Ultimate Spider-Man Review

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Publisher: Activision
Developer: Treyarch

Platforms: Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube, PC, DS, GBA
Reviewed on Xbox

"The Venom suit was designed by Doctors Richard Parker and Edward Brock in an attempt to develop a cure for cancer.

Recently, their sons Peter Parker and Eddie Brock, Jr. discovered the final remaining sample of the Venom suit – and unleashed the nightmare of Venom.

When Eddie and the Venom suit vanished in a flash of electricity, Peter learned one fundamental rule of the super hero business: "If there's no corpse – the guy's alive."

Now, three months later, Peter Parker continues his double life as both high school student and Spider-Man. Unbeknownst to Peter, Venom is terrorizing the streets of New York once again."

Kyle Ackerman

Ultimate Spider-Man makes an amazing first impression, slowly disappointing over the course of play until you discover the ultimately adequate game that underlies the overall package.

All the Right Building Blocks

First, the good. The game really shines when it comes to the art and storytelling. Comic fans will swoon to learn that art follows the designs of Mark Bagley, and that the game was primarily written by Brian Michael Bendis. That works brilliantly. The art is in keeping with the "Ultimate" comics, with cut-scenes that so perfectly capture the multiple-frame feeling of a comic that passers-by will stop and stare. The world suffers slightly from the "lowest common denominator" problem of being a cross-platform title (with graphics appropriate for all), but the cel-shaded visuals make for a well-stylized cityscape, even if buildings awkwardly pop into existence in the distance.

The writing is marvelous. It helps that Bendis is so familiar with the characters, but the one-liners are in-character and so plentiful that they rarely repeat during normal play. And the dialog and story during cut-scenes should easily please comic fans.

The problem with Ultimate Spider-Man isn't the writing or the art. It's the game.

Ultimate Spider-Man plays as a mix of wide-open city, and a series of story missions. The world includes a version of New York City's Manhattan and parts of Queens. Spidey can swing acrobatically around the city, exploring both New York City and Marvel landmarks from the Queensboro Bridge to Stark Industries while racing, battling gangs, finding hidden tokens or just combating street crime and helping accident victims. By completing enough of these activities, story missions become available. In the story, you – as either Spider-Man or Venom – follow the tale of the Venom suit and related super-activities throughout the Big Apple.

Find a Better Balance Between Difficulty and Content

The story is too short and its missions are too hard, and that quickly turns an overpoweringly satisfying comic-book romp into a frustrating exercise in repetition. It's no surprise that a superhero-themed game is all about the boss battles. That's where the excitement is. But those boss battles are a lot harder than they should be for the average player. Worse yet, many of the sequences involving supervillains require long chases in which you pursue as either Spider-Man or Venom. These simply suck. It's not that there's anything wrong with a chase, it's that the chases are so unforgiving. In a massive 3D landscape, fall from the top of a tall building and you're suddenly out of range, as in the section where Venom chases Electro. Worse yet, in chases like when Spider-Man chases Goblin, it's not enough to stay in range, you have to follow exactly the right alleys or Spidey might miss a scripted sequence. Fall slightly short at any point, and the whole chase begins anew.

When you finally do battle with a super-villain, it becomes an exercise in frustration. Yes, the banter is witty and the art is perfect, but the battles just go on... and on... and on. Most gamers know the rule of threes. Bosses often require you to figure out their pattern and exploit it – usually three times. While recipes vary, that's usually enough times to make victory feel earned without being repetitive. Depending on your coordination and reflexes, winning a battle in Ultimate Spider-Man can take five to ten repetitions, meaning that you either need preternatural dexterity or to just restart often. Together with the chase irritations, instead of drawing casual gamers and comic fans into an amazingly entertaining game, Ultimate Spider-Man is frustrating and inaccessible.

The open city just complicates things. As optional activities, the races, gang fights, city crimes and token gathering are just fine. But they aren't actually optional. Instead, a certain number of each must be completed before you can play the next story mission. In total, the difficulty, irritating chases and difficult superhero showdowns all seem like an artificial effort to prolong the game. Without the repetition or required activities, the game would only last four to six hours. But Ultimate Spider-Man relies on inexcusable techniques to prolong the game. No one wants to spend 45 minutes on a four-minute chase sequence.

In Service to a Cell Phone

Other than those obvious problems, Ultimate Spider-Man has a lot going for it. Chases are often augmented by innocent civilians that are endangered by callous supervillains. When a billboard falls on a bystander, Spider-Man must free that person before continuing the chase. Venom, on the other hand, must constantly feed, feasting on pedestrians as he continues his rampage around the city. The many activities and random city crime are great ways to have a few minutes of fun while exploring the New York City landscape. They just should have remained optional.

Ultimate Spider-Man could have been something great with more (and a more accessible) story. Or it could have been an entertaining, if brief, diversion. Instead, in an effort to artificially extend its length, the game quickly changes from superb to irritating. And in a great game, I might have been able to overlook the conspicuously irritating Nokia ads throughout. As it is, they are simply another nuisance to throw on the pile.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on November 12, 2005 8:17 PM.

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