On September 7, 2010, Activision will unleash not one, but four Spider-Men upon gamers everywhere. In the newest game featuring Marvel Comics' wallcrawler, players will control four versions of Spider-Man from four distinct worlds seen in the comic book world. At a fall 2010 preview event, we finally got a chance to play Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions and see how the Spider-Men handled this time around.
The "Amazing" universe has the look and feel of most of the other Spider-Man games from Activision over the last several years. The clean, modern look is like that of the Amazing Spider-Man comic, which is written by the game's writer, Dan Slott. The combat, which differs from world to world, here is all about webbing. Spider-Man webs up foes to disable them, allowing for swift, strong punch and kick combos, or uses web to pull up chunks of rock out of the very ground he stands on to slam them into his foes. It has a very organic feel, and is a natural extension of the web-and-combo based combat from previous games in the series, despite being from a new developer.
Moving into the new worlds, Noir, a world where Spider-Man creeps in the shadows of the 1930s, combatting the Mob, has a wholly new style of play. Here it's all about stealth; you crawl along walls and ramparts high over your enemies, picking them off one at a time. The general feel is not unlike last year's Batman: Arkham Asylum; you get above a bad guy, pull him up with webbing, and deliver the knockout punch, leaving him hanging disabled, or sneak up behind one to drop him silently, pulling him into the darkness. The difference in the style and sound effects of things like simple punches is noticeable, with this hard-boiled Spider-Man being a bit weaker but a lot more vicious in his takedowns. Spider-sense, available in all four worlds, looks like it will be most important here, where enemies are highlighted in the darkness, even through objects that rend them invisible to the naked eye.
The Ultimate Universe, where Spider-Man is still a teenager and growing up in the 21st Century, may as well have been called the Symbiote universe. The draw here is playing as Spider-Man with the "Venom" symbiotic black suit. Instead of webs, most attacks are handled with long black tendrils, allowing Spider-Man greater reach with mêlée and the ability to attack simultaneously in nearly every direction. This is much more of a straight beat-em-up; there were tons of enemies flooding the screen during the entire demo, and the object was to simply keep taking them down faster than they could get to you. Successfully landed attacks here build up a unique-to-this-world "rage meter." When full, a rage mode can be activated with a simple button press, making Spider-Man slightly stronger and faster, and making his attacks with the black suit truly over-the-top. This is an easy mode to just get lost in the mayhem in, and also introduced boss fighting to us. In a face-off with Carnage, another symbiote-powered foe, a new battle mode was shown when suddenly the perspective turned from third person to first person. This extremely fun mode has Spider-Man up-close, using the thumbsticks on the controller to guide his movement. Pull both back to dodge, and push one forward at a time to swing the corresponding arm, delivering punches to the crazy Carnage's face. It was a cool and unique shift, and as just part of boss battles (some is still long range and web-based combat) it's a welcome addition, and the most innovative thing we saw during the demo.
The final universe, 2099, is practically a completely different game. This Spider-Man of the future is a different person under the mask, Miguel O'Hara, and his attitude is slightly different, along with how he pursues his enemies. In this very vertical world, there are extended sequences of weightlessness, with Spider-Man shooting face-first down long corridors between towering skyscrapers. Quick dodging and long-range attacks make for easily the most fun chase sequences ever found in a Spider-Man game: it's a chase sequence that doesn't feel like a chase sequence, but rather like a unique mode. Once grounded again, combat is pretty similar to that in the Amazing universe, but with Miguel doing a lot more leaping and throwing of enemies. Here, we also got to fight Hobgoblin 2099 all the way to the point when he activated his portion of the mysterious tablet the Spider-Men are trying to put back together throughout the worlds. When he did that, the whole fight changed, with multiple Hobgoblins appearing on screen, accompanied by a larger-than-the-screen Hobgoblin giant. Each boss will have this second-tier transformation, making each fight into its own epic battle.
With the changing gameplay styles, along with the shift in visual and audio style, this did play significantly different enough from one to the next to feel like four unique games in one. A couple of the modes seemed to lack the polish they may have received with a dedicated game in this build, however. More than once in the dark Noir world, the camera was so erratic in close-quarters that it made it impossible to do anything but run away and start over, even in the middle of a fight. Does that encourage you to use the stealth they intend? I suppose so, but only through what's clearly a glitch. The linear nature of the game will take fans of the last several Spider-Man games off guard as well. Gone is the huge cityscape to explore, replaced by a set level with set destination points. Some of the sections are pretty large, allowing you to complete tasks in whatever order you'd like, but it's still not an actual open-world environment.
Overall, this looks like a game with immense potential, and something that longtime Spidey fans will definitely enjoy. Each world "felt" right, just like it is represented in the comics. The dialogue, the way it is delivered by the all-star voice cast, and the visual and audio distinction helps establish each as its own universe, making the gameplay changes both welcomed and more natural. With minimal glitches and a comic-booky over-the-top story to propel it, this should be a great new chapter in the Spider-Man game empire.
Which of the four worlds are you most eager to play?