So then, who's your favourite chemist? I know, tough choice. Mine's definitely Linus Pauling: one of the fathers of molecular biology, a Nobel prize winner and the man who said, "If you want a great idea, get a lot of ideas." (He's also the patron saint of specious opening paragraphs, as it turns out.)
I reckon Pauling would appreciate Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions – and not just because the genius who helped define the field of quantum chemistry would clearly be a fan of arcadey beat-'em-ups.
Unwilling to place their bets on a single interpretation of Marvel's webslinger, the developers at Beenox have offered up a handful of different versions, all delivered via a wonky sci-fi meta-narrative that sees Spidey trying to stitch up a gaping hole he's torn in the multiverse by collecting the broken pieces of some artefact or other. So, Activision's latest has a lot of Spider-Mans, then – but is there a great one in there?
Too early to tell, but the latest preview build suggests Shattered Dimensions might be a very playable, if pretty limited, brawler. The finished game will bounce you back between four distinct takes on Spidey, ranging from the cel-shaded and jungle-based Amazing Spider-Man, through Spider-Man Noir, Spider-Man 2099 and Ultimate Spider-Man.
The Amazing version will be the glue that sticks the whole thing together, but it also looks to be the blandest of the quartet – and a chance to play the other three certainly indicates that there are better treats on offer.
Each dimension keeps the basic combat and traversal the same but lays on its own tweaks and gimmicks. Judging by what's been revealed so far, Noir is by far the most interesting of the bunch.
Taking Peter Parker back to the 1930s, sticking him into Rocketeer-style leathers and throwing him though a series of grimy, rather moody environments picked out in sepia tones, Beenox is putting the emphasis heavily on stealth.
Spidey picks his way through the darkened spaces of New York City while staying in the shadows. Although he can still take on foes directly they tend to be heavily armed, so it's much wiser to lurk above them, get behind them, then perform one-button takedowns.
There are some nice contextual animations on offer as Spidey explores a spooky train yard, cocooning baddies one at a time. Although Spider-Man can climb any wall he's faced with it's best to zip him around the environment in tactical bursts, moving from one web-slinging trigger prompt to the next, a mechanic that's similar to the grapple system of Arkham Asylum but far more generous with its anchor points.
To cope with all this stealthing, the Noir levels tend to be large, intricate spaces and the train yard is no exception. Rather than presenting you with a simple corridor to get to reach the end of, your objective is to free hostages kidnapped by Hammerhead, busting them out of their cages before getting them to an extraction point.
It's a great excuse to explore and the escort business isn't as much of a faff as it could be; turns out Spider-man's just as manoeuvrable with a civilian on his back as he is without one. (I am much the same.) The level never quite turns into the spatial puzzle it promises to be as you make use of darkness and memorise patrols, but it's far less fiddly and annoying than the overall mission structure suggests, and backtracking is kept to a minimum.
After Noir the 2099 and Ultimate dimensions seem far more traditional, offering tweaks that tend not to switch the main game mechanics around so much. 2099's twists tend to be kinks in the level design as you explore the linear-but-pretty skyscraper canyons of futuristic New York, facing off against supervillains and swarms of corrupt coppers.
This particular future's a glossy place, fizzing with neon advertisements and sheer drops. The game plays out as a series of rooftop arenas linked by avenues to swing across or freefall sections. These see you pursuing enemies down through a maze of buildings, ducking around the mandatory clumps of flying taxis as you go.
A quick boss fight against the Hobgoblin is satisfyingly simple as you catch his pumpkin bombs and twang them back at him. Spider-Man's moves are heavily influenced by that Brazilian martial art which Beenox's handy on-site developer totally forgot the name of, and I thought was called Caipirinha. (The martial art's called Capoeira, obv, and Caipirinha is a not-very-nice cocktail, all of which explains why I tend to avoid street fights when I'm visiting Rio.)
The point is, the combat seems to focus on close-up melee attacks and speedy movement between foes. It's button-bashy, and not unpleasantly so, and it will be interesting to see how the system holds up over the course of the 2099 levels.
The Ultimate dimension seems similarly straightforward. Spidey fights through Triskelion, the SHIELD HQ off the coast of New York - don't look for it in your guidebook maps because SHIELD already thought of that, right – on the trail of Carnage.
Parker's wearing the black Spider-Man suit with its nasty sprouting tendrils, allowing for a greater reach and more in the way of area attacks, and so the developer has responded by piling on the baddies in the game's large arenas.
A Rage Meter mixes things up further – build it with attacks, and then unleash it for periods of improved speed and aggressiveness. It does a decent job of encouraging you to plan your slaughter a little more tactically as you pick your way from one cluster of enemies to the next, timing your moments of near-invulnerability.
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Preview: Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions
Footage of Beenox's binned Fist Firehead.
NYCC poster unveils movie tie-in.
We shattered ourselves...
That said, a generous recharge and the fact you can top your Rage up once you've triggered it by chaining hits mean you never have to be that strategic if you don't want to be.
Enemies, regardless of which dimension you're in, are extraordinarily stupid. Noir's henchmen often don't blink an eye as you truss their buddies up in front of them, while Ultimate's armoured super-soldiers have a habit of shooting in every direction all of the time, just in case.
But that should be fine for the kind of light, arcadey fun Shattered Dimensions is going for. This is not shaping up to be a complex game by any means, but it seems likely to be a fairly enjoyable one. The game's different takes on the classic character are already more considered than the mere pallet swaps they could have been.
Most importantly, Beenox's game oozes with all things Spidey. One of the better tests of any superhero game is how things look when you press pause, and on this count, at least, Shattered Dimensions delivers. Punches are thrown with exaggerated stances, victims cower, and enemies gurn with horror as their guns are snatched away on trails of silken webbing.
If you're expecting Spider-Man's version of Arkham Asylum, you may be disappointed by the straightforward adventure Beenox has in store. If you're up for a colourful romp through one of Marvel's better IPs, however, there's still a lot for you – and Linus Pauling – to get excited about.