Reviewed: June 28, 2005
Released: June 28, 2005
If you love comics and superheroes then 2005 is the year you’ve been waiting for, both in movies and video games. Just off the top of my head we have Batman, Fantastic 4, The Incredible Hulk, Ultimate Spider-Man and a new X-Men Legends II game all either already here or on their way. Several of these also have feature films to coincide with the games including Fantastic 4 which should be in stores when you wake up this morning.
Beenox seems to be the company to go to when you want your console game converted over to the PC. They did a great job with Madagascar and they did it again with Fantastic 4, creating a console-like experience on your PC it is a near-perfect match to the Xbox version with only a few minor variations. Even the most hardcore Fantastic 4 fan will have a hard time finding any discrepancies in the famous cast of superheroes, their fantastic abilities, or their infamous super-villains..
Fantastic 4, the video game, is loosely based on the upcoming movie, but rather than simply recreate the film script verbatim Zak Penn (X2: X-Men United) created an original story that included just enough of the “origins story” to get gamers who are unfamiliar with the series up to speed with the characters, then toss them into a series of action-oriented levels full of challenging combat and puzzles. They even managed to work several super-villains into the story so Dr. Doom won’t be the only bad guy you have to face in this game.
Fantastic 4 plays a bit like X-Men Legends in that you have a group of superheroes at your disposal and you are free to pick and choose your playable character from anyone who is available on a per level basis. The gameplay is much more focused however, since you only have to worry about mastering four characters rather than a dozen or more. This allows you to really get involved, not only with the character’s abilities, but also their own personal story and how they fit into the group dynamic.
The game starts off with a typical introductory level set in orbit in the space station just before the cosmic storm that turns four very normal people into four very special superheroes. You’ll learn some basic navigation and how to interact with the environments, but this level is more about telling the story than anything else. The game really doesn’t start until you are back at Dr. Doom’s medical facility back on Earth.
Here, you are introduced to each character individually, as they wake up and realize they all have some very unique abilities. This is a very cool premise, since it allows you to discover your powers alongside each character. Your DNA has been altered enough that Doom’s security bots no longer recognize you, so you get to engage in a lot of combat, smashing robots, hacking security panels, stealing your way past security cameras, and cutting through steel doors like butter.
Ben Grimm is the hulking orange rock we all know as The Thing. He is the master of melee, with a nice library of wrestling moves including throws and slams and the ability to pick up items and swing them around or throw them. If you like to get physical then Ben is your man.
Susan Storm is the Invisible Woman and she obviously relies on stealth to sneak around. She can get past security cameras and sneak right up behind someone for a stealth-attack. She can also surround nearby team members with a force shield and fire force projectiles. Susan is a great all-around character.
Mr. Fantastic can stretch his limbs, but other than that he pretty much just punches and kicks. His extra reach allows him to grab items (or enemies) from far away and throw them around. He is also quite smart so when it comes times to hack a security panel or door he’s your man.
Johnny Storm is Susan’s brother and he probably has the “coolest” powers of all; namely the ability to engulf his own body in flames, shoot fireballs, and even fly. The game pretty much restricts his flying to mere hovering most of the time, but he remains one of my personal favorite characters to play in this game.
After you have learned the basics for each character in their personal introductory level you are then thrust together to work as a team. Ben is upset with his “new look” so he runs off, forcing the other three to go look for him. While Ben is wandering the streets of Brooklyn he saves a young blind woman (who later becomes his girlfriend) from a gang of thugs. Then there is an accident on a bridge where the entire team must work together to save a large fire truck as well as several civilians.
Then you move onto an underground adventure with Mole Man who is up to no good in the sewers and subways beneath New York. The rest of the game unfolds in a nice collection of levels that take you to interesting locations, both indoors and out, where you get to face off against all sorts of infamous villains like Blastaar, Diablo, and of course, Dr. Doom, just to name a few.
Each level is specifically designed for one or more of the Fantastic 4. You don’t get to choose whom to take into the level, but if there is more than one character available you can choose which one to play. Any remaining characters are played by the computer with some surprisingly aggressive and intelligent AI.
The computer will not only set you up for special combo moves, it will engage in combos with each other. In fact, some of the best moves I learned in the game were from watching the AI play together then trying to figure out how they did that. You also have the ability to support the other characters by healing them or in the case of Sue, create a force field around them.
If all of this sounds like a perfect opportunity for some cooperative gameplay you are absolutely right. In fact, if you have a sibling or friend who is readily available you will likely find yourself playing this game in co-op mode more than solo. The co-op mode plays just like the solo except each player gets their own character select menu and you are free to select any available character not already controlled by the other player.
The game is structured as a series of levels, each with primary and secondary objectives that, when met, will earn you new rewards like percentage bonus, cosmic combos, etc. As you start each level you can pick from one of three skill levels as well as solo or co-op mode. That would be my one and only very small complaint; that you cannot have a friend jump into the game on the fly – you have to pick co-op in advance.
