Ever played the Spider-Man 2 game of the movie? Of course you have, because everybody has. It was the latest in the endless parade of licensed games which were all but guaranteed best-sellers. But amongst the sludge that is churned out by the industry every year, there's always the one gem. Spider 2 was that gem: it's badly put together, the combat is repetitive to the max, the boss battles mediocre, and the acting average, but one thing is great: the swinging. You cruise through the city, making use of a near-perfect system for movement that is both easy to pick up and hard to master, meaning that just buggering about in the central hub was far more fun than actually playing through the story. It is rare that a single feature can save a title, but Spider 2 manages it.
Following in this surprisingly pretty good effort's footsteps is Ultimate Spider-Man, an adaptation of the alternate reality comic of the same name. Once again developed by Treyarch, the game inevitably shares many of its genes with the company's previous effort.
The first thing that jumped to my attention was the lovely cell-shading that envelops the entire experience, coupled with the genius use of panels like in a comic, which sees such moments as when characters jump to dodge an attack, fly out of a panel and land in another. It looks supremely stylish.
Less great, any veterans of Spider 2 will doubtless spend the best part of a half-hour struggling to get used to the unnecessarily altered control setup: whereas before one had to swing with R2, before pressing X to release and then fire another webline, the new game just requires holding and releasing R2 to move around. Some people prefer this, others don't, and I fall neatly into the latter category. It feels different to what I got so used to less than a year earlier, and therefore earns a good shunning from me. Still, a single nice addition comes with the ability to climb up a webline by holding triangle, which is a nice way of gaining some quick height. The worst part? The button layout is fixed, ergo completely uneditable. Grr.
Despite the flaws, I adjusted and enjoyed zipping about the (slightly smaller than before) city to a fair degree.
More problematic is the combat: to date, no Spider-Man game seems to have possessed a truly 'good' fighting system, and Spider 2's was competent at best, but Ultimate takes a step backwards. While less overflowing with pointless combos and more weightier-feeling, beating thugs up is simply a chore, made worse by the maddening requirement of webbing foes up either just before or after delivering the final blow. A minor annoyance, but absolutely essential, because the bastards keep getting back up otherwise.
An interesting mechanic is the fact that switching between kicking and punching (triangle and square) does extra damage, which is a big help during the game's many boss fights.
On the subject of boss fights, this is another adventure that is mysteriously spent witling away at massive life bars for half its duration. The brawls in question are almost all enjoyable, and display at least some level of development competence, although very similar repeated encounters can drag on.
The music is pleasantly acceptable, being a mix between funkiness for general work and orchestral epicness during the critical story battles. It's not that exceptional, but the main menu tune is pretty catchy, and sure as hell got stuck in my head a while. Why, there it is now....actually, that's bothering me....
The plot is based on the comics (nah, really?), and presented with gusto, through use of the nicey-nice cutscenes and generally hunky-dory acting. It's a combination of cartoonish silliness and grim seriousness, but makes for a more compelling watch than the awkward romances of the films, at least.
Highlighted amongst this are Spider-Man's trademark quips, which flow from his mouth during every cutscene and every clash. While it is all very much hit-and-miss, the majority of his comments are grin-inducing, although I can assure you that your sides are unlikely to split.
So far, I've made it sound a lot like Ultimate is just a prettier, more technically impressive version of its spiritual predecessor. While that is partly true, the most interesting aspect of the game is the supposed arch-villain and second playable character Venom, who was much-hyped, deservedly.
In contrast to Spidey's nimble acrobatics, Venom lumbers through the city like the beast he is, and jumps colossal distances rather than swinging, although his tentacles act as a comparable tool to the Spider's web-zip, and are used to move forward at speed.
Along with those extremities, the big purple dude slashes with his claws, punches, kicks, faceplants people, throws cars around, breaks the backs of slow-moving adversaries and even eats folks. By absorbing them into his body, Venom gains health (which constantly dwindles), before spewing the victim out. I checked, and they are clearly breathing, sadly. Still, broken backs are less easily remedied, eh? At the very least, there are now far more paraplegics in the world. Also, I count having THAT tongue as a superpower.
Back on the topic of Venom, he is so much more preferable to Spider-Man that the game became a case of slogging through until the next section where he was available. Typically, these bits are considerably fewer and less lengthy. Well, if that ain't just peachy. But not to worry, fans of evil teeth-and-tentacle monsters; if you manage to beat the (easy, and short) main plot, you can play as Venom whenever you want, with no restrictions, and even partake in a destruction mini-game wherein you fight endless hordes of human resistance, with different levels of pain-bringing.
Venom's inclusion is reason enough to buy this, but by no means the only thing going for it. Definitely worth having.