Posted by John on October 20, 2011

Review: ‘Spider-Man: Edge of Time’ Offers a Fun, If Shallow Brawler

Screenshot from the game Spider-Man: Edge Of Time

Developer Beenox and publisher Activision offer up an enjoyable if not necessarily ambitious brawler smashing together Spider-Men both “amazing” and from the year 2099.

Note, this review is for the Xbox 360 version of the game.

Just a year after Shattered Dimensions, Spider-Man returns to consoles in Edge of Time, a linear “walk, swing, and punch” experience allowing players to take on the roles of both present-day and 2099 incarnations of the wall crawler. In a plot involving Anti-Venom, an evil CEO from the future, robots, and so, so much time travel, Beenox has tossed in an engaging, and simple to grasp brawler system which takes some occasionally clever advantage of Spider-Man’s abilities.

In the game, you’ll switch between Peter Parker and Miguel O’Hara, whose boss (voiced by Val Kilmer) travels back into the past to make international super conglomerate Alchemax more powerful than it already is for some reason. When this disruption to the timeline appears to lead to the original Spider-Man’s death, Miguel, who shares some of Parker’s DNA thanks to a lab accident, starts communicating with his past counterpart to fix what’s been broken.

This interesting premise (by writer Peter David) is mostly just window dressing for a lot of the back and forth traveling and traversal you’ll be doing in EoT as both Spider-Men make their way through the impossibly huge Alchemax complex in the present, making changes that will affect the building in the future.

There’s a really interesting conceit that when parts of the environment are destroyed in the present, it results in different enemies and changes to the building in the future, but as a player you don’t really have any effect over this–you’re simply told that’s what happens as a result of your actions. It’s a shame, too, because I could really see some interesting ideas there in terms of puzzles involving a dynamic environment a la Soul Reaver if Beenox had been able to get outside of the brawler formula for a bit.

The combat is mostly of the two button variety, with combinations of X (your melee button) and Y (your launcher) getting the most play as you take on the legions of enemies you’ll be facing. You can also shoot enemies with webbing to stick them to the floor and walls to slow them down and give you time to deliver a beatdown. The left trigger executes a dodge maneuver that has a different effect depending on which Spider you’re playing as, working sort of like a bullet-time evasion for Peter, while creating a luminescent decoy for Miguel. On top of that, you can fill a Time Paradox meter which allows you to create a bubble that traps nearby enemies, slowing their movements temporarily and allowing you to deliver the hurt. This move is actually cool strategic addition, but I always felt like it took a little longer than I would have liked to fill the meter and be able to execute this special attack.

The combat works for me because it provides precisely the kind of visual and (with rumble) haptic feedback I like in this kind of game. There’s a satisfying sense of collision when you hit enemies, and a appropriately jarring counter-response when they hit you back. Knowing exactly when you’ve made contact with the enemy and being able to queue up your next attack accordingly is the secret to a good brawler and is typically the kind of make or break detail that’s derailed other games in the genre in the past.

The game also contains a simple move upgrade system involving orbs you can collect around the environments and from defeated enemies as well as golden spiders which are both hidden and can be earned through “Web of Challenges” events strewn throughout the game. The upgrades aren’t particularly essential, with only a few of the skills giving Peter and Miguel a little extra damage and flash to their attacks. You’ll probably want to complete the challenges simply to unlock the host of extra costumes has gated off.

The one major hiccup in the fighting is that sometimes there’s a lot happening onscreen and it can be easy to lose track of your character and avoid attacks from enemies. This actually led to me employing a strategy of near constant movement at all times.

One thing you won’t be doing quite so satisfactorily is swing around and enjoying Spider-Man’s aerial acrobatics. By confining everything to the one, large building, Beenox has restricted the character’s range of motion. There’s some wall-crawling, but most of it is inessential unless you want to collect some extra orbs. You’ll spend most of your time creating zip lines between points in the environment given that the basic web shooting (with the right trigger) is inelegant at best, and downright clumsy at worst.

Visually, there are a lot of highs and a few lows to EoT, mostly highs, though. The character models are all heavily-detailed and both Spider-Men animate in visually interesting ways. One particularly eye-catching effect is LED-style lighting which pipes up and down Miguel’s costume during close-ups. Likewise, there’s just enough variety in the enemy types (guards, robots, zombie-like failed experiments), that you won’t get especially bored with the enemies although you’ll quickly wonder why, outside of Anti-Venom and another secret character, you don’t face any of either Spidey’s rogues’ gallery.

The Alchemax building is kind of a bummer though: you’ll be spending all of your time in it and most of the environments are purely functional boxes for enemies to spawn into. Many of them are just large enough bound around and catch your breath during combat, and it’s varied in one or two places so you never get the sense that designing the levels was a cut and past affair. Still, if I had to see one more shaft from the interminable free fall sequences, I suspect I would have lost it.

If I’m being completely honest, my mostly positive reaction to Edge of Time can, in part, be chalked up to the pretty crummy experience of playing X-Men: Destiny last week. Whereas that game seemed to be the most mercenary kind of cash-grab, Edge of Time has the distinction of being an actual, honest-to-goodness completed game. That’s not to denigrate the things that EoT does well, it’s simply an acknowledgement that while it’s miles away from the best Spider-Man game, it still has all the hallmarks of a game crafted with some measure of care, polish, and attention to the license.

Spider-Man: Edge of Time is on shelves now for the DS, Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360.

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