Peter Parker, also known as Spider-Man, never asked to be a superhero. Most 15-year-olds have enough on their plate with homework, bullies, and problems involving the opposite sex. Parker has to deal with all of those in addition to swinging through New York City to protect the innocent. Itís too bad Aunt Mae still gives him a curfew.
Added to Peter Parkerís already stressful life is the loss of an old friend, Eddie Brock. Well, technically Eddie is still alive, only he has become the incredibly dangerous Venom. Taking place immediately after the Venom saga in the comic book series of the same name, Ultimate Spider-Man fills in the gap that the comics overlooked. Best of all, the story is shown through the eyes of both Spider-Man and Venom.
The guy getting socked is British. You can tell that because he’s wearing a Union Jack vest top.
Iím a die-hard fan of the comic series, and this is the most faithful comic book adaptation Iíve ever seen in a videogame. Comic veterans Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley both penned and illustrated Ultimate Spider-Man, so the characters are faithful to their original personalities and the dialogue is snappy. The incredibly slick cel-shaded graphics capture the look perfect. The stylish cutscenes make great use of comic frames, making each scene exciting. And unlike Spider-Man 2, the plot is actually cohesive, so itís easy to become absorbed in the storyline.
Though everything is faithful, I was disappointed that Aunt Mae and J. Jonah Jameson are only mentioned by name and never actually seen. Fortunately, an impressive cast of characters more than compensates. In addition to the lovely (and 15-year-old) Mary Jane, there is a ďfantasticĒ cameo by The Human Torch (awesome pun, I know), a boss battle against Wolverine, and a few other Spider-Man regulars are also included. Surprisingly enough, the voice acting for nearly everyone is spot-on.
It’s a busy life being a superhero.
The look of Ultimate Spider-Man wouldnít matter if the ďfeelĒ wasnít there. Luckily, controlling either Spider-Man or Venom makes for two distinct and enjoyable experiences. The free-roaming environment and controls for the wall crawler are similar to those in Spider-Man 2. This means that in order to web-sling there has to be an object nearby because the webs donít just stick to thin air. Web-slinging requires some grace and finesse, but itís all worthwhile when youíre swinging through Times Square and other stunning NYC landmarks.
The combat is also pretty much unchanged. Punch and kick combos are the main way of attacking, but Spider-Man has a couple other tricks up his sleeveÖor tights. He can use his web to tie-up enemies, and then he can either hang the baddie from a streetlamp or just toss him around into the wall. Itís all very simple, but it always seems like thereís a new combo to dish out damage.
The Korean animators make Spider-man and Venom do much disco dancing!
On the other hand, controlling Venom is a totally new experience. This hulking beast doesnít have any of the finesse that his archrival has. Instead, heís all about sheer power. Venom can hurl cars like they are footballs, and heís just as nasty with his fists and tentacle-like things. To gain health he sucks up hapless civilians or the enemies pursuing him and drains their energy. This is a far cry from that do-gooder, Peter Parker.
Although Venom canít exactly swing from building to building, he doesnít spend all of his time on the ground. He has the ability to leap skyscrapers in a single jump. It can be disorienting at times, but it makes stalking the city all the more fun. Like Spider-Man, he can also climb up the sides of buildings. As awesome as it is controlling Spidey, the Venom experience is so fresh and unique that it steals the show.
Controlling either character is exciting, but both suffer from the same camera problems. Things are more than adequate while just roaming around the city, but during boss battles the camera can go a little crazy. When locked on to someone the camera moves awkwardly, and when youíre by a wall itís sometimes impossible to see anything. The boss battles are chaotic enough without having to deal with poor camera angles.
“Hey buddy, I think you’ve got a faulty tail light!”
At least the random side-missions have been improved. As Spider-Man swings through the streets, these random missions pop up now and then. These usually involve beating up a couple muggers, bringing an accident victim to a hospital, or other similarly themed events. They can still be repetitive at times, but theyíre nowhere near as obnoxious as they were in Spider-Man 2. This is a huge relief since itís required to complete a set amount of side-missions in order to unlock the next stage that advances the plot.
Itís too bad that these main missions are so lackluster. Nearly every one of the Spider-Man stages involves an obnoxious chase through the city. These can be fun now and then, but the whole game starts to feel like one big chase after a certain point. If you get too far from the target itís game over. Never mind that you can sometimes still see the person youíre chasing when the mission fails. During one chase even Spider-Man vents at how repetitive these are, and that was only a third of the way through the game. To make things worse, the bad guy attacks some civilians during the chase, and itís up to Spider-Man to save the day. If any one of these innocents isnít saved in time itís game over. This is especially annoying after a difficult and lengthy chase. The Venom missions donít mess around as much. Here, youíre the one being chased by soldiers, hummers, and helicopters. You donít need to worry about those pesky civilians and abrupt mission failures.
“Should I call you Logan, or Weapon X?”
There isnít a whole lot of variety to the missions, but the worst part is that the game is only four hours long. Iíve seen movies almost that long, and they cost a whole lot less. I donít mind short games too often, but when something clocks in at four hours, thatís where I draw the line. There are plenty of unlockables, such as comic covers and costumes, but the emphasis seems to be quantity over quality. When the game is beaten you can switch between Spider-Man and Venom on the fly, but completing the remaining side missions only remains fun for so long.
Iíd be lying if I said I didnít love moments of Ultimate Spider-Man. The style and mood captures the spirit of the comics perfectly, and having two playable characters is a feature that turned out excellent. Itís a shame that stomping through the streets as Venom while devouring civilians canít make up for the repetitive missions and the appallingly short time it takes to beat the game. Even Uncle Ben would be a little disappointed.
Seven out of ten