Spider-Man's been on a bit of an upswing (mind the pun) as of late. Along with a new movie in production ("The Amazing Spider-Man," set to debut next summer), Activision has been working closely with Beenox on a new game featuring the ever-popular web-slinger. Spidey's new console adventure has a lot in common with last year's release, "Shattered Dimensions," as you'll control different characters across periods of time. However, "Spider-Man: Edge of Time" features a more concentrated storyline and cuts two of the previous game's characters -- Noir Spider-Man and Ultimate Spider-Man -- placing the focus on the relationship between the Amazing Spider-Man and his futuristic counterpart, Spider-Man 2099. Despite the loss of those other heroes, this is actually a change for the better, judging from what we saw at a recent Activision event in San Francisco.
Working from a story written by Spider-Man comic book veteran Peter David, "Edge of Time" sets up a fascinating story. A scientist by the name of Walker Sloane seeks fame and fortune, but rather than actually work for it, he devises a way to go back in time and set up his company using his knowledge of the future. It's clear he wants to build the next Oscorp. Somehow, Spider-Man gets involved in his progress, setting up an alternate timeline that will eventually lead to the demise of Peter Parker and his costumed alter-ego. Miguel Garcia, aka Spider-Man 2099, sees this coming from a mile away and is able to travel through the same portal that Sloane slips through. He doesn't want to see the original Spidey bite the dust, so he vows to make things right. The two heroes find themselves working together across time to stop Sloane's plan before the city -- and Parker -- pay the ultimate price.
Though we've only seen bits and pieces of the story thus far, both Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099 have their work cut out for them. Luckily, they're joined by "telekinetic transference," so they can stay in constant communication as they complete their missions. These sequences are told through picture-in-picture like presentations, with the main, playable character taking up a majority of the screen and the other appearing in a smaller frame in the corner. There are times you'll actually need to perform actions to keep your partner out of danger, and these scenes tell you exactly what you'll need to do.
Case in point. During one stage of the eyes-on demo of "Edge of Time," we found ourselves in a nuclear facility with Amazing Spider-Man. In the future, 2099 begins suffering from poisoning, due to a radiation leak that's coming from faulty coolant containers. In the present, Amazing must fight his way through the facility (filled with goons loyal to Sloane's cause) and destroy the containers. Doing so will make them cease to exist in the future, preventing 2099 from suffering from the poisoning.
Likewise, there will be missions where 2099 has to work fast to prevent a future catastrophe from happening to Spider-Man in the present day. It's a clever switch-off between the two characters that works well, adding depth top the game and the reaosning for using two heroes rather than giving you random sequences like the ones in" Shattered Dimensions."
One would think that such a scenario would be ideal for co-op, with a friend joining in the fun. However, Beenox wanted to concentrate on the single-player aspect of "Spider-Man: Edge of Time." Therefore, you'll have to go it alone. But don't worry; there's plenty of single player content to keep you busy, including collectibles to unlock extra Spider-Man related goodies and replayable missions, so you can shoot for a better completion time.
The story is a refreshing take on the Spider-Man legacy, one that actually puts our hero at risk when he would otherwise slip through unharmed. It also introduces more of 2099's storyline, as well as Miguel, the man behind the mask. Considering that 2099 hasn't been used that often in games, this is a great way to bring him into the fold.
In terms of gameplay, most of the controls from "Shattered Dimensions" are included here. Combat consists of a number of weak and strong attacks, such as Spider-Man 2099's ability to use hyper-speed punches and Amazing Spider-Man's slick-looking web attacks. However, each one has an accelerator of sorts. Amazing is able to use his Spider Sense to see an attack coming from a mile away and prep for it, dodging out of the way in an acrobatic fashion. Meanwhile, 2099 can use acceleration to his advantage, speeding up and getting the jump on slower thugs, flying off walls and nailing them with a speedy combination of punches and kicks. The free-flowing combat works as well as ever, allowing you can battle multiple foes at a time without breaking a sweat -- or your concentration, for that matter.
The web-swinging is equally important. After all, if you can't get from point A to point B with the utmost precision, there really isn't much point to being Spider-Man, is there? Swinging is done in a very smooth way, as you connect your swings accordingly and also zip line to reach certain points highlighted on the map. When you're trying to get through tighter sections of a stage, this is really helpful, because you otherwise set yourself up for a painful fall. (As far as we know, the "last-second save" system that worked so well in "Shattered Dimensions" will return in "Edge of Time," where you THWIPP yourself up to safety right when you're about to bite it.)
"Edge of Time" will also feature immense boss battles, on the same level as "Shattered Dimensions." The game will include a cavalcade of who's who in Marvel villains. There's not much word on who all will show up just yet, but we do know one particular baddie that will appear in the game -- Eddie Brock's current costumed identity of Anti-Venom. He is quite the piece of work, coming at you with all kinds of physical attacks as you try to reason with him. You'll essentially have to dodge his incoming blows and counter strike accordingly, if you wish to survive. His design is quite impeccable, though we're still fans of his original slimy black look. Call us old-school.
Visually, "Edge of Time" is right about on par with "Shattered Dimensions." That's not an insult, by any means. The comic book-style animation is perfect for the Spider-Man series, right down to the acrobatic movements and the web-swinging motions. The level design is equally impressive, especially in the indoor areas where you have to fight through tight spaces in order to make it through alive. The lighting also wowed us, featuring shimmering beams coming off of Spidey's figure and small things like shadows effectively displayed. The cinemas are also pretty nice, and like we said, the picture-in-picture display really works wonders as you can see what's happening to your partner, even while you're figuring things out in your present state. The time portals look great as well, large, glowing portals that simply say, “Hey, you should jump in and see what I have to offer.” (Granted, we'd be a little cautious at first, but, hey, why not?)
One noteworthy change is happening with "Edge of Time" in the audio department. Neil Patrick Harris, who voiced the Amazing Spider-Man in "Shattered Dimensions," is a no-show this time around. However, Josh Keaton fills in the role quite nicely, as he should, since he's voiced Spidey before in "Marvel Vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two World"s and "Marvel Super Hero Squad: The Infinity Gauntlet." (He also voiced Ultimate Spider-Man in "Shattered Dimensions.") Meanwhile, Christopher Daniel Barnes once again fills the role of Spider-Man 2099. With his smarmy wisecracks and husky voice, he sounds about right on the money.
As for the rest of the audio, we didn't hear much in-game music during the demo, but what we could make out was well done, with tunes chiming in during events unfolding on-screen. The sound effects are typical Spidey, complete with THWIPP-style web effects, groaning bad guys (hey, if you got beat down by Spidey, you'd groan too) and solid explosions. It's not a remarkable change of pace from other comic book games, but it fits the bill.
"Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions" was an awesome treat when it came out last year, and we have a feeling "Spider-Man: Edge of Time" will be just as well received when it debuts in the Fall. Though the playable character count has been halved, the more focused storyline, fun gameplay and rock-solid presentation should be more than enough to make you a true believer. Excelsior!