Last year developer Beenox delivered a surprise hit with Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. The game diverged from the trending open-world environments that Spidey had become accustomed to - opting instead for linear gameplay featuring four different Spider-Men, each with their own play style and artistic design.
Spider-Man: Edge of Time is the spiritual successor to Dimensions in that it follows a similar formula, but doesn't directly tie to its predecessor's story and features only half as many Spider-Men.
Amazing Spider-Man (Peter Parker) and Spider-Man 2099 (Miguel O'Hara) are the focus of the story this time around as they battle evil villains to correct the course of the time continuum. While these two characters are excellently developed and are more than interesting enough to carry the story, it's sad that Ultimate Spider-Man and Noir Spider-Man don't see a return since they offered much of the visual and gameplay diversity in Dimensions.
This actually brings us to Edge of Time's biggest problem - it gets very, very repetitive.
You'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between the present day and 2099 worlds. Granted the story explains why the present day has been remade in a vision more in line with its possible future, but this doesn't make for a visually diverse experience. On top of this, the entire game takes place inside the future and present day Alchemax building, making many of the environments feel monotonous.
Like the last game, Edge of Time is first and foremost a brawler. You can spend points to upgrade attacks and learn new abilities, but you'll spend most of your time mashing the attack buttons.
Combat is fun, especially when the game floods you with hordes of enemies at once, but Edge of Time lacks the diversity offered by Ultimate Spider-Man's symbiote attacks and Noir Spider-Man's stealth centered stages. Aside from some differences in visual flair, combat is relatively unchanged between the Amazing and 2099 Spider-Men. It won't matter which one you're playing as, your tactics will remain very much the same.
The game may not really deliver in terms of what we want to experience when playing as Spider-Man. Most fans consider the open-world design of 2004's Spider-Man 2 to be the pinnacle of the web swinging experience. Edge of Time restricts both Spider-Men to interior environments, never setting Spider-Man free to race high across the skyscrapers of New York City.
That said this isn't the first game to restrict Spidey to confined environments and rely on straight brawling mechanics. Anyone who remembers the cult classic Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin for the Sega Genesis knows that this formula can work. Even that title however, saw more variation of enemy types and environments than Edge of Time.
Really, Edge of Time's strength is in its excellent story telling. Cut scenes are fully rendered and well animated, the voice acting is superb and the picture-in-picture elements that tie the two timelines together work brilliantly. It also doesn't hurt that the story never takes itself too seriously, even taking the time to admit how nonsensical its laws of time travel are.
The situation always propels you forward, setting both Spider-Men in a constant race against time (so to speak). The silliness of the actual events that take place is largely overshadowed by the dire circumstances our heroes face. This is constantly reinforced by their witty yet loaded banter regarding Spider-Man's fate, how narrowly they seem to scrape by and by the constant deterioration of Amazing Spider-Man's costume (though Spidey 2099 always seems to be in decent shape).
Beenox doesn't quite succumb to the sophomore slump with Edge of Time, but they also don't present nearly as interesting an experience as their previous title. What we get is a fun, good-looking and well-told story that doesn't quite live up to its potential.
Spider-Man: Edge of Time is rated T for Teen by the ESRB. It is available now for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, 3DS and Wii.