Poor Spider-Man, at any other time of year his time travelling capers might have attracted much more interest than in late October 2011. You see, in classic comic book cross-over tradition, Spider-Man is going up against a certain Dark Knight, and in that conflict almost any hero would struggle.
In a way it’s a shame that the newest title from Beenox hasn’t attracted more attentions. Following on from their last outing with the Spider-Man franchise, (the much overlooked Shattered Dimensions), this new release is a mixed bag but it gets some of the fundamentals of a webslinger game right. From the traversal of the levels to the wise cracks by the titular hero, there’s a good deal included to satisfy his fans. If a Spider-Man game is to succeed then the act of swinging through the levels must feel satisfying and natural. In this case Beenox does a good job of imbuing their hero with momentum and speed as he swings from place to place. The swinging never feels safe or easy; you’re always on the verge of losing control but at the same time you are given enough leniency to make most of the difficult platforming achievable. Its deceptively easy to walk off the edge of a platform, but at the same time Spider-Man has so many jumps, double jumps, web swinging skills and other methods of recovery that it never becomes a major problem.
As well as the traditional web swinging, Spider-Man can also use his webs to grapple to pre-determined points in the same way as Batman can grapple to gargoyles in the Arkham games. This is beneficial as frequently there are collectible orbs of various colours that are most easily collected by grappling from point to point and collecting all of the orbs between them. In truth, the act of collecting these orbs and traversing levels full of moving laser beams and other hazards makes the game more of a platformer than anything else. Certainly the combat is a big part of the game too, and that part feels more than a little bit like the critically under appreciated Wolverine game from a few years back. In the same way as Wolverine was a very mobile character who attacked from all angles, combat in Spider-Man often sees close the distance between enemies swiftly. Despite the amount of combat though, there’s still more collecting and platforming than anything else, and this is to the games benefit. Like Crackdown, there’s a certain satisfaction in getting from place to place, collecting orbs as you go.
The games central gimmick, the two Spider-Men in two different time periods, is a useful conceit. It helps pace the game as you switch between the two who are both similar but with some clever differences. It never feels like you are missing out when it changes between the two, rather it helps break the gameplay up sensibly. At the same time, there’s some clever use of picture-in-picture scenes where events in one time line effect the other. For example, as future Spider-Man is being beaten to death by a giant robot, you attempt to dismantle the prototype in the past to save him. The way that this is depicted is exciting and clever as you see poor future Spider-Man battling for his life in the bottom right of your screen as you try to save him from the past.
For all the good that there is in Edge of Time though, there are some baffling decisions that have been made. First of all, almost the whole game takes place inside one huge futuristic building. I would imagine that most people that sign up for a Spider-Man game want to swing through city streets at some point, but here both timelines take place solely inside a big building. There’s not even much variation between the two timelines depiction of this building either, its just grey metal corridors and sliding steel doors.
Puzzles range from the fairly clever to the profoundly dull. Fighting all the enemies in a level to find the one with a key is a little unimaginative. When you eventually get to the door there’s not even an animation for opening it, instead a coloured blob floats from Spiderman to the door and it opens. Worse, enemies frequently spawn out of nowhere with the somewhat flimsy excuse of “oh my God, the timelines have been changed and there are now enemies”. Although the animations during combat are good enough and feel very much like Spider-Man’s combat style, there’s a general lack of polish to the rest of the visuals. At some points the whole thing feels like an Xbox Live Arcade title, such is the lack of visual flair on display.
Spider-Man: Edge of Time isn’t the best superhero game out right now. Its not even the best Spider-Man game. It does however get just enough of the FEEL of BEING Spider-Man right. The storyline is interesting enough, featuring some standard time travelling comic book fare and the dialogue and characters don’t grate too much. To be honest, I found myself playing in autopilot a lot, enjoying the swinging and collecting, but never really feeling any particular highs or lows. If you love the character, you could do a lot worse. If you are just looking for a good superhero game though, its no riddle as to which you should pick.
6 swinging swingers out of 10