The Spider-Man gaming franchise has been as mixed a bag as a bag can be mixed. When they’ve been good, they’ve been free-ranging delights. When they’ve been bad... well, then they’ve been Web of Shadows.
Even then, while the execution wasn’t great, clumsy controls could send you unwittingly from red suit to black suit 27 times in every fight, and the action became dully repetitive, it at least had a decent idea at its heart. Will you play as good Spidey or bad Spidey?
The same can be said of the next game, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. Will it be as promising as it looks, with its multiple time periods, different Spideys and, in a particularly nice touch, voicework from four different actors who’ve previously played the character? Or will it be another misfire? Well, happily, the signs are good. First of all, Activision’s CEO has admitted that their “Spiderman games have sucked for the last five years,” so at least they’re aware of that. And, judging by my early look at Shattered Dimensions, that awareness has translated to considerable extra effort.
First of all, for inspiration, they’ve gone back to the comics. The result is four Spider-Man Universes, and four different Spider-Man characters to play. The story, as has been publicised elsewhere, sees a mysterious artefact, The Tablet of Order and Chaos, breaking into four pieces and causing assorted ripples in reality / the time and space continuum etc. Really, if you owned something called The Tablet of Order & Chaos you’d keep it in a sponge-lined room, wouldn’t you?
Anyway, Spider-Man has to reassemble the Tablet by searching through four different universes, and defeating three distinct villains per universe. There will be much web slinging, and objects have been made interactive so you can pick stuff up and beat people up with them. Rah.
Activision have kept a lot of details under wraps, but have now revealed some of the universes. There’s the traditional Spider-Man period – blue and red suit - but hey you probably guessed that. More exciting are the other universes.
One of these is Noir, a period 1930s New York setting. The inspiration of the comics is obvious in the look and the suit for this section is a cracker. There’s no lycra, of course, so Spider-Man is clad in a leather jacket while the famous mask is a modified World War I flying helmet. It’s a fantastic look and the sneak peak I had showed a shadowy, free-ranging world, of wonderful cartoon-like quality and some delightful stealth action around a Coney Island-style funfair setting.
The big announcement was the unveiling of the third universe although it’s not exactly un-guessable: it’s a future setting, 2099 to be exact. This is based on the 90s series, and looks as sleek as a very sleek thing. As you’d expect, technology as progressed somewhat so Spider-Man’s suit is tremendously enhanced, meaning he can freefall from great heights and negotiate around the hover cars and monorails that – inevitably – feature.
Interestingly, here Spider-Man has a more feral fighting style and, would you believe, talons. Well, he was bitten by a genetically enhanced spider, so it happens. It’s set in New York, but one that’s owned by three massive corporations, one of whom owns the corrupt police department. On this all too brief preview, this gives a fine sense of the familiar but with a twist, a feeling maintained by the villain shown: Hobgoblin 2099.
And so the fourth Universe... only we don’t know it. Nobody outside of Activision does so far. We had suspected / hoped for a revelation at E3 but now understand that the fourth scenario will be revealed at the San Diego Comic-Con in July.
So what do we reckon people? Elizabethan Spider-Man? Vietnam Spider-Man (Call of Spider-Man: Black Ops, perhaps)? A quiff-sporting 1950s rock ‘n’ roll Spider-Man? Or are we looking at a parallel universe populated by monsters / mutant spiders / fairytale creatures? Or one with no gravity where EVERYBODY can walk up walls and lurk on the ceiling? Any ideas?