Review: Spider-Man: Edge of Time

SpiderManEdgeOfTime

Last year Beenox released Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions with mixed fanfare.  The premise was interesting: A tablet keeping all universes whole was shattered during a battle between Spider-Man and Mysterio, and the pieces then had to be recovered by the Spider-Men from each of their unique universes, including Noir, Ultimate, Amazing and 2099.  Each universe had a distinct art style and gameplay mechanics.  Some aspects of the game were solid but there was also room for improvement.  Fast forward one year and Beenox has returned with Spider-Man: Edge of Time.

Sports franchise games are released on a yearly basis from the same development teams, but can the same business model be applied to a superhero game?  Iterative gameplay enhancements are expected in a sports title, but in a story driven superhero game, is one year of development enough to release a good game?  Edge of Time reduces some of the potential development downfalls by removing two of the extra characters from Shattered Dimension, but there are some choices  made by Beenox that make the game feel like it was clearly rushed for an annual release.

The story, penned by long time comic book author Peter David, is as convoluted as comic book narratives come.  An evil scientist from 2099 creates a time rift to travel back to the 1970’s to establish the scientific corporation giant, Alchemex, as if it had been around in the past taking advantage of history learned from 2099 to become a part of everyday life during Peter Parker’s present.  While the time rift/travel takes place, David frames the events nicely, showing Peter Parker in his common life as a freelance photographer for the Daily Bugle.  But as the time rift occurs and the past is re-written, Parker shifts from freelance photographer to scientist at Alchemex.

While this transition works nicely as a cinematic, the resulting story quickly becomes a jumbled mess that is constantly being explained through expository dialogue between Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099.  This story mechanic is told as the bottom right corner of the screen folds back to a talking head of whichever Spider-Man you currently aren’t controlling.  Unfortunately, the mechanic is not consistent about whether gameplay will continue or force a temporary pause in the action so that all of your attention can be focused on the dialogue.  This wouldn’t be as bad, except that the voice actors selected to perform Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099 sound very similar and the folded corner is almost necessary to help make the story make any sense.

I can live with a far fetched comic book tale.  I grew up reading comics and never once questioned the Fantastic Four teaming up with the X-Men or the Hulk destroying the town I grew up in.  Flights of fancy are what make comic books fun.  Wild battles in exotic locations or heroes facing overwhelming alien armies are the life blood of comics.  Stunning battles or the threat of enemies hurting a superhero’s loved ones make for gripping storytelling.

In Edge of Time, Mary Jane appears in one small section. MJ and Peter Parker agree to go on a date, and she comes to pick him up only to discover that the building Parker works at has been transformed by time shifts.  Of course, 2099 has switched places with the original Spider-Man and must race to save MJ from certain doom.  MJ continues to work her way through various rooms and floors unscathed while 2099 dukes it out with wave after wave of bad guys, only to find that she has managed to get into the elevator from hell.  It falls.  2099 must save her.  Enter the worst game device ever employed. Spider-Man 2099 is capable of falling at great speeds, dodging obstacles and speeding up as necessary to catch a falling elevator.  Except that he really isn’t that good at dodging obstacles.  After two collisions, MJ’s elevator is too far out of reach and crashes and explodes.  Reset and try again.  Speed down, crash, MJ dies.  Reset, speed down, dodge a few things, crash, MJ dies.  Reset, speed down, dodge a few things, catch up to the elevator, start to slow it down and it still has managed to fall too far and MJ dies.  Reset.

Do this again and again and call it fun? I don’t think so. Instead of swinging from webs through a city, Spider-Man swings through small corridors and maybe one or two larger spaces.  2099 does the same thing, except he also falls at incredible speeds (or at least attempts to when he isn’t colliding with duct work).  The whole game is in one building.  It is seriously one big building.  The air ducts that both Spider-Men climb through are labyrinthine, passageways all feel the same, and rooms that are big feel cookie-cutter.

