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Fantastic 4

Comic book capers with Stretchy, Fiery, Hulky and the fit one.

Like most people, we've long wished we had our very own superpower. It wouldn't even have to be a very good one, like flight or invisibility or laser eyes or any of that nonsense. We'd settle for the ability to tie our shoelaces just by thinking about it, for example, or stop cups of tea from going cold, or make the digibox receive an uninterrupted signal for more than seven minutes at a time.

But it's all just wishful thinking, especially the last one, so instead we end up playing videogames based around comic book characters - and generally end up disappointed, since they're generally a bit rubbish.

There are a few exceptions, of course (Spider-Man 2, X-Men Legends and the new Hulk game, to name but all of them) - but we're sad to report that Fantastic 4 isn't one of them. It's not a completely terrible game, it's just nothing special - yet another generic comic book/movie tie-in that will only please serious fans of the franchise, and bore everyone else within twenty minutes of play.

The game's storyline roughly follows that of the movie, and begins aboard a giant spaceship. Some kind of crazy meteor storm kicks off and the crew (tough baldy, humourless scientist, wisecracking quarterback-type and hot girl) are blasted with "cosmic rays". Next thing they know, they're waking up in a medical centre and, well, not quite feeling themselves.

Sue Storm (played by Jessica Alba in both the film and the game, since the actual actors' voices are used here) is now The Invisible Woman, and has the power to make herself invisible and create force shields. Johnny Storm (Chris Evans - no, not him, the one off Not Another Teen Movie) has become The Human Torch, which means he can produce all manner of fireballs and "flame vortexes" and gets invited to a lot of barbecues.

Then there's Ben "The Thing" Grimm (Michael Chiklis), or Ben "Like The Hulk but Orange and Less Cross" Grimm, and finally Richard Reed (Hornblower). Now going under the name of Mr. Fantastic, he can stretch his limbs in all kinds of crazy ways to punch out enemies from long distances away.


No man can survive the deadly combination of stretchy arms and blue glowy things.

The game leads you in gently, with short missions that see you playing as each different character and getting used to their various superpowers. There's undoubtedly fun to be had here - we particularly like Mr. Fantastic's mental Hammer Arm move, which can knock a circle of enemies off their feet in seconds, and The Thing's utterly definitive Body Slam.

But when the initial excitement wears off and you've mastered most of the moves, things start to get very repetitive very quickly. You're usually accompanied by at least one other character and can switch between them with a simple press of the D-pad. But apart from the odd character-specific task, like getting Sue to create a shield so Reed can get through a barrier, there's not much point in playing as anyone other than The Thing or Mr. Fantastic since almost all of your time is spent decking wave after wave of lumbering, unintelligent enemies. And being invisible or on fire isn't actually much defence against being punched in the face, we found.

In an attempt to make things a bit more interesting they've included a selection of mini-games, but these are generally unimaginative and far too easy, and serve only to break up the flow of the gameplay. There's an awful lot of hacking computers by lining up a series of rings - or more accurately, pressing buttons until something happens since there doesn't seem to be much logic to it all.

Even more tiresome are the moments when a character has to perform a special task, like lifting up a heavy object or burning down a door. This involves nothing more than pressing the X button again and again until a bar fills up, and then watching a cut-scene where the character performs the action. Fantastic isn't quite the word we'd use.

Control issues

Press the X button quick enough and you too can feel the power of this tedious cutscene.

You can earn points by defeating enemies and smashing objects to upgrade each character's powers, but this is a slow process and it never really feels like you've just increased your abilities significantly. What we'd really like would be the option to upgrade the control system, which is clunky and slow no matter who you're playing as, or the just-plain-rubbish targeting system.

For the most part your team-mates act intelligently, covering your back without getting in the way or doing all the hard work for you. But when all four characters wade in - such as when you're facing a boss - it all goes a bit wonky. At one point we couldn't even see our character, let alone what we were supposed to be doing, thanks to an impossibly chaotic pile-up of enemies, fireballs, force shields and extendable shins. You're supposed to be able to do combo grapples with your pals, but thanks again to those shonky controls this is generally more trouble than it's worth.

There's a two player co-op mode which works fine, but it doesn't make the game any more exciting to play - there's still nothing more to do than fight wave after wave of stupid enemies, complete a stupid mini-game or wait around while your mate completes a stupid mini-game, and then fight some more stupid enemies.

In the Arena Fights mode you can take on opponents of your choice in a practice room or go for Survival and battle it out with - you guessed it - wave after wave of stupid enemies. Pointless.

4's company

Thingy takes care of a robot while Sue tries to remember whether or not she turned the iron off.

By this point you'll probably have realised we're not massively impressed with Fantastic 4, and are probably expecting a conclusion along the lines of "not so much Fantastic as F****** S***!!?!" or our old friend, "might be worth a rental, but not a purchase."

And yes, that's the advice we'd offer for the vast majority of you. But. If you're a serious hardcore fan of the Fantastic 4, whether the comic book or the movie or both, this game really is worthy of your consideration.

For starters it's packed with all sorts of bonus features, from comic covers, concept art and character bios to interviews with the film's cast - and you even get to watch Stan Lee play the game and reveal what he thinks of it (he doesn't use the words F****** S*** at any point, unfortunately).

But more importantly, you do get to 'be' the Fantastic 4 and experiment with some really rather excellent superpowers, and the game isn't so bad that a serious fan couldn't overlook its flaws.

We speak from experience. As you may or may not know, some of us here are rather big Star Wars fans, and we can recall hours spent playing through Episode I - The Phantom Menace on PSone. Now that was a mediocre game by most people's standards, and a seriously rubbish one by everyone else's - and yes, there were plenty of moments when we were left screaming at the screen in frustration and cursing the water Lucas walks on.

But we were happy, cos we got to BE Qui-Gon Jinn and SWING a lightsaber and MURDER Darth Maul, and we could put up with all the tedious and tiresome bits because of that.

And if you desperately want to BE Mr. Fantastic and SHOOT giant fireballs and DECK Doctor Victor Von Trapp Van Doom, or whatever his name is, you'll enjoy the Fantastic 4. If not - it might be worth a rental, but not a purchase...

6 / 10