Theoretically, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is a Spidey fan’s dream come true because it brings together four playable incarnations of the character. The Amazing, Ultimate, Noir, and 2099 personas are here, and after some incredible interactive web slinging with Spider-Man 2 and Ultimate Spider-Man last gen, it seemed like this would be the definitive game for Spidey. Sadly, it’s a little too rough around the edges to reach that level - but still provides some satisfying thrills.
The Amazing, Ultimate, and 2099 incarnations deliver a blend of web-slinging, wall-crawling, and brawling that players have come to expect from Spidey games, while the Noir universe offers a far different, more unique, and rewarding experience with a grainy black and white look and emphasis on stealth - the other three feel largely the same with the exception of the areas that are exclusive to those universes.
There’s also a problem with the game as a whole feeling a bit too much like a clone - and not an exceptional clone either. Noir relies on a Batman: Arkham Asylum setup of hiding in the shadows, and zip-lining from one perch to another quickly to take opponents down quickly and as silently as possible. What allows Spidey to stand out here is his ability to crawl along darkened walls, which sounds great in theory, but doesn‘t work out well in execution.
While the zip line controls are fantastic, and the reliance on shadow is actually a bit more important here given Noir Spidey’s weakened defense (although his health can regenerate), the camera gets very unwieldy when you’re wall-crawling. It makes it very hard to tell where you are in relation to the shadows, let alone your enemies, and only being able to tell when you can safely attack by the on-screen button prompt takes away some of the thrill of taking enemies out. The camera’s a bit of a problem in all the universes, but it’s a bigger problem in the Noir universe because one mistake can mean you either get caught or you die quickly because of Noir Spidey’s reduced defense.
Beyond the unique traits of the other universes - the Rage meter for the symbiote-suited Ultimate Spidey that deals out more damage, the free-falling and time-slowing powers for 2099, Amazing’s focus on web-swinging around areas and humor, the other universes tend to have a sameness to them that results in tedium setting in fairly quickly. You’ll start a stage off with a boss intro, a quick teaser for the boss battle, then destroy waves of identical foes while using the right stick to target each enemy ala God of War. There are also some civilian-saving missions and some GoW-style QTEs and puzzles to solve. The combat as a whole feels a bit like a stripped down version of GoW, despite having a very expandable moveset and upgradeable powers.
The biggest problem isn’t so much Spider-Man: SD being a derivative product, it’s from it being inferior to the source material. Both the Noir’s Arkham Asylum-style or the other universes’s GoW-style combat play like an inferior version of the original games. Targeting with the right stick isn’t very accurate, and the camera is a complete nightmare. You never have manual control of it, and in all universes, it spazzes out constantly. The camera goes everywhere but where you want it to go, especially when you either wall crawl or web swing, which can pose some major problems for a Spider-Man game. Everything about the gameplay lacks the polish needed to make it a top-level game. What’s here is usually good, but when it falls apart, the game goes from being very fun being very frustrating - with the only in-between being the tedium that can sometimes set in due to the formulaic gameplay. I’ll give the developers some credit though - while much of the gameplay does feel a bit too similar to other games, they did come up with one very unique combat element in the form of first-person punching. Each of the sticks controls a different fist, and directional movements control what kind of punches you throw - it isn’t the most diverse lineup of closed-fists you’ll see, but it is a well-executed feature and the animations are surprisingly fluid.
Really, aside from the camera problems, Shattered Dimensions is a gorgeous-looking game. Each world evokes a certain tone, with the Noir setting standing out the most and featuring the best cinematography with gorgeous widescreen shots of the environments as you play through them. The 2099 world has a very realistic look for its characters, and is far less over the top than the cel shaded and comic-influenced Ultimate and Amazing worlds. This effect was used really well in Ultimate Spider-Man a half decade ago, and looks even better now thanks to the increased horsepower of the systems making use of it. The comic book style is far more convincing and the futuristic world of 2099 is quite striking as well - with the world itself dazzling due to the sheer amount of stuff going on at once, and Spidey’s suit is remarkable. The red trim has a fantastic 3D look to it that adds a sense of reality to the crazy-looking world. Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions definitely delivers a satisfying visual experience.
Shattered Dimensions is about as pleasing to the ears at it is the eyes, with a fantastic soundtrack that fits the different universes and their stages well. The sound effects are all fine - not memorable, but they fit their actions well enough. SD also continues the Spidey game tradition of stellar voice work. Having the voice of Biff Tannen insult you as Electro provides some of the best comedy in the game, and Neil Patrick Harris does a great job of making the Amazing incarnation of Spidey’s jokes amusing by playing them with just the right amount of seriousness, and John DiMaggio is perfect as the Noir incarnation of Hammerhead - created just for this game.
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is definitely a mixed bag. It’s not a “bad” game per se despite having some poorly-executed parts to its gameplay, but it’s also not as good as the franchise’s best gaming entries either. It’s in the second-tier with stuff that is good, but not great, and more suited for a rental than a full-priced purchase. It’s a shame too, because there are a lot of fan boy thrills to be had here with in-jokes and extra costumes galore, but I think only die-hards will get the full-priced value out of it - most would be fine waiting for a price drop, while casual Spidey fans should just stick with a rental.