reviews\ Jun 29, 2005 at 8:00 pm

Fantastic 4 - PC - Review

In the world of Marvel comics, The Fantastic Four are considered the Founding Fathers. They first hit the pages in 1961, and due to their complex characters and lack of secret identities, they broke the traditions that comic books had followed for decades. A group of friends and allies that were transformed into super-beings thanks to a cosmic storm during an outer-space venture headed by team leader Reed Richards. Reed, girlfriend Susan Storm, brother Johnny Storm and Reed’s life-long stocky friend Benjamin “Blue eyed Benji” Grimm complete the squad. Upon their return to Earth, they discover their powers and after a period of retrospect, decide to help humanity with their “gifts.” They were so influential in the 60s that they were featured in several Marvel titles to help launch them. In fact, the first Amazing Spider-Man comic (not Amazing Fantasy #15) had Spidey battling against the FF—in an attempt to prove he was worthy of being a 5th member of the team. It was a good plan until he learned that it was a non-paying gig. After Spidey took off, HE became the official “Cameo Character” to launch new books or boost sales of a struggling title.

Decades later, having endured various revamping by some of the best minds in comics, they have a legit big screen debut coming in July 2005. Along with, as is tradition, comes a videogame release by Activision. In the genre of super-hero videogame conversions, there is usually a high failure rate. Marvel, but coincidence or not, seems to do better than DC. This is further proof of that, versus DC’s new Batman Begins videogame, which has a lot of shortcomings.

Fantastic Four for the PC is a sleek, dazzling array of adventure and playability. You can play as any of the four characters, and will have to do so in order to get anywhere. In the books, certain characters are more boring to me, but in a playable world, they all have their own unique appeal. Sue, “Invisible Woman,” can become transparent, create force fields for protection or destruction and kick some butt physically. Johnny, “Human Torch,” can turn his whole body into a fireball that can create and control flame. Ben, “The Thing,” is a hulking juggernaut of stone with super strength. Reed, “Mr. Fantastic,” is the proclaimed leader of the group with a super-high IQ and the ability to stretch his limbs and torso into elongated or unusual shapes for various tasks. As you can see, there is a lot of versatility to utilize in this game. It’s much like controlling the X-Men in the sheer diversity. I admit to preferring certain characters, but as I mentioned, you need to use them all for success.

It’s a heaping game for the PC. It’s four (coincidence??!!) CDs of data, which should give an indication of how deep this game goes. Beyond some basic setup controls, you’re off and running in the Marvel world, which begins in outer space. Though not released at this time, the game touts running alongside the film. You are supposed to be able to create the movie in your gameplay. However, you can go behind the shadows and expand a “simple” scene to last quite a long time.

Ok, if you’re a hero, you have to fight evil. Fighting with this diverse bunch is a lot of fun. If you want to pound away as the (slower) Thing, you’ll have fun smashing everything in site. It seems like whole world is your punching bag. I also liked “Flaming on” as the Torch, though in certain spaces, his movements are difficult and claustrophobic. You have got to have room to burn! Less fun, except for doing the “impossible,” is Mr. Fantastic. He can do things that need to be done to unlock areas and progress in the game. Sue is more fun than she used to be in the books. They have developed her powers much more over the years. She used to be a stereotypical screaming girl character, but is now represented as a booty-kicking heroine that’s fun to use as a fighter. Her force fields can so some serious damage, which makes me un-think the way I have thought about such a power over the years. It can be used now as more of a offensive weapon as opposed to the traditional “You can’t hit me” type power. Very nice tweak.

There are a variety of baddies from the books. You’d have to be a fan to recognize the bundle. Their world, which is anchored in the Baxter Building in NYC, has some colorful villains. There have been some mistakes, such as the downright silly “Paste-Pot Pete” whose power was walking around in a funny suit with a paint bucket full of glue that he can shoot from a gun. He was beefed up later in the books, but that horrible, silly image is burned into my brain forever. Sorry for the detour. Back to the game. The main villain from the film is Dr. (Victor Von) Doom. He is about Reed’s equal in intellect, and hides his disfigured face behind a mask-plate of metal while wearing an over-the-top metallic suit with green cloak. In the books, he was not involved in the life-changing space trip, but they have changed his origins for the film/game to make it more intriguing. That’s fair, as his character now has more power and depth. Doom is peppered in the game, but the levels make you deal with the other villains, which adds to the fun. If it was an ongoing duel against one foe, it would tire, quickly.

The game falters as it follows a standard, tired formula of going through rooms, smashing things (and people!) apart to discover objects and flush out a boss villain. Rinse and repeat ... level by level. It is fun, but nothing new. It plays like Ninja Turtles (Ok, bad example), X-Men, Justice League and any other where you have diverse characters to use to get through it all. It still feels fresh, despite the familiar format. There are some extras to explore, such as a sneak preview of the upcoming Ultimate Spider-Man game, characters bios and five Fantastic Four comics from the “Ultimate” series. Like the X-Men’s “Danger Room,” there is a place to hone the skills of each character, which came in handy trying to learn the complex PC controls.

