When I first heard rumblings of a comic-based Spidey game following E3 2004, I was pretty psyched. I’ve always been a fan of the wall-crawler, and the movie-based titles have never really interested me much, so this seemed like the perfect video game adaptation for yours truly. Needless to say, after it received positive buzz at E3 2005, my anticipation grew ravenous. I counted down the days until I would have this game. And then, much like Christmas or a really good sneeze, it was gone just as fast as it had come.
The story alternates between putting you in the role of Peter Parker, web-head extraordinaire, and Eddie Brock, a childhood friend of Peter’s, whose fathers had worked together to create a special suit that would cure cancer. Unfortunately, the creation was unstable, and it had to be hidden. Now, years later, Eddie and Peter have found the suit, splitting it in half among the two of them.
Peter is at first overjoyed to find that the suit has tremendously augmented his powers as Spider-Man, but soon becomes fearful of the symbiotic armor – it feels… alive. Quickly getting rid of it, it’s found by none other than Eddie, and by bringing the two halves together, he becomes the classic villain, Venom.
Much like Spider-Man 2, Ultimate allows you to roam freely throughout the entirety of Manhattan as well as Queens as the one and only web-crawler. Littered throughout the city are races, secret tokens, combat tours (short levels consisting of beating up petty thugs), and the like. By gaining the right amount of rewards received after completing these side-levels, new story missions open up, having you fight as either Spidey or Venom.
Thankfully, the two fight very differently. Whereas Spider-Man is more nimble and can zip through the air by via webs, Venom cannot emit any such substance, and can only speed up his travel by leaping over whole buildings in a single bound. Also, as you may expect, Eddie is much stronger than Peter in his Venom form, although he’s a tad slower. Furthermore, since the symbiote needs energy to keep itself alive, it continually depletes Eddie’s health – you’ll need to absorb nearby citizens to keep yourself going.
Something you’ll find to be dreadfully obvious after playing Ultimate Spider-Man for a long period of time is that these missions are basically the same. With few exceptions, levels consist of you chasing after your target for a few minutes (falling too far behind means a Game Over), catching up and facing off in a regular melee-styled bout, and then fighting that enemy’s ultimate form / new trick. It keeps things pretty predictable. Even when an enemy is hard to take down, it isn’t because of advanced AI – they’re just being made frustratingly fast, strong, or otherwise cheap.
One of the problems I had with Spider-Man 2 was that, even though it featured a plethora of web-moves, none of it felt organic – I never really felt like I was Spider-Man. Ultimate fixes this by making the controls a lot more effective, although they’re still not perfect. The camera will sometimes get in the way when you’re turning a tight corner. It’s an especially frustrating bug (no pun intended) during races when precision is absolutely key.
The funny thing is, even with all of these gameplay imperfections, there’s a certain charm about Ultimate Spider-Man. Maybe it’s the fantastic visual style, which is probably the best comic adaptation I’ve ever seen, graphically. Character models look spectacular, and the environments are great in a simplistic sort of way. Maybe it’s the above-par voice acting that, while not comparing the movie cast’s renditions from Spider-Man 2, still get the job done without much trouble.
Whatever it is, even when I was frustrated at the lack of variety or bored with the repetitive side-missions, I was still compelled to go on, and that’s the marking of a solid game. Or, it would be, were it not for Ultimate Spider-Man’s most glaring flaw – play time. I took my time with it and still clocked out at less than eight hours after beating the final story mission. Treyarch added in a nice little bonus for players who finish the plot, though – Venom is playable during non-story missions, and so you’re completely free to go our on the prowl without having to worry about international mercenaries or government agents trying to kill you. Unless you don’t behave, though – once you absorb a set amount of people or cause a certain amount of damage, Johnny Law comes running your way and you’ll have to fight your way through their ranks, from simple police officers to the agents of Nick Fury himself.
Still, even with this extra thrown your way, there isn’t much incentive to continue playing – it simply feels old by the time you’ve completed the story mode. This is a good game for comic fans, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s simply too short to shell fifty bucks out for. Considering its miniscule length, it’s the perfect type of game for a rental. Head on over to Blockbuster to make the inner comic geek in you happy, just don’t expect a ton of variety or a particularly long experience.