Vastly superior to Penultimate Spider-Man
Fri, 21 October 2005
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Along with Batman, Spidey is probably my favourite comic book character. He's easy to relate to, quite a humorous fellow and has an awesome look. The "Ultimate" version of the Spider-Man comics is a back to basics approach from Marvel that essentially relaunched the character with a fresh start and "modernized" the setting. Many Spider-Man fans love the Ultimate version, while others don't particularly care for it and prefer to stick with the classic line of comics. I do enjoy the Ultimate Spider-man books myself, so I had been eagerly anticipating this game. If you are unfamiliar with Ultimate Spider-Man's story, it follows the original comics fairly closely (and resembles the recent movies strongly as well) but has made some (relatively) mild changes to things and differences to how it portrays some of the characters.
The best qualities of this game are its presentation and story, which are executed well enough to make this an essential play for any Spidey lover. This is the most accurate job I've ever seen of capturing a comic book's look and style in a videogame. The game's story was done by comic author Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagely was heavily involved with the visuals (character design and so forth). So it all feels most authentic. The cel-shaded graphics look superb for the most part, especially close up during the cut-scenes and boss fights, where the game truly does appear like the old clichéd phrase "a comic book come to life". Activision and Treyarch (the developers) have dubbed their new cel-shading techniques "3D Comic Inking Technology" and the name certainly fits. The inking, shading and colour use on display here is all first-rate and totally in keeping with the source material.
The sound is worthy of praise too. The music is mostly fitting and suitable, though not all of the tunes were to my personal taste. The voice work however is terrific and way above average for a comic related game or the majority of games in general for that matter. All of the voices used suit the characters and the dialogue is exactly as it should be (I presume that's thanks in part to Bendis' writing as well).
The game is fun to play too, in case a silly little thing like that would be something you were wondering about. It varies though, some portions are rather dull and as a whole you could say Ultimate Spider-Man is repetitive. But during its best moments it feels like the greatest Spidey game yet. You spend almost equal time playing as Venom as you do playing as the web-head. This isn't the first title to feature a playable Venom, but it is the first one where using him feels noticeably and significantly different to playing as Spidey. The big black brute is far more than just window dressing here. The Venom character is also an integral part of the game's story.
|The bigger they are, the more it hurts when they step on you |
Both characters have numerous powers and skills and playing around with them all is one the most enjoyable aspects to the game. Spider-Man can cling to walls and swing from buildings, shoot enemies with his webs and he feels very fast and agile to use. Venom is more of a brute force character, so he gets to throw heavy objects at people, or simply pound them into dust. He can also leap enormous distances and 'absorb' people into himself, which regenerates his energy.
As well as the actual story missions, there are various side-quests, mainly consisting of checkpoint races (the highlight of this is when the Fantasic Four's Human Torch makes an appearance, to see if he can beat Spidey in a battle of speed), or beating up trouble making gangs of thugs. All these side quests follow the same patterns every time and are really rather uneventful, so they soon lose their appeal. This is unfortunate, because it turns out you have to complete certain amounts of them in between each story mission before you can access the next part of the 'real' game (so they aren't really side missions at all, I suppose). I assume this was done to ensure the game lasted a little bit longer, since the story only goes for so long, but it really feels forced.
The actual story missions are far more exciting and interesting, even though they also tend to be all of a similar nature. Here, as either Spidey or Venom, you mostly engage in battles with numerous foes, some of which it is great to see looking so cool (Wolverine and Green Goblin were a couple of my particular favourites). You're usually required to chase after them first by swinging (our bounding in Venom's case) from building to building as they try to get away. Like I said, there's still a lot of repetition, but it isn't as noticeable as the dull side-quests, since these sections a have a great over the top feel about them, they are mostly in keeping with the comic and fighting comic book villains is just plain fun.
I mentioned earlier that I figured they'd made some of the side-quests mandatory to extend the lifespan of the game. Problem is, even with them, the game is pretty short. Most regular gamers will be able to get through this in a few days, tops. So, if you're after an epic or something that'll last you for ages, Ultimate Spider-Man probably shouldn't be at the top of your list. It could be reasonably argued that there's not a great deal of value for money on offer. You could stretch it out a bit longer, if you really wanted to; once you finish the story mode, you can continue to play and go through all of the bonus missions that remain. But, since they are the dullest part of the game, I can't see too many people bothering. Even though it enables you to unlock various extra items, none of them are particularly worthwhile.
Speaking for myself though, this was one of those rare occasions where I didn't mind the game's short length. Actually, I believe it works in its favour. I know that probably sounds crazy, so I'll try to explain my reasoning. This is the video game equivalent of a superhero comic, in more ways than one. To be good it doesn't necessarily have to take you ages to go through, it just needs the right look and engaging characters. It needs to provide you with some cool situations and action that couldn't happen in the real world. And, it needs to have a story that is fun and engaging to follow, even if it is a short lived experience. I believe Ultimate Spider-Man hits those marks dead on and is the epitome of "fun while it lasts" (in a far less negative sense than usual).
Also, the gameplay is the kind that likely wouldn't keep player interest if you stretched it out for too long. As it stands it is a blast to play (for the most part), you really care to see what happens next, you get to the end and then it is over. But if you come back to it in a month or so, you'll likely find it very enjoyable to give it another run through. That's exactly how I feel about many superhero comics too, so (for once) you won't hear me complaining about this game being too short.
|Spidey is just jealous because chicks dig Venom's tongue |
Is this the best Spider-Man game yet? Well, I've played dozens of them, dating back to the original GameBoy (and probably NES, though I can't recall playing one on that) and I'd say that this is my favourite of them all. But, technically, this probably isn't the best. I'd say the last Activision published Spidey title- Spider-Man 2 - probably offered a bit more balance and has more wide-spread appeal. But this one is especially great for fans of the comics and that's what allowed it to work so well for me. I wouldn't hesistate in recommending the game to fellow comic book lovers. For those who only have a passing interest in Spider-Man (or none at all) and just want to play a cool action game, you should rent this one.
There are versions of this game available for Xbox, Gamecube and PC, all of which are pretty much the same as the PS2 one. There are also versions for Gameboy Advance and Nintendo DS, which are quite different (I'm told the DS version is pretty good).
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I loved this game. It has some serious flaws, but none of them bothered me. It is a must for Spidey fans, but others ought to reduce my score to about a 7