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August 09, 2005

Review: Ultimate Spider Man (PS2/GC) - Can't do everything a spider can...

VGP Score


Click to see the Limited Edition box art

Ultimate Spider-Man marks what should have been the inception of the greatest Spider-Man game to date. Make sure you read that correctly: should have been. What could go wrong? Ultimate Spider-Man was ready to pounce on us with it's fully realized combic book style, greater mission variety and web-slinging on par with what we've come to love in Spider Man 2. Let's be real: Spider Man 2 was no more a Spider man game than Resident Evil: Apocalypse was a movie about Resident Evil. The goal attempting to be reached was fumbled somewhere along the way. In the end, Spider Man 2 failed to please with it's lack of mission variety and repetitive gameplay. The one thing Activision wasn't planning on was Spider Man 2 becoming a smash hit with those who longed for a true web-slinging simulator. That is what Spider-Man is all about afterall. Spider Man 2 presented the gaming public with the best web-slinging simulation to date. The city, which was nearly a scale model of New York, was so navigable with Spider-Man's webslinging controls that most gamers spent the bulk of their time exploring the cityscape and hopping from roof top to roof top. Explorning was about as easy as scratching your ass, and 8 times as fun. IT IS what gave the game it's longevity.

This time around, everyone's favourite web-head isn't so daring. The webslinging has been toned down to the point of stripping Spider-Man of all his "hardcore", and pumping him full of "casual (read: simplicity)". Where as in the last game, the physics and web-slinging felt responsive and controllable, it feels randomized and clunky here. Instead of using the alternating shoulder buttons to web-sling and control momentum, only the one shoulder button controls his web, while a face button merely gives him a boost on descension. Where Spider-Man could perform air tricks and wall runs intuitively in Spider Man 2, he's stripped of his acrobatics and stunted with a counterintuitive wall-run which sometimes feels like a random occurance rather than a controlled event. Where gamers could charge a jump to any controlled degree via the charge meter in Spider Man 2, we're made to guess a length of time to hold the button down for, without charging. Where Spider Man could do a running sprint and vault himself at enemies or across rooftops in SM2, he can do neither in this game. The thing to understand here is that Spider Man has been dumbed down from Amazing Acrobat, to Wobbly Web-zipper incapable of the derring-do that made him so popular in the first place. It turns out that the web-head's web-zip is more effective and more efficient for travel than normal web-slinging. That right there should tip people off to the shoddiness of Activision's work. As far as evolution and growth go, Ultimate Spider-Man shows no signs of it in the web-slinging department, which is (if you haven't guessed) a major part of what makes Spider-Man games so fun. It's like taking a running leap backward.

Apart from that, the city itself is actually larger than it was in the previous Spider-Man game, with some of the outskirt suburbs being navigable this time around, where previously we were shunted back with a "Area Not Available" buzzer. It's good to see at least the square mileage has been expanded. Spider-Man's native milieu is something that shouldn't be too hard to mess up or expand upon, and it's good to see the ball was never dropped in that respect. Again though, getting around the extra space is just not possible, or made to be extremely tedious and frustrating with the piss poor web-slinging. So while it's great to see effort put forth to improve upon the scalable city, it's for naught since no one is going to be able to admire it in any appreciable amount.

Combat returns with the one button punch and kick system, and moves from a preset combo structure, to a free-form combo creation system. It is great to see in action, but getting to the point where the combat system here is better than that found in Spider Man 2, will require a time investment longer than the actual game, and my Spidey sense tells me not many people are going to want to put that much time into this game considering it's whack-job slinging. Suffice to say, the combat is great, it just should have picked up faster.

The game's plot revolves around the relationship of a young Peter Parker and Eddie Brock, and the mystery behind the symbiote that overtakes Brock's psyche. Along the way, you'll meet some mythos favourites like Johnny Storm, Nick Fury, Silver Sable, Wolverine, Electro, Shocker, Rhino, and a suped up version of the Green Goblin. I think it should be safe to say that in a game head-lining both Spider-Man and Venom, that the ultimate conflict will resolve in a head-to-head between Peter and Eddie, but I won't delve into specifics. Graphically the game is right on the ball. It gives Spider-Man the comic booky face lift he's been yearning for. It's about time we get a Spider Man game that recreate and animate the sketchbooks of people like Todd McFarlane and Mark Bagley. I wholely appreciate the life-like graphics of Spider-Man 2 - and in some ways like them more during the webslinging - I can better appreciate a graphics engine like this. Telling the story through moving story boards, that at the core bring the comic books to life, without removing the "noise words" and palette frames that characterize a pencil drawn disposition.

The ability to play as Venom this time around is so welcome, I can't even begin to dictate just how cool it is to be the Amazing web-heads favourite arch-nemesis. While Venom's combat controls have been reduced to button mashing, his method of travel has been worked from the ground up to create a wholely new experience from the red spandex wonder. Instead of shooting web, Venom leaps large distances, often as high as most small skyscrapers, and uses his symbiote suit to lash out tentacles to grab onto ledges or the sides of buildings. The voice work for both Eddie Brock and Peter Parker is of the higest quality, even if the rest of the colourful cast don't resonate with that remark. The game still creates an atmosphere and plotline that will soothe almost any Spidey die-hard.

The biggest gripe I have with Ultimate Spider Man (aside from the webslinging, which is an entire topic unto itself) is the mission variety. Activision, we aren't fools. We as humans will eventually learn to recogize patterns, and anticipate them, and yes even loathe them. For starters, side missions are a requisite for unlocking the next story mission. Which if you played the last Spider Man game, gets boring...and fast. Most missions though, will have you squaring off and trading blows with a new boss. So if you're constantly fighting new bosses, doesn't that count as variety? No! Every boss fight can be dumbed into a three tier strategy. Chase Boss, save civilians, kill boss. While accomplishing the killing is different each time, the former two are not. It almost seems like Activision was desperate to increase the gametime, so they threw in a chase scene and civilian rescue aspect to every mission. It isn't all bad however. The non-boss missions are generally all different from one another, and the visual style will immerse you into the experience. It's just a shame that for a game raised upon such a pedestal of anticipation, it's hard to watch as Activision takes everything that should have remained unaltered from Spider Man 2, and degraded them into nothing; while barely touching the things that actually do need work.

As a stand-alone title, Ultimate Spider Man is pretty good. I'd recommend it only to the Spider Man die hards, and maybe even the casually interested Spider Man fans. Other then that, I feel that too many will be disappointed by the lack of intuitive and enjoyable web-slinging. To it's merits, what USM tries to do right (ie: Style, story and immersion) it does them extremely well. In other places it falls far too short. It's a hodge podge of awesome and hamstrung. For those looking for a Spider Man fix, this game will suffice, no qualms about that. It just doesn't deliver on the fronts that matter most to long time fans of ol' webs.


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