When you think of Spider-Man, you think freedom, you think grace, you think of elegance and a world without restrictions. Beenox, the developers of Edge of Time and last year’s ho-hum, Shattered Dimensions sadly have a very different idea of what it means to be Spider-Man. By taking away the freedom that so strongly defines the character, Beenox have removed what it means to be Spider-Man and subsequently created a videogame that could have essentially been about anyone. Sure, the story is clearly linked to the Spider-Man universe, but in terms of gameplay, this feels and plays like a wholly anonymous adventure.
This lack of true identity is all born of Beenox’s principal and most bewildering mistake; Spider-Man: Edge of Time is set exclusively within the confines of an office building. Yep, that’s right, Beenox have taken arguably the most acrobatic superhero of them all and placed him exclusively within a collection of walled rooms. Remember that terrible indoor boss battle against Doctor Octopus from the end of Spider-Man 2 on PS2? Well, imagine a whole game just like that.
Ok, so that’s a bit unfair. Edge of Time is clearly built with its geographic limitations in mind, and as a straight up brawler, it certainly is competent, but despite the appearance of two Spider-Men (down two from Shattered Dimension’s four), Edge of Time fails to deliver a compelling Spider-Man experience. The array of outrageously high ceilings found throughout the building do allow for some basic and very limited swinging manoeuvres, while a web-zip skill does at least imbue the game with a sense of speed, but despite the introduction of these Spider-Man specific moves, Edge of Time never feels anything more than a run of the mill beat-em-up with some fancy window dressing thrown on top. There is a potentially clever mechanic linked to the game’s time-bending storyline, but even this fails to raise Edge of Time above the level of proficiently mundane – Edge of Time isn’t a bad game, it just isn’t a Spider-Man game.
Based on an alternate reality in which Peter Parker works for Walker Sloan (voiced by Val Kilmer himself) at his Alchemax Corporation, Edge of Time tells a sporadically interesting tail concerning both the modern day, Peter Parker Spider-Man we all know and love, and the futuristic, Miguel O’Hara Spider-Man 2099, who most of us couldn’t give a monkeys about. While it all sounds very professional (if you can put up with modern day Spider-Man’s painfully annoying voice) and is clearly born out of a great love and respect for the source material, Edge of Time’s tale of time-bending shenanigans is a bit of a mess. A few familiar faces show up here and there and it’s all delivered with a degree of professionalism, but for the most part, Edge of Time’s story is utter nonsense. The two Spider-Men can somehow talk across time and there is something to do with quantum causality, but chances are, you’re simply not going to care. The majority of enemies are faceless goons, robots and mutants – none of whom do a very good job of making you feel like the hero you’re supposed to be. At one point, Spider-Man 2099 asks the question “do you even know who you are fighting?”, and honestly, I really didn’t.
If you can forgive the game’s inherent confinement, Edge of Time is actually a pretty solid action game. The battle system is fast and fluid with the introduction of ‘hyper-sense’ for modern day Spidey proving a welcome and visually appealing addition to the gameplay. As you battle your way through the game’s myriad of thugs and bots with the basic combos at your command, Spider-Man’s energy bar fills up, allowing him to enter this mode which slows everything down for a limited time and makes many of the game’s environmental hazards much easier to overcome. It also adds a tactical edge to combat thanks to its energy use being shared with that of special moves. By forcing you to choose between powerful attacking moves and the use of ‘hyper sense’s’ flashy slow-mo, you’re required to use it a bit more sparingly than you otherwise might have.
Spider-Man 2099 doesn’t get the same power mind. Instead, O’Hara gets a cool decoy skill that tricks enemies into thinking that there are two Spider-Men running about (which there are…only this one is two of the same Spider-Man and…oh, you get the picture) and allows you to sneak up on enemies while they’re swinging at air so to speak. It isn’t quite as fun as ‘hyper sense’ but it’s nice to see a few moves differentiating the two characters beyond the more obvious aesthetic diversity. Spider-Man 2099 also gets a few visually impressive free fall sections reminiscent of those found in Shattered Dimensions, and while not particularly game changing in any way, they do provide a welcome change of pace from all the punch-happy core gameplay.
Beyond the basic combat and these brief free fall segments, Edge of Time’s unique selling point comes from the effects of quantum causality on each Spidey’s surroundings. With both Spider-Men running through the same areas in different timelines, each character’s actions have a direct effect on the others’. While a great concept in theory, the reality is a lot more mundane. Its inclusion may well push the narrative forward on numerous occasions, but from a gameplay standpoint, it equates to little more than pulling levers and flipping switches. It’s kind of like a rudimentary co-op, only, y’know, without the actual co-op.
In an attempt to keep things interesting, Edge of Time has a basic upgrade system (which game doesn’t nowadays!?) that allows you to upgrade your health and abilities while specific challenges do rock up from time to time to keep you on your toes. The challenges are all basic enough and rarely move far from the ‘defeat x amount of enemies in x amount of time’ template but their inclusion does add some much needed urgency to gameplay – even if they do have a habit of dragging you out of the game and ruining any sense of immersion you might have been enjoying. The problem is, rather than being subtly implemented into the game and narrative, these challenges are thrown in your face with failure dragging you out of the game in its entirety. Like so much in this game, challenges are a single good idea forced into a larger picture with little thought for the source material or overall experience.
If nothing else though, Edge of Time sure does look great. Both Spider-men are well animated with battle damage affecting their suits as they progress through the game. The Alchemax HQ is about as interesting as an office building has any right to be and, thanks to some impressive lighting and a keen eye for detail, would have been a pleasant enough game world if you weren’t spending the majority of your time cursing the game’s enforced claustrophobia.
Spider-Man: Edge of Time feels and plays like a poorly conceived take on the Spider-Man character from the moment you turn it on, and in light of Batman: Arkham City’s amazing job of capturing the Dark Knight in all of his gothic glory, this will feel like a real slap in the face for all the Spidey fans out there hoping for a comparable adventure. As a straight up brawler, it isn’t a bad game, but as a Spider-man title, it feels ill-fitted and misjudged. So, even seven years after its release, Spider-Man 2 remains the quintessential Spider-Man experience…..and by some margin I might add.
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