Posted by Female Gamers on Jan 19, 2010
Ultimate Spider-Man – Review

Ultimate Spider-Man – Review

Post Rating

In the past, big-name Hollywood movies have often been mirrored by a separate release that follows an almost exact vein of subject matter. Most notably, in 1991 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves clashed swords with (surprise, surprise) Robin Hood, and in 1994 Kurt Russell’s Tombstone faced down Kevin Costner’s Wyatt Earp behind the OK Corral. In short, rival companies occasionally squeeze the same genre for all it’s worth, while exploiting incredibly similar structure, narrative, and execution.

What came first, the chicken or the egg? Well, in this case, the chicken is Radical’s Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, and the egg is Activision’s Ultimate Spider-Man, and their respective release dates would decree that the chicken did indeed come first—by just over a month. Yet 30 days of birthing separation apart, the two games are almost exactly the same. Their aesthetics may differ, their storylines and characters may follow separate paths, and their creators may not share the same studio space, but the similarities are glaringly obvious. And, while Ultimate Spider-Man is an incredibly slick, well-crafted, and beautifully presented game, it unfortunately suffers through those similarities and the later release.

Set across a sprawled, free-roaming New York City environment, Ultimate Spider-Man revolves around Peter Parker’s emergent battle against long-time friend Eddie Brock as he assumes his father’s ‘legacy’ and becomes the evil Venom. However, in a gameplay twist—and somewhat oddly in terms of central empathy—players also intermittently assume the role of Brock’s Venom during the game’s unfolding plot. Along the way, both Spidey and Venom will encounter and battle various Marvel-inspired heroes and villains, such as X-Men’s Wolverine, the Green Goblin, Electro, The Human Torch, R.H.I.N.O, Silver Sable, Nick Fury, and Carnage. All of which lend an expansive and ever-apparent sensation of comic authenticity to the experience, while playing some minor role in the game’s leading narrative.

All-important gameplay is handled superbly well for Spidey, as he swings and springs effortlessly from street to street and building to building, the player never once having to struggle with web-shooter control thanks to the game’s intuitive location awareness and immediate button response when needed. However, Venom’s controls differ somewhat in that he’s able to leap across great distances while possessing super-human strength and power. Unfortunately the towering skyscrapers of New York don’t often allow for a genuine sense of free movement while using Venom, but thankfully the game’s core element is occupied with Spider-Man, and Venom’s appearances are limited to narrative twists and story explanations.

Interacting with the environment in its entirety means plenty of easy and joyous web-swinging and wall-crawling fun while also enjoying considerable acrobatic prowess and crime purging through an array of effective and impressive fight moves. Vast distance can be covered quickly and, quite frankly, you’ll never tire of enthusiastically swinging to your required destinations. Plenty of icon-marked timed ‘races’ across rooftops and through city streets, coupled with ‘combat tours’ against various roaming street gangs, lead the player gently down a road of familiarity with Spidey and soon his movement and fight controls become fluid and second nature. Completion of map-prompted ‘city events’ such as sporadic muggings, varied rescues, and thug confrontations open further scripted story-arc moments and generally provide the highlighted segues between boss battles, plot expansion, and temporarily assuming the role of Venom.

Graphically, Ultimate Spider-Man closely resembles a living three-dimensional comic, with considered artistic attention invested in the inked line weights and slightly exaggerated comic design of the characters. This impressive in-game feel is furthered by the application of cel-shading, which, while adding extra depth in terms of 3D during close-ups, does perhaps compromise the 2D world that’s providing inspiration for the game—to the extent that cut-sequence characters appear a little ill-fitting and chunky. Environmental depth is broad in scope and unfailingly crisp in execution, while detail fade-out over extreme height and distance is subtly handled without losing that invaluable sense of stretching horizons and dizzying vertigo. Animation is fabulous throughout, the game betraying no sign of chop or slow-down as Spidey assuredly swings down busy city streets alive with chatting pedestrians and frantic traffic. Presentation is, on the whole, wonderfully captured and unfailing in its quality.

Game sound is handled well, and exists through a dramatic musical score overlaid with guiding Spidey dialogue, comedic one-liners, dense ambiance, and peripheral NPC chatter. Fight sound is suitably meaty without ever crossing the blurry line from comic book to realistic, and indeed all the audio aspects fit together comfortably and are complementary to the overall game by their relative innocuous nature. While never forcing their way into your psyche by way of repetition or monotony, the sound elements always remain on just the right side of noteworthy. Unlike most narrative-heavy videogames, Ultimate Spider-Man strangely offers its hard of hearing demographic no in-game subtitle option, though the comic cut sequences do contain text so the story shouldn’t be completely lost. And dedicated girls gamers are sadly left with no playable female heroine, the game only offering up NPCs in the form of mysterious Silver Sable, and the ever-faithful Mary Jane Parker. Spider-Girl? Now there’s a thought, eh, Marvel?

Obvious comparisons with Hulk: Ultimate Destruction exist through the employment of the GTA-esque free-roaming gameplay mechanic, arena-based boss battles, collection of hidden tokens to unlock masses of game extras, and map-prompted story elements, not to mention the almost identical gameplay feeling derived from both titles. Whereas Ultimate Spider-Man certainly outshines Hulk in terms of gloss and polish, the big lumbering green menace usurps Spidey through immersion factor. Swinging merrily through lively New York streets simply doesn’t compare to the absolute ‘destructive’ pleasure procured from Ultimate Destruction. Indeed, the oddly disruptive Venom interludes offered up in Ultimate Spider-Man lean heavily toward that missing element of player power not found within Spidey’s elegant repertoire. Venom can leap across distances, clamber up tall buildings, and fling cars, bikes and trucks at enemies…much like the Hulk. Perhaps some inter-studio spying took place between the two development teams? Who knows?

However, the simple fact remains that though Ultimate Spider-Man is a visually stunning and thoroughly entertaining title, true to its source material, and undoubtedly fun to play, it doesn’t quite achieve the same levels of satisfaction provoked by Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. Of course, specific character fans will naturally gravitate toward their favorite hero—and neither will be disappointed—but for those more comic-neutral gamers, Mr. Hulk provides the more rounded, all-powerful, and immediately visceral experience. Ultimate Spider-Man is quietly graceful, immensely enjoyable, and beautifully realized, but the fizzing spit of web shooters and warning buzz of spidey-sense simply can’t overthrow that basic compulsion to “Smash!!” anything and everything while gleefully succumbing to Ultimate Destruction’s gritty superiority.

Review by Stevie

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