While video games based on movies have always shared more or less the same end result, games based on comics in general have always been more of a mixed bag. The rules of opposites seems to be in effect because it seems that for every good game there’s an equally bad one, though perhaps tilted a little more in favor of the latter more often than not. However one character has always stood his ground and found himself on the receiving end of some pretty good games: Spider-Man.
From Maximum Carnage to Shattered Destiny, the character has always done pretty well in the video-game world, and for good reason. He’s hard to mess up. The character himself has always been so popular because he’s so easy to relate to. However, nothing is impossible and I’m afraid to say that I think the formula for how to mess up Spider-Man has finally been found.
Spider-Man: Edge of Time kicks things off right out of the gate, literally. The title screen plays a short animation and then pulls a freeze-frame with the prompt to “Press A to continue” appearing on-screen. Normally this is the point where you would expect the main menu to actually appear, but not in this game. No, pressing A actually starts the game and the story kicks off In Medias Res, then before too long of course takes you back to the beginning of things to explain “how we got here.”
I thought this was actually done very nicely, and got things off to an interesting start. Starting a story this way can often be a cheap ploy, with the best done examples leaving you forgetting you started at the end or in the middle until you get back there and Edge of Time does exactly that.
As for why Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099 are interacting with each other, something happens in the Amazing Spider-Man’s time that screws everything up in the future. Miguel O’Hara (Spider-Man 2099) is able to talk to Peter Parker (Amazing), and together they try to set things right. It’s confusing, as time travel stories often are and this is actually lampshaded a little in the game but nontheless it’s going to be tough to wrap your head around everything.
Of course the big selling point of the time travel aspect is that things done in the past will change things in the future.
In theory this sounds like a brilliant use of the story they’re using being integrated into the gameplay and should lead to some interesting consequences depending on your actions. The only problem is that the only time this happens in the game is during scripted sequences and it turns into a cheap plot device.
Many times whichever version of Spider-Man you’re playing as will have to go and push a button that’s literally 20 feet away, but all of a sudden something will block the way (giant robot, broken elevator, exploding nuclear waste, whatever) and you’ll be switched to the other one to fix this problem or stay as the one you are and be forced to take an extremely long detour around the newly created problem.
Essentially the mechanic becomes artificial padding by turning an otherwise simple quest into a sprawling scavenger hunt as you try to return things the way they’re supposed to be, so you can press that button and fix another problem that happened earlier.
This will all repeat throughout the entire game with you never feeling like anything is actually getting accomplished. For everything you correct, two more things go wrong and it continues down this slippery slope until the very last moments in the game.
As far as the gameplay goes it’s actually very straightforward, as we’ve come to expect from Spider-Man games. The two different characters have a few key differences between them but for all intents and purposes they play exactly the same. Spidey can swing around, punches dudes in the face and gains a few combos to make all of this more interesting as the game progresses.
The game also features a skill tree for each character and one the two share, which will unlock more combos and increase damage among other things. Points are given out slowly at first but it’s not long before you’re swimming in them and buying things you know you’ll never use for no reason other than to have them.
Combat isn’t very fun to be perfectly blunt. In classic beat-em-up style every fight basically consists of mashing out combos until all of the enemies stop moving. There is a small amount of strategy involved against certain enemies but nothing you haven’t seen a thousand times…armored enemies only vulnerable from the back, flying enemies you have to pull to you with your webbing, rockets you have to dodge with your powers, etc. but they all still go down with a bunch of punches to the face.
The biggest problem with the game however is also the most baffling. The entire game takes place in the same building (in the future and present), and despite the time difference they both look remarkably similar. The future will have some more neon lights and the enemies are essentially robot versions of their past selves, but everything is the same.
This makes the world itself fairly mundane, but it also introduces the incredibly frustrating problem where we have Spider-Man stuck in an environment with no space to web-swing. Other than one very open area in the middle of the game, you’re lucky to be able to swing from one end of the room to another.
Zipping from one spot to another is much more frequent, and is something you’ll be utilizing all the time. You won’t have any trouble finding the spots you can perform this move as they will constantly be highlighted with a bright yellow circle if it’s a spot you can head to.
Some of Spider-Man’s most well known abilities are his spider sense and insane agility, both of which come into play in the form of special abilities. The Amazing Spider-Man can activate his agility powers which makes him automatically dodge everything for a short period of time, while 2099 creates a hologram of himself and turns invisible.
Both of these will be the difference between life and death, and while it’s a little frustrating to have them limited by a timer it makes sense from a purely gameplay stance and is understandable. However Spider-Man is also insanely strong, which can make it very annoying when you realize how much you have to wail on the easiest enemies in the game to get them to go down.
Spider-Man: Edge of Time features a few boss fights that I won’t spoil but they’re all actually very cleverly handled. You won’t be facing any cheap “super strong version of a regular enemy” bosses but rather unique experiences which are unlike any other battle in the game. These fights feature some of the best banter in the game between the Spider-Men and whoever they’re fighting and were all genuinely enjoyable.
As you progress through the game you’ll be presented with various challenges which reward you with more experience. These are presented in a web shaped grid in the menu and can be repeated at any time you wish. Completing certain groups of challenges can even unlock new costumes for each Spider-Man and it’s actually pretty awesome to see which ones they included! They really went out of their way to include as many as they could, including obscure things like Spider-Man 1602 and his current suit in the Future Foundation (formerly known as the Fantastic Four) and even the new Ultimate Spider-Man’s costume (which is another character that’s not Peter Parker).
As a side-note I must add that I equipped a new suit for Spider-Man 2099 as soon as I possibly could because I REALLY hate his character design and everything about him, but that’s a story for another day.
The challenges can add a lot of replay to the game if you decide to try to get gold on all of them, but I quite honestly found myself stop caring after I unlocked the costumes I wanted and ignored them for the rest of the game.
I don’t think Edge of Time was a bad game entirely, but it certainly left a sour taste in my mouth. The combat is dull and repetitive, as is most of the game in general. The writing is actually quite strong (the confusing time travel parts notwithstanding), and across the board the characters felt very true to the source material. But sticking Spider-Man in one building for the entire game and having him fight the same enemies for the entire extremely short campaign is absolutely not what people come to Spider-Man games for.
Many bright points are smudged out by many more disappointing lows, turning an otherwise decent game into a sadly middling experience. The game can be completed in less than six hours on the normal difficulty and other than completing the challenges I felt no reason to put myself through the experience again.
There are worse games out there of course, and this is far from being the worst superhero game we’ve seen, but the disappointment is all the more severe due to the fact that we’ve come to expect excellence out of both Beenox and the Spider-Man license in general. Unfortunately, I think they missed the mark on this one.