Bargain Bin Review: Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can...
Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire have breathed new life into Marvel's flagship superhero over the last several years. Of course, while those two weave their silver-screen tribute to Spider-Man, the house that Stan Lee built has continued to revolutionize the way that they tell stories. One of their most successful experiments, the Ultimate universe, is the inspiration for Activision's latest outing for the ol' web-head: Ultimate Spider-Man
For those of you that don't spend Wednesdays down at the local comic shop, the Ultimate universe is a modernization of the classic Marvel characters. For good or bad (depending on how you look at it), the years of history that the comic books have established were thrown out the window a few years back in favor of updating Marvel characters for a new generation. In addition to Spider-Man and his rogues gallery of foes, Ultimate Spider-Man is filled with characters from all around the Ultimate universe including familiar faces, like Wolverine and Johnny Storm, and the newly Ultimated
Having some familiarity with the Ultimate version of the web-crawler will help you fill in the backstroy to Ultimate Spider-Man, but by no means is it a prerequisite to having a good time with the game. USM does a great job of telling the origin of Venom, setting up the story missions and fleshing out Spider-Man's world trough a unique use of animated comic-book panels (a gimmick
that I would like to see replicated in the aforementioned animated series). Some serious thought went into designing this game and the execution is near flawless.
If nothing else, Ultimate Spider-Man creates a fantastic visual tapestry that feels as if it is torn straight from the pages of the comic book. Some may balk at cel-shaded graphics anymore, but they fit the bill perfectly for this title. There are many times where USM makes you stop and say, "They should make an animated series out of this." Really, it would be pretty slick. They've already got a pretty good voice cast pulled together, too. Each of the Ultimate characters jump right out of the comic books and transition near-perfectly to your PC monitor. There are a few moments where they animations just don't line up correctly, but it doesn't mar the otherwise solid graphic package.
However, as nice as it may look and as action-packed as the story may be, the PC version of Ultimate Spider-Man is seriously flawed when you sit down and actually try to play it. The mouse and keyboard control scheme are crippling when you are swinging about the city and even more frustrating when you try to chase someone around the city. Bizarrely, Activision doesn't mention that Ultimate Spider-Man actually supports a gamepad anywhere on the package. I say bizarre because actually hooking a dual-analog pad up to your PC actually makes the game not just playable, but good. I find it odd that they don't promote or recommend it from the get go.
Treyarch does a pretty decent job of mixing up the gameplay in Ultimate Spider-Man, though. Story missions are unlocked by completing a number of tasks around NYC including races and saving civilians from criminals and themselves (an amazing number of people find themselves falling off of buildings). There is tons of stuff for you completion freaks to find, too. Tokens spread around town are the key to unlocking comic-book gold. Production art is nice, but the slew of costumes is even better. It is too bad that there isn't a randomization feature on the city events, though. Adding it would increase USM's replayability infinitely.
Of course, the biggest twist in Ultimate Spider-Man's gameplay comes when you take control of Venom, one of Spider-Man's most deadly foes. The general control formula is similar to taking Peter Parker around NYC, but the changes to attacks (tentacles rock), "web" activity (jumping outclasses swinging) and life replenishment (poor civilians) make these sequences feel like a brand new game.