Another summer movie comic adaptation, another game to go with it. Marvel and its bevy of super heroes have broken out of the stereotype recently, enlisting developers like Treyarch and Activision to create decent titles like Spider Man 2 and the Incredible Hulk. These licensed games usually span all consoles, including the handhelds and PC. It is of no surprise then, that film tie-in Fantastic Four
is available to computer gamers this summer. Does it fare well on the home PC? It would’ve, had it been tailored to work better on that platform.
At its core, Fantastic Four is a traditional third-person beat-em-up, allowing the player to control all four of the team’s members and an array of cosmic super powers, bestowed upon the hapless astronauts during a radiation storm. For those ignorant of the foursome’s abilities, here they are: team lead Dr. Reed Richards can stretch himself like saltwater taffy, allowing him extra reach and elastic-like stretch punches. Reed’s off and on girlfriend Sue Storm has invisibility powers, and can project force fields from her hands. Her hot-shot (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) brother Johnny Storm is the Human Torch; he can set himself ablaze without a second thought and hurl fireballs. Former test pilot Ben Grimm is the reluctant Thing, a granite-clad monstrosity who hates his panic-inducing appearance but possesses incredible strength and durability.
With such amazing powers, you think a PC game based on these guys would be awesome, right? It certainly could have been, but it falls short due to compatibility issues.
Oddly enough, the PC version of Fantastic Four feels like it’s been ported from the consoles. Default controls are awkward, and use the numeric keypad by default. Rebinding the controls can be done only from the launcher menu; once you’ve started the game, you have to quit and restart to see the control screen again. This wouldn’t be so bad if the game didn’t prompt actions with annoying icons. For instance, when you need to use an object like a switch, a little hand icon appears in front of your character. It’s up to you to remember that “little hand icon” means press space bar, or whatever key you’ve assigned to the “use” function.
It gets even worse when you’re told to string together combos. The game will display a small screen with a combination of icons, which you must remember and then press in a certain, timed order. It would be a big help if you could pause the game and consult the control list from the menu, but as I said this is impossible.
Another thing that annoyed me was the lack of mid-level saves. You can only save after a level, not during one, and this can be extremely annoying when you have to stop playing and come back later. Even worse, you can’t skip through ANY of the game’s cutscenes, and every level begins with one of these scenes. All of these restrictions would be passable on a console version, especially the control issues because a console controller is far less complicated than a PC keyboard.
The third difficulty is the camera. I’m sure that a controller’s second analog stick would feel very natural linked to this game’s camera control, but on the PC the camera is a jittery mess. I ended a number of play sessions feeling rather queasy, as the camera has the tendency to get stuck right in the middle of the action in confined rooms. In outdoor settings it isn’t that big of a problem, but it could still stand some improvement.
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