Oct 282011

Spider-Man has really had a sort of mixed time in video games. There have been a lot of titles featuring the web slinging crusader, ranging from the awful to the amazing. Admittedly, I have not played a lot of these games, but I did play and enjoy Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions so when I heard that the same developer, Beenox, was putting together a title subtitled Edge of Time my senses started tingling. Would this finally be the game to fill the superhero hole in my gaming life?

We’ll do our best to avoid spoilers here! Spider-Man: Edge of Time is a tangled web of a tale written by Peter David of Marvel, who most notably wrote The Incredible Hulk for about 12 years. It involves both Miguel O’Hara (Spider-Man 2099) and Peter Parker (Amazing Spider-Man) trying to stop an evil man named Walter Sloan who travels from 2099 back to the 1970s and uses his knowledge of the future to cement his chokehold on the world by founding his company Alchamax much earlier than he originally did. Through a series of crazy sci-fi comic book drama, and a little deus ex machina, Miguel O’Hara and Peter Parker end up with a sort of telepathic link that allows them to communicate with each other in their respective time periods, and the two begin working together to take down Sloan and restore the timeline to its previous state. It’s a little too convoluted to serve as an entry point into the Spider-Man universe for anyone, but the idea is nothing that anyone who has been interested in science fiction for any length of time won’t be able to wrap their head around.

Due to this rift in time, there is a new “cause and effect” gameplay mechanic that makes things a little interesting, especially when considering the fact that the entire game takes place in each Spider-Man’s respective Alchamax building. When one of the Spider-Men changes something in their time period, it affects the other Spider-Man’s environment. For example; Miguel may be overwhelmed fighting a horde of giant sentry robots, but if Peter destroys the robotics research lab in his time, then the robots will simply cease to exist for Miguel. These temporal cause and effect scenarios are limited to scripted events within the course of the game’s events, so unfortunately Miguel can’t just call up Peter constantly and ask him to alter the past to his benefit.

Combat plays an important role in Spider-Man: Edge of Time, and gamers who have played Shattered Dimensions will find the setup to be completely familiar. Each Spider-Man’s attacks are mapped to the d-pad on the Wii Remote. As you pummel enemies you will earn golden spider tokens that can be used to upgrade either an ability unique to each Spider-Man or an ability they share. You also can collect little blurple energy balls throughout each level that also go toward leveling up your Spider-Men. When compared to Amazing Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2099 felt very overpowered, so it is beneficial to spend more resources leveling up their shared abilities and Peter-specific abilities. Aside from having full control over each Spider-Man’s ass-kickery, you will also be wielding their other spider abilities, such as Spider Sense and wall climbing. By pressing the + button on the Wii Remote, enemies holding crucial items like keys and current objectives will be highlighted by Spider Sense on the screen. Wall climbing worked fine, but the camera control presented some issues. Often when climbing in a confined space, the camera would get stuck in a weird position, sometimes even inside the character model. You do have camera control by pressing the Z button the the Nunchuck and using the d-pad for direction, but it never quite felt as fluid or as controllable as a camera would be if there was a second analog stick. It would have been awesome to see the Classic Controller as a control option, especially since there is very little waggle control and no instances where the Wii Remote’s IR pointer is needed.

There is a part where Peter jokes about a task at hand, making a remark to the effect of “What is this, a video game?” That would have been the perfect opportunity for Beenox to take us in an unexpected and fresh direction, but sadly, they didn’t. The biggest shortcoming of Spider-Man: Edge of Time is the lack of any real variety. As was previously mentioned, the entire game takes place in one building. Despite the fact that the environment is changeable, this mechanic never feels like it is fully utilized and the halls of Alchamax become very repetitive and dull after a couple hours. Enemies are all either giant robots or the same variety of mutated creatures, and all the missions fall trap to genre cliches, such as collecting items like keys or misplaced machine parts. The only real variation comes from boring and needlessly difficult segments of Spider-Man 2099 free-falling through one of Alchamax’s copious amounts of elevator shafts

Spider-Man 2099 carrying his bride over the threshold? Nope (unfortunately). Please note this is NOT a Wii screenshot. Actual Wii screens don't seem to exist!

Graphics are just dandy, and would look right at home next to other current Wii games. Beenox decided to go with per-rendered cutscenes, which is almost always a mistake on the Wii because there is a jolting moment where you think, “Oh, this game doesn’t look nearly as great as I thought it did” as the action transitions between in-game and per-rendered footage. Rather than expecting players to accept the vast difference in quality between the two types of graphics, it would have been better to render all the cutscenes with the in-game engine to avoid that sensation of playing a game that is substandard graphically. It is also worth noting that Edge of Time features more “realistic” graphics than the cell shaded, cartoony graphics of its predecessor Shattered Dimensions. Cell shading works wonderfully on the Wii, and would go perfectly with a game based on comic books and filled with mutated men with spider abilities, robots, and time travel, so it is easy to question why the shift in style was made.

If there’s one unique character trait Amazing Spider-Man is known for, it’s his penchant for delivering sarcastic one-liners at just the right moment, and this trait carried over into the game. Unfortunately, Miguel doesn’t seem to appreciate Peter’s particular brand of humor, but most players will be laughing as he slings his smart-assed remarks at the goons in the game. Bickering dialogue exchanges between the two protagonists is also humorous, if only they occurred with a little less frequency. The rest of the voice acting in the game is decent too, and even features Val Kilmer as the voice of Walter Sloan. Maybe he just didn’t have anything better to do while the recording was taking place, but it was nice to see at least one big name in the credits. It helped drive home the idea that video games can be actual art, not just something awkward teen boys with acne do to fill their time in between rejections from girls at school.

Superhero games disappoint more often than not, so it was nice to see another Spider-Man game from Beenox that makes at least a passable attempt to do the genre right. Will it recapture the magic of you experienced as you sat on the couch watching Marvel cartoons in the wee years of the second decade of your life? Probably not, but you will laugh at Peter’s well-written jokes, your head will ache as you think about the consequences of time travel and quantum causality, and you will thoroughly enjoy smashing bad guys into a fine paste on the floors of Alchamax. With a little refinement of the controls, a few tweaks to the graphics, and a slightly more straightforward storyline, Spider-Man: Edge of Time would be awfully close to being the definitive Spidey game.

Spider-Man: Edge of Time

Combat is pretty fun, voice acting is great, and an interesting new cause and effect gameplay mechanic will keep you scratching your head.Controls don't seem to work quite as they were intended to at times, story could be a little too convoluted for a more casual player to keep up with, differences between in-game graphics and cutscenes is drastic.
VerdictSpider-Man: Edge of Time has most of the pieces in place to be a decent Spider-Man game, but not quite all of them.

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