If Batman: Arkham Asylum proved just how spectacular a superhero game can be, then Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions serves to show that it was the exception and not the rule. Never doing anything unexpected, and just barely breaking out from the clutches of mediocrity, Shattered Dimensions is simply average, endowed with enough quality to be enjoyable but also enough mistakes to lessen what was clearly a well-intended effort.
The game follows four Spider-Men from different Marvel universes as they work together to recover shards of the broken Tablet of Order. The Amazing Spider-Man (aka: Spidey Classic) accidentally busted it while tussling with Mysterio. The tablet has terrible mystical powers that in the wrong hands could wreak immeasurable havoc. As luck would have it, the only place said shards land is in the wrong hands. The game follows our heroes as they try take the artifacts back from the clutches of some of their most dangerous nemeses. And that's the story in a nutshell.
Shrugging off the pesky burden of telling an interesting story, the flimsy narrative serves as little more than an excuse for the player to fight several of Spider-Man's more memorable villains across a series of levels that more or less follow the same general template. A level will begin, you'll be introduced to your baddie for the hour, and you'll then chase them for an hour or so through a series of obstacles ranging from little goons to big goons.
If there is one overarching flaw, it's that most of the levels feel drastically the same. You run from point to point, polishing off generic bad guys, fight the boss character a few times, and then the mission ends. Moreover, many of the levels feel artificially lengthy. There are so many points where you'll be thrown against wave after wave of the same enemies you've been fighting for hours and the only rhyme or reason for it is that the developers wanted a longer game.
After the initial levels you'll have seen everything Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions has to offer.
This wouldn't be so bad if the combat were more fun. This isn't to say it's bad; every now and then a simple brawler can be a nice respite from more complicated games. But after the initial levels you'll have seen everything Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions has to offer. You get the opportunity to play as four Spider-Men, but only one really differentiates himself from the others. The Amazing, 2099, and Ultimate universes are all your basic brawler. Spider-Man runs around beating the tar out of wave after wave of generic enemies. Two of the aforementioned Spideys have special powers, but these do little to distinguish them from the rest of the pack. Overall, it's a fairly typical button masher.
The only reprieve from this repetition comes from the levels based in the universe of Spider-Man Noir. Whereas the other Spideys are centered around button-mashing action, Noir is based in stealth. This portion of the game plays similarly to the stealth sections of Batman: Arkham Asylum - you sneak around, silently knocking out enemies. While easily more interesting that its counterparts, the Noir sections are nonetheless marred by some unfortunate flaws. While similar to Arkham, the Noir sections lack the same polish. Enemies tend to fall in the areas of either the immensely stupid or the superhumanly aware. Moreover, while Spider-Man Noir is grossly underpowered when it comes to hand-to-hand combat, he possesses a stealth attack that not only knocks out an enemy instantly, but does so from a distance. Stealth doesn't feel all that challenging when oftentimes all you need to do is make it within twenty feet of your target.
More problematic to the Noir sections are the controls. While the controls in general aren't the best, the flaws aren't as noticeable during the action-oriented segments. They simply aren't precise enough for stealth gameplay. Jumping is too inaccurate: you'll intend to land just behind a baddie and land on top of him instead. Wall crawling is abysmal. The second you start climbing a wall, the controls go insane and become utterly counterintuitive. This problem is made worse by a camera that follows you too closely, often leaving you blind to the greater picture of the surrounding area. The controls aren't bad enough to ruin the experience as a whole, but they do a fine job of shooting its most interesting portion in the foot.
Where I can grant some real credit is in the presentation. Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions looks and sounds quite good. When faced with recreating four unique worlds of four different Spider-Men, the developers performed admirably. While the gameplay might quickly take root in the land of the same-old-same-old, the environments help a bit to offer a change of pace. You'll be playing in a modern day, cel-shaded environment in one level, fighting through a dystopian future in the next, and then find yourself sneaking through a prohibition gangland. Noir does suffer from an overuse of darks, but the visuals overall suggest a level of care the rest of the game could have sorely used.
The audio, is similarly good. The voice acting in particular is spot-on across the board. I could not think of a single character, big or small, that wasn't well voiced. To its further credit, the script is actually fairly well written. Spider-Man and his foes are constantly trading quips, insults, and jokes, many of which are genuinely amusing. Again though, the game suffers from repetition. The recorded dialogue is limited in variety, and thanks to the padded length of many levels you'll hear many of the same one-liners multiple times. The first time Spider-Man picks on Kraven for forming a "boy band," it's funny. The following five, not so much.
Ultimately, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is an average game that can be enjoyed, but not without some grimaces. For every fine quality it has, there's another poor one dragging it dangerously close to mediocrity. It never quite reaches that level of failure, but it never even begins to reach true greatness. That said, fans of Spider-Man will find a ton of fan service, and even with its flaws, Shattered Dimensions is still a fairly solid action game worth at least a rental.