Monday, September 27, 2010

Spiderman: Shattered Dimensions Review

Just finished my first run-through (X-Box 360 version.) and its entertaining enough that I'll probably play it again.

Its certainly the best Spiderman game yet,  but fans of the character and gaming know that isn't saying much.  Over all its a solid playing experience and a lot of fun.  After the problematic open world approach led to frustrating game-play in the last few Spiderman games, Shattered Dimensions goes for a linear A-B-C style of sequential play that can become repetitive: Chase villain boss, defeat henchmen, rescue civilians and escort them to safety (bleh.), fight Big Boss, fight Big Boss again, rinse and repeat.  The thumb controls close up combat system in the level finales works intermittently, sometimes a nice change sometimes frustrating and annoying. 

Thankfully the level by level shifting between the four different Spidermen and their unique design and game-play elements help keep the game fresh.  There's an over-arcing storyline about Mysterio and a shattered mystical tablet that Madam Web contacts alternate dimension versions of Spiderman to retrieve, battling a villain for every piece.  Its basically just a framework for one boss fight after another.
Amazing Spiderman captures the colour and line art style of the comic books, 2099 is flashy and high tech with fun free fall combat sequences but occasionally blurry neon heavy backgrounds.  Ultimate just seems like Amazing but with the black symbiote costume and none of the dialogue heavy character elements that make the Ultimate comics unique and Noir has the best ... well, noirish design work.

However the shadow of the bat hangs heavily over the game there's no doubt about it.  Like most people I think Batman: Arkham Asylum was the greatest superhero game ever made and clearly so did the designers of Shattered Dimensions.  In game mechanics, fighting style and whole levels the influence sometimes crosses over into outright imitation.  In Noir Spiderman in particular the hide in the shadows and perform silent take-downs mode is almost embarrassingly similar to what dedicated Arkham inmates are used to.  Spiderman's spider sense vision is virtually identical to Arkham's Detective Vision and the final boss battle with Mysterio felt exactly like one of the hallucinatory encounters with Scarecrow scuttling from one shadowy fragment of reality to another until you get close enough to defeat the god like villain with the spotlight and the hallucinogen theme.

But this is quibbling.  The game captures the fun Spiderman quip heavy comic book action and the voice acting - particularly Neil Patrick Harris racking up another comic book character for his collection - is uniformly excellent.  Just speed-playing and finishing the story would take about nine or ten hours.  Actively seeking out all the level challenges and collecting every upgrade takes a few hours longer.

Either way it's worth the price of admission.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Comics Reviews Sept 13: 'For the Record...'

Batman and Robin #14 Grant Morrison writing and Frazier Irving's lushly organic art, produced entirely on computer which I've dribbled over here before.  This is THE Batman book right now as far as I'm concerned.  Neal Adams berserk Odyssey is Batman to readers of a certain age, David Finch's Dark Knight will doubtless be a contender as will Grant Morrison's upcoming International series.

Right now though Batman and Robin is where the fireworks are going off, both in the heightened hyper-compressed storytelling and archetypal imagery Morrison does when he's doing superheros and Irving's spectacularly beautiful art glowing on the page like fluorescent rot.

If you're a Batman fan and you aren't getting this book, you're missing out.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Comics Reviews - Sept. 4

Recently a minor fuss hit the comics field as a scathing critique of modern comic book writing by an industry professional made the rounds.  The piece expresses disappointment in the current 'sprawling and inconsistent patchwork of murky, angry, shock-value events'  So this week we'll look at some of the bright spots in a field slipping back into some very bad habits from the 90's I thought creators had sworn off.  It's appropriate that we begin with a book by the writer widely assumed to be the anonymous author of the name withheld note, Kurt Busiek.

Astro City Special
Silver Agent #2 of 2

If you get a sense of Déjà vu from this issue, yes in the last several months both Captain America and Batman also went skipping across time after seeming to be killed, touching lives down through the years until returning to their own time to face their destiny.  Considering the lead time a comic needs, its likely all three story-lines were in production simultaneously.

Silver Agent is a character in Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson's long running Astro City series.  A tribute to the comic book superhero that with it's sprawling observation of a classic comic book universe has as its conceit the goal of putting the 'human' in the superhuman.

Silver Agent is Astro City's Captain America analogue.  There are also Superman, Fantastic Four and Batman analogues in the series - not so much imitations of these characters but iconic archetypes who play the same roles in the Astro City Universe as their avatars do in the Marvel or DC universes.

Silver Agent is brave, steadfast and true, and those attributes aren't mocked with a clumsy Dudley Do Right satire as so many hacks would doubtless portray basic goodness.  Busiek takes on the far more challenging writer's task of making heroism and self sacrifice in pursuit of an ideal a fully realized and seriously considered display of human choice.  Silver Agent chooses his fate with his eyes open and without regrets to protect an ideal he's seen and decided is worth any cost to protect.

Busiek and Anderson explicate the moral essence of self sacrificing love in the context of the comic book superhero as perfectly as you're ever going to see it.

I Am An Avenger
#1 of 5

Surrounded by frankly uninspired filler in one of the 3000 different Avengers related tie in titles published this month, is one of the most emotionally resonant stories published in a superhero comic that I've seen in a long time.

The Books of the Iron Fist written by Duane Swiercynski and beautifully illustrated by Jason Latour, fakes out the casual reader with an obligatory page and half opener with the classic muggers confronting the hero in his civilian wear motif and then a comfortably genre sounding title before becoming a story about a man and woman sitting on the floor after a breakup sadly splitting up their bookshelf.

With delicacy, understatement and real feeling, the end of a relationship is shown with more real quiet drama than a thousand of the shouty, weepy monologues that the comics medium usually presents as its idea of human interaction.  It's a fractal snapshot of a story that unfold like a geometric flower from every word, every sad glance.  Eight pages that have more human feeling than any other ten comics you'll read this year.

Meanwhile in Brightest Day #9...

Oh, who gives a rat's ass?

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