Spider-Man’s first appearance in a videogame came way back in 1982 with the Parker Brothers’ Atari 2600 title, Spider-Man. 28 years on, and despite the numerous releases to have featured the wall-crawler, it’s difficult to list even a handful of titles that weren’t either mediocre or terrible. Such has been the poor execution that has plagued the majority of the superhero’s games over the years. Thus, it should come to the general delight of Spidey fans that in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, developer Beenox has crafted one of the webslinger’s better virtual adventures in recent memory. Albeit one not without its problems.
One department where previous Spider-Man games have always lacked in is narrative. Shattered Dimensions is no exception. The simple plot revolves around a mystical artifact known as the “Tablet of Order and Chaos” which is shattered during a battle between Spider-Man and the game’s primary villain, Mysterio. Aware of the disastrous implications this could cause on the realities of various Marvel universes, wise old Madame Web calls upon Amazing Spider-Man and his fellow counterparts in the Noir, 2099 and Ultimate universes to retrieve the tablet’s fragments before it’s too late. The short cutscenes, although brimming with high production values, do little to mask the fact that the story never really goes deeper than this basic premise. Which is quite a let down considering how significantly more linear Shattered Dimensions is compared to past Spider-Man titles.
The game is divided into three main acts. Each act is comprised of a level from each of the four universes. While these levels can be played in any order, they all generally follow the same sequence, wherein you first fight the level’s respective boss or supervillain, then take care of a number of goons or lesser enemies, then indulge in a second fight with the villain, before having to defeat even more goons and finally eliminating the supervillain in a penultimate battle, after which you can collect one of the tablet’s fragments. Of course, there are some variations to this rinse and repeat formula, like saving trapped civilians, for example, or as in the case of Deadpool’s reality show-themed level, destroying several cameras. However, most levels largely follow the same core pattern, which is made seemingly more monotonous by the simplistic and repetitive combat.
For a game that features four different Spider-Men, Shattered Dimensions’ gameplay has a surprising dearth of variety. Enemies are overcome using melee combos which are based around the traditional heavy and light attacks. The combat is fluid and responsive but quickly becomes dull when you realise all you’re doing is button mashing you’re way through streams of enemies. More complex moves and combat upgrades can be unlocked, though they hardly add any depth to the fighting. Universe-specific abilities, like 2099′s Accelerated Vision that slows down time and Ultimate’s Rage Mode that unleashes his symbiote form, are a welcome addition but do not diversify the combat between the universes quite enough.
The only universe which does offer a sufficiently unique style of gameplay is that of Spider-Man Noir, the 1930s rendition of Spider-Man. Here, stealth and not brute force is key. Carefully staying in the shadows, you have to manoeuvre yourself close enough to enemies in order to perform takedowns. These are carried out using one button and are extremely satisfying, thanks in due part to the excellent contextual animations. There are sections where you are forced to rely on melee combat to get through a group of enemies but these are few and far between. Most of the time you can’t risk being discovered, for fear of quickly being gunned down.