Comic book games are a dime a dozen, but the good ones are a rare commodity. Out of every character out there though, Spider-Man has seen the most play time. From way back in the days of the Atari 2600 to last yearís Spider-Man 2, the games all range in quality and style. The web-head has been my favorite character ever since I started collecting comics back when I was 7, and I can honestly say that Ultimate Spider-Man is without a doubt, the greatest Spider-Man game ever.
If youíre an old school Amazing Spider-Man fan like I am, then you are probably wondering what all this Ultimate stuff is about. Back a while ago, Marvel decided to reinvent some of their series and twist some stuff around. The X-Men, and Fantastic Four have gotten the Ultimate treatment, and so did Spider-Man back in 2000. The series focuses on Peter Parker in a modern day time frame, but the twist is heís still in high school. Old favorites like the Beetle, Electro, Rhino, and Venom get reinvented as well with new origins, style, personality, etc.
Iíve only read a couple issues of the Ultimate Spider-Man comic, since I havenít ďseriouslyĒ collected comic books in years, but seeing as the web slinger is my favorite hero, and I loved Spider-Man 2 from Treyarch and Activision, I figured this one would be a no-brainer. I have to say, not only was I pleased with the game, but it is a Spider-Man fans wet dream come true. The game captures the look and feel of a comic book, brings back the Spider-Man 2 free roaming gameplay, AND lets you play as a deliciously evil Venom! If you are a fan of the Ultimate comic series, then you will be very pleased to know that Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley worked on the game. This means that it is true to the comic in every way possible, and for all intensive purposes, this is an animated graphic novel.
As I stated, the game uses virtually the same free-roaming engine from Spider-Man 2, meaning you can crawl your way to the highest building, and swing your way down to the lowest alley. New York is essentially your sandbox, and you can basically go anywhere and everywhere. The city seems to be a little smaller in Ultimate than in Spider-Man 2, and the disparity in height for skyscrapers seems to be a little less. There are still some tall buildings, but once you get to the top you realize that they arenít as gigantic. Free falling and swinging still brings a rush of comic geeky glee, but often times youíll bump into an invisible wall telling you that you canít get to that area yet, which gets kind of annoying.
Combat is a blast and bouncing from one foe to another harkens back to the comic pages when Spidey would take on a group of thugs. If you played Spider-Man 2, then you should know that the fighting feels vaguely similar, if not a little simplified in Ultimate. You can punch, kick, and throw, plus toss some webbing into the mix for some very stylish moves. Your combos start out humbly, but you will learn some new moves as you further the plot. The real fan with a heart of webbing will be bouncing around like a glorified pinball, leaping off of walls, hanging enemies up on lampposts, and generally playing hard to get. The system is a lot of fun, though itís a little too simple at times.
The gameplay is broken up into a couple of different sections. The main part of the game features Spider-Man swinging around the city saving innocent people, fighting gangs of thugs, and testing out his speed with races against the clock. You will be assigned certain goals that have to be met in order to bring about the next story sequence. That means youíll have to track down a ďraceĒ icon somewhere in the city and get a medal in order to further the plot. I didnít really mind it, but with the game set up this way, it did get irritating once in a while, especially when I had a hard time finding the right icon.
Once you complete your goals and are treated to a glorious cut scene, one of a few things will happen. Youíll either have a boss fight, have to save some civilians, or youíll need to chase someone around the city. The boss fights are pretty much great, though they vary dramatically in difficult. Essentially youíll have to just watch for a pattern and exploit it, but there are some great battles here. Chasing an enemy around the city proves to be a pain in the butt many times since it boils down to trial and error. Youíll need to learn their pattern or else theyíll be a mile away before you realize it and itíll be game over for you. Fortunately there is a waypoint indicator and a meter showing how close you are to them, but even so it still gets old pretty quickly.
When the story calls for it youíll also be able to step into the symbiotic shoes of Venom. He is similar to, but is also the anti, Spider-Man. He can leap tall buildings in a single bound, cling to walls and lash out into the distance for a web-like zip. Heís certainly not as graceful though and is essentially a walking tank with a long nasty reach. If walking around punching isnít necessarily your thing, then pick up a car and hurl it across the street.
Since I have never seen him in the Ultimate comic, this new Venom made an immediate impression with me. In the Amazing series, he always hated Parker, but didnít really want to hurt innocent people. Thatís no the case with Ultimateís Venom, and one of your first action as him is to ingest a young child for energy. You see, when heís low on energy you can grab innocent bystanders and suck them into your alien suit. This steals their life and adds it to your own. Itís important to do this often, especially during some boss fights where you might be taking a licking.
Thereís a lot to love about Ultimate Spider-Man, and it is without a doubt one of the most enjoyable comic book games I have ever played. Itís true to the comic style in every sense of the word and there are plenty of unlockable features to get around to if youíre a completist. I didnít think the web slingerís adventures could get a whole lot better than Spider-Man 2, but boy was I wrong.
If the gameplay doesnít get you, then the graphics will. Ultimate Spider-Man has some of the most amazing cel-shaded visuals that I have ever seen in an action title. The game uses a fantastic ink-like effect on everything and in every way possible it looks like a comic book that has come to life. This is particularly true when it comes to Venom, since his tendrils spring around with a fluidity and sentience all their own. The animation is very smooth and fast paced from start to finish, though the framerate can drop a little at times and makes things a tad sluggish.
New York is a thriving city with a lot of highly decorated buildings and trappings. The only problem is that once you get to the top of a tall skyscraper, looking down on the world below reveals some bland textures and few details. I can easily overlook all of these flaws though, thanks to the absolutely amazing cut scenes from the story progression. The plot plays out with animated comic panels and some of the best effects of this style I have ever seen. Characters leap from the pages, and the comic explodes with attitude and flair. Simply put, I fell in love, and so will you if youíre a comic geek like me.
Not only does Ultimate Spider-Man present a lot of great moments in its gameplay and graphics, but it sports one of the best casts of voice actors I have heard on a game in a very long time. Just about everyone that works on the game is an industry veteran, and there are some very surprising names that pop up. While playing, I had to stop when I heard the character Bolivar Trask speak. I was certain that it was John Billingsley (Star Trek Enterprise), and sure enough I was right.
The game also sports names like Brian George, Loren Lester, Tucker Smallwood, and Keith Szarabajka, all of whom youíve no doubt heard or seen on random TV shows from Seinfeld to Justice League. The music and sound effects are on par with the voiceovers as well, though many of the tunes here were hit or miss with me. Punches, explosions and crashing cars all sound great and really compliment the style of the game.
Ultimate Spider-Man is without a doubt, the best Spider-Man game that I have had the pleasure of spinning a web to. The gameplay is addictive and a blast, the voiceovers are amazing and the graphical style encompasses everything thatís great about the comic books. The presentation of the game is off the chart, but the real guilty pleasure here is taking control of Venom, eating civilians and hurling cars at mercenaries. There are a few minor annoyances such as the trial and error ďfollow meĒ segments, framerate issues, and invisible walls, but overall this is a fantastic game that Spider-Man fans will adore. Highly Recommended