Combat is the only thing in this game that almost makes it worth recommending.  Almost.  My big complaint against the combat is that there are two Spider-Men.  As with Shattered Dimensions, bad guys drop health as well as blue orbs that can be collected to buy upgrades.  There are also purple orbs littered throughout that can be banked to buy power-ups.  The problem with the blue orb power-ups is that they are shared between the two heroes.  Just when you have earned enough to buy and unlock a power-up, the story shifts and you have to play as the other Spider-Man sans the newly acquired power-up.  You’ve spent all your blue orbs on a power that can’t be used right away, and now you have to earn more before you can attempt to power up the Spider-Man you are currently playing.

A second type of collectable comes in the form of gold spiders.  These are spent on specific health related powers and as with the blue orbs, must be spent on a specific Spider-Man.  The gold spiders can be found hidden throughout the game world, but are mostly earned by completing challenges that are listed in the aptly named Web of Challenges.

The Web of Challenges is mostly a way to go back and replay various battles through the game to attempt to earn gold medals in the challenges.  Medals are earned by either completing a challenge in a specific time, facing X number of foes and defeating them all without being hit, or by falling down an elevator shaft as 2099 without hitting anything.  Good fucking luck.  Seriously, why would any one think that is fun? Some challenges pose a modicum of skill, but the free fall challenges only challenge self control from hurling a controller through the TV.

In addition to the Web of Challenges, the game can be replayed on Hard difficulty.  But I have to ask, is this game really worth playing through a second time?  Sure, Trophy and Achievement hunters might give it a go, but given another superhero game that just came out, I think that time could be spent playing better games.

If all that wasn’t bad enough, I encountered three bugs that completely stopped the game.  Two occurred while playing as 2099, and they happened mid attack.  Something screwy with the routine caused the character model to not finish its movement and basically get stuck.  No enemy could hurt Spider-Man in either instance.  Fortunately I was able to reset from the last checkpoint and play on without further incident.  The third bug was not from Spider-Man getting stuck, but rather the final boss.  There is a moment when tentacles are supposed to come up from the ground and attack at an electrified pole, but the tentacles just seem to have gotten stuck between planes. Again, I could do no damage and the only way to fix the problem was resetting to the last checkpoint.

I wanted Edge of Time to be a good game.  There were some great things in Shattered Dimensions, but unfortunately those things didn’t make it into Edge of Time.  I hope that future Spider-Man games are just that: Spider-Man games.  Not Spider-Man 2099.  If I wanted to play 2099, I’d buy a game called Spider-Man 2099.  I don’t like that character.  He isn’t Peter Parker.  He isn’t the nerd that ends up with the girl next door.  Spider-Man games are fun because Peter Parker is a nerd that I can get behind.  When you play as the real Spider-Man his attacks are fun, his quips (while repetitive) are fun.  He is a hero I grew up reading.  No more 2099.  Please.  If alternative versions of Spider-Man “need” to be put into a title, make it an optional DLC that I don’t have to pay for if I don’t like the character.

Sadly, Edge of Time is a game that I find difficult to recommend.  There are some fun moments, when you play as the real Spider-Man and watch as his powers level up. But half of the game is spent with 2099, and that guy just isn’t what Spider-Man means to me.  Additionally, the game doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and the web swinging moments in large environments are few and far between.  If you have no other game to play over a weekend, this isn’t a bad way to spend it, but don’t expect a fantastic, mind blowing experience.  Hopefully the already announced Amazing Spider-Man can break the mold from the last two titles and finally be a game worthy of being called Spectacular and Amazing.

SkipIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Combat is fun
+ Good replay value
+ Lots of unlockable costumes (but none add extra to combat)

Cons:
– The entire game is set in one building
– Free fall sections are awful
– Game stopping bugs
– Spider-Man 2099

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3; also available for 3DS, DS, Wii and Xbox 360
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Beenox
Release Date: 10/4/2011
Genre: Action/Adventure
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

[nggallery id=2104]

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.