Review: Ultimate Spider-Man

So you’re picking through old games at the local shop, or you’re clicking through the bargain pages of a web site.  Either way, you come across Ultimate Spider-Man (the version discussed here is for the PS2 and X-Box; I think the PC and GameCube versions are the same, and I’m pretty confident the DS version is not, but I’m not totally sure), and you’re pondering picking it up.  Sure, you can go off reviews written when the game was new—but what was hip as newly-minted Frisbees then may be trifling better than ten-year-old Spackle now.  So how’s one to know?  That’s what I’m here for.

Before we break it down, one of the most fundamental things to understand about Ultimate Spider-Man is that in nearly every way, it is different than its predecessor, Spider-Man 2.  In fact, almost every specific element had been created to be nearly exactly the opposite from its predecessor.  So if you disliked a certain element in the previous game, you should like it, here.  Conversely, though, if you really liked a certain element in the last game, you might not like it here.  As such, there will be a lot of comparisons between the two games.

Further, in the recent Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, the Ultimate version of Spidey was again brought out, so there will be a few comparisons between his Ultimate and Shattered Dimensions outings.

Game Play
Something to be said first and foremost—if you’ve played the Ultimate levels in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, they won’t help much here.  The movement is somewhat different, especially the web-swinging, though there are certain elements that seem similar at first glance.  It won’t be too terribly difficult to get into if coming from Shattered Dimensions, however, since things like the double-jump seem similar, so if you’re coming to this from that one, it shouldn’t over all require a huge mental reconfiguration.

On the other hand, going from Shattered Dimensions to Ultimate isn’t as huge a mental leap as going from its direct predecessor to it.  The movement and swinging are so different, you’ll find yourself trying to move like you would in Spider-Man 2, which would either have no effect here or would have a deleterious effect.

When you pop in the game for the first time, you’re treated to something like a boiled-down version of Ultimate Spider-Man’s history.  When the game finally lets you have control over the eponymous web-slinger, it’s in a battle with the Ultimate version of Venom.  From there you leap, kick, and punch, so on and so on, working through a few miniature tutorial stages until Venom is taken care of and you go about your merry way.  On the way back to Aunt May’s house you’re treated to another tutorial (along with a few choice quips by the web-head) of Spider-Man’s basic abilities, and once you leave the house again you get to start web-swinging.

This is one of the biggest differences from Spider-Man 2, and can be a sore spot, really.  If you played the second movie-based Spider-Man game, well—this web-swinging really isn’t anything like the default in that one.  It’s similar to the simplistic style from that game, but if you, like many other players, became comfortable with the default web-slinging setting, this many come as a bit of a shock.  For one thing, Spidey can now only swing on one web-line at a time.  So no more holding a line in each hand, no cannon ball, et cetera.  Secondly, the swinging feels somehow “slower” than the previous game, even when comparing Ultimate to pre-upgraded Spider-Man 2.  It just feels more sluggish, even a bit “choppy”, to swing and jump, swing and jump.

Similar to the previous installment, there’s a “boost” button (moved now from a shoulder button to a face button), but I, personally, never got the hang of it.  The “boosts” seem to be random, even though I would swear up and down I was hitting the button at the same times.  Even trying to time when to press the button didn’t seem to have a noticeable effect on it.  As of this writing, I’ve clocked nearly two hundred hours on the game—and the swinging doesn’t get better.  It’s not something you “get used to”.

Another interesting feature is that Spidey can, now, climb his web with another face button.  This would be more interesting if it didn’t feel totally needed.  It seems that if one were to simply swing, one would list downward—streetward, as it were.  So, climbing the web (and attempts at using the boost) are pretty much necessary to stay even or ascend.  In the previous game, swinging felt more organic.  Gaining or losing altitude was simply a matter of when you jumped off of the web-line and where you tossed out a new one; it was fluid, dynamic.  Here, there’s a steady “drift” toward the ground, meaning you have to constantly climb the web.  It’s so prevalent that it becomes second nature.  Jump, shoot a web-line, climb; jump, shoot a web-line, climb.