As you play the game you’ll earn points that can be used to upgrade the powers for each characters. This gives the Fantastic 4 a small taste of RPG flavor without burdening you down with a massive stat system. You just earn the points, and when notified by the game, spend them however you see fit. There is also a substantial bonus section with plenty of unlockable content.
There's no hiding the fact that Fantastic 4 is a console game, especially when it comes down to trying to play with a keyboard. And it only gets worse when you try to get two people to huddle around one keyboard for co-op play. Moving these characters with the WADS cluster is nothing like the smooth analog motion of a thumb-stick and the rest of the command system just seemed awkward after playing the elegant Xbox version. Whilte there is no direct support for PC gamepads, if you have a good one (like a Saitek or Logitech) that allows you to assign keyboard commands to the buttons you can actually make the game work.
Fantastic 4 has some great artwork with a heavy focus on character design, animation, and details. Each character looks amazing and they are animated flawlessly, especially Mr. Fantastic who has a deformable skeleton model that defies comprehension. I know a little bit about 3D modeling and I can’t even begin to fathom how they achieved what they did with Reed. He really does look like he’s made of rubber.
Johnny is just great, especially with the real-time lighting that casts a warm orange glow over anything nearby. The fire effect in this game is awesome, whether he is flinging fireballs or cutting through a steel door. There is also excellent particle effects and volumetric fog and smoke to create some realistic and intense situations.
Sue’s main effect is her invisibility, which is handled nicely. She vanishes just enough to convince you she is actually invisible while leaving enough of a subtle outline that you can move her around. It’s almost like the Predator cloak. Her transparent energy projectiles and force shields also look fantastic.
Ben isn’t as flashy as his friends but his detailed textured skin and bump mapping give him a coarse look that very much appears to be rock. He is also animated with a nice sense of weight and physics, making him look large and formidable.
The environments are interesting in design and the game takes you to many unique locations. There are some definite sections where you can tell the designers are setting you up for specific characters and large-scale battles, but there are also times when the levels become a bit linear and repetitive, even a bit confined.
There is a substantial amount of detail in the levels with objects you can pick up, throw, break, and set on fire. Other items that require specific character interaction are indicated with a glowing beam of light on the floor. You’ll also want to be on the lookout for the spinning Fantastic 4 logo – there’s one hidden on each level and these unlock new enemy sets, battle arenas, and other nifty secrets.
The cutscenes use the game-engine, which I always appreciate much more than simply splicing in movie footage. Not only does this give the designers the ability to stray from the film, it also keeps the movies and gameplay seamless. The PC version allows for various resolutions and detail settings, which can potentially give you a much sharper image than the console version.
The soundtrack for Fantastic 4 features the main theme from the movie as well as a few variations of that theme. There is also some additional licensed music in the bonus section. The music swells during the cutscenes then fades into the background during the actual gameplay, rising only occasionally to accentuate the action with some clichéd rock tracks. You can also listen to a custom song created for each member of the Fantastic 4.
Sound effects are outstanding with crackling flames, powerful punches, kicks, and slams, and the crash and destruction of environmental objects. Despite the lack of a Dolby or EAX surround mix, the sound experience is surprisingly rich with a powerful bass effect that really got my sub-woofer thumping.
Of course the voice acting is what seals the deal here. 7 Studios managed to coral the entire primary cast from the film and got them to voice their respective characters, and everyone turns out really good performances. It’s easy to tell when actors “phone in” their lines, but everyone here really seemed to care about the project and it shows in the acting and the script.
With more than a dozen levels, each with multiple stages, secrets, primary and secondary objectives, and a rich reward system that not only unlocks bonus material but actually allows you to improve your characters and their abilities, Fantastic 4 has the potential to keep you entertained for a long time. There is also a trailer for Activision's upcoming Ultimate Spider-Man as well as a few digital issues of theUltimate Fantastic 4 comic books.
My first pass through the game took about 12 hours on the Medium skill level. There were a few stages where I really wanted to revert to Easy mode but I stuck it out, and I’m still looking forward to going back and replaying on the Hard mode to earn the rewards associated with that skill level. The levels are short enough that if you miss an objective or don't beat the time limit you won't mind trying again.
A Battle Arena mode offers a taste of versus combat and there is also a fantastic co-op mode that is every bit as entertaining as the single-player mode, assuming you take the time to get gamepads hooked up and configured properly. Unlike the console version, I doubt people will be complaining about the lack of four-player support. It's hard enough to get two people playing on the same PC.
I typically cringe when a movie gets made into a game, but in this case the designers were already working on Fantastic 4, even before the movie was green lit. This was definitely a labor of love and it shows in the quality of the presentation and the attention to detail in every subtle nuance of the characters, their powers, and the way it all comes together in the gameplay. Beenox has done a great job with the PC translation, although I would have hoped for more direct support for gamepads.
If you are a fan of the Fantastic 4 then you won’t be disappointed in the way they are presented in their debut video game. And if you enjoy action games, especially ones with a rarely seen (on the PC) cooperative component, then look no further than Fantastic 4.