Superhero games often carry a stigma of simply being a way to cash-in on fans of a particular franchise. There have been few games in past years that have challenged this preconception, such as Batman: Arkham Asylum and Transformers: War for Cybertron, but it seems that some studios are keen on seeing the tradition live on to disappoint generations of gamers. Developer Beenox only recently released Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions last year, which received above average praise for its presentation of the Spider-Man franchise. This is what makes the gameplay experience of Spider-Man: Edge of Time such an aggravating and confusing experience when compared with their previous title.
Spider-Man: Edge of Time does not feature a particular groundbreaking plot in comparison to some of the story arcs featured in superhero comics and films. The storyline contains all the usual elements of a superhero game including twists, reveals of classic characters, and of course an assortment of one-liners. In this particular story, Peter Parker must work with the Spider-Man of 2099, Miguel O'Hara. Walker Sloan, a scientist working for the Alchemax corporation in 2099, goes back in time using a portal device to start the company long before it originally had been established resulting in a dark dystopia. Spider-Man 2099 creates a link using the DNA of Spider-Man in the current day to allow for communication between each of them. Thus, both now must work together to stop the evil scientist and other enemies that appear along the way while also saving each of their worlds from destruction. The storyline can best be described as a convoluted mess that quickly becomes more tedious than interesting.
One heavily touted feature was a cause-and-effect system in which the action of one Spider-Man directly affects the other in the alternative world. However, this system is only ever seen in a few scripted events that are usually timed to add some urgency. Don't expect to keep playing if one of the Spider-Man dies in the other world, there is no freedom in the cause-and-effect system. In fact, don't expect anything even remotely resembling freedom in the various stages. Each level follows a linear path with glowing orbs and jump markers to direct the player in the right direction. Nearly all the levels have Spider-Man constricted to small areas which only serve as spawn points for enemies. Worst of all, the entirety of the game takes place inside the same skyscraper complex. The only difference is the aesthetics from the two different time periods. It is quite unfortunate that in a Spider-Man game, the only time that either character steps outside takes place in a cinematic.
Spider-Man is able to move smoothly around the environment when swinging from area to area. There are various yellow markers that appear around the environment that allow him to jump to the destination with the push of a button. Most sections of the game strongly suggest the player to take advantage of these while ignoring his signature ability of swinging from web. The jump markers do help make various areas flow together, but it takes much of the player input out of the equation. Spider-Man's movement when crawling on surfaces is quite problematic when maneuvering upside down or at awkward angles. The movement while crawling in relation to the rotation of the joystick seem completely out of sync. The worst offender for movement is the occurrences of numerous free fall sequences with Spider-Man 2099.
Since the game takes place in a skyscraper that is apparently endless in levels, Spider-Man 2099 will travel to various areas by falling from one to the next. Each new occurrence of this odd gameplay mechanic introduces more obstacles to avoid from hitting or else suffer from a section restart. It was actually somewhat enjoyable on the first occasion from the sense of speed. However, by the third and fourth occurrence it becomes severely tedious and an impracticable way of travel. The year is 2099, when did skyscrapers stop using elevators as transportation between levels?
The broken controls for movement do not fare any better when facing off against enemies. Spider-Man is cable of defending himself against a couple of enemies, however, his ability diminishes greatly when the game spawns multiple guards or monsters. When facing off against multiple opponents, the best line of defense usually comes down to spamming the jump and attack buttons in the hope to quickly bring down enemies. There is a hit counter for every battle, but it is nowhere as elegant as systems employed in other similar superhero titles such as Batman: Arkham Asylum. The primary problem is that Spider-Man feels particularly weak in most battle scenarios. The best defense is to simply swing around while waiting for his health to regenerate after a severe pummeling. The best element of most superhero games is the amount of power available to the player. Unfortunately, Spider-Man feels like one of the lousiest superheroes in nearly every battle occurrence.
There are some boss battles that offer an escape from the mundane gameplay, but they usually come down to simple button mashing until the enemy health bar is depleted. Some of the more noteworthy boss encounters include Black Cat from the year 2099 and Anti-Venom. However, most of these encounters artificially extend the game's length and lack any challenge. The more difficult areas in the game are actually the free fall sections in comparison to enemy encounters.
The game's presentation has a great introduction with the player immediately entering the experience once the game loads with credits appearing in the level background. The voice actors for each Spider-Man fit the parts perfectly throughout their exchange during the game. Their remarks at one another in various sequences sound as if they have been pulled directly from a comic book or film. Unfortunately, these few aspects do not make up for repetitive music, dull sound effects, and uninspired level design. The game's music takes a back seat for most of the experience because it simply sounds like a series of ever changing loops. The sound effects have no particular punch during the gameplay experience. When Spider-Man smashes an enemy in the face, it should actually sound like an impact took place.
The worst aspect of the game's presentation is the visual style of each level. Two factors that severely impacted the experience was that the game takes place in one location and secondly is the location is portrayed in two different worlds. In one instance, the interiors are modern day while in the next they are the future aesthetics of 2099. Both designs were completely dull and uninspired, they seemed to have been pulled from every generic superhero game. Even worse, many occasions force the player to travel through various areas twice that were simply changed in terms of color palette, lightning, and textures. There were some instances when the level forced Spider-Man to walk past a window with a glimpse of the beautifully rendered world of either modern day or 2099, only to be reminded that it is simply a facade.
It is impossible to recommend a game that contains all the necessary elements that qualify as a generic superhero game. Spider-Man is a cherished superhero among fans and this game simply does not do justice to the franchise. The developers seem to have good intentions, but the amount of value does not match the price of admission. After only a couple occasions of sitting down with the game, each only lasting about two to three hours, the experience was over without any motivation or reason for a second playthrough. To recommend a rental for Spider-Man enthusiasts might be too generous, but everyone else should avoid their friendly neighborhood spider in his latest venture.
Spider-Man: Edge of Time is available now on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, 3DS, and DS. The review is based on the Xbox 360 version.