As much as I hate to say "I told you so", and believe me, I really do.... I TOLD YOU SO! At the end of my last preview for Shattered Dimensions, I suggested that Spiderman 2099 might be one of the two licenses that Beenox had yet to reveal for their license-blending superhero jaunt. As luck would have it, it's now turned out that this is indeed the case. Fine, so I actually implied that 2099 was quite an unlikely choice, but this is still the closest I've ever come to being right about anything in an entire career of spurious journalistic predictions. When it comes to this kind of Nostradamus shtick, I'm usually as accurate as Michael "never gets it bleedin' right" Pachter; under the circumstances, I'll grab any victory I can get, however small.
In any case, let's have a brief recap about the setup of Spider-man: Shattered Dimensions. It's a third-person action title that offers the chance to play as four separate versions of everybody's favourite crime-fighting arachnid abomination of nature, each culled from a separate comic universe. There's an over-arching story that links the four worlds together, relying upon the classic and not-at-all-clichéd device of the MAGIC TALISMAN that breaks into pieces. Beenox and Activision should basically have just called the game Spider-man: 4 For The Price Of 1!; it's not as slick a title as Shattered Dimensions, but it gets the point across.
Still, if you like Spider-Man - and if you're somehow still reading this, you probably do - then it's understandable that you might be quite excited at the prospect of a Four Seasons Peter Parker Pizza. As it so happens, that's not an entirely accurate metaphor - because in the world of Spider-Man 2099, Parker is nowhere to be seen. Instead ol' Web-face is actually the alter-ego of Miguel O'Hara, a scientist of Irish and Mexican descent who lives in a city called Nueva York. The NY of 2099 is very much your classic dystopian future metropolis: it's got massive flashy buildings, flying cars, and it's dominated by sinister corporations who have government-like levels of power - Oscorp being one of them. Among other threats, the aspiring superheroes of 2099 are forced to deal with Public Eye - a corrupt police force of sorts, sponsored by a company named Alchemax.
You've certainly got to give Beenox credit for striving towards diversity. The Spider-Man of this world seems like a significant departure from the webslingers of the previously-revealed Amazing and Noir universes. O'Hara's suit is styled to resemble something you might see at a Mexican Day of the Dead celebration, which is to say it has a skull-face appearance and looks damn scary. As with the other quarters of Shattered Dimensions, this Spider-Man has access to unique moves and attacks. The 2099 suit has several nasty-looking talons extending from the wrists, allowing players to adopt a more visceral, Wolverine-like slashing approach to combat. O'Hara also has the ability to catch projectiles and send them flying back at the person who threw them.
And who will be lobbing these projectiles? Well, as I've already mentioned The Public Eye will be a problem for space-Spidey, but his main opponent here will be a 2099 iteration of The Hobgoblin. Like all good Goblin villains, Hob has access to a nifty glider that lets him fly around causing havoc in the manner befitting a futuristic mecha-git. The open nature of Nueva York seems to lend itself well to dynamic superhero scraps: one showcased battle with the Hobgoblin was conducted in mid-air free-fall, as Spider-Man and his nemesis plummeted towards the earth and then into the tunnel-like interior of a building.
The future sci-fi setting also allows Beenox to include some nice twists on familiar Spider-activities, so when you're swinging across the city you'll get to use streams of flying traffic as mobile hitching posts. The Spider-Man 2099 comic serial was released a long time ago - roughly 18 years, in fact - and I'd imagine that most fans will find it to be a pleasantly unusual backdrop, even if they're not that familiar with the source material.
Along with the 2099 reveal, Activision's recent showcase also showed off a few more snippets from the other two universes that have been unveiled thus far. The new Amazing section was another boss battle against Kraven in the South American jungle, but this time the dastardly hunter had been powered-up by a piece of the aforementioned magic talisman, granting him superhuman speed. In this juiced-up state Kraven was easily able to avoid all of Spidey's standard attacks; instead the player was forced to make use of the arena itself, using web strands to pull down several crushingly heavy stone columns.
From the Spider-Man Noir slice of the pie, Beenox was showing off a new fairground map. Once again I found myself impressed by the shady 1930s art style, but the stealth-based gameplay looks very old school - and I'm still not sure if that's entirely a good thing. Still, I'm certainly not going to judge the action until I've played it for myself, and there's evidence of good ideas in play: rather than the searchlights of the last demo, this stage featured a fireworks display that threatened to blow Parker's sneaking cover. The player must make their way across several taught cables that stretch across the yard, and if you screw up the timing and get illuminated by an exploding rocket overhead, the nearby guards will let rip with their machine guns. Luckily these thugs also display a goldfish-like short term memory, and they'll seem to forget all about you if you hide long enough.
It's also been revealed that Norman Osborne will be a major villain in the Noir segments, appearing in a role that's part gangster boss and part circus freak. We didn't get to see much of the man himself, sadly, but at least that leaves something to look forward to. Curiosity value seems to be playing a large part in the early appeal of Shattered Dimensions, and even when the fourth and final license is revealed at gamescom later this year, I suspect there'll still be some fun to be had in guessing who will appear, and in what guise.
And as for what that fourth license may turn out to be... I'd originally assumed that the Ultimate series would be a clear shoe-in, but now I'm not so sure. My guts say that the developers will probably have gone for something that is quite radically different from standard Spider-Man, but not quite as out there as 2099. On that basis, I reckon that that they might have gone for Spider-Man: Reign, which was about an older Peter Parker coming out of retirement, in a manner not too dissimilar to Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. Alternatively, as a less likely suggestion, I'd love to see something based around the Powerless miniseries, where Peter Parker is just a regular guy. This is probably a bit too weird, however, so they'll probably go with the Victorian-era 1602 Spider-Man.
One final note: throughout the writing of this preview, I repeatedly found myself miss-labelling this game as Spider-Man: Shattered Memories - a clear mental call-back to the excellent Silent Hill title that came out earlier this year. It's probably nothing, but a tiny part of me is convinced that this is some kind of premonition, and that the final bit of the game will involve Peter Parker lying on a psychiatrist's couch, attempting to work through all the weird stuff in his head. I mean, look at him: he takes pictures of himself and pretends it's someone else, he's still madly in love with the girl-next-door from childhood, and he sprays white stuff out of his wrists. I tell you, Freud would have a field day with this guy.
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is due out on the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii and DS in September.