Graphically, it’s dazzling. Torch’s glow is very detailed like rolling lava at times. They did a good job with the facial recreations from the movie’s actors, and the environments have nice depth and shadow. Explosions jump out at you, and that’s a lot of jumping, here. The way they make Sue invisible is nice, which must have taken a full day of brainstorming in the Beenox Studios/Activision think-tank - to come to life. It’s nice to see Sue with more ‘tude and power than she had in the early days within the Marvel pages. Sorry Reed, aside from nice-looking stretching, you still bore me as a character! You look good, though!

The sound rumbles and quakes the subwoofer of my PC. Headphones were a treat as well. The voice acting is decent, though I think some of the lines seem pushed and hurried. I can imagine, if the film’s director had been in charge of it, hearing a lot of “CUT! One more time - like you mean it!” in the studio. It’s still better than most voice acting in games today. It helps to have the actual cast involved.

This is a fun game with flaws that are less annoying than others of the same genre possess. I don’t know why it becomes so hard to make a super-hero game when other games (Half-Life, Splinter Cell, etc.) excel in their development. It’s as if developers get a pass on making it push the envelope in invention and execution. Like there’s an understood “dumb it down” pass awarded to making heroes come to gaming life. But, this is far better than most. Quite fun and even non-FF fans will enjoy playing the various, creative characters. It’s nice when you can enjoy a game based on super heroes without having to be a die-hard fan in order to be interest. This one stands on its own — whether you like the Marvel books or not.

Review Scoring Details for Fantastic Four

Gameplay: 8.0
Easier than a trip down Yancy Street, the game is engaging and sometimes addictive to play. Some parts of certain levels require using characters that are trickier to control, but the better parts make up for the shortcomings. It’s not a game that you feel forced to play, though I did have to step away often from frustration. Personally, mainly when using the Human Torch (who knew so many things could catch fire??!!). It was a large learning curve to use the keyboard and mouse to play it, but I wanted to do it the way the default settings are supplied, so made it work. I prefer a control pad for action games, but it is possible to play this with standard PC peripherals

Graphics: 8.5 
One of the strongest elements of the game are its graphics. Using four disks in the install, that’s a lot of data. I was particularly impressed with the look of the Torch, as he often took on the appearance of rolling lava. They could have taken short cuts and just made him one dimension and a generic “fire-yellow/red,” but made him with more depth. The force field effects look nice, and the tricky structure of The Thing looked nice as well. The environments don’t have the depth of a FPS, but they stand out as more than just generic back-drops. Much of the interiors looked similar to the style of Spider-Man 2. Just coincidence, but notable since it's one of the most recent hero genre games I have played. 

Sound: 7.5
As strong as the graphics and design are, the sound fell just a little shorter. Not terrible by any means, but some of the voice-acting felt stiff and out of place. The explosions and rumble had nice, deep sound that was further enhanced with the help of a subwoofer. It was nice to have a game envelop you in the surroundings visually, but the audio is more hit and miss.  

Difficulty: Medium
The game is fairly easy to pick up and play — but a thorough study of the controls is mandatory. Playing an action game on a PC is a lot of (extra) work. I tried to jump in and play without reading up on it first, but that was an embarrassing disaster! The manual’s controls list is more than one page long. I plan to play it with my Wingman or similar controller, next. We’ll see how that goes.

Concept: 6.5 
There are a lot of multi-player games like this out there. X-Men, Justice League, etc. They haven’t done much to set this one apart, so it feels familiar without quite being tired. The variance in the heroes’ abilities makes it fun, but it’s a basic take-turns multi-character action game with a high-profile brand behind it. 

Overall: 7.5
This is a good game for any fan of action games. You don’t have to be a fan of the comics, or attempting to get insight to the film. It’s just a good, solid action game that is fun, if not sometimes addictive, to play. It wasn’t like some other titles where I just didn’t want to stay away or be unable to get it out of my head, but how many games like that really come along? It was fun enough while playing that I was challenged and my attention was totally engaged to the action. You have to think for the puzzles, and know your strengths to get through the more physical situations. There’s enough of each application to make it feel fresh and fun. The array of well-known characters is deep, and its fun to see them animated on-screen in something other than a so-so cartoon (they have yet to do a great FF cartoon adaptation, but I bet its coming soon). Though I did not see him myself, I would not be surprised to find “Herbie the Robot” within the game at some point (he was an absurd cartoon creation in lieu of the “dangerous to kids” Human Torch) in the 1980s. Unlike many movie tie-in games that are rushed out just to ride the wave of publicity, this is good enough to stand on its own — despite a huge film being out to help it sell. Given the poor history of comic hero games, I might have hesitated getting this without the movie to boost my interest, but I would have missed out. Nice game, good characters and exciting action all wrapped up to propel the Foursome back into the Marvel limelight that they dominated for years. It is, most definitely, Clobberin’ time!


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