Activision's big thing - after shutting down the Guitar Hero line for a while, the slowdown and quality decline in Tony Hawk titles, and taking a slight back-burner to Call of Duty of course - is Marvel Comics-based games. Studio Beenox has recently been the headline crew for the Spider-Man line, moving from porting work on Spider-Man: Friend or Foe into the creation of independent storyline title Shattered Dimensions (which was actually a nice concept) and now into Edge of Time, another "team-up" game of sorts that pairs up the classic Spider-Man with Spider-Man 2099.
In terms of storyline and voice acting, there's a lot to work with here. The idea of teaming up Spidey and his 2099 descendant, after the four alternative spider-men worked so well in Shattered Dimensions, is a great start for a story. The concept of Spidey trying to fix his mistakes, and the potential for "Anti-Venom" (the modern day incarnation of Eddie Brock) to kill our beloved web-slinger? Again, top-notch. And when the voices of Christopher Barnes (Spidey Noir from Shattered Dimensions and Peter Parker from Spider-Man: The Animated Series) and Josh Keaton (Ultimate Spider-Man) match up against Val Kilmer as an evil future CEO, there's plenty of room for comedy - some of the dialogue is absolutely brilliant, even when breaking the fourth wall to discuss how time-travel creates plot holes that breed like dust bunnies. More than once, a boring level is saved for a moment by some snappy dialogue from the Spider-men as they handle their opponents or remark on the absurdity of their situation.
As in Shattered Dimensions, Beenox threw in a lot of leveling up, to slowly unlock various powers and abilities for the two; in addition, they granted some "unique" powers this time around, with classic Spidey able to set off a sort of super-speed mode they call "hyper-sense" while Spidey 2099 has the ability to create a decoy to distract enemies while he attacks or flees combat. There are definitely some options here that in the previous Shattered Dimensions could have improved the game - especially since thanks to Madame Web's "upgrades", the four Spider-men were rendered almost identical for gameplay purposes. Unfortunately, when it comes to level design and gameplay, Beenox phoned this one in, missing a big opportunity to shine. The combat mechanic and endless stream of faceless mooks means that combat is pretty much a button-masher, leaving little for players to do other than take basic power upgrades to health and damage. The promised "cause and effect gameplay", where actions in the past could change the present and alter the level path, is limited only to storyline-scripted events rather than exploratory options and true, multiple-path levels.
The best part of Edge of Time has to be the visuals - Beenox really, really pushed the envelope with this one, delivering some amazing and stunning depictions of new villains and classic villains alike, with the portrayal of Anti-Venom an absolutely amazing scene. Unfortunately for Beenox, much of the time the graphical goodness is simply wasted on uninspired level design full of tight corridors, endless hunts for switches and keys, and the occasional large arena, none of which offer enough space for the game's camera to adapt to quick perspective alterations like those required by wall-crawling spider-men. Oftentimes, players will feel like they are fighting the camera and level corridors far more than the enemies in the game - which reminds me, when are we going to see The Amazing Camera-Man as some sort of a joke villain?
Beenox really had some potential with Shattered Dimensions, and so it's a definite disappointment to pick up their follow-up and find it a scaled-back, uninspired shell rather than a fully fleshed out, improved title. Edge of Time is just destined to be one of those games that gets played out of the rental store or Gamefly, then forgotten for the next big thing. Better luck next time, Beenox.