While it’s given comic book readers its fair share of excitement and dramatic storylines, its gaming representations have been devoid of many elements that have helped the comics achieve their acclaim. None have made good use of its characters, and have instead just used them to represent genre archetypes, like far too many licensed games. Unfortunately, that tradition continues here. Fortunately, unlike the first Fantastic Four game for the original PlayStation, this isn’t a “worst game of the year” nominee, it’s just a mediocre experience that lacks depth and makes poor use of its licensed characters.
With nothing more than a loading screen to explain the plot and your characters’ circumstances, you’re immediately thrown into the foot of a fiery volcano to begin your adventure and attempt to bring the world‘s climate down to a normal temperature. To do this, you’ll battle wave after wave of enemies spread across five levels, which are broken up into three acts apiece. Much of your time will be spent fighting as a team against the hoard of foes, which would be fine if the gameplay had some depth to it, but unfortunately, that isn’t the case here.
The core gameplay is basically a knock-off of X-Men Legends - you can switch between any of the four characters (Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Girl, the Human Torch, and the THING!) at any time, and can do combo attacks with any of the team members as long as they haven’t been taken out of the battle. Unlike the X-Men Legends games, which allowed you to swap out a fallen comrade for a fresh one at certain points, your broken down partners will regain consciousness fairly quickly and will return to battle with full health. While this is a helpful feature during intense fights, and it’s fairly logical since, unlike the X-Men, the Fantastic 4 lacks a lush roster of protagonists available to play as, it does make some fights unfair, as enemies don’t regenerate, and their AI is fairly limited, making the game easier than it otherwise would be.
It doesn’t help that the gameplay is incredibly shallow, with levels just consisting of what seems like an endless amount of corridors that lead to other corridors that exist for seemingly no reason other than to occupy space and fill time in this already-short game. Battles usually boil down to just mindlessly hitting the light and heavy attack buttons in succession, with the occasional double team attack needed to clear out a swarm of foes ganging up on one party member. As a beat-em-up fan, I can appreciate the simplicity, but unlike the classics of that genre, this game lacks the intelligent level design and refined gameplay that kept them compelling - leaving you with a hollow shell of a game that gets old very quickly and offers little to break up the monotonous gameplay.
Occasionally, you’ll get some puzzles to solve, which either require you to hit a single button, or make use of a super power. Unsurprisingly, these are also not the least bit interesting, and just add to the tedium. The human torch’s flying levels are fairly exciting, but are riddled with control issues. Aiming at foes is impossible, leaving you to just shoot blindly, and the boost dash feature speeds you up so much that it becomes hard to tell how close you are in relation to obstacles.
Control problems muddle up the main game as well. The camera is the main culprit, as it’s never where it really needs to be during a massive battle, it gets stuck in corners, and if you’re ever knocked down, you’re left looking at the floor for a few seconds instead of being able to see around you. The saddest part is that these are still issues despite the camera having both an auto-center function and allowing the player to control it with the right analog stick. Expect to take some needless damage and possibly lose some lives as a result of these issues.
The battle controls are also unresponsive for all kinds of attacks (weak, strong, and double teams), leading to even more needless damage and character demise. A little fine-tuning could have helped to resolves these problems, but for whatever reason, they’re still in the final game, and they hurt it tremendously. It’s amazing to think that something that is essentially one-dimensional could still be executed so poorly.
Luckily, the graphics fare better than the gameplay or controls. All of the character models look decent, with all of the rocks that comprise the Thing looking good, and the other team members all look as they should, with some impressive reflection and visual effects on their suits, which are so detailed that you can see the individual creases in their fabric. Unfortunately, the environments didn’t fare so well. They aren’t very detailed, and end up looking alike due to so many of the same basic parts being used to create many parts of a level. They all tend to look very generic, with little setting the individual parts of the levels apart aside from destructible objects being on opposite sides of a corridor that is nearly identical to an earlier one, and different sets of enemies coming at you. The lack of visual flair just furthers the sense of sameness and sterility caused by the repetitive gameplay and repeated environments, and it makes the game even more boring to go through as a result, since you’re not only seemingly fighting the same battles over and over again, but doing so in the same environments as well.
The movie’s cast was wise enough to not allow their voices to be used for the game, leading to other actors playing the roles, and doing a serviceable, if forgettable job. None of the voices sound out of place for the characters, which is a good sign, and the acting is fairly believable. The musical score is fairly stirring at times, which pleasantly surprised me, and the sound effects are impressive as well. They’re nice and loud when they need to be, making each strong and double team attack sound even more brutal, while also not making the light attacks sound puny by comparison. They don’t sound as damaging as the heavier attacks, but still sound devastating enough to realistically topple any foe, which is impressive.
Despite the few things done well in it, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer remains a bland, poorly-done game. It isn’t worth your time, money, or shelf space. Even die-hard Fantastic 4 fans who feel like they absolutely MUST snag up everything with their visage on it should steer clear, as it’s a poor representation of the characters and the license as a whole.
Also, even with its unlockable retro outfits, comic book covers, and a plethora of other unlockable goodies that the die-hard comic fans might be tempted by, I still can’t recommend a purchase, as it‘s still a low-grade knock-off of the far-superior X-Men Legends games, and isn’t required playing for anyone. If you absolutely must get a video game fix of the Fantastic Four, maybe give it a rental, since you’ll at least be able to unlock the hidden goodies, which are just about the game’s only redeeming factor to fans of the comics.