The reputation of licensed games is abysmal at best. It seems every summer we are flooded with Hollywood’s finest while the game industry decides to serve us a mediocre product in hopes that we won’t notice simply because it bears the same subtitle as the aforementioned blockbuster. So far this year we have seen the likes of Shrek, Spider-Man, and even a skew of Disney licensed IPs come, and most of them fail. With Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer things were looking up. With a movie sequel fans were hailing as a resurrection for the franchise and a game built by one of the finer studios in the industry Visual Concepts, it seems that nothing could go wrong.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer loosely follows the plot from its Hollywood counterpart aside from a few omissions. You follow the path of the first family of comics as they attempt to thwart the evil plans of Dr. Doom and of course figure out just who the Silver Surfer really is. You will even play a level early on in the game that involves the wedding between Reed (Mr. Fantastic) and Sue (The Invisible Woman) which is lifted directly from the feature film. What is peculiar though is that even though Galactus plays a pivotal role in the movie, his name is only mentioned throughout the entire game; hence you never get to see him. This really drags the otherwise intriguing story down; especially towards the end of the game.
Probably the most disappointing aspect of the game though is the fact that it has all the essentials to be a fantastic (yes a pun thank you) game. FF: RotSS is a straight-ahead beat ’em up where you can swap characters on the fly to take advantage of their unique powers. For instance some areas are blocked by large rubble; this is where The Thing is best used as he can simply blast through it with brute strength. Mr. Fantastic can reach high switches and grab enemies from a far, Sue can protect her allies with force fields and even user her power of invisibility to walk through certain lasers and Johhny Storm even has his own specifically designed segments of the game seeing as he is the only member of the group that can fly.
On paper all of this sounds like an absolute blast, but where the game starts to fall apart is in its execution. For starters when playing alone your AI team mates are just a hair above brain dead. They will stand in front of turrets, wander around aimlessly without attacking enemies, and of course wander off into places they aren’t meant to be. You do have limited control over them, but it really boils down to a guard and attack command. This of course could easily be remedied with a solid multi-player component. While you can hook up with three friends locally there is absolutely no online play for either console, and in this day and age that is a shame.
With titles like Marvel Ultimate Alliance and even the last-gen version of X-Men Legends sporting an online function it is really a shame that FF4: RotSS is completely sans this feature. Couple this with the fact that playing locally is a total chore thanks to a nearly broken camera system and you have a game that is designed for multi-player that is really only playable by yourself; no fun at all.
The level design in this game is far from poor; in fact most of these areas are extremely varied consisting of things like the Skrull Lair, New York City, and even a dive into outer space. What is frustrating though is the mission structure; you will spend most of your time moving from door to door simply deactivating lasers and trying to find an elevator to the next area. The levels are also long and tedious consisting mostly of clearing the room of the same recycled bad guys which causes the game to get stale much quicker than you want it to.
As I mentioned earlier each character has the ability to use their special powers throughout the game. The cool part here is that each ability is upgradeable through a menu during the game or between areas. Basically you collect points scattered throughout each level that work as currency to upgrade each characters set of powers. Unfortunately most of these powers are worthless as you will likely find one or two different attacks with each protagonist and simply abuse them throughout the game. There is of course an Achievement for upgrading each character on the 360 version so there is some incentive for finding all of those hidden icons.
Visuals are far and away the game’s most disappointing aspect. While the levels are nice and varied being as long as they are they also get tedious. It seems that every room in the game is plastered with the same texture as the previous one making it hard to decipher which area you have already visited. This makes the backtracking missions even more frustrating. The characters are also marred by the graphics, especially during the cut scenes. During these story sequences I felt like I was watching an episode of Gumby & Friends as opposed to the Fantastic Four. Enemies look good considering their abundance, but are repeated far too often leaving the game feel like really repetitive.
There are some cool extras to be found if you want to invest the time to find them all. There are a series of hidden tokens in the game that will unlock character art, videos, and even special costumes for each of the characters. The 360 version also sports a nice array of Achievements to be earned throughout the game which will likely have you coming back for a second helping if you want the full thousand points. The PS3 iteration does support Sixaxis control with Johhny’s levels, which do make them more enjoyable and is actually a nice touch. Granted the game feels long, but it can be blasted through in just less than six hours if you really dedicate some time to it.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer isn’t a bad game; in fact like I said it has all the trimming to make it a stellar game, it just forgets to execute them all properly. Lack of online and sketchy graphics headline the game’s serious flaws while the wonky co-op camera almost kills the idea of any type of multi-player action. Fans of the comics and movie may find some redemption hidden away in this package but for everyone else it feels more like a rushed project than a solid outing.