Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions
If two's company and three's a crowd, then four can be a real mess—particularly if all four are, essentially, the same person.
Our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man finds himself in just such a situation near the beginning of Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. During a rumble with arch-villain Mysterio, Spidey shatters an ill-omened artifact called the Tablet of Order and Chaos. And while this prehistoric tablet doesn't at first seem to have the same cachet as, say, an iPad, it turns out to be a pretty powerful device in its own right. Breaking the thing, in fact, somehow shakes this universe and a few others to their very core: If Spidey doesn't retrieve the tablet's pieces and put them back together, unknown cataclysm will result.
To make it hard for him, the pieces have been scattered across four different dimensions and fallen into nefarious hands (or claws or tentacles or what-have-you). Spider-Man is good, but he can't be in four places at once. Can he?
Turns out, he can. Each dimension has its own version of our favorite wall-crawler: The "noir" edition slinks through shadows in a steampunk cityscape; "ultimate" Spider-Man tosses on a black, living suit that comes armed with attitude-infused tentacles; the "2099" Spidey faces the future's corrupt, corporate-controlled police force. And then, of course, there's the traditional "amazing" Spider-Man, slinging webs and coldcocking bad guys against an old-school comic book backdrop. This allows four superheroes to join forces and reclaim tablet shards in their own unique dimensions, hoping once again to save the universe. Er, universes.
Spinning Webs, Not Yarns
The game is short on story, long on action. The whole "Tablet of Order and Chaos" trope is merely an excuse for players to slip into a variety of Spidey suits. But for many, that's enough. Shattered Dimensions has received strong reviews from critics and gamers alike.
Gameplay is involved but not intimidating: The action ramps up gradually, allowing time to get up to speed without letting boredom set in. For anyone who has ever longed to swing through the jungle on self-generated spider webs, the game offers a lot—without a spot of blood to mire the proceedings. When Spidey knocks villainous heads, the game's de facto guide, Madame Web, zaps the bad guys into interdimensional safety. (It's essentially a way to explain why unconscious villains discretely disappear from the screen.)
But while no one is killed here, Spider-Man sure beats the stuffing out of 'em. Combat violence is part of the action-adventure genre, of course, but the mayhem here can feel quite visceral and a little creepy at times.
The noir universe is perhaps the darkest of the bunch, tapping into a Halloween's worth of frightening fiends. Evildoer Goblin looks just like you'd expect someone named Goblin to look. Vulture is a cannibalistic circus freak who, we learn during gameplay, killed Noir Spider-Man's uncle. Meanwhile, the villain Carnage in 2099 spatters his surroundings with red goo. (It's not exactly blood, but it is icky.)
This Spider Can Bite
The game has other issues. One villain says of a girl, "I'd hit that." A few of the female characters wear formfitting costumes. And Electro doesn't wear clothes. While gamers don't see anything critical, Spidey does, exclaiming, "Nobody wants to see your junk." In moments of stress, characters sometimes blurt out a mild profanity or take God's name in vain, too.
And then there's Mysterio who, after snagging the reconstituted tablet, does more than abuse God's name: He claims God's powers for his very own. He tells Spider-Man to "bow before me" and cackles, "You dare to confront me, who is one with all creation?" While the source of the tablet's power is unspecified, the object feels rather magical and could even be seen as part of the occult. Mysterio, for one, taps into its forbidden power for his own evil ends. Also of note: Madame Web is a psychic of sorts.
All that adds up to Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions not feeling as heroic or as restrained, content-wise, as even the Spider-Man movies, which still have their problems. It certainly jumps through territory never explored on the old TV show. But in the modern-day game universe, where T-rated titles can be far more titillating, profane and violent than this one, it still offers something a little bit different, and maybe even slightly better than the norm.