The more Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions changes, the more it stays the same.

Shattered Dimensions starts off fairly standard for a Marvel game: Villain A (in this case, Mysterio) is up to no good, and Hero B (Spider-Man, of course) shows up to stop them. Unfortunately for Spidey, this time around things get kind of weird: The battle between the two accidentally results in the destruction of a mystic artifact called the Tablet of Order and Chaos, the fragments of which are scattered across the multiverse. If they aren’t rescued from the wrong hands, Spidey learns, all of existence is at stake. Whoops.

Thankfully, Spider-Man is on the job. Or rather, that should be Spider-Men. As the name would suggest, Shattered Dimensions takes place in several of the different Marvel realities, with webslingers from alternate universes teaming up to find the fragments before it’s too late. All in all, the levels take place in four different dimensions. There’s the “Amazing Spider-Man” universe – aka the “real” one – where you’ll control the Spidey we all know and love. “Ultimate Spider-Man” is an alternate present with a younger Peter Parker in a Venom-symbiote suit. “Spider-Man 2099” takes place in the future reminiscent of Batman Beyond, and “Spider-Man Noir” is an alternate take on Spider-Man in the 1930s.

While each of the dimensions (and its respective Spidey) has its own visual style, they largely share the same abilities. They all can zip and swing, they all have light and heavy attacks, and other than a special combo or a minor ability here and there – 2099 has a bullet time effect, and Ultimate can go berserk – any differences between them are wholly cosmetic. Sure, the combat is pretty fun in a button-smashing sort of way, and it feels very like Spider-Man – webbing objects and throwing them at people is still as fun as always – but it also never feels like your character is all that different from the others.

The standout, in this case, is Noir. Though he’s just as durable as the other three when it comes to melee fights, Noir Spidey gets shredded by bullets – and the levels where you play as him have a heavy emphasis on stealth. You’ll need to keep to the shadows, stalking enemies and picking them off one by one with web-takedowns. It’s essentially the stealth sections of Batman: Arkham Asylum extended out to full levels, and while they start out entertaining enough – and the black and white color scheme looks fantastic in cel-shading – they run into problems.

Camera and control issues mean that sometimes you’ll jump out into the open when you didn’t intend (and need to beat a hasty retreat), and it can be difficult to tell when you’re concealed and when you’re exposed. There’s a reason Arkham kept these sections to a single room at a time, too – over the course of an entire level, it starts wearing on you.

The levels themselves suffer a similar fate. Each of them has Spider-Man facing down a classic villain (or in one case, an antihero) from the series like Kraven, Electro and the Goblins. The levels initially seem pretty different, considering the variety of the locales -from a lush tropical forest to a Great Depression-era train yard and a futuristic city – but you’ll eventually start to see a pattern in how they work. You’ll meet the villain, fight them, chase them, fight some henchmen, fight them again, and repeat until the final confrontation (when they’re powered up by their tablet fragment). This happens in almost every level in the game, and it gets old fairly quickly.

It’s a shame, too, because some of the levels do have some really cool set pieces, like plucking a water barrel out of a whirling sandstorm (while riding on other debris caught in the storm) to throw at Sandman, or fistfighting Hobgoblin in a free-fall through the crowded skyways above a futuristic metropolis. The choice to move away from the open-world stylings of Spider-Man 2 and Web of Shadows (et al) in favor of a more traditional “level-based” system may have been a controversial one, but it’s not hard to see how it could have resulted in a more cohesive experience.

Repetition is the game’s big flaw, really. Many of the classic Spider-Man voice actors like Neil Patrick Harris return to lend their voices to the part, and quite a bit of the dialogue is actually pretty funny – but when you hear Spidey quip, “Is this a private fight, or can I cut in?” ten times in a row it begins to get on your nerves.

Ideas aren’t Shattered Dimensions‘ biggest problem by any stretch of the matter. It’s an execution thing, really. Yes, the idea of a stealth-based section is cool (and it worked great in Arkham) but fiddly controls and uncertain mechanics make it tedious. The level formula works well the first few times, but then you start to see it coming and it feels old despite the new things they throw at you. Playing as different Spider-Men in different realities is a fantastic idea, but the developers didn’t make them feel unique enough. Combine that with touchy controls that make webslinging occasionally frustrating, and you have a game that feels like it’s much less than it could have – and should have – been.

Yeah, it’s fun for a little while. Spider-Man fans will probably still get a kick out of it. But this is a game that could have been Spidey’s Arkham Asylum, and it’s not, and that’s a shame.

Bottom Line: Creative set-pieces and an awesome concept can only hide a repetitious game structure for so long – and the stealth sections that mix it up are just frustrating. The combat is appropriately entertaining and Spidey-like, but it feels more shallow than it should have, especially with endlessly repeated one-liners going off like fireworks. Fans of Spider-Man might still have a good time, and there are moments of brilliance, but it’s otherwise unmemorable.

Recommendation: Unless you’re Spidey’s #1 fan, give this one a rent.

This review was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.

[rating=3]

John Funk does whatever a spider can.

Game: Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions
Genre: Action
Developer: Beenox
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: September 7th, 2010
Platform: PC, Wii, PS3, Xbox 360
Available from: Amazon, GameStop, Amazon (UK), Play.com (UK)

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