Of all the superheroes to be shoehorned into a videogame, Marvel’s Spider-Man is arguably the only one to make the transition look easy. The two best Spider-Man games—Neversoft’s Spider-Man and Treyarch’s Spider-Man 2—were landmarks because they captured the character’s wisecracking, freewheeling essence, and because both games were celebrations of obsession and collection, a pair of traits gamers and comic-book fans can identify with.
With thousands of spider-shaped medallions to collect, alternate costumes to unlock, and virtual action figures to fetishize, developer Beenox certainly has the obsess-and-collect portion of the Spider-Man formula down pat. As for Spider-Man’s freewheeling personality? It isn’t as free as it has been in recent games. The open-world approach that made the game Spider-Man 2 so exhilarating has been replaced with a more linear beat-’em-up experience.
Yet Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions still feels incredibly fresh and exciting. The majority of this excitement can be attributed to the presence of four Spider-Men: Amazing, Noir, 2099, and Ultimate. Translation for non-comic readers: Regular, Old-timey, Future, and The One In The Black Suit.
The true star of the game: Noir Spider-Man. The black-and-white graphics and overblown lighting, as well as the hammy 1930s writing and voice-acting, make Noir’s levels something to behold. And while the other three Spider-Men’s levels are built around beating up waves of bad guys, Noir Spider-Man requires stealth and subterfuge. Hiding in the shadows, then yanking an unsuspecting goon off his feet and plastering him to the wall with webbing never gets old.
The three remaining Spider-Men, though less satisfying, manage to be indelible in their own ways. 2099 can move at incredible speeds. Ultimate has a rage attack. Neil Patrick Harris voices Amazing with wit and charm. The game’s villains also distinguish themselves nicely. When villain Electro grows into a giant, he bellows, “I have become a divine being… without paaaants!” Oddly enough, this is one of the funniest videogames ever made. Filled with countless remember-when moments—as in “Remember when you outran that wave of sand?”—Shattered Dimensions is less literary and artful than Batman: Arkham Asylum, but it’s far more fun.