Fantastic 4 Review

Fantastic 4 suffers from imprecise controls, a lackluster presentation, a few bugs, and other issues that make it difficult to recommend.

Fantastic 4 is a beat-'em-up based on a movie of the same name, which is in turn based on a comic book series created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. The game takes some cues from X-Men Legends in that you can quickly switch between up to four different heroes and upgrade their abilities as you battle your way through Dr. Doom's legions of robots and other monstrous foes and minibosses. Unfortunately, the game suffers from imprecise controls, a lackluster presentation, a few bugs, and other issues that make it difficult to recommend.

You'll control anywhere from one to all four of the titular heroes in each level.
You'll control anywhere from one to all four of the titular heroes in each level.

In the game, you'll control four different heroes (hence the name), each of whom has unique powers and abilities. Mr. Fantastic is able to stretch and deform himself, which allows him to reach far-away objects and attack enemies from a great distance. The Invisible Woman is a relatively weak hand-to-hand fighter, but she can turn invisible and perform abilities that freeze opponents in place. The Human Torch is extremely fast and can ignite enemies, while the Thing is a large brute who can dish out tons of damage, as well as take it. All four heroes won't be available to you at all times. In most of the levels you'll be limited to only one or two characters, as the game's storyline will often depict the foursome splitting up and taking on tasks in parallel. Switching between heroes can be done quickly by tapping on the D pad in the console versions of the game, while in the PC version, each character is mapped to a key.

Each character has three special cosmic powers that can be unleashed with double button presses, as well as combo moves that can be done by pushing the two attack buttons in different orders. Unleashing a cosmic power is quicker and easier than performing a combo, but these cost energy, which recharges slowly or can be replenished from broken items or defeated foes. If you play your cards right, you can recharge as much energy as you use, so in enemy-rich areas, it's possible to unleash one cosmic power after another, making them somewhat imbalanced. There are other interesting aspects to the fighting system, such as the ability to grapple or combo-grapple with your teammates.

Sure there are special abilities and combos, but Fantastic 4 still plays like a run-of-the-mill beat-'em-up.
Sure there are special abilities and combos, but Fantastic 4 still plays like a run-of-the-mill beat-'em-up.

However, in a practical sense there really isn't as much variety as you might think in the fighting system. Just about every character has a ranged attack, an area attack, and powerful moves for single foes. In most cases, the game is designed to reward strength over other abilities, so you'll usually use The Thing or Mr. Fantastic when they're available since they're the best melee fighters. It's also worth noting that both the cosmic powers and the combo abilities in Fantastic 4 can be upgraded using points you earn as you fight enemies and make your way through levels. Points are shared across characters.

There are also other special abilities that are context-sensitive to the environment. For example, you can use Mr. Fantastic's computer savvy to hack into computer terminals. Leaky pipes can be welded shut by the Human Torch, and piles of rubble can be pushed aside by the Thing's brute strength. Most of these special abilities are controlled via simple minigames, such as rotating the analog stick or pounding on a button quickly. Some areas will require you to use these special abilities in sequence, but it's usually easy to figure out where to go and what to do, because hot spots in the environment will light up as you approach them, signifying that something special can be done.

Fantastic 4's biggest failing is that it lacks a lot in the overall feel of the gameplay, which is important for a beat-'em-up. While you can see onscreen that you're picking up barrels and cars and throwing them at legions of foes, the controls don't make you feel all that powerful. What's more, the controls feel imprecise and floaty. The targeting system in the game is clunky, and it's sometimes difficult to lock on to anything, let alone switch between targets. Characters sometimes clip through solid objects, and enemies can get stuck in the air or in corners that they should be able to navigate. Unleashing combos in combat can also feel robotic and formulaic over the course of the brief, eight-hour campaign. Though the levels attempt to show some variety at the end, allowing you to man turrets or remotely control mechs, the gameplay in Fantastic 4 is largely running from one room to the next, smashing everything in sight, and then moving on. To its credit, the game does include a good number of minibosses, and each of these fights requires a slightly different strategy.

The game's graphics are far from fantastic.
The game's graphics are far from fantastic.

You won't find much salvation in the game's presentation either. The graphics engine allows for some destructibility in the levels, letting you smash furniture and other objects, but the levels look rather bland and are laid out in a boring manner. Things often look so similar that after a long fight in a room you can forget which door you entered from and which one is the "exit." There's no minimap to help you out with that either. The game's sound palette includes voice acting from the stars of the Fantastic Four film, but these don't really make up for the lack of impact in the general sound effects, the tepid soundtrack, and a bug that sometimes causes sound to cut out during cutscenes.

The game does include a two-player mode that lets you make your way through the game with one friend (but not four) or battle each other in an arena. Playing the game cooperatively is marginally more fun and interesting than single-player, but the arena modes aren't all that compelling.

Though Fantastic 4 does offer all the elements of a good beat-'em-up game on paper, the execution of those features leaves something to be desired. The result is instead a short, bland-looking game that doesn't give many compelling reasons for a purchase. If you're really into the movie or the comic and can look past drab environments and controls that aren't as crisp as they should be, then Fantastic 4 might be worth a rent, but not much more.

The Good

  • Real actors' voices
  • Upgradable fighting moves

The Bad

  • Bland graphics
  • Controls feel imprecise
  • Campaign doesn't take long to beat
  • Some sound bugs and clipping

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