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Reviewed: Ultimate Spider-Man
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: October 7th, 2005
Page: 2
Short recap on history: last summer, gamers were treated first to the movie Spider-Man 2, and then to the astonishingly well crafted video game from developer Treyarch. The Nintendo DS and PSP versions didn't hold up, but they're handheld consoles; we can forgive them.

Treyarch's next assignment from Activision was to take their engine and make a game based on Marvel's Ultimate Spider-Man series, which "re-imagines" the storyline, altering some of the history and making for a relatively fun time. So far, they've been interesting to read, and the art style's been well done throughout. In the timeline, Peter Parker (Spider-Man) and Eddie Brock (Venom) are childhood friends whose fathers were genetic researchers trying to cure cancer. Their solution was the Venom suit, which could regenerate body tissues and remove cancer, rebuilding healthy cells behind it.

Of course, "something went wrong"... and now Spider-Man's around the city while Eddie is running around wearing the Venom suit and eating people. Fun stuff.

So, Treyarch got to work. Despite the temptation to let characters be blocky models and hope cel-shading compensated, they opted instead for some high-end graphics. Visually, Ultimate Spider-Man is superb, rivaled by its predecessor but different enough in appearance that comparisons are going to come down to which art style players prefer rather than the raw visual beauty of either. They took the existing map from Spider-Man 2 and expanded it as well, giving players the entirety of the island as well as Queens, New York to play around in. Navigating by landmarks turns out to be just as easy in either game - that is to say, if you know where you're going and can get above the buildings, you'll have no problem getting there.

Storyline-wise, they kept close to the comic line, which is good, but way too short. Storyline missions consist mostly of either beating up on bosses or chasing them from point A to point B, followed by cutscenes and a switch of characters. Only as Spider-Man do players have freedom to explore the city, and as Venom the phrase "area unavailable" tends to pop up onscreen quite a bit. Added to this is the fact that there are 4-5 hours of story, padded by the requirement of doing in-city minimissions as Spider-Man. Here's where we take our first detour from the old engine: rather than being able to do whatever missions they want, players HAVE to complete a certain number of rescues (beating up purse snatchers, hospital calls, etc), a certain number of "combat tours" (read: travel in a straight line and beat up on thugs), a certain number of "races" (run a racecourse while fighting the game's camera), and locate a certain number of secret tokens before the next section of the storyline can be enjoyed. Not my idea of fun, and definitely not conducive to exploring the city and enjoying the scenery.

Control-wise, the game feels right and wrong all at once. The basic buttons are still there - punch, kick, jump, web, turbo - but the engine's been altered. Spider-Man lacks the ability to shoot web balls, and most of his major combo attacks. He can "bounce" off walls or bad guys, but his air combo attacks are gone too. As for web-slinging, despite how good it felt in Spider-Man 2, this game's got nothing on it. The jumping mechanics are replaced with a double jump, and swinging enemies is now limited to either pulling them in with webs and hitting them, or swinging them and immediately throwing them - no more swinging them around as weapons. Webs no longer latch onto any possible object, just buildings, which makes the fun of trying to swing through Central Park almost pointless.

Venom's controls are entertaining, reflecting his altered powers for the new universe. No more shooting webs for him; in this iteration, everything is done with black tentacles and brute strength. When he's climbing a wall, his claws are gashing in; instead of web-slinging, he can grab walls (briefly) with tentacles, or else execute Hulk-style leaps with the R trigger. Instead of kicking, he flails around with tentacles, hitting every enemy in the immediate area... and of course, random property damage and throwing vehicles is his strong suit. To make it even grittier, while Spider-man gets healed from finishing a fight and grabbing a healing token, Venom has to grab and suck energy away from people, literally pulling them inside the suit, and he absorbs far more energy from innocent bystanders than from his enemies. Sadly, while it's fun to play as Venom, too many of his missions revolve around chasing after (and staying in sight of) some enemy, and not really using his raw combat prowess to its fullest.

Overall, I'd say to rent Ultimate Spider-Man, finish it in a weekend, and be done with it. It's just not a keeper.

Added:  Friday, October 07, 2005
Reviewer:  Mike Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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