A brand new Spider-Man game is on the horizon, one that has everyone’s attention. Puddle dramas aside, I’m really looking forward it too. In preparation, I decided to look back at the last Spider-Man game I genuinely enjoyed. Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions was the first game in a long time that moved away from doggedly basing all interpretations of the character on the movies, and went back to plucking its inspiration from the comic books from which the character was made. Helping me remember why I loved the character so much in the first place.
Shattered Dimensions came out in 2010, three years after the “amazing” Spider-Man 3 killed off the Sam Raimi continuity. It was also still a few years before the Mark Web/Andrew Garfield reboot, the status of the franchise was still up in the air at this point, nobody knowing if there was going to be a fourth one or not. For Shattered Dimensions to move away from the movies and look back towards the comic books was a desperately needed breath of fresh air.
The Tobey Maguire movies had changed the general perception of the character. What used to be a fast talking, annoyingly chirpy kid in red tights, had become just one more broody, self doubting, emotionally crippled crybaby. I was never that happy with the Saimi movies, even when that was all we had, simply because they never managed to get the character right. Movies of that time were too afraid to delve into the inherent campiness that comes with these characters. Raimi’s Spider-Man movies were still camp as hell, but it was the wrong kind of camp.
Shattered Dimensions took the time to return to the comic book iteration of the character. Not just one of the characters though; four of them. The big draw of the game was the coming together of different Spider-Men from different dimensions, each bringing a different tone and game play quirk to their stages.
It was developed by Beenox, who were previously known for porting games and the odd bit of shovel ware. Under Activision, this felt like their first real stab at making a game off their own backs which wasn’t just a movie licence.
In their approach to this game, they made the brave choice of not making the game open world. Up until now, there was a desire to rediscover that golden goose that Spider-Man 2 uncovered. With the game being based on multiple characters, creating multiple open worlds would be a huge undertaking, and having them all appear in the same world would take away from what they were trying to achieve with Shattered Dimensions.
The story is set around a mystical maguffin called the “Tablet of Order and Chaos”, during a battle with Mysterio, the regular iteration of Spider-Man manages to blow the tablet into pieces, which get scattered between four alternate realities.The near omnipotent Madame Web contacts each of the Spider-Men of these relative universes to reattain them from the villains who have managed to get their hands on them.
Each character has access to the same basic move set. However, they’re all slightly different to benefit their strengths and game play style. So what are we working with here:
- The ‘Amazing’ Spider-Man: The traditional Spider-Man of the game, his gameplay is pretty basic, an all rounder if you will. All of his abilities are as you’d expect. He can cling to walls, web swing as all the characters can. His gameplay is unique in that many of his attacks and combos revolve around forming weapons such as mallets out of his webbing, giving a further range and more comical style to his combat.
- ‘Ultimate’ Spider-Man: Based on the Ultimate iteration of the character back when Ultimate Marvel was still a thing, and even before Miles Morales was a twinkle in anyone’s eye. His game play is very reminiscent of the of the Ultimate Spider-Man game from 2005. He wears the venom symbiote and, like Venom from the ultimate game, many of his attacks are based on the fluid, alien nature of the suit. His unique quirk is a rage bar which allows him to deal increased damage to enemies.
- Spider-Man ‘Noir: By far, the most unique of the characters available. Based in a 1930s style era which is much darker and grittier than the other characters in the game. Unlike the other characters, which are all based on open combat arenas, Noir’s gameplay is heavily stealth focused. Coming out shortly after Batman: Arkham Asylum, it was difficult not to draw comparisons between it and this section of the game. However, it’s still well executed and bar far the most engaging and unique aspect of the game.
- Spider-Man 2099: Miguel O’Hara, the Spider-Man of the future. The lesser known character made a bit of a comeback since this game came out, even starring in the sequel to this game: Edge of Time. 2099 is shown to be the fastest of the Spider-Men, with the ability to enter a bullet time while he tears at opponents with the talons on his fingers. He also features a number of free fall segments due to the impossibly high skyscrapers of the future New York.
