This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions.
I did some adding up once. To produce enough webs inside his body to fight crime on a regular basis, Spider-Man would need to eat the equivalent of three hundred quarter-pounder cheeseburgers a day. That'd be considered excessive for the London Philharmonic Orchestra! But it's futile to examine this sort of thing scientifically. Spider-Man comics are a lot like the Bible in that neither have been known to let little things like science get in the way of their fun.
Case in point: Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. While foiling a museum robbery by some bloke who looks like he was dressed by the Liberace space program, Spider-Man accidentally shatters the Magical Tablet of MacGuffin, scattering its bits across four dimensions of time and space. Because of magic, I guess. See, this shit wouldn't fly with Batman. If any magic tablet tried to scatter itself across dimensions on his watch, he'd just will himself into existence and punch the writer 'til he promised to stop being such a twat.
Shattered Dimensions plays like marketing material for Marvel Comics's range of alternate Spider-Man continuities. You see, every now and again some writer at Marvel's creativity-fueled dream factory gets bored of repeatedly typing the words "Spider-Man punches the villain in the face" and transfers the characters to a different setting or time period so they can instead type "Spider-Man punches the villain in the face. . .IN SPACE!"
The game alternates mission-to-mission between four continuities: the original Spider-Man, who must by now be the same age as Keith Richards; Ultimate Spider-Man, the teenage one, whose every line of dialogue makes me want to wedgie him so hard his bollocks burst out the top of his head; Spider-Man 2099, the one in the future, whose costume looks like someone attacked it with radioactive tomato ketchup; and Spider-Man Noir, a nineteen-thirties version who wants to be Batman so hard it burns inside his gritty vagina like a case of the spider clap.
Now even before I began playing it, this game sounded spread so thin that if it arrived on a sandwich it would essentially be bread, but this was based on the assumption that the claim that each Spider-Man continuity features vastly different gameplay was actually true. How hopelessly naïve of me. The two questionably named Spider-Mans, Amazing and Ultimate, as well as 2099, are basically identical sequences of punching lots of little things before moving on to punch a big thing, although Mr. 2099 can use bullet-time and Mr. Ultimate can throw a hissy fit.
Noir is the only universe with different core gameplay, being most stealth-based. And I know, Spider-Man, it was very cheeky of Batman: Arkham Asylum to rip off all your major shticks: swinging from perch to perch, dangling baddies upside down from things - that was all you. Perhaps you were well within your rights to rip off Arkham Asylum. But you could have helped your case a lot more if you'd been as good, if you'd also ripped off the enemy A.I. that could actually outfox a piece of Blu-Tack rather than march cheerfully back to their patrol routes because they haven't been punched in the face by an intruder within the last six seconds.
But even the noir sections aren't above descending into the occasional knuckle smorgasbord, and this is the problem I've always had with a lot of Spider-Man games. The very concept has this in-built, unique game mechanic with the web-slinging thing, but it always just comes down to punching things. I appreciate that the average superhero only has barely enough mental capacity to break things and speak aloud every slightest thought that crosses their mind, but Spider-Man 2 had a strong web-slinging focus and it was fucking awesome, so do the arithmetic.
While you could never accuse Shattered Dimensions of being monotone, with its variety of colourful villains and settings, all you mostly do is fight the same three tiers of henchmen: little ones, who exist solely to be smacked around like one of those clacky-ball executive toys; medium ones, who have completed the chapter on blocking in the standard-issue Teach Yourself Martial Arts book but not the one about avoiding being punched into the air and swung around like a kite made of steaks; and the big, burly motherfuckers with poor English skills who inevitably wield giant mallets and have a serious weakness to being punched in the butt.
Most of the missions just end up being linear processions of rooms full of these lads, but on the occasions when it gets around from this formula, Shatty Dims has its quite entertaining moments. It certainly comes alive during the Deadpool chapter, where you're given more freedom to swing around. Although Deadpool is voiced by Nolan North, who I'm sure is a perfectly nice man in real life, but every character he voices makes me want to pull off my thumbs.
Which brings me to one of my major problems with Shattered Dimensions: that there's not a single character who can shut their fucking mouth for five seconds! When it comes to in-combat dialogue, stick to things like "ow" or "ooyah" or "take that" (if you really want to flex those writing muscles). I'm sure your mum thinks your stand-up set is solid gold, but even a line that won the International Totally 100% Hilarious Award from Jesus Christ is going to get old after it's been drooled out fifteen times in the same fight. This tends to happen a lot in video games. I think game writing as a whole is in dire need of more discipline.
Come to think of it, the entirety of Shitty Retentions could use a few nipple clamps to calm it down. It flits restlessly and disconnectedly from encounter to encounter like an unmanned firehose before God forbid any of the subplots can gain any depth or anything. It's fitting that Stan Lee does the narration, because the game as a whole reminds me of Stan Lee's public persona in that they both seem to be trying way too hard to be liked. It's the weird little fat boy who hangs around the cool kids, desperately changing outfits and mannerisms, hoping to finally be accepted, and who will probably get expelled for stealing girls' underpants while they're in the showers and sniffing them and he didn't even know why he was doing it, he just saw it in an anime the previous night and thought people would think it was funny.
But he'll always love you, that little fat boy, no matter how many spiders you make him eat. "Are we friends now," he'll ask, thorax dripping from his chin. No, Shattered Dimensions, we will never be friends, because you're buggy and unfocused and you smell like old pants.
- More of a cider-man really: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- And even if he were using mechanical webshooters he'd need a web cartridge the size of a beer keg strapped to each wrist
- Proportionally spiders are actually quite slow, lumbering creatures