Much like Disneyland's Enchanted Tiki Room or the sudden death of a minor enemy, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions was an unexpected small-scale delight. It may not have been the openworld swing-'em-up a lot of fans are still waiting for, but its loadout of four different – well, kind of different – webslingers, coupled with a really excellent pun-riddled script and some decent brawling, made for one of the licence's better outings.
Activision clearly thought so, as it's kept developer Beenox on board for the sequel: Edge of Time. Beenox, however, may not have been so sure, since the team has promptly brought the Spider-Man head count down to just two – ditching one of the most potentially interesting incarnations in the process.
If you played Shattered Dimensions even for a few levels, it's likely that the Noir Spidey was the one that stood out. Love it or hate it, this 1930s version of Peter Parker, clad in leather and cast into a grim sepia-toned New York, saw the developer taking risks, even if, granted, some of those risks had already been explored by the designers of Batman: Arkham Asylum.
This Spider-Man wasn't just stylish and a little moody, a creature to haunt sideshows and old railroad turntables, but he was entertainingly vulnerable. Up against well-armed foes he had to pick off targets in silent takedowns before zipping to safety. It wasn't perfect, and its best ideas were often borrowed, but it meant that Noir stood out from the other three heroes on offer, with the Amazing, Ultimate and 2099 versions of Spidey all providing variations on wading in with fists, webs or weird symbiote tentacles swinging.
It's Amazing and 2099 alone who return for this sequel, but it looks like Beenox has used the smaller scope as a chance to differentiate the two stars a little more. The story, which sees 2099 Spider-Man meddling with time to save the Amazing Spider-Man from death, may hint at a slightly less breezy tone than the casual four-colour wit of the first game, but that's not all that's changed.
With no co-op on the cards, players flit between the duo at set points, as the two heroes bicker back and forth across the space-time continuum, each helping the other out from their own century (or timeline or dimension or frat-house or whatever it is).
Amazing (whom, tellingly, a producer accidentally refers to as "the basic Spider-Man" during a recent presentation – I'm sure he's been killed by now) still wades through enemies in their dozens, but his fondness for using webs in combat as well as traversal seems more pronounced. He's much more of a ranged fighter in this outing, and he's got an all-new skill as well in the form of an evade move, which allows him to zip around at double speed to create distance, and can eventually be upgraded to chain it in with strikes.
Spider-Man 2099, meanwhile, remains the close-up fighter, aided by a new ability that lets him create decoys. It's great for getting behind enemies with shields at the front, and it's a smart addition to his capoeira-flavoured kicks and jumps, and his nasty talon-reinforced punches. As with the last game, both characters are beautifully animated with a lovely range of speedy moves and exaggerated poses, and they're well-voiced, too, although Neil Patrick Harris has been replaced by Josh Keaton. Hello, Josh.
Breaking up the ceaseless brawling, however, is Edge of Time's really big idea: cause-and-effect moments, which erupt as Amazing makes changes in his timeline, altering things for 2099. Amazing's fairly restrained with this, by the looks of it – I'd spend ages just moving chairs around unexpectedly, or opening manhole covers – and the whole thing is tightly scripted, presumably to ensure that the game doesn't devolve into chaos.
The example shown so far has 2099 battling a giant robot that can only be defeated if Amazing finds the original prototype and destroys it. It's hardly Sports Almanac levels of time-rupturing, but it's a nice touch and should keep things moving along in an entertaining fashion.
Elsewhere much of the structure of the original game remains: you'll collect orbs, defeat rooms of enemies, and unlock new powers and probably buy additional suits. There's no word yet on the villains, who, in one of Shattered Dimension's nicer touches, were threaded through each level as prolonged encounters.
Equally, it's hard to judge from such a brief reveal whether Peter David, the new writer, will bring as much charisma to the scripting as Dan Slott did with the previous outing. (David wrote Shadow Complex, which was a great game, but not because of the dialogue or characters. And here he gets to work with a great Marvel hero this time around, rather than a cast dreamt up by a windy old right-wing homophobe.)
Spidey still hasn't had that fabled Arkham Asylum moment yet, then, by the looks of things, but Edge of Time should be another smart cartoon brawler with an eye for set-piece spectacle. Grown-up comic book fans might want a little more ambition in their video games, but it's nice to know that Marvel's younger audience – the ones so crazed by Spider-Man they'd presumably want anything with their hero in it – are in safe hands once again.