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Spider-Man: Edge of Time Review

SPIDER-MAN: EDGE OF TIME

Publisher: Activision

Developer: Beenox

Multiplatform (PS3 Version reviewed)

Spider-Man: Edge of Time Box ArtActivision has published Spider-Man games for over a decade now, with varying degrees of success.  However, it seemed to find a working formula when it gave the license to Beenox, which delivered the solidly received Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions.  12 months later, the same studio has delivered a follow up, Spider-Man: Edge of Time, which uses a few of the concepts from the earlier game and seems to have a high pedigree of talent working on it.  Established writer Peter David contributed part of the story, all of the dialogue, and his relatively strong reputation to the game.  Familiar Spider-Man voice actors Josh Keaton and Christopher Daniel Barnes voice the present and future incarnations of the web slinger, and somehow they roped Val Kilmer into providing some voice work.  This had all the ingredients of a fun, if not stellar, experience.

Unfortunately, Edge of Time winds up on the wrong side of the edge of mediocrity.  This could have, should have, been a fun Marvel Team-Up taking full advantage of the abilities, characterizations, and universes of both Spider-Man 2099 and the more familiar “Amazing” Spider-Man.  Unfortunately, a series of questionable gameplay choices and story decisions result in a completely generic brawler that could have starred any superhero.



Features:

  • 8 hour single player campaign
  • Challenge Mode
  • Play as Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099
  • Voice cast including Josh Keaton, Val Kilmer, Christopher Daniel Barnes
  • Unlockable bonus artwork, character skins, and figurines

Story: 

In the year 2099, Miguel O’Hara, the man who has taken up Peter Parker’s mantle, witnesses Victor Sloan, Evil CEO of Evil Megacorp Alchemax, travel in time to, essentially, take over the world.  In the process, he changes reality, turning O’Hara’s world into a dark dystopia while completely altering the current-day reality of Peter Parker.  Parker is now a low level grunt scientist at Alchemax, while his usual boss J. Jonah Jameson is little more than a talk radio blowhard.  Spider-Man villains are respected parts of the world order: Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin, owns the Daily Bugle, Kraven the Hunter is UN secretary-general, and Norman Osborn is considering a presidential bid.  Spider-Man’s life is harder in this new universe… and his life may be shorter.

See, in the process of trying and failing to stop Sloan from using the time portal, O’Hara has a vision of Spider-Man being killed at the hands of Eddie Brock, now Anti-Venom (one of the cooler elements from the recent Spider-Man comics).  Utilizing a handy mind-link, Spider-Man 2099 telepathically communicates (read: bickers constantly) with the original Spider-Man and the two attempt to set reality right.

This is the best summary I can write because, frankly, the story is a mess.  Victor Sloan’s motivations are never made clear other than he’s apparently mad at Stark-Fujikawa.  It’s never explained why O’Hara remembers the right reality but Parker doesn’t, nor is it clear why and how they can telepathically communicate with each other  (which I’m assuming is a plot thread from Shattered Dimensions).  Instead, the story lays on absurd plot twist after absurd plot twist, building up to a particularly galling swerve in the third act.

In place of characterization and a believable plot, we have quantum causalities.  That’s the game’s term for things happening in one reality that affect another.  This would be an interesting mechanic if the player had any control over it, but the mechanic is almost entirely scripted and only occurs if the story calls for it, turning it into nothing more than a lazy plot device.

Oh, and that alternate universe I described?  All of it is detailed in offhanded comments or newspaper headlines unlocked throughout the game.  The game’s juiciest story element is all but glossed over, raising the question as to why the alternate universe angle was needed in the first place.



Gameplay:

You play as both Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099, switching between both characters as the story allows.  There isn’t much of a difference between them; both characters play identically aside from some minor differences in ability.  And aside from some brief instances where Spider-Man 2099 has to endure trial and error freefall sequences, they’re both doing the same things.

Spider-Man: Edge of Time is an incredibly linear game. There’s little to no free exploration, and you are constantly progressing in the direction the story wants you to go in.  The game places you in very few open areas, and the entire game takes place within the drab confines of Alchemax’s skyscraper HQ.

That, more than anything, counts as the game’s single biggest mistake.  You’re not doing whatever a Spider-Man can.  Spider-Man’s key abilities aren’t used to their full potential, if at all.  Web swinging and wall crawling are in the game, but they’re things you don’t really do unless the game explicitly forces you to.

Instead, the vast majority of the game consists of combat sequences between you and a number of nameless foot soldiers.  Some can fly, some have shields, some look a bit like Tokka and Rahzar from the second Ninja Turtles movie, but all are nameless and pretty much indistinguishable.  You have to fight through these waves of enemies to progress, and it gets physically tiring by the midway point of the game.  Occasionally they’re broken up by some environmental puzzles, but those are bridges to the next fight scene.

