Following the release of the Fantastic 4 movie comes the inevitable videogame incarnation of the franchise. Developed by 7 Studios and distributed by Activision the Fantastic 4 game has been billed as the 'this years hottest videogame', the question is does it live up to this lofty pitch?
The answer to that question is, in a word – no – and here’s why.
First of all it is my belief that if a game is deemed ready to be released and shipped to the shops by its developers and distributors then it must be bug free, especially on console formats where it isn’t realistic to expect all players to be able to connect to the internet for patches, not that I’m saying that patching due to a shoddy untested release is acceptable on any format, nevertheless during my time playing Fantastic 4 for review on PS2 I encountered a situation where a cut scene was supposed to play in order to advance the game but the cut scene failed to kick in and so I was left wandering around with no way to advance other than to restart the level and hope it worked correctly this time, fortunately the cut scene played the second time around and I was able to advance but that is not the point, this kind of thing shouldn’t happen at all.
Environments and visuals
The above is not the only example of how Fantastic 4 fails to be fantastic.
Graphically the game is sub standard, especially when compared to other titles in the free roaming action adventure genre. The environments look bland, dull and extremely basic and carry the bare minimum in terms of atmospherics and lighting effects, also everything in the environment looks angular and not smooth at all, this level of substandard design is also carried through into the characters who look just as angular and unconvincing as the levels do. The end result of all this graphical disappointment is that Fantastic 4 looks like a PS1 game in higher resolution rather than a PS2 title
The games designers seem to have all graduated from the invisible barriers school of level design too, as I found out very quickly during play, frequently the players path will be blocked by nothing but thin air and sometimes you will be blocked by an invisible barrier despite the fact that there is a solid physical obstacle only feet behind the ‘barrier’ that would have suitably restricted the players movements. Absurdly I found that these barriers exist even in the interior levels of the game, meaning that you sometimes cannot walk right up to the actual wall of a room as you will be blocked by an invisible barrier in front of it. This created an extremely frustrating situation once where an enemy was standing against the wall of a room but I could not reach it due to the fact that an invisible barrier would not allow me to get close enough to attack.
A plus point of the environments is that a great deal of the fixtures and fittings can be destroyed, in nearly every part of the game there are bits of furniture and other items that can be smashed to pieces or, if you are playing as the Thing, can be picked up and thrown at the enemies, this extends as far as being able to use the Things strength to pick up cars and throw them around.
Fighting and characters
Fantastic 4 can be played in single player or co-operative modes and fortunately you can switch between modes when you load up your saved game so it’s possible to start a game in co-op mode and then continue on your own for a while but go back to co-op if someone else wants to play along. In single player mode the computer will control the second character where applicable and you can switch your control between the characters with the D-pad.
The computer usually doesn’t do too bad a job of controlling your partner although there have been a few times where I have switched control to the second character only to find that they have been standing on the other side of a doorway doing nothing.
Obviously the characters at your disposal are the Fantastic 4 and they come complete with their abilities granted unto them via a storm in space which altered their DNA, those abilities being the super brute force strength of the Thing, the elastic stretchy body of Mr Fantastic (lol), the telekinetic and invisibility powers of the Invisible Woman and the ability to wreak fire based destruction as the Human Torch. Unfortunately only a handful of these moves look any good and you will also find that you will likely stick to using only the most useful of the characters abilities and simply ignore the rest, although the special moves consume your ‘cosmo’ power gauge you will find that it recharges so fast that you can use your specials at pretty much any time you like.
As you play you will unlock combos which can be added to your repertoire and just like your special moves these combos can be upgraded by allocating points into them, which you will accrue as you defeat enemies, unfortunately the commands for the specials and the combos are exactly the same for all of the characters for the most part.
The moves unfortunately are as visually bland as the rest of the game, one of the Things more useful moves unfortunately looks like he is surrounded by a yellow spiky mess and the rest are not much better, when compared to far superior titles in the genre like God of War the special abilities in Fantastic 4 look silly.
Each character also has a unique ability which can be activated by running over highlighted spots on the level, these abilities play out via a minigame which involves lining up rings of lines correctly in the case of Mr Fantastic in order to hack computer terminals. For the other characters their minigames involve rotating the analogue stick or button bashing X at the correct time. These minigames focus on the unique abilities of the characters but soon become repetitive.
The fighting system – like most other aspects of Fantastic 4 – also falls short of its peers and feels very clunky and un-involving, there’s certainly nothing new and innovative in the controls or fighting mechanism and the whole thing comes off feeling like a poor 3D Streets of Rage as you battle you way through hordes of largely identical divisions of nondescript enemies for reasons which are never adequately explained.
As you fight through the levels you can accomplish bonus tasks which can be reviewed via the start menu, these bonus objectives when completed will grant you extra health and the like or extra points to spend upgrading your ablities.
During the course of play you will encounter boss and sub-boss fights where a large enemy must be defeated, usually there are varied strategies to defeating the enemies like having to use certain moves or hit the enemy at a weak point, these fights do break up the otherwise repetitive gameplay quite nicely. During some boss fights you have the option to perform a finishing move once the enemies health has dropped below a required level, to pull off the finishing move you need to push the correct buttons on the pad at the right time as indicated on the screen.
Fantastic 4 is drastically inferior to many other games in the genre, every release in the Devil May Cry series is much better in just about every way from graphics and atmosphere to controls and fighting system, fans of the film or comic series may want to rent the game just to see what happens but I feel that anyone who buys this will be taking it back to the shop shortly afterwards with the intention of trading it in for a better game.