Unlike the first two Spider-Man games from Treyarch, Ultimate Spider-Man is based not on a Spider-Man movie but on the similarly entitled comic book series, Ultimate Spider-Man. Much to my dismay, this series is a complete re-telling of the original Spider-Man story, created because of the negative reader reactions to the excessive amount of baggage Spider-Man had accrued. While this renewal had its strengths, it completely ruined the beauty of the original storyline involving Venom, one of Spider-Man?s most infamous enemies. In the original plotline, Spider-Man acquired a costume that could change its appearance at will, augment Spidey?s strength, and create its own webbing. Unfortunately, the suit turned out to be an alien parasite that caused violent psychosis in its hosts, so Spider-Man was forced to try and kill it. The suit did not die, however, but instead joined with Eddie Brock, a reporter whose reputation had recently been ruined by Peter Parker, Spider-Man?s alter ego. The two beings joined together in their hatred for Spider-Man and became Venom. In Ultimate Spider-Man the game, Eddie Brock and Peter Parker were best friends (nonsense) and the suit was a high tech gadget created by their fathers (also nonsense) that just sort of happened to make Eddie hate Spider-Man (total crap). My nerdy complaints aside, the story is well told, though somewhat convoluted, with a variety of seemingly unnecessary (though fun) comic book cameos.
Ultimate Spider-Man revolves around the Venom suit that, in this telling, can change its appearance and grants its wearer extraordinary strength. You play alternately as either Spider-Man or Venom, tracking down Venom or evading capture by a variety of forces depending on which character you control. While the controls for both Venom and Spidey are similar, there are certain distinct differences between them. Where Spider-Man web-swings, Venom takes huge, Hulk-like leaps and occasionally uses tendrils from the suit to hoist himself along. In terms of fighting, Venom?s superior strength is balanced out by Spider-Man?s agility and ?spider sense? (a warning of an imminent attack). Both characters can climb walls. Because Venom?s suit needs to be ?fed?, he has the ability to replenish his health from any enemy or passerby. This makes the Venom portions of the game rather easy since there?s usually plenty of ?food? to go around. One of the biggest problems in this game is the camera. The game has a weak lock-on button that will cause the camera to center on an enemy, but this is really only useful in boss fights since you?re usually fighting more than one enemy at a time and there?s no way to switch between targets. Again, the Zelda series solved this problem years ago, so Treyarch?s failure is inexcusable.
Visually, this game is a mixed bag. It?s clear that the animators wanted the game to look like the comic book it?s based on and it really works with the game?s characters. Spider-Man, Venom, the bosses, and even the NPC?s all look amazing and move beautifully. Unfortunately, the effect of this graphic style causes the buildings to look washed out and grainy. In a game that involves as much movement among buildings as this one does, this graphic faux pas is simply unacceptable, especially after Wind Waker created a flawlessly cel-shaded world two years ago. Fortunately, the movement between buildings is visually pleasing; swinging through buildings while following a giant fiery monster around Manhattan is quite a rush.
The gameplay in Ultimate Spider-Man really wants to be like that found in Grand Theft Auto (GTA). As Spider-Man, you wander about Manhattan and Queens looking for mission icons on a map ripped right out of, you guessed it, GTA. In order to gain access to a mission which furthers the story (a ?Story Mission?), you need to complete a certain number of smaller missions. The problem here is that, unlike in GTA, there are only a tiny handful of mission types: racing, fighting, and ?city events? (helping citizens stranded on rooftops or being mugged). With the exception of the occasional car chase, these missions can get pretty repetitive.
On a race mission, you must swing between checkpoints under a set amount of time. This type of mission works as a kind of training for segments of the game where you must follow enemies around the city. A fighting mission will have you take on various ?gangs? (groups of enemy NPC?s with specific kind of weapons) in sections of the city. While the web swinging is fun and the fighting engine is inoffensive, neither makes particularly compelling game elements; this is, to a large extent, this game?s Achilles heel since the story mode can be completed in about six hours.
The story missions are the high point of the gameplay because they combine various elements of the game with a spectacular boss fight. For instance, when The Rhino rampages through Manhattan, you must chase him through the city, save the people he has endangered, and then fight him one-on-one. Sequences like this are a blast to play because there?s context to your actions; you really feel like a super-hero. Hurrying around the city to beat the clock in a race mission or fighting a bunch of NPC clones just doesn?t have the same thrill, and reinforces the game?s main problem: there simply aren?t enough good parts. Like I said, the story mode of the game lasts about six hours ? not nearly enough to warrant a fifty-dollar admission ticket. There?s more to do after the story mission but it?s in the form of boring races and fighting. And frankly, the unlockable items aren?t really worth the aggravation.
The game also has a knack for non-sequiturs: too frequently, the game will show the player a sequence of objects that must be used to complete a task but without making it clear what needs to be done. One of the most glaring examples of this is in the fight with The Rhino; the game shows a crane and some wet cement, yet doesn?t explain how or when to use either item. It can be incredibly frustrating having to play a boss fight a couple of times over simply because the game didn?t explain itself well enough. Additionally, while heading towards a story point on the map, Spidey will say things like ?I really need to get to the Daily Bugle right now? or ?Aunt May is expecting me home for dinner?. However, upon arriving at the marked destination, the story will then switch to Venom running from the police and never again mention Spider-Man?s destination or its relevance. While this doesn?t really affect the gameplay, it detracts from the player?s immersion in the story.
In the end, the story mode of Ultimate Spider-Man and the incredible boss fights make it worth a rental. The repetition of missions and short length of the game do not justify a purchase.