I’ve played quite a few Spider-Man games in my time. With that, I’ve played a lot of pretty bad Spider-Man games. But Edge of Time just might take the cake. After Shattered Dimensions proved to be a fun and well-designed (if not a bit rough around the edges) game, Activision apparently decided to let Beenox try another Spider-Man game, and made the horrible mistake of trying to rush it out before Batman: Arkham City sucked up all the comic-book-gamers’ attentions.
The writers of Star Trek: Enterprise would be jealous
Edge of Time forces us into another game featuring multiple Spider-Men, but this time, instead of a dimension-hopping adventure, we get a time-travel story. The basic premise is that some bad guy from the future (2099) has built a time portal at the Alchemax building and is trying to kill the modern (Amazing) Spider-Man. Spider-Man 2099 discovers the plot and takes it upon himself to go back and prevent this from happening. Fortunately, the designers kept their ambitions constrained to just those two Spider-Men, and didn’t try to complicate matters by going further back in time to encounter, say, Black-suit Spider-Man, Scarlet Spider, Man-Spider, or any other Spider-Man variants from Marvel’s history. Just Amazing and 2099.
The two Spider-Men can communicate with each other across the generations, and seem to imply that this game is an actual sequel to Shattered Dimensions.
The time travel story gives the game is primary gimmick: the things you do in one time period (usually the past) can affect the other (usually the future). This seems to be an effort to correct one of my primary complaints with Shattered Dimensions, which was the overall lack of integration between the Spider-Men in the various dimensions. In this game, both Spider-Men now directly interact. In fact, they spend pretty much the entire game talking to each other through some time-traveling communicator thingie. Kudos to Beenox for trying to address a criticism of the previous game. It’s too bad they totally blew it.
The time-travel idea isn’t inherently bad, but the execution is pathetic and insulting to the intelligence. Most of the time-travel mechanics involve one Spider-Man or the other rushing to some area of the Alchemax building to destroy something that’s hurting or impeding the progress of the other Spider-Man. In principle, this sounds reasonable, and some timeline changes make sense. One positive example is a situation in which a wall of the building is destroyed in Amazing’s time, and so suddenly there’s a new room there in 2099’s time. OK, so the guys in charge used the opportunity to turn the empty space into a new room rather than putting the wall back up. Makes sense. Sorta.
But most of the other situations are stupid and horribly contrived. One really bad example is a situation in which cracking a container of nuclear waste in Amazing’s time causes it to still be broken in 2099’s time, causing 2099 to suddenly start to get radiation poisoning. Wait a minute? You’re telling me that during the NINETY OR MORE INTERVENING YEARS, nobody at Alchemex bothered to fix that cracked container of nuclear waste that is leaking into an entire floor of the building?!
And the game keeps throwing stupidly-trivial situations like this at the player: Destroy a giant robot 90 years in the past so that it doesn’t kill Spider-Man in the future. Sabotage an experiment in the past to create bio-engineered monster-men so that 2099 doesn’t have to fight as many of them. And so on. Of course, whenever you make a change in the past, it immediately changes the future, but Spider-Man 2099 is aware of the changes because he’s “quantumly entangled” with Amazing Spider-Man and is unaffected by the timeline changes. These things wouldn’t be so bad if the time difference was like a week or maybe a month. But ninety years is plenty of time for Alchemax to fix or rebuild the things you destroy in the past. But they don’t. It’s like Spider-Man is the Krenim from Star Trek: Voyager and just goes around erasing stuff he doesn’t like from time so that it never existed to begin with. But at least that episode of Voyager was fairly cleverly-written. This game is not.
The actual game is even worse
And as if the convoluted narrative weren’t bad enough, the actual game is even worse!
It’s just not fun to play.
It’s hard to describe how bad this game feels without you actually playing the game, but I honestly don’t recommend that you do that. So I’ll try to explain it to you.
Put simply: this game is boring and tedious to play.
Both Amazing’s levels and 2099’s levels revolve almost exclusively around beating up rooms full of bad guys that have way too much health by just mindlessly mashing the Square and Triangle buttons. A “stick to walls” button was added (the lack of which was another of my key complaints with Shattered Dimensions), but it’s the hardest button on the controller to reliably use: clicking the left stick. And despite the inclusion of this button, Spider-Man will still automatically climb walls if you press him up against them. So you can still end up making yourself vulnerable by accidentally trying to climb a wall during a fight.
The rest of the controls also suck. There’s no camera lock. Mostly, you’re just punching randomly at hordes of enemies, so it doesn’t really matter. But in the few cases where there’s a particular bad guy that you want to focus on (like one that’s hovering around firing missiles at you), trying to find him can be a pain in the ass.
Combat is pretty messy and heavily based on button mashing. Boss battles (like this encounter with Black Cat) are mostly unimaginative and just as tedious as regular encounters. Only the final boss and a few encounters with Anti-Venom are any different.