There also isn’t really anything to do in the air.  In the previous game, you had Air Tricks, and you could slide on buildings, or run on the walls, and so on—but not here.  Technically, the only things missing are the Air Tricks, but everything else—they may as well be removed.  There’s really no more skill in the wall-running; you run for a few steps then automatically start crawling; if you want to jump off while running, it requires an incredibly quick button-mash from the grab to the jump.

As for sliding, you don’t.  There’s no collision animation relating to it, so when you’re falling pressed against the building, it’s really no different than if you’re falling a block away from anything.  Even the wall-jumping is toned down—like the rest of it, it feels sluggish.  Going directly from Spider-Man 2 to this one, there’s the constant sense of wanting to hurry up, wanting to be more fluid.  That want is never really fulfilled, however.

Another interesting game-play mechanic difference is in jumping mechanics.  In the previous installation, you held the jump button which “charged” your jump, and when you released it, how high or far was based on how long you held it down.  Here, you press it once, he jumps.  Press it again—at any time while he’s in the air—and he jumps again.  I really don’t know what to think of it.  It certainly comes in handy, but it feels a bit like it’s just there so players have an easier time (which isn’t inherently a bad thing).  This means you can, say, jump off the Empire State Building, wait until you’ve plummeted almost to the ground, and jump again at the last second.  It works well enough, but it takes something away from the game-play.

The last interesting addition—that’s “interesting”, not necessarily “good”—is a series of mini-games.  Basically, you have to fight off Venom’s attempts at eating you, or push a car off of a civilian, or whatever else, so you have to mash the shoulder buttons to move a pointer along a meter.  At the time, the players were more or less divided on how easy that was to accomplish; basically, you’re pulling triggers insanely fast—but also watching where the pointer on the meter is.  At some times, you have to keep it in the middle, at others you have to bury it at the other end—and it can even switch up midway.

I could never do it as intended.  I always have to switch the controller around so I’m mashing the triggers with my thumbs.  Thankfully, this is easier on the PS2 than the X-box, but it still seems ill-fitting.  Even since then, as far as I’m aware there haven’t been such mini-games in Spider-Man games, so there isn’t much precedent.  Oh, to be sure, there are button-mashing events, but that’s usually only one button, and almost, if not, always a face button.  Mashing the triggers seems to be more fake difficulty than something meant to really challenge the player.

You also have random missions you can come across (called City Events, now), and they did away with the citizen-given missions from the previous game.  Unlike some games you may find currently, there isn’t really a huge assortment of these City Events.  In fact, they’re really the same as before.  However, the interesting thing is that Treyarch (the company who made the game) did some mixing and matching.  In Spider-Man 2 you’d have someone hanging from a ledge, or two gangs shooting it out, or someone needing to go to the hospital, or a purse-snatching, and so on.

In Ultimate Spider-Man, you may have someone who needs to go to the hospital in the middle of some thugs, or two people needing to go to the hospital, or a person hanging from a ledge while a few goons taunt them, and so on.  Mixing them up keeps away a sense of boring repetition, and, personally, I was glad they did away with the citizen-given missions.  Made a little more sense for Spidey to come across something that needed to be dealt with rather than so often being told about it, but there, too, your mileage may well vary.

One way in which Ultimate definitely outshines its predecessor is the combat.  It definitely feels more Spidey-like, while retaining its user-friendly simplicity.  On the one hand, you now have one button for punches and another for kicks, but it never really feels like you absolutely have to figure out a ton of different combos.  If anything, it lets you get away with a bit more button-mashing, which lets the game be a bit more accessible.  As long as you remember to jump now and then and push the movement stick toward a wall to bounce off of it and attack an enemy, you really shouldn’t have any problems.

A few things done away with—no more Spidey Reflexes (their name for the Bullet Time effect), and the concept of Hero Points.  Now you upgrade, say, your swinging speed by doing races, and your health by beating up thugs on “Combat Tours” (where you beat up a few punks at one location, go to another to beat up a few more; repeat a few times).

Speaking of combat, as mentioned before you have a “punch” button separate from the “kick” button, and you can mix-and-match them for combos.  Unlike the previous game, you don’t really gain combos.  You have them from the start.  There aren’t many, though; they’re really just variations on the “punch/kick” theme.

