Reviewed: October 23, 2005
Released: September 22, 2005
ďSpider-Man, Spider Man, does whatever a Spider can-Spider Man!Ē
Ahem, well, needless to say, I grew up surrounded by Spider ĖMan, comics, a horrible live action movie (omg ropes??!), tv series and a plethora of action figures. My favorite thing had to be the Amazing Spider-Man comic, very clean look, great characters etc. Now with the news that Marvel would start an alternate line called Ultimate Spider-Man, recasting venerable characters with different looks and alliances, I was ecstatic. And then I realized how dang expensive comics are these days.
Luckily, the people at Treyarch and Activision brought us this excellent title for multiple platforms. Seriously though, does Activision have Spider-Man stock? I recall back to the mid-90s with a lot of Spider-Man/Marvel games being produced by them, and it continues into the millennium. Bringing on talented USM creator Brian Michael Bendis to handle the storyline, as well as the pencil of Mark Bagely, it stays true to the series.
If you played the last few Spider-Man games, you should be right at home here. Ultimate Spider-Man uses a free roaming approach, mixing in random crime encounters, races, mini-games and the like, with a story driven central plot. Every so often, you will have to face a boss, or some other tough challenge, and itís old school with memorizing patterns.
Hidden throughout the levels are goodies, like comic covers, new costumes, character models and more. Sadly, the random encounters, from stopping getaway cars, to rescuing slippery footed construction workers, becomes plain boring after a few times, due mainly to lack of variety. Worse yet, you have to complete some of these in order to progress further into the story.
As a bonus, you will also get to throw-down as Spideyís nemesis-Venom. Spread out throughout the game, you will get to control Venom and wreak havoc upon the populace of NYC, as you flee from agentís of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury and Silver Sable. (Itís interesting to note that Nick Fury is African-American in this retelling, but he still has his eye patch!).
This Jekyll and Hyde mix of gameplay styles, from saving innocents in one passage, to tossing cars into crowded intersections, really helps spice up the gameplay. Unlike Spider-Man, Venomís costume is a living entity, that can spread out and form tendrils, pretty handy in wreaking havoc, and replenishing your health by snacking on people. I have to say though, compared to the Spidey levels, Venom doesnít really match up well, and it just seems too dumbed down. The levels wonít win any awards for creativity, and neither will the limited moves of Venom, but itís still solid fun.
The controls are pretty decent, but it seems like they still havenít captured the smoothness of the console version. Web swinging is especially static, and the physics just arenít as wild as past versions. The combat is intense as ever, though. I found the use of the mouse and keyboard as serviceable, but sometimes you may throw off your aim, as the mouse is tied into the camera control.
Thankfully, your arsenal of moves isnít as vast as past games, and essentially ďhe who masheth the mostest, winnneth.Ē I almost preferred to use the basic set-up over a controller, as anything outside a PS2 controller, with itís dual-analog-sticks-of-sexiness, just feels wonky. Enemies are pretty dumb, although in packs they may cause you some issues. I did find some of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents a bit tiring due to their overwhelming numbers at times, but overall you should be fine. And as I mentioned before, the boss battles are trial and error, and mastering your timing is key.
Wow. Talk about some sharp graphics. And totally unique too boot. At first, you may thinking it resembles the cell shaded XIII, but upon further inspection, its more of a supped up comic style, with bold, heavy outlines. Freedom Force and the classic Comix Zone (for Genesis) also come to mind as portraying a similar style. Itís basically like an interactive page of USM. Up close, they are very well detailed, costumes look sleek and intricate, as well as the surrounding buildings and whatnot.
The animations are equally amazing. You can tell Peter Parker isnít used to his powers yet, after all, he is just 15 years old in this retelling. He may look a bit awkward leaping and swinging around on occasion, and wildly flails at targets, much like a kid in a schoolyard brawl would. However, things get a tad murky at longer distance. This may be the fog technique, used to save CPU power, while still showing a good amount of detail up close-itís all about draw distance. Itís too bad too, because in Ultimate Spider-Man, you are web slinging along, staring at the horizon for a long time, only to be greeted by giant rectangles, instead of skyscrapers.
The game is a bit of a hog on the system, but if you can handle most of the mid-high end stuff these days, like Doom 3, Half Life-2, F.E.A.R. and the like, you should be fine.
With such a classic setting as the Big Apple (and Queens), there are still plenty of memorable areas to explore in this title. From the Fantasticís 4 Baxter Building, Empire State University, Dr. Strangeís House and a plethora of other hotspots. Treyarch also put together some sharp cut scenes, set-up like onscreen comics, that spring to life with action bouncing from panel to panel.
Normally I talk about the orchestral or sound effects first, but I really have to present arguably the best part of USM-the voice work. It starts with a solid collection of dialogue from Brian Michael Bendis, and shines with work from Sean Marquette, who plays the scrawny Peter Parker, and comes across well enough to not annoy- which is a tough thing to pull off, being such a wisecracker.
I always envisioned Spider-Man as being manlier, but of course, when I was reading the comics, he was in his 30s- not teens. The same can be said for the nasal pitch of Tobey Maguire, who makes a good fit overall, but I just canít stand his voice. Stan Lee, the creator of Spider-Man, and general comic GOD, was a genius for applying this aspect to our ďfriendly neighborhood Spidey.Ē Think how different he would be if he was more serious, or even brutal, a la the Punisher. Kudos to you Stan Lee, an all who came before, and after. Other voices include Bolivar Trask, Electro and many other recognizable folks from the Marvel universe.
Couple this with the excellent kapows!, whams! , grunts and general ambience of NYC, and you have a stellar collection of sound.
While running around the city, looking for all the hidden gems, may appeal to some, I for one could care less. And if your like me and donít care for treasure hunts, then this game may disappoint you, as it is pretty brief, if fun, romp through NYC with Spidey and Venom. It takes about a day or two of moderate play to beat. Online play would have been neat, maybe a versus mode with playable characters seen throughout the game, but alas, there is no such luck.
Ultimate Spider-Man is a great addition from Treyarch and Activision, one that combines dazzling graphics, rambunctious gameplay, and an intriguing story that does justice for this Marvel icon Did I mention itís $30? Yeah, that ainít so bad eitherÖ. Overall, you canít really go wrong with the Ďol web-slinger, so snag a copy wherever games are sold. However, due to the shortness, the sub-par Venom levels, and the distracting controls, many fans may question how ďUltimateĒ this game truly is.