The Fantastic 4, another great adventure spawned from the mind of Comic-Legend Stan Lee, was born in 1961. Unlike many of the comic superhero teams from the past, The Fantastic Four makes no effort to hide their identities. In fact they embrace their superpowers once they get used to them, all except Ben.
The Fantastic 4 is based off the movie of the same name, and will be coming out one week prior. Developed by 7 Studios, the team behind Legion: The Legend of Excalibur and Defender, the game is an action brawler with heavy emphasis on teamwork and super powers. The game starts off on a space station, as the group of five are all Astronauts. Sent to study the effects of cosmic radiation, the team begins their preparations to take scientific readings of the storm. As always, something goes horribly wrong and the cosmic storm begins to pelt the station with meteors. Ben Grimm has to close the adamantium shield to protect the occupants of the station, but it is no use – the team is blasted with radiation, changing their lives forever.
The team wakes up in a hospital run by Victor Von Doom. Their DNA altered, the machines no longer recognize them and they are immediately thrown into combat. While getting used to their new powers, the team must re-unite to help one another cope with their newfound powers and skills. For those unfamiliar with the story, Reed Richards becomes Mr. Fantastic and is imbued with the power to stretch his body like a rubber band. Sue Storm, known as The Invisible Woman, gets the ability to turn invisible and project force fields into beams or use them as a protective shell. Her brother, Johnny Storm, becomes The Human Torch. As the torch, he can fly and control the power of fire. Ben Grimm receives the most dramatic change and becomes receives a hide made of rock. Imbued with the power of many men, The Thing can lift and throw heavy objects far beyond the power of a normal human being. Together, they make up The Fantastic Four.
The graphics on the Fantastic Four are a mixed bag. The game is played from an isometric view with a 360 degree camera behind it. The character models, especially for the Fantastic 4 and bosses are flat-out great. The character models look just like the actors from the movie, so much so that it can be eerie at times. Unfortunately it shines a big spotlight on the generic character models of the enemies. These enemies live in some fairly generic landscapes with one shining exception – the jungle level. The jungle level really shines and stands out and is alive with wildlife and traps. Another area the game shines, literally, is the environmental and lighting effects.
The cutscenes in the game are also told via the in-game engine. Other than some odd animations for ‘trying too hard’ Sue Storm, it really does a great job of retelling the movie storyline and also the interjected added storylines sprinkled throughout. Minus a few clipping issues and an occasional frame hiccup, the game’s look holds up pretty well.To give you an idea of the production value of the game, all of the actors from the movie have recorded lines for the movie. Jessica Alba, Ioan Gruffudd, Chris Evans, Julian McMahon, and Michael Chiklis have all reprised their roles and provide narration throughout the game. Four new songs were written for the game, one for each of the main characters, recorded by Taking Back Sunday, Jurassic 5, Go Betty Go, and The Explosion. The theme from the movie also makes an appearance. It simply doesn’t get any better than having the cast and theme from the movie in your game. Excellent!
The controls are simple in implementation but hold a lot of power. The D-Pad allows you to select from your four team members and the analog sticks handle the movement and camera controls. The Triangle is for jumping, X handles your light attack, Square is heavy attack, and Circle allows you to grab your foes. The shoulders are block, the targeting system, cosmic attacks, buddy buffs, and Super mode.
In single player, the simple control scheme works beautifully. It is when the controls are used in coop mode that the control scheme becomes hampered by the camera. The camera becomes claustrophobic and has trouble keeping up with the wishes of the player. Don’t be put off by the camera however, you would be missing a good coop game if you did that.
Oh no! Its another movie to game adaptation! Wait, hold that thought. Zak Penn, the writer behind the movie X2: X-Men United, is the writer of The Fantastic 4’s storyline. Since the storyline follows the movie, the pacing of the game remains consistently high. Like any good action movie, the game kicks off with a bang. When the team is hit with Cosmic Radiation and imbued with their powers you begin to unwrap the storyline and get into the core elements of the game. At its heart the game is a classic beat-em-up. Sprinkled throughout, you also will have to work as a team to solve puzzles. The puzzles start off as simple lever pushing or putting a forcefield around a member to allow him to push through a shield but later graduate to progressively more difficult hacking puzzles that will test your mental acuity. The hacking minigames will allow you to open doors or reprogram robots by re-aligning three circles until they line up with the power conduit. They get progressively more complex and they are timed, so practice makes perfect.
Also included is an RPG-lite upgrade system to allow your characters to learn new combinations and powers. You can also unlock artwork, character bios, and more as well. Each character will have a mini-game role to play, it is just a matter of keeping an eye out for the color-coded circle. During boss battles this cooperation and puzzle element is pushed into overdrive. Sometimes you’ll have to have Sue lock down a bosses hands while the other members of the team move in for heavy attacks. Whether the other elements of your team are AI controlled or controlled by your friend sitting next to you, the system works and it works well. Some of the bosses include Puppetmaster, Dragon Man, Diablo, Mole Man, and of course, Dr. Doom.
Almost everything in the game is destructible. You can pick up chairs, seats, plants, and even enemies and use them as weapons. Playing as The Thing and snatching an enemy by their neck only to fling them wide-eyed against the wall. You can even pick up enemies and have your team beat up on them while you hold them in your grip.
If single-player action isn’t your thing, the game also features a full co-op mode that you can use to go through all of the 10 levels. It is estimated that if you knew where all the objectives are, and knew the strategies to beat all the bosses, it’d still take you roughly 15 hours to beat the game. It took me roughly 16 hours to burn through the game in single player and slightly less in coop. Playing through the game makes your character more powerful as you rack up points and spend them, but none of the combinations are particularly deep. For instance, Mr. Fantastic can use a stretch punch or drop spider-mines by simply holding the right trigger and pressing A or B respectively. Longer combinations might be X, X, Y or some variation therein. Each character has powers in addition to their fighting prowess – The Human Torch can spot-weld or cut through steel doors, Mr. Fantastic is the hacker of the group. The Invisible Woman introduces stealth elements into the game as she can turn invisible at will, and nobody smashes things better than The Thing.
How does the game stack up as a movie-to-game transition? Very well. How well does it stack up as a straight beat-em-up? Well, its not quite as good as Activision’s own X-Men title. I have a feeling that if the game didn’t have to be launched at the same time as the movie it might have had a few more hours in the testing bin to learn some tricks from other Activision titles.There is a great deal of value in this title as it is cooperative. Since the game is the same whether you play it single player or multiplayer, its best to pick up a second controller and go at it together. The big mystery of course is, why doesn’t The Fantastic Four support four players? Still, there is a lot to be said for a fun game with over 15 hours of gameplay.