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Fantastic Four

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  Reviewed by Andy Grieser
July 19, 2005
Third-Person Shooter
7 Studios
The Fantastic Four were never among my favorite, or even my highly regarded, comic-book superheroes. I can't really give a good reason why. Maybe it's because the Marvel heroes were otherwise fighting against all odds to make it, like Spider-Man's menial day job as a photographer. The Four were rich and public and the celebrities of the Marvel universe.

Again, maybe I'm totally wrong there; I never took the time to find out. I do have to say that I enjoy the new Ultimates version of the Four, though they are much younger than all previous incarnations. That somehow resonates better. Unfortunately, the movie takes them back to adult status - more than that I can't say, because I haven't seen it.

The game drops the movie's plot (including its space-shuttle origin sequence) into the Ultimates storyline, where the Four are younger and have a very different backstory. It's jarring to see Ultimates versions of Nick Fury and Moleman alongside the very well rendered movie characters. Anyway, minor geek point loss there.

More frustrating is that the game suffers the curse of console-itis. In other words, the control scheme when ported to PC is awkward and worse, there's a heavy reliance on action.

Let's talk about the control scheme first. The default scheme is frustrating on PC. Important keys tend to be scattered across the keyboard; on console, the buttons are small and close enough that they can be accessed in a flash. Not so here, where during some large battles I found myself having to move my hands off the combat keys to adjust the camera. Which, as damnably usual for a port, skewed wildly instead of being stationed above and behind the character. I suggest remapping the keys completely.

More problematic is the heavy focus on combat. The Fantastic Four was always unusual as a superhero team because only half the team really excelled at combat, the Thing and the Human Torch. Invisible Girl and Mr. Fantastic were the defender and the thinker, respectively. For some reason, though, the non-combat factors rarely succeed in gaming. When's the last time a Batman game made you really feel like the World's Greatest Detective? Here, I spent one frantic sequence cursing the folks at Activision thusly: "They're forcing me to play as Mr. Fantastic, trying to fight a minor boss who can only be hit from behind, who is very fsat, whose reach is long enough to smack me around as I try to circle him, and who sometimes in what I hope is a glitch can automatically reface himself. Oh, and he's focused on me, so I can't attack from a distance because he's never not facing me when I run away."

I prevailed, but barely. More fun, almost to the point of meriting a game of their own, are Thing and the Torch. The characters are made for combat, especially the Thing, and you never get caught thinking things like, "Who knew Invisible Girl, wee slip of a thing, could punch giant weapon-studded attack droids into submission?" I greatly enjoyed these combat-appropriate parts of the game, and dreaded having to use other characters.

Level design, unfortunately, is cursory at best. Areas are small and rigidly linear. That's more a problem for, say, a Spider-Man game, where he's expected to swing around saving people and generally protecting the city from street crime. Here, it's an annoyance at most.

What's done well? The characters are amazingly detailed; I realized with a shock at one point just how expressive the facial impressions were. The original cast has returned from the movie, and with only some minor instances of blatant script reading, they do a good job reprising their roles. This is what interactive film wanted to be, back in the days of The Seventh Guest and Phantasmagoria. Kudos for the high production values here.

I cannot recommend Fantastic Four for PC, because it doesn't hold a candle to superior superhero games like Freedom Force or City of Heroes, both in level design and control. I can recommend it on console, if you can endure the weak points long enough to get to clobberin' time.

(Click to Enlarge)

Minimum Requirements...
Pentium III 800 MHz or Athlon 800 MHz or higher processor; 256 MB RAM; 3500 MB of uncompressed hard disk space (plus 400 MB for the windows Swap file); quad speed CD-ROM drive and drivers; 3D hardware accelerator card required; Direct X 9.0 compliant 32 MB Video card and drivers.
PlayStation 2.
Nintendo GameCube.


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