That said, what does mix things up is that it feels more Spider-Man-like.  For one thing, you can bounce off walls more easily just by pushing the stick toward the wall and hitting an attack button.  Doing that makes Spider-Man jump toward and rebound off the wall (or car, or telephone pole), to leap toward the enemy fist- or foot-first.  It’s not a complex system by any stretch, but it’s different enough to where if you’re hopping right into it from another Spider-Man game, it may well take you by surprise.  It’s deeper than it sounds like without requiring the player to memorize much besides which button is for punches and which button is for kicks.

Thinking about buttons, there’s no button for “dodging”.  In the previous game, you could dodge attacks by hitting the Dodge button—here, you just jump.  It works well enough, one supposes, but I have to wonder about the reason behind that change.  It just feels “off” to have to jump to avoid attacks, when it would be more Spidey-like to twist around, contorting himself to avoid attacks.  The loss of an actual Dodge ability is noticed; the game isn’t harder for it, just different.  I think it loses something in that difference.

Oddly enough, whereas the web-swinging was clearly the focus point of the previous game, here it seems to have, if perhaps not really taken a back seat, at least not been the aspect the player was meant to focus on.  For one thing, as mentioned previously, there isn’t even any collision animation when one jumps and smacks into a wall.  If you jump off of it, there’s animation for that, but not for the initial smack-and-slide.  For another, as mentioned previously, the entirety of the swinging mechanics are toned down, simplified.

Then there’s the token collecting.  In order to progress, you need to “unlock” the next story chapter by having so many race medals (thankfully it doesn’t matter what color; bronze works perfectly well), so many Combat Tours, so many City Events, and so many tokens.  Though there are different kinds of tokens (Secret, Cover, and Landmark), only the number matters for unlocking the next chapter.  They’re also pretty much out in the open; one can easily find more than enough to unlock every chapter with plenty to spare; the Cover tokens are downright everywhere, for example.  Even most of the Secret ones aren’t placed in really out-of-the-way places.  In the previous game, it could be difficult (to put it nicely) to find even half of the tokens scattered around the city, so it’s a pleasant difference to be able to stumble over most of them without even trying.

As for the story missions, none are all that hard; most are pattern-recognition fights or swinging around trying to stay on someone’s heinie, and in one case simply remembering to go in swinging and only stop rarely.  Really, they’re pretty easy.  All of this would actually lead me to believe that Ultimate Spider-Man was geared more toward younger audiences (which is certainly not a bad thing) if it weren’t for one thing—the confounded races.

The races are ranked by difficulty, and after you complete so many Easy ones, you race Johnny Storm.  Win and you get a speed upgrade plus the Medium difficulty for other races unlocked.  Rinse and repeat for Hard and Insane.  Some of the Medium ones will make you want to tear your hair out, and the Hard ones—ugh.

To be quite fair, you don’t need more than the first, maybe second speed upgrade to beat the story.  That said—wow.  The difficulty of the races combined with the comparable simplicity of Spidey’s movements (jump through this sphere, now wall-run through that one, then jump off the wall in that one, then land on this platform in the middle of nowhere—continue the platform-in-the-middle-of-nowhere-thing for quite a while—jump through forty-twelve more spheres…)—I can only wonder just how “fun” this is supposed to be.  Trying to do a Hard race half a dozen times in a row and still never coming closer than ten seconds away from the bronze ranking—is that fun?  Especially when it’s par for the course?

And that’s not even getting into Johnny Storm.  You race him here-and-there-and-back-again, and whomever is in the lead shouts humorous taunts to whoever is behind.  I really can’t recall many of them, however (though “Madam Web is faster than you, and I don’t even get the reference!” sticks out quite well), as I was too busy trying to not let Johnny Storm get ahead.  Trust me—if Johnny Storm ever gets ahead, you may as well give up and start the race over.  Further, keep an eye on his bar as you race (each racer has a bar that shows their progress along the “course”).  When he gets too far behind (and “too far behind”, here, means anything less than right behind your spandex-clad-tuchus, especially the later races) he’ll just jump ahead.  Remember those two hundred hours I mentioned?  Never have beaten the last Johnny Storm race.

All things considered, if it weren’t for the races, I’d honestly consider this more geared toward a younger player rather than a casual gamer, and even if that were true it wouldn’t be a bad thing, but with those races—wow.  I can imagine they wouldn’t be too hard for some people, but when this game was first published, numerous video game-related boards around the Internet were lit up, as the majority of players—even those who beat all the races, both Johnny’s and otherwise—had major complaints about them.  Does that really seem fun?

