Marvel pulled out a bit of a doozy when fishing around in its magic hat full of market-friendly buzzwords, to stick in front of its latest Spider-Man series. The 'Amazing', 'Essential' and 'Spectacular' prefixes all filled their roles as meaningless pieces of superlative, but surely naming its next franchise 'Ultimate Spider-Man' implies that this is the final and terminal retelling of the web-slinging hero's story.
It's more likely that the marketing types just thought the word sounded cool, ignoring trivial things like etymology and definitions. So here's the game of the new comic-book series, which is loosely based on the movie, which in turn is a bastardisation of the original comicbook series. Such a confusing circle of references leads us to this, a cel-shaded, comicbook styled, free-roaming romp around Manhattan as the lycra-laden arachnid.
Surprisingly, it's not bad - far better than the pathetic PC version of Spider-Man 2. The gameplay mainly involves swinging through busy streets (which is great fun, superbly animated and just looks cool), locating various tasks such as races and rescues, and doing everything a spider can. Complete enough tasks and you unlock the next episode of the story, which is told through clever XIII-style comic-book narrative. Of course, it's still a console game, so expect dodgy camera angles and even dodgier controls, but with a decent PC joypad this becomes well worth a spin for Spidey fans.
Download Ultimate Spider-Man
You won't have to wait until the next Spidey flick hits the big screen in 2007 to assume the role of the famous webslinger. Enter Ultimate Spider-Man, a fresh action-adventure title based on the Marvel comic of the same name. For those of us not into the mylar-bag scene, USM takes the familiar pantheon of Spider-Man characters and reimagines them both visually and narratively, remixing the well-known story of Peter Parker. And if you are into the comic, you're in luck: The game features a story and dialogue written by renowned Ultimate Spider-Man comic scribe Brian Michael Bendis, and the plot fits into comic continuity right after the end of the Venom story line from issues #33 to #39. Which...uh, we hear were pretty good.
Like the previous titles based on the Spider-Man movies, USM unfolds in an open-ended, mission-based fashion-some tasks will advance the plot, while others simply allow you to zip around New York City spreading do-goodery. But this game sports a twist its film-derived cousins sorely lack: Venom. Yep, you can take the fan-favorite villain for a destructive stroll around New York City. You'll be consuming pedestrians, throwing cars, and generally wreaking havoc as this otherworldly antihero. Cue the player-controlled death-tentacles choking Aunt May.
How was it? I can't comment on USM without first tackling its graphics--the game employs the same underlying engine from Spider-Man 2, but with a new comicbook-inspired visual style. I was admittedly skeptical at first, as I didn't want this to turn into a cartoony game for tots. Thankfully, my fears were unfounded: The visuals really look like Mark Bagley's comic illustrations, but in fluid 3D motion. Also, the art team deftly dodges the pitfalls of other cartoon-style games by giving the characters more detail and shadowing to prevent the "flat" look. Expect a parade of copycat comic-book games in its wake.... Here, Spider-Man controls a little differently than you might expect. Remember, he's only 15 years old in the Ultimate universe, so he hasn't quite perfected his fighting chops yet. So, combat this time around is more about engaging multiple targets by bouncing between them. Rather than beating up one enemy before moving to the next, it's better to give one guy a few punches, jump-kick another dude, and then score a few hits on a third enemy before finishing off the first guy. It's a bit chaotic, but I was able to get the hang of it after a few minutes. I also noticed that the developers have switched back to the infinite web-swinging of the first movie-based game. While this lacks the realism of Spider-Man 2's building-to-building gliding, it does make getting around the metropolis a tad easier.
Playing as Spidey felt fine, if a bit predictable.... I was much more psyched to control Venom. My hands-on time didn't disappoint. He doesn't have the Superball agility of Spider-Man, but he makes up for it in strength. Venom is a brawler and uses his symbiote tentacles to lash and grab his enemies, making for a much more brutal experience. Plus, he's not grounded--swinging with his suit's tentacles gets him nearly anywhere Spidey can go. Venom's suit also constantly drains his health, even when he's standing still, so to stay alive, you must prey on the citizens of New York by absorbing them into the suit. Of course, you can also suck life from other superheroes...or villains.
