While the latest swell of comic-book adaptations has produced a few inspired and surprisingly personal big-budget spectaculars such as Batman Begins and the Spider-Man movies, others are more concerned with just carrying a franchise past the finish line. With its C-list cast and no-list director, the new Fantastic Four all but announces itself as a competent-yet-forgettable Marvel cash-in, and that spirit carries over into the obligatory video-game spin-off, which seems programmed by a bloodless supercomputer. Mimicking the gameplay of other Marvel/Activision favorites like Spider-Man and X-Men Legends, Fantastic Four feels more like a thin overlay covering pre-tested models than like an original gaming experience. The levels don't clear so much as evaporate, much like the cost of admissions and a bucket of popcorn during the dog days of summer.

When a cosmic storm rips through a space station, four astronauts are transformed into superheroes with special button-mashing abilities: The rock-like Ben Grimm, a.k.a. The Thing, can tear down façades and lift heavy objects (with a little spastic tapping); Sue Storm, a.k.a. The Invisible Girl, can erect a protective shield (with some heavy joystick rotation); the elastic Reed Richards, a.k.a. Mr. Fantastic, can break security codes (through inane ring puzzles); and Johnny Storm, a.k.a. The Human Torch, lights things on fire. Sometimes they go on missions individually, and sometimes in pairs or as a team, giving you the option to fight as any one of them, though it's always best to lean on Grimm's brute force as the default option. After a lackluster start, the game improves as the expected henchmen, monsters, mini-bosses, and supervillains increase in quality and quantity, and the cinematic backdrops become more elaborate. Too bad that it only requires some random, furious button combinations to grind through to the finish, which renders any special flourishes all but meaningless.

Beyond the gameplay: As if the game weren't already too hog-tied to the movie, the unlockables are mostly features that will appear later on the Fantastic Four movie DVD. Though finishing the game opens up a few bonus levels, all that gaming sweat mostly pays off in thrill-killers like the trailer or interviews with the cast. And that's if you're lucky.


Worth playing for: The fun picks up whenever the four are brought together to take on a big boss, because you can switch back and forth between each character, exhaust their devastating signature moves, and then move along. There are also more opportunities to unleash an amusingly cartoonish "super" mode, which allows you to destroy everything in sight without worrying about taking a hit.

Frustration sets in when: The imprecise controls are a headache throughout the game, never more so than when you're asked to stand in the middle of a glowing light to activate a special power, and you have to paw around to some indeterminate spot to the side of that light.

Final judgment: In some rare cases, a spin-off transcends its source, but Fantastic Four gets the mediocre video game it deserves.