Hardly a marvel

There is more of a story behind this action adventure game than inside it.

Fantastic Four, a CD-ROM in English by Activision for Marvel Entertainment, distributed with a 26-page Hebrew-language user's manual by Hed Artzi Multimedia, requires Windows 98 and up and an 800 Mhz Pentium III PC or better, for ages 12 through adult, NIS 199. - Rating: *** There is more of a story behind this action adventure game than inside it. Fantastic Four was created in 1961 by Stan Lee (born Stanley Martin Lieber in New York 83 years ago) after he helped to create the unforgettable Superman, Spider-Man, The Hulk, X-Men and Daredevil characters. But after comic books' readership declined and poor management sent Marvel Entertainment into bankruptcy in the late '90s, two Israeli businessmen named Avi Arad and Isaac Perlmutter took over the ownership and, demonstrating Superman-like acumen and courage, saved it from collapse. They managed to restore the past glory of this forefather of the comic book industry - largely developed by American Jews after the Depression and reaching its heights in the '60s. Its new Twentieth Century Fox superhero movie (from which this game was a knockoff) is, despite disapproving reviews by critics, making money nevertheless. The thin story in the game and film, which has been somewhat updated for contemporary audiences, revolves around three men and one woman who go on a space flight and are accidentally hit by cosmic rays that change their genetic makeup and give them unusual powers: Johnny Storm, "The Human Torch," can burst into flame at will; Reed Richards, "Mr. Fantastic," can stretch his arms and legs as if they were made of rubber; Ben Grimm, "The Thing," becomes a monster in blue trousers who is made of rock; and Johnny's sister Sue Storm, "The Invisible Woman," can disappear into thin air and create protective force fields. Through 10 different missions whose environments range from a museum and space to a jungle and New York's Times Square, players capitalize on Reed's intelligence, Johnny's supernova fireballs, Sue's stealth and Ben's brute force to fight the enemy. The bad guys include Mr. Doom (whose body is made of metal and who can generate electricity); Mole Man (a fat and bald character with subterranean creatures at his beck and call); Annihilus (a winged figure with enough cosmic force to make him almost eternal); Puppetmaster (who creates objects from radioactive material); and Blastaar (a muscle man created from anti-matter who is incarcerated in a vault with other evil creatures). Dinosaurs, spiders and hooligans also get in your way. Two gamers can play against each other with keyboards or gamepads, or you can go into the multiplayer and collaborate with up to three others. You move linearly from one mission (each with several sub-missions) to another, alternating among the heroes or calling up several at once to constantly punch, block, jump or attack and accumulate power-up energy. Any of the Fantastic Four can throw objects, but The Thing is the only one who can use a vehicle or a traffic light as a weapon to pound his enemies. As the bad guys are routed, you rise to the next level and receive points that open doors to mini-games, puzzles or interviews with actors from the film. Two bonus missions are unlocked when you succeed at the higher levels of difficulty. Surprisingly, the game offers no authentic videoclips from the Hollywood movie but only computer-generated scenes. Although there's a variety of different environments, the action is repetitive because you're brawling, clobbering enemies (half a dozen simultaneously) and breaking things most of the time. Aside from quite-realistic facial expressions, the graphics quality is very ordinary and the sound variety only ho-hum. Fortunately, no bloodshed is visible, making the violence tame and unrealistic. Bored by the incessant slugging, when I passed through Times Square, my eyes focused on telephone booths. Perhaps, I thought, Clark Kent would change into his Superman costume and rescue me from the Fantastic Four.