System: PS2 (also Xbox, Gamecube)
It’s been a while since I’ve ventured into the realm of comic books. I used to collect them. Then I realized there were other things the money could be spent on (like videogames) and so I stopped buying them. I do know that since I’ve stopped buying both Marvel and DC have gone hogwild with new books and revisiting character history etc. Well, lets be honest they were doing it long before I even started. But my point is that some of the most popular books being sold right now are in Marvel’s Ultimate universe. Thus the name of this game, Ultimate Spider-Man. So how did this one do? Is it the ultimate game? Or the ultimate let down?
The story of the game focuses on both Spider-Man/Peter Parker and Venon/Eddie Brock. Actually to put it properly, it’s really the Ultimate version of Venom’s origin. In this universe Peter and Eddie’s dad were scientists who were working on a biochemical suit in order to help find a cure for cancer. The suit is deemed too dangerous and is stored away. Later Peter and Eddie find out about the suit and decide to steal it for some reason I’m not clear on. Peter breaks into the lab as Spidey and puts on on the suit. For a time he feels great and then the suit attempts to bond with him. He goes back to the lab, gets rid of the suit and goes about his business. Eddie finds out what Peter did and gets angry. He steals the suit for himself and thus begins the tale of Venom.
For myself, as this is my introduction to the Ultimate Universe, I have to say that I’m not exactly loving the changes they made. But this isn’t a review of the Ultimate universe. The story of the game is, when compared to the previous Spider-Man games, a bit of a let down. You play as both Peter and Eddie at points along the way, and this split actually takes away from the story. The story moves along but I felt like I was being dragged kicking and screaming.
I tried getting this for the Xbox first, but the dvd drive wasn’t having it, so I wound up getting the PS2 version instead. I expected to see a drop in the quality of graphics, and I was shocked when I started playing to see just how fantastic this game looks. The game is cel shaded, but more importantly it’s designed in the style of a comic book. So all of the presentation makes it feel as though it’s been taken directly from the pages of a comic. In game movies are done to resemble panels, with characters growing out of frame etc. It all makes for an exceptionally stylish package.
The city of New York is once again fully realized in game form, only now it too resembles it’s comic book form. Take what you saw in Spider-Man 2 and add some cel-shading. Not glaringly bad cel-shading, but instead imagine a comic artist has drawn the backgrounds of everywhere you go in the game. That’s pretty remarkable.
If the graphics are remarkable, then the sound is on the other side of the fence. Treyarch are kind of hamstrung here by the fact that their main character is only 15 years old in this universe, but the kid they got to play the character just isn’t very enjoyable to listen to. I’ll give him this much, he does his lines with feeling and such, but theres no way I want to be listening to someone just out of diapers. So that’s strike one. Strike two is on Venom’s side of the game. Warning, spoiler ahead. “Araraghhga”. There, I just spoiled about 4/5 of what you hear Venom say. Actually the rest of what you hear is Brock talking, and he’s almost as bad as Parker. The rest of the voice acting is actually pretty solid. From Silver Sable to Nick Fury to the baddies etc, the voices are all up to the task of carrying the game. So sad that the “stars” aren’t.
Music in the game is pretty solid. It’s not quite as good as previous Spider-Man games, but it’s not horrible either. The designers seemed to be going for a more hectic experience, so they ditched the symphony and stuffed in some guitar riffs. The result is nothing super impressive, but as I mentioned earlier it’s not horrible either.
The controls have been toned down from the previous effort. Gone is the option of purchasing new and interesting combos and then getting your head smacked because you can’t decide which one to use. Now you’ve got one kick one punch and one grab button, and these make up the vast majority of your combat experience. You also get a webbing button for Spidey, and a Super Jump for Venom, but the depth that was to be found in the last game has vanished, replaced by a style of combat that’s probably better suited to a hack and slash fighting game.
This being the Ultimate universe Venom doesn’t have the web shooting ability that normally comes from being Venom, but he does have the ability to use the tendrils of his suit to pull himself forward in a way similar to Spidey’s web-zip. He can, as I mentioned, also super jump. I’m talking leap tall buildings in a single bound type super jump. In fact I found the super-jumping to be much easier when in a rush than the tendrils actually.
I was actually disappointed in the gameplay. Firstly, the game is short. I finished the story element of the game in just over 8 hours. And I never race through games. Speaking of races, wow. I think the majority of this game could be described with one word. Chase. Everything you do involves a chase of some kind. Either it’s Spidey chasing down Venom or Venom chasing down Beetle etc, its nothing but one long chase. In fact it gets even worse, as there are times when it’s not just a chase it’s also an obstacle course. If you don’t have precise control of your web swinging and or jumping you will be doing these portions of the game more than a few times because thats what I wound up having to do, memorizing where various obstacles are and figuring out the best way around them in the shortest amount of time.
