Spider-Man is one of the most well-known comic book superheroes. His distinctive red and blue spandex has appeared in cartoons, movies and several previous video games. So what makes Shattered Dimensions stand out from the crowd?
This game starts with Mysterio attacking a museum to steal an artefact. Spidey swings in to save the day and, in the process, he breaks the artefact into a number of fragments. This is where things get a bit peculiar. More peculiar than a man who can adhere to walls.
Madame Web appears to inform Spiderman that the shattered artefact was, in fact, the Tablet of Order and Chaos. Its breakage has caused it to be transported around four different dimensions, with the introduction of four different Spider-Man instances. Each will be guided by the disembodied voice of the psychic Madame Web as they wisecrack their way through their respective dimensions in search of the pieces of tablet.
The first, and probably most familiar, is Amazing Spider-Man. This is the instantly recognisable red and blue Spidey. The game-play with this version of Spider-Man is reasonably mixed but revolves around web-swinging, a little bit of combat and platforming.
Next up, we have The Spider or Noir Spider-Man from the 1920s. These game-play sections are the most different, revolving around stealth rather than combat. The aim is to stay in the shadows and take down your enemies one by one.
The third instance is his future iteration, Spider-Man 2099 with his differently-patterned, futuristic nano-suit with glide wings. His game-play sections involve bouts of combat and periods of falling from great heights, avoiding wreckage and pursuing the enemy. This future Spidey has a refilling meter which gives him enhanced vision and allows you to spot fast-moving objects a little easier.
Finally, we have the Ultimate Spider-Man who has been given the powers of the black suit, with your psychic guide, Madame Web, promising to hold off its ill-effects. The game-play in these sections tends to revolve around large groups of enemies and a lot of combat with a refilling “rage meter” which, when activated, causes more damage and wilder combat.
Four different iterations of the Webbed Wonder mean that we also have four different visual styles and four different voice actors. The dialogue is mostly perfectly in-keeping with the Spider-Man universe(s) but there are times when the same line is repeated over and over. It may sound like a minor complaint but thirty minutes of the same three lines can become unreasonably annoying.
The most interesting aspect of the Shattered Dimensions theme is that some of Spider-Man’s familiar enemies are given a twist, depending on which dimension they appear in. Doctor Octopus, in 2099, is a woman. The Green Goblin, in Noir, is a former circus freak show performer. Electro sheds his spandex and becomes an entirely electric entity. Carnage, in the Ultimate dimension, takes on a new and sinister feel.
The key thing with this game is that it is essentially a series of boss battles. The entire plot consists of being introduced to a super-villain and then chasing him down and fighting him. There are often stops along the way to take out a group of lesser foes but it is all very much while you’re in pursuit of the level’s main boss. Almost none of the game (with most exceptions coming during the Noir stealth sections) feels like build-up. Almost every level is one long boss encounter.
As you combat the standard array of goons and collect the floating spider icons (and hidden spiders) you will earn spider points which can then be spent on upgrades. These upgrades consist of extra health, new costumes, quicker recharge and various new combat moves. Each level also has a number of challenges which might involve taking out your foes in a particular way or defeating a certain number of a certain type. As you complete these challenges you will unlock extra things to spend your spider points on.
The levels are mostly linear with sections that encourage you to web-swing or wall-crawl and sections which are essentially mini-arenas where you stage your grouped enemy fights. There are a number of issues with the way the camera tracks you in this game. The problem seems to be that the fast pacing of web-swinging and combat with swarms of enemies makes it tricky to control the camera with the right stick. You will often end up with Spidey swinging wildly off the edge of your screen as you try to work out what direction you’re now facing and where you wanted to end up.
The control system also has some issues. Wall-crawling should be a standard way for Spider-Man to get around but it becomes so difficult to control your directionality when you move around corners or onto ceilings and the camera angle swings. It is usually easier to just run like a normal, non-Spider-Man and that’s a shame because when it works there are few greater satisfactions that taking down an enemy from the middle of the ceiling above him.
So the plot is threadbare and the controls and cameras are often fiddly, sometimes infuriating. In the most part, the game plays well and the climactic boss fights are usually (if not always) tense and interesting. They all revolve around learning attack patterns and playing defensively until the right moment to attack presents itself. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. Spider-Man has never been indestructible, he often gets beaten around in the comic books and this style of game-play shows him as vulnerable but persistent.
Special mention should be made of the close-up hand to hand sections that appear in many boss battles. At certain points, the camera will enter first person mode as you struggle with an enemy. You will then be required to use the analogue sticks to punch (different directions for different punches) your foe in the face. The first time this happens feels a little weird but amusing. After the sixth or seventh time they just feel tedious and tacked on. It probably started as an interesting idea but wasn’t properly fleshed out. In the end, it serves no real purpose except to break up what was becoming a tense boss battle.
This is the biggest problem with Shattered Dimensions: it takes a good idea and then repeats it until it becomes annoying. Another case in point is the numerous sections (across dimensions) in which you have to save civilians in order to progress. It breaks the flow of what was an exciting, fast paced section of game-play and bogs you down in five minutes of repeating the same task two, three or four times before you are allowed to get back to web-swinging.
- Multiple dimensions keep the game varied and interesting.
- Some of the boss battles are grand in scale and well-imagined.
- Great tone to the game, they’ve got that Spider-Man feel just right.
- Camera and controls are often counter-intuitive.
- Repeated lines of dialogue become grating.
- Too much repetition becomes tedious.
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions closes down the open world that we’ve seen in previous Spidey games and in doing so it solves a number of problems. The levels can be more scripted and more tightly controlled which, in turn, leads to a more easily followed narrative. Unfortunately, that narrative is never properly realised and the game’s control issues and repetitive elements make some sections infuriating.