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Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions

Now in 4D.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

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 black and white isn't just for style in the Noir universe – it tells you that you're hidden from sight.

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.

Noir's stealth has cribbed from Arkham Asylum in terms of traversal, even if it lacks the sense of weight and attention to detail that Rocksteady mustered.

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.