GC

North America

Fantastic Four

by Jonathan Metts - July 26, 2005, 12:58 am PDT

5

Activision's newest movie game packs plenty of content, but not much fun.

The console version of Fantastic Four is a new-age beat-em-up that predictably follows and expands upon the movie story. Marvel's legendary superhero team is depicted as the movie would show them, complete with the altered origin sequence and Dr. Doom's complete re-characterization. Activision even got the real movie stars to record voice samples for their respective characters. It all adds up to fan serviceā€¦but for fans of the movie more than the comic. If you really, really love the Fantastic Four movie, the idea is that you'll be dazzled enough by the game's similarity to the film to overlook its numerous flaws.

Foremost among those flaws is the game's lowest denominator design. At its core is a very simple beat-em-up in which the four characters share essentially the same move sets, appropriately dressed up with special effects to give the illusion of variety. Usually there are two members of the team present in a given section of the level, and you can freely switch between them; it would be a novel concept if the characters had more distinct abilities. Instead, switching is usually only necessary when you see an event "hotspot" that must be activated by a certain character. These hotspots trigger mundane mini-games like pressing A rapidly or rotating the control stick, which even Mario Party learned not to use after the first game put nasty blisters on kids' hands.

The level designs are a mess. Despite being mostly linear, it still is not always clear where to go because a cut-scene will say things like "Let's meet in the control room!" but the game gives no indication of where the control room is. This game's idea of superhero teamwork usually involves Mr. Fantastic or The Human Torch opening a locked door (by hacking or melting it, respectively) so the other characters can run through. Only a couple of bosses and the final level hint at the kinds of cool teamwork situations that could have been applied throughout the game, even with the simplistic hotspot event mechanic.

Defeating enemies and completing levels earns points for your team, which can be used to upgrade each character's combos and special moves. You can't buy new moves though; each character always has the same three special abilities, and combos are unlocked at set points throughout the game. All you can do is make those specials and combos more powerful. It's still a fine idea with some real strategic value, since you have to allocate points among the four individual characters. However, the upgrade system does nothing to help the fact that Fantastic Four requires no skill whatsoever to play. Which combo you perform is largely irrelevant, and control sequencing is terrible anyway, so combat feels like, and effectively is, button smashing. The special moves are governed by a steadily recharging meter but are not really any more effective than the regular combos, except for each character's area-clearing special. Two characters can perform simultaneous special moves to create a combined effect, but since the other team members are usually controlled by the computer, there's no way to reliably plan such attacks, and they don't seem to make much difference anyway.

Luckily, Fantastic Four includes a two-player co-op mode to fully enable such teamwork. Unluckily, the co-op implementation sucks. The game's camera stays zoomed in close, so there's not much room to move around, and it's never really clear which player's progress is controlling the camera's movement. If the other player is anywhere near the edge of the screen, he won't be able to move much, and more often than not, he'll get completely stuck behind a car or flower pot, forcing the first player to backtrack just so the second player can free himself. Basically, the camera is a nightmare. It ruins the game so much that I couldn't get anyone to play co-op with me for more than a few minutes.

One thing Fantastic Four does a great job with is giving you a lot for your money, unless fun is one of the things you like to get out of a game purchase. The game is decently long, and levels can be replayed to earn more upgrade points and max out your characters. You can also use upgrade points to buy fan service content like concept art, comic book pages (which can't actually be read due to the text size), and laughably compressed video interviews with the stars and writers of the movie. Finding secret icons located in each level eventually opens up video interviews with Stan Lee, the legendary comic writer who created the Fantastic Four. And when you beat the game on Medium or Hard difficulty, you unlock bonus levels staged in Latveria, the fictional country ruled by Dr. Doom in the comics which is completely ignored in the game's main storyline. So if you really do enjoy playing Fantastic Four, there's a lot to keep you playing.

Most people, I expect, will not enjoy playing Fantastic Four. It's a dry, repetitive game with glaring design flaws and even some programming bugs. But then again, a lot of people apparently enjoyed the movie this game is based on, which performs unmentionable excretory functions all over its comic book source material. There's no accounting for taste, eh?

Score

Graphics Sound Control Gameplay Lastability Final
4 4 3 5.5 7 5
Graphics
4

Blah. The character models barely resemble the movie actors, and the animation is pretty crude. The Human Torch looks like a Ken doll set on fire. There is no lip synch whatsoever for the abundant cut-scenes; characters just nod their heads until you press A to advance the "dialogue". Repetitive environments and enemies don't help. The handful of sub-par CG cinemas are further desecrated by RE2-on-N64 style video compression.

Sound
4

The first few stages have some of the worst game music I've ever heard. It's extremely loud guitar rock that loops every five seconds or so. The music eventually mellows out in later levels, thank goodness. I've got to give props for bringing in the real movie stars to record the voice work, but since the writing and acting are pretty terrible even in the movie, the dialogue still ends up sounding forced.

Control
3

Button sequencing for combos never works consistently, and the hit detection for throwing and hotspot activation is terrible. The camera is workable in single player mode, as long as you don't try to lock onto an enemy in a small room, but the co-op camera makes that mode pretty much unplayable. Oh yeah, and have fun navigating menus with the control stick, since you have to press exactly in a cardinal direction in order for your input to register.

Gameplay
5.5

There's a decent beat-em-up game underneath all these problems, although most of us don't have much tolerance for that old archetype anymore. The upgrade system does help, though, and hot-swapping characters could have been really cool if there was more character differentiation. Confusing level designs, arcane puzzles, and a completely useless co-op mode weigh the game down quite a bit.

Lastability
7

Hey, not bad. The main game is longer than you'd expect, and not only are there extra levels to unlock, but you can also buy a fair load of bonus content (though its value may be questionable).

Final
5

Fantastic Four is competent enough at its core to offer some mindless, vaguely satisfying beat-em-up gameplay. The appalling production values and thorough lack of polish will turn off a lot of players, though.

Summary

Pros
  • Lots of extra stuff to keep you playing
  • Stan Lee acting goofy in unlockable videos
  • The final level and a couple of bosses show good, team-based FF action
Cons
  • Buggy, boring gameplay
  • Low-grade visuals and audio
  • Maddening control problems
  • Unplayable co-op mode
Review Page 2: Conclusion

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Genre Action
Developer Seven Studios
Players1 - 2
Controllers

Worldwide Releases

na: Fantastic Four
Release Q2 2005
PublisherActivision
RatingTeen

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