Despite its multiverse-spanning conceit, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions lacks the one thing you might be expecting from it: genuine variety. While Beenox has trawled the back-room long boxes of its local comics shop to gather four different takes on Marvel's chirpy webslinger, the entwined campaigns, with one notable exception, tend to play very similarly.
What balances the package out is that they all play pretty well. This isn't the Arkham Asylum of Spider-Man capers, then – it isn't that special game that, out of nowhere, suddenly creates the perfect interactive expression of a classic superhero – but it's a thoughtful and inventive use of the license all the same. Spidey's videogame outings have been on a downswing since the days of Spider-Man 2, and while it's hard to shake the feeling that the character works better in an open world than in a linear, story-based affair, this is still the best of his adventures for some time.
The plot has a pleasant silver-age thinness to it. Spidey has accidentally shattered an ancient tablet that binds various dimensions together. Now, with the help of three other-world versions of himself, he must gather the fragments back together before, you know, something terrible happens.
This simple idea allows Beenox to cherry-pick the best Spider-Man offshoots from the last decade or so and use them to add a bit of dynamism to a lengthy campaign filled with ceaseless web-flinging and pummelling. Arguably more importantly, it also lets the designers string together a range of brilliant supervillain cameos along the way.
Each of the Spider-Men gets a trio of levels spread across a three-act campaign before they're off to the surprisingly meaty end-game. These levels, rather than being merely capped by a boss battle, are actually threaded around prolonged encounters with some of Marvel's most iconic baddies. With supervillain skirmishes popping up three or four times across the course of each chunk of adventure, the developers have found a way to bring a cinematic shape to the endless battering of minions.
It helps that Beenox has a keen eye for set-pieces, and highlights here include: a dizzying pursuit of the Goblin through a creaking, Depression-era Coney Island rip-off complete with a brain-churning house of illusions; a Deadpool reality TV show set on board a deep sea oil rig, interrupted by a cameo appearance from a capsizing ocean liner; and a breathless wild west sojourn as the Sandman takes you on a literal whirlwind tour of a clapped-out mining town, complete with unwelcome cave-ins.
The webslinger himself struggles to match this kind of invention. Of his four incarnations, only one really stands out as a pace-changer, with Spider-Man Noir sending Peter Parker back to the 1930s as a leather-clad vigilante who takes out over-powered enemies with a gymnastic spin on sneaking, rather than ordinary fist-fights. While the sepia visuals and no-fuss stealth make for a distinct presentation, the meat of the Noir campaign is a pared-back spin on a handful of Arkham Asylum's best ideas, however – namely, bone-jarring one-button takedowns and a focus on managing your extreme vulnerability as you swing from one patch of darkness to the next, toying with foes before picking them off.