Each of the characters are separate from one another for the majority of the game, the player controlling them in their own world, one at a time. It’s only during the final encounter that they come together in the same place.
Strong world design
The thing about Shattered Dimensions that caught my attention right away was the world design. The stages range from jungle ruins to neon lit mega cities to the nearly black and white moodiness of the 1930s carnival sites. Each stage feels strongly catered to the world in which it takes place. The past and future Spider-Man specifically having a very cool identity all their own.
Each character, despite controlling mostly the same, feels really unique too. Even back then, I realised that there was some real care and attention put into each character to make them feel different, right down to their basic attack animations. Another fantastic little feature was that Beenox got a different voice actor for each of the characters, each of which had voiced an animated iteration of the character from the past 30 years.
The downside to all of this is that, even looking back now. The game feels a bit behind the times. Each large stage, while not open world, gave the character full opportunity to make use of Spidey’s unique array of mobility options. The problem is, all of these places feels totally empty. Between enemy encounters, you’re moving around vast barren climbing frames.
It suffers from the floating platform syndrome of level design that plagued a lot of games in the PS1/N64 era of the platformer genre. It’s all the worse when you realise that this game came out around the same time as Red Dead Redemption, Arkham Asylum and Assassin’s Creed II. Games which created vibrant worlds that felt alive. For all its cool tone and design choices, you can see where the budget limited them.
When you’re not wandering around the open spaces, you’re fighting waves of enemies and bosses. As I mentioned before, each character plays almost the same, but are still visually distinct from one another. Much of the satisfaction from the combat comes from slowly unlocking more and more attacks and feeling all the more stylish as chain all these crazy attacks together.
An added, weird quirk was that certain combos felt far more effective when used by certain characters. While every Spider-Man has , a launcher move, for example, each character would execute it in a way unique to them. The combat system, for all if did for me at the time, feels painfully dated today. I’d imagine it will feel even more so after I get hands on Insomniacs game.
The major departure comes when you play as Noir. While this doesn’t seem as damning now, at the time it was impossible not to draw heavy comparisons between this game and Batman: Akrham Asylum. Many aspects of the game feel like they were lifted straight from Arkham Asylum. All of the Spidey’s have Spider-Sense for example. This looks, functions and feels exactly like the Detective Vision from Batman. It covers the game with an ugly neon filter and allows the player to see enemies through walls and obstructions.
This is a vital part of Noir’s game play in which direct combat is to be avoided. Rather, it’s about approaching enemies in a series of stealth take downs, almost exactly like the predator mode sections of the Arkham games. It’s the most unique aspect of gameplay though, as it feels more methodical than the arcadey feeling beat-em up that the rest of the game,
I enjoy this game a lot. Still, going back to it gives me pangs of nostalgia as it doesn’t feel like the type of game that often gets made anymore. It’s approach to game play and level design feel like a relic of a bygone age of video games, leaning more toward the PS2 era of game design. Considering this came out after Arkham Asylum, it really does feel like it’s dragging behind.
I have a soft spot for this game though. It came out at a perfect time for me, when I was jaded with the character I had grown up with after so many bad movies, ones that I felt missed the point of the character entirely. Shattered Dimensions made a Spider-Man product that drew entirely from the comic books and made me remember why I loved the character so much growing up.
The game is unabashedly fan-service, and much of my enjoyment of it comes from that fact. It’s cheesy, it’s unabashedly campy and pulls from the deeper lore of the franchise that, at the time, felt very rare for properties based on comic book characters.
The starkly contrasting art design and tone of each of the worlds featured, combined with the obvious care and enjoyment that went into making this game a reality helps it fester away in my mind fondly, even now, eight years later. While I probably would advise against anyone searching this game out, especially with a new Spider-Man game on the horizon, it was a nice reminder of how far we’ve come in terms of, not just video game design, but the treatment of these characters in the mainstream.
You can bet I’ll be picking up Insomniac’s Spider-Man game when it comes out, and I’ll probably have even more to say about than then I do here.