Web-swinging around New York was the best thing about Spider-Man 2, no doubt about it. That’s not really the case anymore in Ultimate. While you do get some of the feeling that was found in the last game, the feeling of absolute control, that if you smack into a building it’s your own fault and not the games, has been taken away. Even the way you move has been altered a bit. You could charge up your jump in the last game. Not any longer.
The one really unforgivable change in Ultimate Spider-Man is the camera. What before was maybe occasionally awkward in childhood has now fully bloomed into adulthood, meaning it’s a pain in the ass. Villains and other things move so quickly in the game the camera occasionally can’t keep up. This camera is especially bad with Venom, who with his strength can actually heave cars into the air at various targets. Attacking helicopters for example. The real problem is actually the lack of any really good targeting system. Yes you can target enemies using the right analog stick, but Treyarch left two entire shoulder buttons free. Are you telling me they couldn’t use one of them to target and another to switch targets? Is this the result of the game being on 3 types of joystick? The path of least resistance is not appreciated here.
It’s hard to describe the balance in this game. The switching of characters, with their different skill sets, means that you can be in one mode only to discover that you’re fighting the wrong style. I found this to be more noticeable when switching from Venom to Spider-Man, as the power is vastly different. This in addition to the fact that most of the game is one long chase, as I already ranted about. The bosses that you fight while Spidey usually wind up being quick strikes then fast retreats.
Each boss had a pattern. Find the pattern and move on to the next chase, I mean level. There was only one boss fight that I really enjoyed. Venom vs Elektro. It made you think and at the same time allowed you to completely total Times Square.
Like the previous game Ultimate Spider-Man takes the GTA approach to your friendly neighborhood arachnid. Treyarch have gone and addressed one of the bigger complaints about the previous game, which was the fact that there were really only 7 or so types of “random” events for Spidey to get involved in. They’ve addressed it not by adding more events, but instead by organizing them into different items on your list of things to do and making them more interesting. Fighting gangs of street thugs for example is now called a combat tour, and will involve you making a sweep of an area for any gang members in the area. You usually have to fight your way through 4 separate groups of enemies, with each being slightly harder than the last. Other things, like helping people who’ve lost their balance on rooftops etc are called city events. Both these two types of events, along with the races, are there for Spidey to do, both in moving the story mode along, and after you’ve completed the story.
The addition of Venom to the story also helps the replay along, as once the game is over you can choose to play as either hero/anti-hero in your free roaming of the city.
Replay Ability: 6/10
Any game that lets me put the beats to Wolverine is immediately going to earn a 10/10 and then force me to make it lose points along the way. The problem with this game is that it’s almost all style and no substance. The depth that was to be found in the last game is now gone, replaced by more style. It looks fantastic, but the play is not so much.
This is, I believe, the fifth game Activision has made based on Spider-Man. Spidey himself has appeared in a number of other games where he wasn’t the star. So the character himself is nothing new or original. The version of Spidey, along with the universe he appears in, is new and original to those of us who haven’t read the Ultimate comic books. Otherwise this is just a spruced up and dumbed down version of the game I played last year.
The game doesn’t really last long enough to be addictive. Yes you can continue playing after the story ends, running into gangs and nobodies, but unlike GTA, which added new and unique things to do in each successive version of the game, Ultimate Spider-Man does nothing new. In fact thanks to simplifying the gameplay they’ve actually removed some of the addictiveness, as you can no longer be a tourist, catching a chopper to Ellis Island and then going to Liberty Island. Except for allowing you to play as Venom. But since that’s not as fun as it could be due to targeting and camera issues, I can’t claim that’s terribly addictive either.
2 games running now where Spider-Man is able to swing around the city, doing whatever a spider can, and also not being able to do what a human can. That’s right, once again you can’t swim. Treyarch did do us a favor and drained the water in central park to the point where you can run around in it, but get anywhere near the rivers and go plop like a turd.
Replay Ability: 6/10
Short Attention Span Summary
Ultimate Spider-Man winds up being the Ultimate Rental. There is certainly enough here for a night of fun, maybe even a weekend if you decide to play on after the story ends, but unless you simply have to earn every secret costume or defeat every foe in the game, there’s no point in giving this game anything more than a rental.