- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Superhero and cartoon characters are integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and video game with a look at Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions (from Activision, reviewed for Xbox 360, rated T for teen, $59.99).

Pop culture’s famed web-slinging superhero returns to video games in this impressive third-person action adventure. With a script from comic-book scribe Dan Slott, the game offers a single player interactive access to four Spider-Man universes through 13 missions.

What’s the story: From the package — While Spider-Man attempts to stop archenemy Mysterio from robbing Empire State University Museum, the pair accidentally shatter the Tablet of Order and Chaos. Pieces scatter into four realities, and Madame Web enlists Spidey’s help to seek out the pieces and restore the fabric of reality.

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Play the role: Fans take control of four versions of the Web-head — his corny wit intact throughout — plucked from the Amazing Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2099 and Spider-Man Noir comic-book titles.

Helped throughout by the blind, psychic mutant Madame Web, each hero must face his toughest foes in nonstop combat to rebuild the tablet.

Those enemies are a who’s-who list of powerful Spider-Man haters, including Kraven the Hunter, Hobgoblin, Hammerhead, Vulture, Electro, Doctor Octopus and Sandman.

Our heroes can sling webs and climb though locations ranging from a quarry to a warehouse to neon-encrusted skyscrapers. Also, a tingling level of Spider Sense not only alerts the player to impending danger, but also can be used to see through objects and identify objectives.

Get to the action: Each version of Spider-Man has a slick set of powers tied to his world.

Our Ultimate friend wears the black symbiote costume and can use tendril-based attacks to unleash powerful rage flurries, while the Amazing Spider-Man relies on massive web assaults and fists to handle foes.

The Noir Spidey must sneak through the shadows and ambush thugs, wrapping them in web cocoons or sneakily pounding them into submission. Miguel O’Hara — Spider-Man 2099 — often uses free-falling aerial-combat techniques to dazzle players.

Memorable moments (in no particular order): Beating up on Hammerhead, who looks like a pint-size version of Quentin Tarantino; admiring Spidey’s webbing, which has a life of its own while fluttering toward targets or turning into steel claws to grab; looking up to the gorgeous night sky in Spider-Man Noir; ducking the attacks from a colossal, Dr. Manhattan-like Electro; and watching the cannibalistic Vulture in action.

Violent encounters: There’s nothing bloody or gratuitous in this teen comic book come to life.

Do, however, expect swarms of minion battles (from the likes of a John Henry-size bruiser with a sledgehammer to sand-shaped creatures to thugs with Tommy guns) that often require button-mashing frenzies (except in the stealthy Noir reality) to take them down.

Boss battle encounters are vicious (reference the demise of Electro) and always are multitiered as each villain eventually understands the power of the tablet shard in his possession and becomes even more powerful.

The roughest bits of brutality involve the often-occurring fistfights with the bosses, delivered in a first-person perspective. Spidey must duck blows and then retaliate with hooks and jabs as his opponent takes punishment and his face contorts from the boxing match.

Also, Spidey never dies, instead falling to the ground with an outstretched hand and a groan. Furthermore, he can’t plunge to his doom with sloppy web-swinging. Any free falls result in quick-save opportunities for the player, who hits a controller button and launches a battery of web lines to stick to something and save him, a very cool-looking cinematic every time.

And our hero is not all about constantly striking back. He even finds time to rescue workers and civilians.

Read all about it: Marvel Publishing has 48 years’ worth of comic books from which to choose. For Shattered, I suggest the following trade paperbacks:

  • * Spider-Man Noir: Eyes Without a Face hardcover (collects the four-issue series, $19.99).
  • * Ultimate Spider-Man Ultimate Collection, Book 3 (collects Nos. 28 through 39 of the series and presents the Venom story arc, $29.99).
  • * Spider-Man 2099: Volume 1 ($29.99, collects issues 1 through 10 of the series).
  • * The Amazing Spider-Man: The Gauntlet, Volume 2 ($19.99), Rhino and Mysterio (collects Amazing Spider-Man Nos. 617 through 621 and Web of Spider-Man Nos. 3 and 4 with work from Mr. Slott).

Pixel-popping scale: 9.0 out of 10. Each universe stands alone for its fantastic designs. Amazing looks are plucked right from a classic comic book with dynamic cel-shaded levels. 2099 taps into more futuristic and realistically presented characters set in skyscraper-filled Nuevo City. Noir plunges the player into a Frank-Miller-style monochromatic level of sequential art punctuated by a sickly yellow hue reminiscent of Sin City, while Ultimate sticks to an edgier cel-shaded pop-art wonderland.

Star power: Activision nabs four actors who previously voiced Spider-Man in animated series to handle the duties here. Christopher Daniel Barnes voices Noir Spidey, Dan Gilvezan voices Spidey 2099, Josh Keaton voices Ultimate Spidey and Neil Patrick Harris offers Amazing Spidey. Each does a great job with the pun-loaded dialogue, but Mr. Harris is easily the most enthusiastic.

Even more amazing, the venerable patriarch of Marvel Comics and co-creator of Spider-Man, Stan Lee, narrates parts of the story.

Unlockables and extras: Spider-Man collects Web Essence points for beating enemies, destroying parts of environments and conquering 180 challenges. (Consult the Web of Destiny for specifics, including taking down seven guards in a row without raising the alarm, punching Hobgoblin 25 times during a free fall and throwing 25 water barrels at enemies.)

With the Essence, purchase combat and health upgrades (the eight-legged fury is vicious) and unlock new costumes. The most outrageous of the garb is the Bombastic Bag Man get-up seen in Amazing Spider-Man No. 258. Peter Parker wears a loose-fitting Fantastic Four costume, a paper bag over his head and a “kick me” sign on his back (courtesy of the Human Torch).

What’s it worth: Even the casual gaming comic-book fan will completely appreciate the beauty, wit and authenticity delivered in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. It’s not quite as spectacular as Batman: Arkham Asylum but works very hard to please and easily ranks in the top 10 of greatest superhero-themed games of all time.

* Visit Zadzooks at the blog section of The Washington Times’ Community pages (communities.washingtontimes.com).

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