The end result is that the game has this frustrating, enduring sameness throughout its running length.  You fight the foot soldiers in an arboretum.  You fight the foot soldiers in a library.  You fight the foot soldiers while dodging missile turrets.  You fight the foot soldiers while dodging monstrous tentacles (don’t ask).  The game never really deviates from these brawls, but they do pile layers on top of them that only add to the frustration level.

While Edge of Time may be linear, it doesn’t do a good job at telling you where you need to go.  The only way to do this is via a lame “Spider Sense” function that splashes green arrows on the screen that fade out around the time you rotate the camera to the place you need to get to.  You don’t have to rely on it all the time, but in the few open areas the game places you in, getting around is a nightmare.

Spider-Man’s abilities can be upgraded by collecting the floating orbs of light scattered throughout, and by collecting Golden Spiders hidden in the environment.  The Golden Spiders are particularly crucial, since they’re what you have to collect to increase Spider-Man’s health and stamina.  So naturally, they’re hard to get, and the game doesn’t do a good job in helping you find them.

The easier way to get these things is to enter the challenge mode, which forces you to exit the game to access.  Challenge Mode consists of timed challenges that usually involve collecting as much of the floaty orbs as you can, or – oh yes! – fighting the foot soldiers in a set time limit, which is about as fun as it sounds.  It’s a cheap way to make the challenge mode integral to the story, and if I didn’t have to play it to get the health upgrades, I would have completely avoided it.



Graphics: 

Edge of Time’s graphics are reasonably good, with no major performance issues and relatively nice models used all around.  The characters are well-detailed, with Spider-Man’s suit becoming more and more torn apart as the game progresses while 2099’s suit glistens and throbs like a living organism.

The problem, however, arises in the art design.  While the game takes place in present and future, it’s hard to tell in the environments.  Peter Parker’s world doesn’t look all that different from Miguel O’Hara’s world, and at points I was confused as to what era I was actually playing in.  Since the two eras look more or less the same, it defuses one of the game’s selling points, which is ‘play in two time periods’.

Another annoyance is the camera, which I found was zoomed out quite a bit too far, resulting in a fairly tiny Spider-Man character that wasn’t all that distinguishable from the nameless hordes.  This made fighting a challenge because I wasn’t all that sure as to where my character actually was.



Sound: 

The voice acting, overall, is solid.  Keaton plays the Parker role a little older than he did in Spectacular Spider-Man, but he’s just as good as he was as the younger Peter Parker.  Barnes is significantly less stiff than he was in the 90s cartoon, and while it’s a bit weird to hear his voice from a different Spider-Man he does a good job in the 2099 role.

The music is stuck in my head, and I dont’t mean that as a compliment.  There’s a decent semi-orchestral score from Gerard Marino, but It’s fairly narrow in scope.  As a result, the same music plays when Spider-Man is fighting someone. That means you hear the same cues a LOT, and it doesn’t make the endless repetition any better. 



Play Control:

The combat system borrows heavily from Batman: Arkham Asylum, in that it’s combo-based and relies on only a few dedicated buttons.  It is nowhere near as intuitive as Rocksteady’s revolutionary combat system, but fighting isn’t as much of a chore as it has been in past Spider-Man games, and it’s possible to get into a groove in some of the fights.

The control is a bigger problem when you’re not in combat.  Traversing the environments requires heavy use of a direct web-zipping technique that both Spider-Men have access to.  This is accessed by a quick tap of R2.  Unfortunately, they also mapped web swinging, a completely different mechanic, to the same button, and that’s activated with a press of R2.  The difference between zipping and swinging is apparently a fraction of a second, so whenever I wanted to web zip, I was either web swinging or falling to my death.  This is a completely avoidable problem, because there are unmapped buttons on the controller that could have been used for dedicated web zipping and web swinging.

Crawling walls is also sort of a dark art as well, though not as bad as the web problems.  Unless you’re in a specific wall crawling area, the camera and controls tend to play havoc with what direction you’re going in, and pushing forward on the control stick doesn’t necessarily push you forward.



Overall:

This could have been a fun, if not spectacular, exploration of the worlds inhabited by Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099, but it ignores all of the latent possibilities in the story in order to focus on an ever more preposterous story line and repetitive, endless combat.

The best words I can use to describe this are “wasted potential”.  This feels like a game that could have been made with anyone as the lead character; it’s not much of a stretch to see this game made with Batman and Batman Beyond in the lead roles.  Spider-Man isn’t, in the end, essential to this game.  That, to me, is the very definition of a squandered license.



Score: 5.5
Graphics: 7.5
Play Control: 6.5
Gameplay: 4.0
Satisfaction: 3.0
Sound: 7.0

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