Switching things around, you can also play as Venom in certain missions, and free-roaming after completing the story.  In this version of the character—if you’ve played either The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, or the simply-titled Incredible Hulk (based on the movie starring Edward Norton), you’ll feel mostly right at home.  Venom leaps instead of swinging, and, thankfully, suffers no falling damage so you can jump off of as high a building as you like and land on the ground without worry.

That actually just helps make him feel like an ebony version of the Hulk, truth to tell.  He’s big, strong, and leaps insane distances, suffering no falling damage.  It seems like Treyarch wanted to give a character who wasn’t a clone (pardon the pun) of Spidey himself, but while the similarity to the Hulk can potentially be forgiven, one can’t help but wonder if there would have been a better way to make such a difference between playable characters.

Venom attacks with tentacles, so if you’ve played Shattered Dimensions you should feel somewhat comfortable, here, though there’s neither the same maneuverability nor variety of that later game.  Swipe-swipe-sweep while standing in place and a dual-whipping move while in mid-air are pretty much it.  It’s a drastic difference from Spider-Man, so it helps his missions feel more unique to him, instead of just the same sort of stuff Spidey would do with only a costume change.

Contrary to Spider-Man’s agility-based combat, Venom’s attacks have a definite sense of brutality, at least early in the game.  Your basic attacks are clawing maneuvers, or sweeps with tentacles.  However, there are also two grab maneuvers—you can grab an enemy then viciously face-plant them into the ground, or you can grab them and break their back.  Early on it’s as brutal as it sounds, but late in the game, when the enemies are more powerful, you can “break their back” and have them get right back up and start attacking you, so you’re rather left feeling that Venom is rather impotent.  He attacks an enemy quite viciously, but they get up as if all you did was insult their heritage.  The last missions especially, about all that was missing was an enemy getting up and dusting his shoulders off.

One last thing—the city is tiny.  Seriously.  It seems like this version of Manhattan is around a third to, at best, half the size of its Spider-Man 2 counterpart.  As such, even with the sluggish swinging, you can get from one end to the other in no time at all.  It looks fantastic, it does (more on that in the relevant section), but the small size makes for a more tedious experience.  You’ve already seen this or that block enough times to get sick of it by the time you finish the story, and a couple of “landmark” buildings are swung/jumped around more than once during the course of the story missions.

Written by Brian Michael Bendis, a prolific writer for Marvel, and Brian Reed, who wrote the dialogue for the Minority Report game before this, you know that the story is going to be interesting and very fitting to the Ultimate Spider-Man license.  Originally, this was supposed to be a canon story; it was supposed to be something Ultimate Peter and Eddie (his friend who became Venom) actually went through.  Then—it wasn’t, because of events afterward, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing.  The good thing is that the story was written and produced by people directly related to the comics, so the lines are solid, the settings are fitting, and the story is really good, canon or not.

The story is told in two parts, though the parts aren’t really even.  It mostly follows Peter, starting after he supposedly defeats Venom, then goes through some story elements that can best be described as Slice of Life, a day in the life of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.  Then weird things happen.

The other part of the story follows Eddie, after narrowly escaping Spider-Man and the police.  He’s hunted by different groups, as well as trying to come to terms with the suit living inside him.  It needs to feed constantly, and we’re not talking about a quick trip to a burger joint.

You have appearances by the Goblin, the Beetle, Rhino and others; then you have Mary Jane and Doctor Connors.  There are only mentions of Aunt May and J. Jonah Jameson (which is probably just as well, considering their appearances in Spider-Man 2…) this time around.  A few other appearances round out the surprisingly-large cast, all voice-acted very well.

The story really tries to get into Peter’s and Eddie’s heads, and makes good on that attempt mostly well.  It’s told quite well, also, with transitions taking place via comic book-like panels.  It really works better than it sounds.  It’s not over-done, keeping it sparse enough to be enjoyed.

The end of the story is—fitting.  It’s one of the best endings to a story in a video game I’ve seen for quite a while before, or pretty much ever since.  Finishing the story has the added benefit of giving you Venom to free-roam with, though there’ll be more on that in the Replayability section.

