras such as health bonuses. It’s a very simple system driven by the Web of Destiny, which tracks all of your accomplishments, and it’s an engaging system to keep you trying to go above and beyond to finish objectives you may not have cared about before.

Not all of the different arachnid avengers play in a similar fashion. Really, they all feel the same despite augments such as what are essentially bullet time and Berserk modes. Only Noir Spidey’s levels are much different than the rest. It lifts more than a few familiar elements from the wildly successful Batman: Arkham Asylum’s key stealth elements and isn’t the least bit shy in doing so. Noir Spidey’s levels rely solely on stealth, it’s true, but it’s just as easy to sound an alarm and pick off the ravenous baddies rather than waste your time trying to pull a Sam Fisher. These areas felt the most contrived and poorly thought out to me, and I dreaded slogging through them with their drained, nearly colorless worlds, and absolutely dreadful setups for stealth takedowns.

Shattered Dimensions is extremely straightforward. Most of the game is pummeling bad guys, cutting villains down to size (Electro was a particular favorite), and completing challenges to unlock new moves. Unfortunately, it’s plagued with unsatisfying combat — beating up the baddies isn’t as fun as you’d think. There are far too many challenges that require you to “fetch” things in order to continue, whether it’s rescuing civilians, destroying cameras, or pulling switches. Find the item, activate/rescue/destroy it, and advance. It’s not fun. It’s more of a means to artificially lengthen the game. And I just didn’t have much fun while doing it.

The voice acting is fortunately an aural treat. Past Spidey voices such as Neil Patrick Harris are along for the ride. Stan Lee narrates the tale. And you’ll find yourself laughing at more than a few of the clever one-liners, particularly with the maniacal Deadpool’s chapter. Visually, it’s not too impressive unless you’re a fan of cel-shading, which I am, but it’s nothing particularly mindblowing. It’s appropriate and colorful, but baddies are recycled and environments are fairly uninspired. Yawn.

This is one of the best Spidey outings yet, but that’s not saying too much. I don’t think Spider-Man has quite found his own Batman: Arkham Asylum, but this is at least a step in the right direction. I would have liked a little more freedom to roam around in each world rather than relegated to short, claustrophobic (and boring) areas, but letting me interact with the different forms of Spidey was interesting. The game’s not a masterpiece in any way, but it’s a fair rent and one I’d at least suggest for fans of the superhero to sit down with in a few afternoons. That tablet isn’t going to save itself, I suppose.

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