It's a great time to be alive if you're a comic book geek. Comics -- both the men in tights and the 'sequential art' variety -- have become a firm fixture in mainstream culture, particularly if you take the number of comic-based films coming out as any indicator.
Fantastic Four is the latest to get the silver screen treatment, and follows in the boots of Marvel stable mates Blade, X-Men, Daredevil and the spectacular Spider-Man. And like the other films, Fantastic Four's big screen debut is accompanied by a game release. With a large list of extras to unlock, the Fantastic Four game has plenty for comic book geeks, but poor controls and a wonky camera make it less of a must have for gamers.
And even comic book geeks may find the gameplay too tough going to even bother unlocking the myriad of old comic covers, interviews with co-creator Stan Lee, behind the scenes snippets from the film and more extras hidden in the game. Simply put, while Reed "Mr Fantastic" Richards, Sue "Invisible Woman" Storm, Johnny "Human Torch" Storm and Ben "The Thing" Grimm are superb on 2D-technicolour, the term 'Fantastic' is definitely a misnomer for this game.
Fantastic Four is a beat-em up which sees you take control of the four heroes as they progress through a plot that roughly mirrors that of the film (only very roughly -- you'll get to travel to more locales and face more super villains than in the film). Each chapter is broken up into several missions, where you'll have control of one or two of the Fantastic Four. The boss fights at the end of each chapter will usually allow you to control all four of the team. Switching between individual members is pretty simple -- similar to the controls in X-Men Legends, each Fantastic Four member is mapped onto the directional pad, with a quick press in the right direction all that's needed to switch characters.
Each of the different Fantastic Four members can do two basic melee attacks (weak and strong) which can be strung together in a few combos, although as you'd expect, attacks from the powerful Thing do a lot more damage than Sue Storm's. While this sounds promising, all of the combinations (despite having different names and looks) are all performed in the same way, meaning you'll be doing the same button mashes throughout the game no matter which character you're playing.
The Fantastic Four-some also get to sport their cosmic storm-given superpowers, although use of this is limited by a power gauge which decreases every time you use an ability. Each team member has several super attacks -- for example, Mr Fantastic can stretch to hit out of reach opponents, Invisible Woman can freeze enemies, Human Torch can set up walls of fire and the Thing can create mini-earthquakes.
The game also lets you use each character's unique abilities in certain predetermined areas marked by a glowing circle, with the colour signifying which Fantastic Four team member needs to be used. Activating these circles triggers mini-challenges that need to be beaten for the task to be completed. Most of these challenges are of the 'tap very quickly or rotate the joystick' variety and are consequentially pretty simple, but there are rare ones that will require some thought (such as Reed's 'power source' mini-game).
Teamwork and the interaction between the various members of the Fantastic Four was always a big part of the comic, so it's nice to see it translated into the game. While you'll spend the majority of the adventure with only one or two team members at once, there are still plenty of instances where you'll need to utilise each hero's specific abilities to make it through. These are particularly evident in boss fights -- one such fight sees you having to use Sue Storm's force fields to trap a gigantic monster's arms, before using Reed to stretch his arms and attack said monster in his vulnerable throat.
Sadly, Fantastic Four is lumbered with several control and camera issues which make it a frustrating experience to play. Controlling the team members feels incredibly loose and floaty -- it's often difficult to face in just the right direction to launch attacks, while moving your character to the specific location of a glowing circle is a mini-challenge in itself. Compounding this is the ineffective camera, which doesn't keep up with the action at all and will leave you feeling disoriented within minutes. Even the simple act of moving your character from one room to another will end up with the camera at an angle that makes it difficult for you to see where you're going.
The game's collision detection system isn't crash hot either -- while the game features plenty of destructible items, it seems you have to be standing in just the right spot to be able to hit it. We experienced many cases where we were standing right next to a box but were unable to break it open because we were on a slight angle to it.
It also doesn't help that Fantastic Four only looks average at best. Character models are rather blocky, with the environments looking bland and colourless. Audio is a slight step up, with the actors from the film providing the voices for their game counterparts.
Fantastic Four has some decent gameplay elements, but it becomes too much of a slog due to its clunky camera and poor controls. Comic book geeks will surely enjoy all the hidden extras, but they'll need to dig deep into their geek-reserves of patience to play through Fantastic Four and unlock them all.
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