NEW YORK (CNS) — Superhero games have undergone something of a renaissance in recent years. Once mere cash-ins with terrible gameplay and hideous graphics, 2009 introduced the expansive “Batman: Arkham Asylum,” and 2010 brought the enjoyable web-’em-up “Spiderman: Shattered Dimensions.”
With the reputation of the genre thus revitalized, both franchises announced sequels for 2011. So the Caped Crusader is crime-fighting again in “Batman: Arkham City,” while two personas of Spiderman can be found era-hopping in “Spiderman: Edge of Time” (Activision).
Previews for “Arkham City” caused paroxysms of excitement in the gaming community, yet “Edge of Time” has been released with little fuss and few flights of any particular emotion. My Spidey-sense warned me that something was amiss. I was not wrong.
As played for review on the Xbox 360, “Edge of Time” takes all that was right with “Shattered Dimensions,” hurls it out the window, and replaces it with a linear, corridor-based game that contains little more than room after room of mindless enemies and button-mashing combat via clunky controls.
The gamer plays both the Amazing Spiderman and his futuristic counterpart Spiderman 2099. Super-villain Walker Sloan has developed a time-traveling machine, and has journeyed into the past to build the megacorporation Alchemax, creating a whole new timeline in the process. Spiderman 2099 — Miguel O’Hara — is caught between competing chronologies and witnesses the death of his character’s original incarnation, the Amazing Spiderman — Peter Parker.
O’Hara must communicate and work with Parker to stop this fatal vision from coming to pass. Their respective alternate timelines unfold in a state known as “quantum causality” where the actions of one affect the world of the other.
Though confusing, the plot is classic comic-book fare, and has many exciting possibilities. Unfortunately, this promising premise fails to translate into thrilling gameplay.
Instead, time and again, the gamer is presented with savory cutscenes — a between-levels intermission without the gamer being in control — only to be dumped into yet another series of confined spaces packed with faceless opponents irrelevant to the story.
Those who approach the game hoping to feel invincible and cool as they swing between buildings can — as they say in New York — fugeddaboutit. At no point does Spiderman, past or present, step into the open air, so any swinging around takes place indoors. Throw in the unwieldy controls when crawling on walls and “Edge of Time” has effectively managed to remove the main attraction of the entire franchise.
The uninspired action that remains relies heavily on basic fist-fighting. And even these brawls don’t feature the intuitive parry-and-riposte-style combat of, say, “Batman: Arkham Asylum.” The developers chose not to include a block option, which means that sparring depends on button pounding sprinkled with a few combos.
“Spiderman: Edge of Time” does get a few things right. It taps into the Marvel mythology, and comic book fans will be pleased by references to Captain America, Iron Man and other classic characters. Additionally, the dialogue throughout is both authentic and genuinely funny.
Parents, however, will want to be aware that one of Spiderman’s main antagonists is an old flame of Parker’s who reappears in distorted form. Her character exudes overt sexuality, dabbling in innuendo and favoring skin-tight costumes complete with diving cleavage. For a game based on one of Marvel’s more child-friendly figures, such elements are obviously inappropriate.
Thematically, on the other hand, “Edge of Time” raises no issues for gamers of faith. In fact, it’s eventually revealed that the story’s most prominent villain is attempting to re-create the universe, believing he can improve it. Yet by doing so, he threatens to obliterate the whole cosmos. The message — that human beings should be wary of trying to play God — is both clear and thoroughly Catholic.
This ultimately positive takeaway, however, fails to compensate for a poor game that feels designed to wring a quick buck out of Spiderman fans. The campaign lasts less than seven hours, and the extra challenges — and a smattering of unlockables — do little to add value to what is, overall, an anemic offering.
Versions of “Spiderman: Edge of Time” are also available for the PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS and Nintendo 3DS.
The game contains frequent but mild cartoon violence, some sensuality and occasional innuendo. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Entertainment Software Rating Board rating is T — Teen.