All in all, the story shouldn’t take you too long to complete.  I’d say five to seven hours, on average, though if you only sidetrack enough to unlock the next chapter you could have it done in as little as three or four hours.  It’s not a long story, but it’s an incredibly engaging one.

What a step-up from the previous installment.  Seriously.  The game as a whole has a sort of inked-looking cell-shading that makes it look like it was taken directly from the comic, which is a good thing.  Central Park has been filled with a few things such as the infamous Belvedere Castle, along with a baseball diamond and a playground.  The city looks more “alive”, and you can really feel the difference between, say, Harlem and Chinatown.

The characters all look and move pretty fantastic, with a level of fluidity not quite even seen in its predecessor.  Spidey himself twists and turns in the air quite wonderfully; he really looks like you would expect a teenager infused with spider-ish powers to move.  He has all of the fluidity that one would also expect from a Spider-Man.  They really did a great job on Ultimate Spidey; he’s not a towering, muscle-bound figure like his Shattered Dimensions counterpart, but more a wiry, short, poofy-haired teenager.

Venom has a nice air of a hulking brute but at times edges close into looking like an ebony Hulk.  There isn’t much of a feel of “weight” behind his attacks, though.  He’s a big, brutish thing, but doesn’t look like he’s much more massive than Spider-Man.  While that makes some sense, as Eddie Brock in the Ultimate universe is a rather lanky young man—Venom isn’t.  He looks like a walking tank, but doesn’t move like it.  Even knowing the probable reason “why”, it still causes a mental stumble now and again.

The downside is the size of Manhattan.  It’s—tiny.  Puny.  Minuscule.  It’s actually disappointing, especially when coming into it from Spider-Man 2.  There, you had a positively enormous city to run in, and when you climbed to the top of the Empire State Building, you could almost feel a real sense of vertigo as you looked around at the city laid out around you.

Here—it’s more like a toy.  You climb to the top of the Empire State Building (the second-tallest building this time around) and look down—and it almost looks like you’re maybe only thirty to forty stories up.  The previous game’s version might not have been a hundred and two stories tall like the real one, but it sure felt like it.  This one—definitely doesn’t.

There aren’t many visual glitches; the only real egregious one is when webbing a foe.  You can see the animation is cycled, because for just a few frames, Spidey’s hands start to return to his sides, only to snap back up and continue the webbing animation.  It really is for only a few frames, but it’s noticeable.  Something that may draw the eye every time you web a foe—which will be often.

The first thing to mention is the music.  It’s abysmal.  It’s this ersatz electronica number that usually only pops up when you take on a City Event, a Story Mission, or the like.  After you complete the mission, it sticks around for a few moments, then fades away.  Rarely it will pop up on its own, but it doesn’t last long in this case, either.  Its short-lasting nature makes it rather jarring, and it’s not that well-made, to boot.  It’s too noticeable; it announces its presence a bit too much and tries to “do” too much.

After the music, you have what is arguably the most important part of any modern game (that isn’t warfare-heavy)—the voices.  Here, no voice-actor really lacks.  If you’ve played Shattered Dimensions, you would recall that that Ultimate Spidey spouted more or less the same one-liners as his counterparts, particularly the Amazing version, and had a kind of nasally, electronically-tweaked voice.

Not so, here.  Here he sounds like a genuine teenager, finishing his trek through puberty, in that crackly-voice stage.  The excellent Sean Marquette provided the voice for the web-slinger, and couldn’t have done it better.  The lines that were written were very well-fitting for the Ultimate setting, and he delivered them perfectly.  Just the right amount of sarcasm and youthful exuberance.

The rest of the cast delivered just as well—save for one: Nick Fury.  Dave Fennoy does a wonderful job as Fury, but the character was modeled after Samuel L. Jackson.  So while Fennoy does a fantastic job as a gruff-but-friendly high-ranking officer in what amounts to an über-military—he doesn’t really sound like Jackson.  It’s a comic book version of Jackson’s face with someone else’s voice, so it’s a little distracting.  Venom’s voice is a little—unexpected, I suppose, but not as distracting as Fury’s.