"When we started this project, I made a list of things I thought we absolutely could not do in the game, like having a boss fight between two villains in the middle of Times Square," said Director Brian Reed "Well, we're doing those things." I played through this particular boss battle, a pivotal duel between Venom and Electro, and it was like the climactic scene in a summer movie extravaganza, much exploding, many people fleeing, and a lot of satisfying property damage.
Spider-Man fans and gamers rejoice! Finally, a straight up, down-and-dirty, rock-em' sock em' Spider-man game has become available for the DS and this time it gets the thumbs up from this reviewer. As a fan of the comic book and defender of all things cheesy, Spider-man gets a fantastic makeover in this comic book (literally) game on the DS.
Now I said it before, of all the superheroes out there, Spider-man seems to get the best games. Some have been so-so, but still light years ahead of the competition. Well this time Activision released Ultimate Spider-man on darn near every system and it is doing well by the reviewers. Basing itself in the Ultimate Spider-man universe, the game comes at you in comic book style frames as the story unfolds. Peter Parker, having already been given his powers, roams the city in 2-D action, rescuing people and taking on bad guys. The levels are varied enough so that repeat play is a must.
The big addition to the game is that you spend half the time playing as Venom, Spider-man's most harried rival. Playing as Venom brings the game in a whole other direction since he has more decidedly evil ways in dealing with the opponents that he faces. The fact that you are forced to play as both characters makes the experience better-rounded and there are even points in the game where you make choices that send you one direction or the other.
The basic game controls are easy enough to pick up and in no time you will be putting out fires and carrying people to safety, not to mention knocking people on their duffs as you dole out two-fisted justice on the mean streets of New York.
The touch screen that the DS is most popular for is used in a stable more even handed way, even though it clearly is more fun playing as venom when using it. The touch screen dynamic is just more effectively used with his tentacle grabs and attacks.
Even though the game is quality play, the sad fact is the audio is not sufficient enough for the level of action that is delivered. Special effect noises seem thin and not beefy enough for all that heavy action that's clipping by at 60 FPS.
But when all is said and done, Ultimate Spider-man has enough surprises and innovative gameplay to warrant a purchase. The comic book quality graphics and spot on story telling are the icing on an already fun to play, easy to control game.
Spider-Man has seen a huge boost in popularity since its recent big screen appearances and movie success often immediately drives game production. Unfortunately many developers try to sell the license more then the game, leaving much to be desired. Spider-man has avoided this to date with surprisingly strong showings in the last two releases. The latest Spider-man game, Ultimate Spider-man however is following a different formula then its predecessors, shifting the focus from the movies to comic books.
Ultimate Spider-man has a totally new feel from the previous releases, closely tracking to the poplar comic book series of the same name. Activision was able to bring the comic books to life, paying close attention to story lines, bringing in many familiar heroes and enemies, and allowing both Spider-man and Venom to be playable. The whole game looks like it came out of a comic book from the graphics, to the audio, to the presentation. It definitely takes the essence of the series and accurately recreates it.
The odd thing is the strengths and weaknesses of the last Spider-man games seemed to be switched in this one. You would think that they would take what works and change what didn't quite meet expectations. Probably the most obvious example of this is the story-line and web slinging through the city. In Ultimate Spider-man, unlike the recent Spider-man games, the story line is fantastic bringing in many plot lines and even different perspectives, but the web slinging through the city just isn't the same. It's not bad, but that smooth lighter then air feel isn't there anymore. The rest of the gameplay is of a similar quality, which isn't revolutionary but the rest of the experience overwhelms it.
Basically, Spider-man fans are going to get plenty from this as it brings you right into the Ultimate Spider-man universe. The graphics are solid and set the right tone, the story line will keep you playing to the end, and the gameplay will keep your Spidey sense tingling.