Some enemies (like the Black Cat boss) do nothing but jump around, and there are no mechanics in the game to easily track an enemy or close distance if the enemy is immune to the web zip attacks. So you end up having to just run or jump at them.
There’s also no “dodge” button, just “hyper-sense” mode. No, it’s not “Spider-sense” mode; that’s actually something else. Beenox actually gave Spider-Man a brand new, never-before-seen “hyper” mode that makes him impervious to harm (including being able to run straight through lasers) and takes away all skill from combat. I know I complained about having to hold down the “Defensive Stance” button throughout pretty much all of Shattered Dimensions, but just because I didn’t care for that control mechanic doesn’t mean it should have been ditched for this! At least the defensive stance made sense and fit with Spider-Man’s character. Hyper mode is just childish and stupid and has absolutely nothing to do with Spider-Man!
The Hyper-sense also requires stamina to use and has a recharge time. This means that you effectively have a recharge time between being able to “dodge”. This can lead to some cheap hits and cheap deaths during the five seconds or so that you’re waiting for stamina to refill.
The hyper-sense mode creates this time-dilation effect that just clutters up the screen and makes it hard to tell what is going on. Am I actually hitting the enemy? I don't know, cuz there's 6 of me on screen doing random things.
Occasionally, there will be some other task thrown at you besides beating up bad guys, but it’s always one of three things:
- Walking through hallways, crawling through ventilation ducts, or otherwise following glowing purple orbs that mark your path through most areas.
- Sky-diving segments (as in Shattered Dimensions), in which you can’t invert the Y-axis for the controls when in this part.
- Shooting web balls at inter-dimensional Dr. Octopus tentacles.
What happened, Beenox? Where are all the awesome action set-pieces that helped make Shattered Dimensions so fun and exciting to play? Where are the interesting boss fights that require Spidey to think fast on his feet or exploit a weakness of the enemy?
Get used to crawling through air ducts, which requires you to simply hold the directional stick in any direction to progress. These are basically just cutscenes that require you to hold a button to keep the scene going.
To add insult to injury, they keep making you do the exact same boring things over and over again in a row; two, three, or sometimes even four times! As if the designers found what didn’t work and then stuck to it just to pad out the length of the game.
Even Neil Patrick Harris would not have been able to make this game Legen-wait-for-it-dary
From a production standpoint, the game also shows a lack of polish. I can’t imagine there being anybody on Beenox’s staff who is proud of the way this game looks or sounds. The variety of stylized visuals that made Shattered Dimensions enjoyable and interesting to look at have been replaced with bland, boring, generic action-game-graphics. Aside from the two Spider-Men, all of the other characters and enemies look like crap. The gameplay itself is a muddled mess, as the game crowds the screen with unnecessary (but unexciting) visual effects. Engaging hyper-sense just clutters things up even more and makes the game uglier. Sometimes the visual effects are so obtrusive that I couldn’t even tell where I was or what I was doing.
It sure looks like there's supposed to be a gold spider in this room. You can see the gold glow that the spiders cast, but there's no spider here. Is this a glitch?
The “Web of Challenges” has returned and is reworked a bit. They added the ability to retry a particular challenge directly from the pause screen, so you don’t have to restart the whole level just to redo a failed challenge or try to get a higher score. This is a welcome addition, assuming you don't mind stopping the progress of the game to do unrelated side content. Sadly, the individual challenges are significantly less entertaining than in the previous game, and are completely dismissible. So you sure as hell aren’t going to be replaying the game to try to finish these up.
The audio department is also mediocre-at-best. I loved Josh Keaton in the Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon, and he worked very well as Ultimate Spider-Man in Shattered Dimensions, but the voice doesn’t fit the older Peter Parker/Spider-Man depicted in this game. Neil Patrick Harris was awesome in the role in Shattered Dimensions, and I would have much preferred he reprise the role, but the fact that Beenox and Activision didn’t bother to go after the big-name voice talent suggests that maybe they knew they had a turd on their hands. Or maybe Harris just said “uh no thanks. If you ask me to be in a crappy Spider-Man game, I stop being Spider-Man and start being awesome instead.” If so, good for him!
And then there’s the final insult of the game’s production: they completely ripped off the end boss of the (classic) PlayStation/N64 Spider-Man game.
The primary boss is a rip-off of the end boss from the first Spider-Man game on the PlayStation and N64 - minus the stylish shades.
Avoid this game at all costs
I don’t care how big of a Spider-Man fan you think you are. This game needs to be avoided at all cost. If you haven’t played Shattered Dimensions yet, then by all means, go pick that game up. It’s a masterpiece compared to Edge of Time. Heck, even Batman: Arkham City is a better Spider-Man game than this one is.
Beenox had the framework for a quality Spider-Man story. But either their hearts weren’t in it, or the studio put too much pressure on them to rush the game out before Arkham City hit shelves. The end result is a disaster of almost Superman 64 proportions.