”If we do not find anything very pleasant, at least we shall find something new.”
As we continue our quest in search of adventure via the most unlikely media, we stumble upon a comic-based Activision release entitled Ultimate Spider-Man. While most readers know the basics of the Spider-Man story, one relatively unique and heavily marketed feature of this game sets it apart from the many other comic book hero titles of late. This game grants the player the all-too-rare opportunity of assuming both the perspective of the good guy, Spider-Man; and that of the bad guy, which in this case is Peter Parker’s arch enemy, Venom. At key moments along the storyline you switch roles and complete missions specific to your current point of view. While Spider-Man defends the helpless and protects the city, Venom destroys the landscape and feeds on the life energy of anyone who strays too close.
Ultimate Spider-Man uses the ever-popular free-roaming concept allowing our web-slinging hero to climb and swing his way across the vast flowing landscape that is New York and Manhattan. The controls that allow Spider-Man to swing his way through the city are refreshingly easy to master; given a bit of practice. Before long, you find yourself spending a great deal of time climbing skyscrapers, billboards, water towers and bridges seeking out the elusive tokens that allow Spider-Man to advance the storyline.
Bam! Smash! Whoosh! Crash!
You spend the majority of the game fighting crime as Spider-Man; however, Venom’s movement and combat controls are equally easy to employ. Where Spider-Man swings, Venom climbs. They can both jump from one rooftop to the next with overwhelming ease. You can interact with the walls and perform acrobatic jump attacks, but such moves are only eye candy entertainment and of little strategic value. Spider-Man uses his webslingers to entrap his foe before delivering a rather boringly redundant combination of punches and kicks to eventually render them unconscious. Be sure to web-wrap them when they’re down, or they’ll get back up and you will have to fight them again. Venom uses his tentacles in an equally boring blend of swipes and jabs, assuming he doesn’t grab his victim and suck them into his suit, draining them of their precious life force.
The game’s storyline is derived from the original Ultimate Spider-Man comics, and there are countless cameo appearances from Spidey’s friends and foes with unexpected surprises around every corner. Treyarch went as far as to hire the original series writer Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley to pick up where the comic left off and create an all-new graphic experience utilizing 3D Comic Ink Technology. Beautifully rendered scenes along with the clever use of inset comic strips and Spider-Man’s danger sense give you the impression of playing from within a comic universe. This game graphically mirrors the comic book experience with Ultimate precision, which means there had to be less of the minuscule graphic detail – but that is exactly as it should be.
Not so Ultimate after all
While the building swinging and combat becomes very monotonous, the story and related missions are well written. Unfortunately, the side missions at your disposal are primarily races in which you must swing from one side of town to the other faster than a rival super hero. Or worse yet, you must web your way from one building to another, checkpoint to checkpoint, in a beat the clock format. Yes, there are the occasional civilian-in-distress and street-thug thumping combat missions; but these distractions are few and far between considering the overwhelming number of tedious races.
The music was nothing special, you will find it to be average for a comic-action game. However, I spend little time listening to it as it often distracts from the background noises and sound effects. While there were no celebrity appearances, the voice-overs match the characters and the acting necessary for each scene. Lip synchronization doesn’t really apply when most of the characters wear masks covering their lips. Besides, this is a comic strip, consisting of both still-shots and action sequences, so who cares about lip-sync.
Your routine opponent is less than brilliant. However, a variety of strategic AI was used for the story bosses. For instance, when playing as Venom it is not wise to grab Wolverine and try to suck him into the suit – those blades are sharp. Each new level brings the need for new strategy, and different fighting tactics.
Key moment of the game: The first time Spider-Man faces Venom in open combat. The closer you get to him, the more your head hurts. What to do?
All in all, you will find the game fun for a while, but then it will be over in a rather short 10 hours. After learning to swing from building to building, and proving your merit by winning a few races, you will become very bored and ignore as many race missions as possible. Next, you try your hand at combat; only to find that there’s no competition if you keep wrapping your victims in web and hanging them from light posts. Likewise, as Venom, you will defeat overwhelming hordes of soldiers and helpless citizens by just slapping them down or sucking their life away. As for rescues, why do people keep getting stuck hanging from the sides of buildings anyway? Next, you’ll spend time exploring the vastness of the free-roaming city, seeking out landmarks (and a prize token for finding one). You might even climb and perch atop a few high-rise buildings, just so you can say you did it. Unless you are in need of a token to advance, you swiftly press through the storyline missions. There is little else that offers any challenge or variation.
Adventure, wherefore are thou?
Unfortunately, the only puzzles that must be solved in this game are deciding which combination of kick, punch, run, jump, and slap seems to work best against a particular boss character. Between your ‘spidey’ sense and the comic-strip narration there is little to be pondered. Strategy takes a minor role in combat, and could be replaced with random button pushing in some conflicts.
In summary, the game is very appealing to the eye, especially if you are a comic or super-hero enthusiast and the story mission offer a great deal of reward. Regrettably, the designers missed a golden opportunity to hide secret treasures amid the free-roaming setting. Side missions will make you weary and you won’t find the wonderful stealth missions or crawling on ceilings, which was prevalent in earlier Activision/Spider-Man titles. We must therefore classify Ultimate Spider-Man in the “must rent” category. Rent it, try it, beat it, and return it; there’s little use in replaying it.