Spider-Man enjoyed a comeback in the video game world thanks to efforts from developers Neversoft, Vicarious Visions and Treyarch, but it was around the time that Spider-Man 3 arrived in both theatres and on consoles as well as handhelds that things started to once again trend downward for the web-slinger. Spider-Man 3 was nowhere near as good as either Spider-Man 2 or Ultimate Spider-Man before it; the kid-friendly brawler Spider-Man: Friend or Foe quickly found its way to bargain bins and the well-meaning Spider-Man: Web of Shadows didn’t bring the character back to his PS2-era glory days. With nothing to lose and DC making a statement of how good comic book video games could be with Batman: Arkham Asylum, publisher Activision handed the Spider-Man franchise to an untested Canadian developer named Beenox to get their Spider-Man franchise back on track and the results was a love-letter to longtime Spider-Man fans.
The big marketing push for Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions revolved around the gimmick of how this game featured not one, not two, not even three but four Spider-Men!: The Amazing Spider-Man we’ve loved since the 60’s; The Peter David created futuristic Spider-Man 2099; The Spider-Man of the Ultimate Universe as well as Spider-Man Noir from an elseworlds series of books that envisioned Marvel characters as if they all appeared in the early 20th century. It was easy to scoff at the idea of four playable characters and think that this was Activision grasping at straws on ways to keep Spider-Man games relevant, however that would really be short-changing what Shattered Dimensions really is: a time-capsule of Spider-Man’s history condensed into a video game.
The reason for the four universes colliding is due in part to writer Dan Slott who has been writing the character for years and is one of if not the biggest Spider-Man fans alive today. After Spider-Man catches Mysterio breaking into a museum and stealing a mysterious artifact known as the tablet of Order and Chaos, a fight between the two shatters the tablet causing Madame Web to recruit Spider-Men from across the multiverse to reconstitute it before its powers fall into the wrong hands. Slott’s simple premise sets up an excellent frame-work that’s like something straight out of a major comic event, which it eventually came to be in his Spider-Verse story line and there’s so much excellent Spider-Man trivia found in the characters banter. True Spider-Man fans will laugh out loud when he mentions Kraven’s outfit once shooting lasers from his nipples and Deadpool bringing up Peter’s relationship with Kitty Pryde in the Ultimate universe. It doesn’t hurt that Spider-Man voice acting alum like Josh Keaton and Christopher Daniel Barnes lend their talents to bring the characters to life.
Given that there was now multiple universes to play with, not only was it plausible to see four unique worlds, from the futuristic world of 2099 to the black-and-white Noir universe, but locations like a dam taken over by Deadpool playing the roll of a reality show host and a jungle environment littered with traps set up by Kraven the Hunter. While it felt like many as a downgrade because you couldn’t freely swing around an open area, there was still plenty of web-slinging and zipping to be found with secrets to uncover and environmental variety unseen in any Spider-Man game before. The stricter level based approach also brought back more constructive mission design and boss encounters whereas both felt like an after thought in the open-world Spider-Man titles. Some of the set pieces like alone like web-swinging away from a giant wave in the Deadpool stage and zipping around to pieces of debris in a powered up Sandman storm are some of the most memorable moments in a Spider-Man game ever.
At its core, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions can be viewed as a character action game with plenty of unlockable combos, air juggles and triggerable ultimate attacks like Ultimate Spider-Man’s ability to unleash his symbiotic costume on unsuspecting foes. The control scheme and gameplay largely remains the same throughout the four universes, but each also has their own hook to make them feel unique. In the 2099 levels for example, there’s sections where you have to free fall to both catch and fight enemies will avoiding rapidly approaching obstacles. To avoid players relying too heavily on certain attacks and exploits, Beenox also wisely added in a feature called the “Web of Destiny” that awards players with valuable experience and alternate costumes should they adhere to specific rules within a level like finding a certain item in a sandstorm or taking down enemies using certain attacks. This also encouraged players to replay levels to unlock all the parts of the web of destiny if they happened to miss some in their first play through.
The standout universe to many in all of the four realities of Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions was the Noir universe as it placed stealth above all else, even in its boss encounters. Stealth sections had been tried before in other Spider-Man games like the Oscorp stage of Spider-Man (2002), but it was Beenox that showed that if they wanted to, they could’ve made a stand-alone game set just in the Noir universe. In my first time playing Shattered Dimensions, I would save the Noir sections for last within each of the four tiers because it was just so much fun sneaking around the shadows and stringing up enemies in the rafters in web cocoons in a brillaintly realized black-and-white asthetic, though the cel-shaded, bright colours of the other universes were no less a treat to the eyes as well.
After the success of Shattered Dimensions, Beenox was sadly put into crunch mode and ended up producing three more Spider-Man games of diminishing quality in the span of just four years. While it’s sad to not know what exactly the developer could’ve done with the Spider-Man character without strict deadlines imposed by Activision, some comfort can be take in knowing that we’ll hopefully see Spider-Man soar once more in video games thanks to Sony and Insomniac Games sometime in the not too distant future. Even with some pretty good to downright terrible Spider-Man games in their gameography, no one can take away that Beenox produced one of the best Marvel console games ever with their debut effort, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions.
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is also available on the PS3.