After all that, the main complaints would be from the characters, and even then primarily the bottom-tier ones like thugs that exist mostly just to be smacked around.  A lot of one-note characters with lines that occasionally can be rather grating, but since you’re going to go smack them around anyway, it’s really not a huge complaint.

The web-slinging has a “heavier” sound to it than in the previous outing; this time it’s a meaty “THWOCK” sort of sound.  It works alright, but I think a “lighter” sound should have been used.  The webbing isn’t really supposed to be something like thick, gelatinous rope, but that’s not something that should really detract from the over all experience.

The story is fantastic enough to warrant going through it more than once.  The missions are all memorable, and mostly lacking in “fake difficulty” (throwing a million enemies at you instead of crafting skill-based fights), but it’s there.  Even with that, the missions are mostly fun.  One favorite is the fight in Times Square, between Venom and Electro—over who gets to kill Spidey.

After the story, there’s the question of what you can do, since like its predecessor you’re handed the city and told to go nuts.  And the answer is quite a fair amount, truth to tell, depending on the kind of gamer you are.  As Spider-Man, you can complete City Events, any races or Combat Tours you may have missed, and just look around at the pretty, if tiny, city.

As Venom—all I can say is “meh”.  You have two options when it comes to free-roam with Venom.  Venom-specific races or trying to survive a S.H.I.E.L.D. onslaught.  That’s really it.  To be fair, racing through town with agents on your heels is insanely fun, it is—but it doesn’t end.  You can choose to end it by going into the Options menu and choosing to Abort Mission, but aside from that, you just run and fight and run and fight.  It seems like a waste of a character.  He’s so different from Spider-Man, he should have been given more options for running around after the story.  Spidey has different costumes, but Venom has—nothing.  You can’t even destroy very much but the cars.

Speaking of, yes, you can obtain different costumes for Spider-Man.  There are a few different selections.  There’s his normal outfit of shirt-and-jeans combo, a wrestling costume (which is basically the normal Spidey outfit minus the emblem and webbing design), a “hoodie” outfit which is his normal outfit though with the obvious addition of a hoodie (what he wears when the game starts and you fight Venom in the tutorial), an “ArachnoMan” outfit (in-setting, there was going to be a movie made about him, but there was a rights issue, so they made a knock-off, calling it ArachnoMan instead of Spider-Man) which is this horrid orange/red and green-ish look, and the black suit.

The different costumes do absolutely nothing for you other than change how Spidey looks.  No extra powers, nothing.  That’s fine, it really is, but it makes the difficulty of obtaining them harder to go with.  To get the black suit, you have to complete one hundred City Events, find all the tokens, complete all the Combat Tours, and finish all Spidey-specific races.  That’s nuts for something that doesn’t do anything—no “achievement”, no alteration of game-play, nothing.

Final Recommendation
Over five and a half years have passed since Ultimate Spider-Man came out.  Since then, there have been quite a few other Spider-Man games, but this is the next-to-last one that was more of an exploratory, sandbox-y sort of set-up.  It wasn’t the last outing for this particular brand of web-head, either, with the recent Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions dusting him off and putting him in players’ hands once more.  So where does this game stand amongst its brethren?

Near the front of the line, honestly.  The combat is more reminiscent of Shattered Dimensions in its look, though there’s more wall-bouncing and such here than there.  On the other hand, it’s “near” the front.  Any sandbox game should have two elements that are the most well-developed—the travel system(s) and the world itself.

Yes, this version of Manhattan is pretty.  There’s no denying that.  Visually, I think it’s second only to Shattered Dimensions for the title of prettiest Spidey game.  But the world is so small.  The Chrysler building is, literally, a block from the river.  You have Chrysler, a street, some warehouses, then water.  If you’ve visited or seen any pictures of the real Manhattan, or even played Spider-Man 2, then you can imagine how ludicrously tiny that is.

Then you have the web-swinging.  It’s—not fun.  It’s usually not detrimental, either, to be perfectly honest.  But—it’s mostly just a way to get from point A to point B.  There’s just not much fun in just swinging around and bouncing off buildings.  As well, the actual swinging itself is inefficient.  It’s actually easier to web-zip everywhere, as you get more distance and there’s next to zero chance of careening out of control.  Plus you don’t have to constantly be pressing the button to make you climb the web-line.

