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Reviewed: Fantastic 4
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: August 3rd, 2005
Page: 2
Like most Activision game-from-movie-from-comic-book titles, Fantastic 4 doesn't just follow the movie storyline. Instead, it throws in plenty of old Fantastic 4 favorite enemies and areas, with the "setting" including events in the movie. The goal in each stage is to battle through, beating up enemies, occasionally completing secondary "goals" such as beating a time limit or rescuing bystanders, finding the "secret icons" in the game, and fighting bosses.

The engine for the game is the same engine that ran Activision's earlier (and quite fun) X-Men Legends, but tweaked for effect. Players of that older title will quickly recognize staples of the engine such as breakable objects (to release healing powerups) and slightly random "combo attack" bonuses for attacking a single enemy with two or more characters' super powers. The basic premise of walking through the levels and using powers to beat up on repetitive waves of enemies is quite at home too, though the game's roster isn't nearly as expansive. Thankfully, rather than the simple "level up" mode of upgrades, the Fantastic Four merely spend experience points to make their powers and sequential combo attacks more powerful. The game also allows you to spend those points to unlock movie-based "bonus features", but these are likely the last thing to "purchase."

Despite the fact that the game's name is Fantastic 4, only a two-player cooperative and arena battle modes are available. In situations where more than two of the team are present, players switch characters with the D-pad, and characters that are computer-controlled seem highly unlikely to die at all; it's up to the player to really screw up. This isn't a tremendously bad thing, since the game's designers decided that (for the most part) the team would remain entirely split up and on separate missions unless it was time to face a level-ending boss, perhaps as a mode of making the game longer. It's a silly enough contrivance as it stands, but it gets sillier when two-player versions of certain levels include contrived allies (such as a glitchy Doombot in the introductory missions) or members of the team who don't belong on the mission according to the storyline, in order to "support" the two-player play.

In terms of controls, the basic battle system is simple, which is normally a good thing. The L trigger locks on to enemies, enabling easy dodging and circling. The R button shifts to using super-powered attacks. In addition to the basic super attacks, there are a smattering of two- and three-button "combo" attacks that knock enemies to the ground, clear them away, or simply deliver an extra-powerful strike. It's good that they are simple to use, because the game's combat seems to rely mostly on doing the same maneuvers again, and again, until enemies fall down. Fights that require strategy are left for the bosses, which tend to alternate between "beat it up until the game prompts you for Thing's finishing attack minigame" and "use the specific 4-spots in the right order" solutions.

On the downside in the control scheme is the fact that - by and large - every character seems to operate the same. Cosmetically there are minor variants: Invisible Woman has her force field, Johnny Storm has his fire attacks, The Thing is just plain powerful, and Mr. Fantastic is stretchy. Functionally, Fantastic, Storm, and Invisible Woman all play 95% the same, with only the fact that Fantastic hits a lot harder than the others making a difference - there are really three cookie-cutter characters plus The Thing built into the game. The Thing is the only one who can unleash "finishing" moves on bosses at the end of each round, he's the only one lacking distance attacks (but makes up for it with one heck of a powerful charging attack), and he's the only one who can attack enemies with debris wielded like a baseball bat. Except for the "four spot" areas where specific characters have to use their powers (by pressing a button and entering into a minigame), the differences for gameplay are minimal at best.

Glitchiness abounds in the game, too. Enemies routinely get stuck inside the game's geometry, hanging in midair or becoming invulnerable to harm (while being unable to attack, as well). Reed's long-distance grabbing attack will occasionally grab an item and pick it up, without actually grabbing it at all, leaving his expanded hands clutching thin air. Johnny Storm's ranged fireballs aren't nearly as aimable as they would seem, even in situations where the "solution" is to blow something up with them, and it's amazing how a pillar of fire can fail to set off a few well-placed incendiary tanks while a simple baseball-sized fireball will set them all ablaze in a chain reaction.

If you're a big fan of the Fantastic 4, you might want to pick this one up. Otherwise, it's a rent-and-beat-in-a-weekend title.

Added:  Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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