This review was originally written for Reset Games, a video game store in the Pacific Northwest.
Developer Beenox, creators of last year’s critically acclaimed Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, retain the keys to the kingdom of Spider-Man for this year’s outing Edge of Time.
Where the distinctive part of last year’s game was the ability to play as four different Spider-Men from across the vastness of time, space, and universes, Edge of Time chooses to partially continue that trend. In the new game, the narrative moves between the “Amazing” Spider-Man (hence, the one we all know and love) and Spider-Man 2099. One of the tradeoffs of this, is that unfortunately the game feels slower and less unique than its predecessor.
Design and Story
Design-wise, Edge of Time has a far more unified aesthetic all around when compared with the four-way environmental split we beheld in last year's Shattered Dimensions. Because the worlds of the two Spider-Men in this game eventually end up unifying, Beenox's character and environmental designers go for far more visual continuity, even though the eras of both heroes are pretty radically different. While this is appreciated from a perspective of consistency, by default it also makes the game far less visually interesting than last year's effort. Still, the 2099 environments are perhaps more jaw-dropping than last year's game, but at times they blend in far too much with the "modern day" instances of the game.
The narrative weaved by Edge of Time is a clever science fiction piece written partially by renowned comic book writer Peter David. David is no stranger to Spidey, having written him regularly several times over the course of his long career in comics. The game begins with a cool interactive credits sequence where you, as Miguel O'Hara — the Spider-Man of the year 2099 — are shadowing the main villain, a man named Walker Sloan. One of the main tenets of the Marvel 2099 universe is a corporation called Alchemax, which rules over much of the future world. Sloan, one of the company’s top players, has devised a way to go back in time and found the company generations before it’s supposed to be created, therefore assuring that the company dominates every facet of life by the year 2099. Before the indigenous Spider-Man can stop him, Sloan successfully travels back.
The time Sloan goes back to is that of none other than Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man. While at first the timeline changes go undetected by Peter, Miguel manages to communicate to him that Sloan has changed both of their timelines, and that they have to work together to restore things back to normal on both ends of the timeline. This sets up a really interesting narrative device through the game that shows Amazing Spidey and Spidey 2099 constantly communicating with each other, and affecting each timeline by their individual actions in...well, real-time. Sometimes the story is difficult to follow though, because of its reliance on pretty abstract principles of fringe science and the flow of time as used in stories dealing with it. It clears up a few weird liberties it takes with time travel, but the story is pretty strange and fuzzy when compared to the straightforward, pretty focused story crafted by Amazing Spider-Man monthly writer Dan Slott in last year’s title.
Two voice actors from Shattered Dimensions and Spidey animation alumni return to the vocal chords of Peter Parker (or Miguel O’Hara): Josh Keaton (form the animated series The Spectacular Spider-Man), last year’s Ultimate Spidey, provides the voice for the original Amazing Spidey this year. Christopher Daniel Barnes (From the 1990’s Spider-Man Animated Series), last year’s Spider-Man Noir, gets behind the microphone for the 2099 version this year.
They even managed to get other people involved in comic book productions of the past to voice characters. Laura Vandervoort, who most genre fans will remember as Clark Kent’s Kryptonian cousin Kara Zor-El form the later seasons of the Smallville TV series, voices Mary-Jane Watson. Even a former Batman, Val Kilmer (Batman Forever, Tombstone), provides the voice for the game's villain, Walker Sloan. Kilmer in particular sounds oddly and appropriately detached as Sloan, and that seemed to fit his character very well.
As far as the experience of picking up a controller and actually playing this game, Edge of Time is not quite as sharp or as memorable as last year’s Shattered Dimensions. One of the things that made last year’s game so great was the distinctly different characters on display that, at times, made the game seem like four different experiences in one package. While a lot of the individual traits of the Amazing and 2099 Spider-Men remain, a lot of the original moves that set them apart are absent this time around. Instead of very different combat styles, 2099 and Amazing both have very similar modes of operation in the way that they dispense enemies. 2099 in last year’s game was all about the unmatched speed he had in addition to his suit’s advanced technology. While the suit does have the technology element once more, it seems dialed down compared to last year’s game, and his combat is perhaps a little too similar to that of his counterpart’s.
The game also has its fair share of problems. The most direct comparison to make here is to last year’s Shattered Dimensions, which sometimes felt a little like Spider-Man was less mobile than he probably should've been sometimes due to control hypersensitivity. Unfortunately, this is a problem that has returned pretty blatantly in Edge of Time. One of the main problems with this is in the free-fall portions. Several times through the game, you have to jump down chasms that are really, really, really long, and mobility plays a rather large role in the ability to pass these levels successfully. Unfortunately, speed is also a big element to succeeding in these moments, and you can’t ever really have both in this portion of the game, especially where you really need it to navigate through a tight spot as fast as possible. Speed and mobility rarely go hand-in-hand, and that holds true in an aspect of Edge of Time where it really shouldn't.
One of the more general problems that immediately comes to mind when comparing this year’s offering to last year’s is summed up in one word: repetition. By the very nature of Shattered Dimensions containing four main characters with distinctive objectives, repetition wasn’t ever really a problem when playing that game. Here, the protagonists are cut in half, and the gameplay options have seemingly been cut with them.
The entire game is basically a series of quests that call for you to find something, encounter a bunch of very difficult and even annoying enemies, and destroy as many of them as possible before encountering a boss. Every once in a while they’ll throw in a free fall mission to mix things up a little bit, but that’s basically the outline of the gameplay experience of Edge of Time. You can’t help but compare that mode of operation to last year’s game, which had you saving hostages one minute, followed by reassembling a device in another, then jumping to another world where you have to take thugs down silently without being detected.
With that variety gone, and replaced with pretty rigid uniformity across both your playable characters, it’s hard not to make a comparison to Shattered Dimensions in the negative. From a character and story perspective, though, the game does manage to make the characters and story feel truthful. Spider-Man sounds as he should, and his 2099 counterpart is appropriately annoyed by his sarcasm and wit.
While Edge of Time has a fun (if scatterbrained) story as well as reasonably solid design work, most would likely agree that gameplay must come first. All in all, Edge of Time is not a bad game, but it would be much easier to praise it if we weren’t spoiled by last year’s very solid outing in Shattered Dimensions. Lesser mobility, less diverse gameplay, an admittedly less focused story relying on pretty abstract fringe-science, and an all-around duller experience make this kind of a lesson about what not to do in superhero game sequels.
In game sequels, people can and should expect everything that they loved about the first outing amped up and expanded upon in ways we thought not imaginable. In that regard, Edge of Time can’t help but feel like a step backward when compared to its predecessor. Then again, with only a year between Shattered Dimensions' and Edge of Time's respective release dates, perhaps Beenox simply wasn't given enough time to craft a worthy sequel to their original effort. It was recently announced that the same developers will be creating the movie tie-in game for next year’s Amazing Spider-Man film, a reboot of the series after a lackluster response to 2007's Spider-Man 3. They likely have a pretty solid template from where to craft a good Spider-Man game, and they proved they could do it with their first entry out the gate. While Edge of Time is kind of a hiccup, hopefully that’s all it is, because there’s still a lot of potential with this developer handling this character.
In the end, Edge of Time isn’t the best Spider-Man game and feels like a demotion of sorts from Shattered Dimensions. It’s worth checking out if you’re a Spidey fan, but if you’re looking for a game that expands on what made last year’s outing great, Edge of Time just doesn’t quite deliver.