Think about that last one for a moment.  A sandbox Spider-Man game where the web-swinging is boring.  That is honestly what makes the smallness of the city less than terrible.  At least you don’t have to endure the web-swinging for very long at a time, though each time feels longer.

Yes, the city is pretty.  Yes, the story is incredibly engaging.  Yes the voice-acting is superb.  Yes, yes, yes—but.  And it’s that “but” that’s the killer.  In Spider-Man 2, it’s deliriously fun to just swing around the city.  It was a huge city, and the swinging itself was insanely fun.  In Ultimate Spider-Man you’re almost willing Peter to go faster, to not arc downward all the bloody time.

This inefficient swinging makes one of the primary after-story activities an exercise in frustration.  I’m talking, of course, about the races.  As mentioned before, you do so many races of a given difficulty, you can go face off against Johnny Storm.  If you win, you unlock the next difficulty and the process repeats itself.

But in the races, you’re fighting the swinging as much as anything else.  Add to that the fact that in the Storm races, he cheats like—well, I couldn’t describe it without a large amount of expletives.  In the other races themselves, you come to realize that there’s little “amazing” or “ultimate” about this Spider-Man.  Trying to swing through a hoop then back around to a platform then wall-run on a specific spot on a building feels more like you’re controlling the Incredible Hulk.  He feels—bulky, really, when trying complex maneuvers, instead of fluid and acrobatic.

Boiled down—it’s not fun.  Outside of the races it’s not really much besides boring, but web-swinging is a major part of the experience.

To get away from the web-swinging, it offers what recent titles like Shattered Dimensions doesn’t—variety and exploration.  It’s also, as I mentioned and hopefully proved, the near-complete opposite of its predecessor.  This city is vibrant and alive compared to that bland city.  That swinging was freeing and downright fun where this swinging is tedious.  This voice-acting is superb, where that was generally uninspiring.

At the end of the day, it’s a game easy in mechanics, but coming with a few elements of fake difficulty.  If you can get around them, it’s fun as heck.  It’s nicely comparable even to recent Spider-Man titles.

Over all, this game is worth the money, especially considering you shouldn’t find it for anywhere near full, retail price.  It’s a near-perfect adaption of the source material—the only major complaint, however, is such a major complaint that if you have to choose between this one and Spider-Man 2, I have to suggest that one.  If you already have that one or can afford both, I couldn’t recommend this one enough.

Game Play: AVERAGE
It almost deserves a “good”.  You have a just-complex-enough combat system, enemies with fair A.I., and a refreshingly stark difference in play-style between Spider-Man and Venom—but the web-swinging for Spidey is, at best, tedious and boring.  At worst it’s frustrating and a battle to get anywhere.  For Venom, he promises brutality and destruction, but doesn’t really live up to it.

Story: GOOD
The best part of the game, hands down.  It’s coherent, has a “straight from the source” feel, and is told very well.  A few threads were left hanging that were originally going to be picked up in the comics, but that didn’t come to pass.  It’s nothing to really hold against the game, however.

Graphics: GOOD
As far as Spider-Man games go, only Shattered Dimensions really surpasses it for just how downright pretty everything is.  The people are all vibrant and different, the city is equally appealing in the daytime as well as night.  The “inked” feel of the cell-shading worked nearly perfectly.

Sound: GOOD
The music is horrid.  Making up for that is the mostly-wonderful voice-acting and “comic book-y” sound effects.

Replayability: AVERAGE
There’s more to do than in the predecessor, but the lack of substantial in-game rewards combined with the steep difficulty in the races undercuts the desire to undertake the task of completing everything.  On the other hand, playing as Venom is different enough, and you can cause some mild, small-scale havoc, and when is mayhem and violence in a video game not fun?

On the whole, it promises a fun experience for all gamers—those who have never even seen the movies, those who devoured the Ultimate Spider-Man comics, and everyone in between.  It mostly delivers on that promise.  The worst drawback is one of the major points, though—the travel.  It’s only one part of the whole, to be sure—but it’s such a large part.  It ties everything else together.  Everything you do involves web-swinging somewhere in the equation, so to have such a fundamental element be so boring at best—it lowers the score to what should otherwise be a “good”.  That aside, it stands up next to modern Spider-Man games, so it’s evened out.

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