Review: There's no need for an Uncle Ben to be Spider-Man! Just use one Ulysses S. Grant, five Alexander Hamiltons', ten Abe Lincholns', or even their next door neighbor, Mr. Trade-in.
Fusion: is it important? Is it necessary to constitute an amazingly memorable gaming experience? Some would say so. Just this year, King Kong became one of the highly anticipated game and movie releases with acclaimed director of The Lord of the Rings trilogy Peter Jackson behind the film, and Michel Ancel behind the game. Known for his imaginative work on the Rayman series and also on one of 2003's beloved underdogs (Beyond Good and Evil), Ancel was Peter Jackson's personal pick to inspire the playable conversion of King Kong. Together these two masters of their individual arenas pooled all their ideas into one jar to synthesize a like-minded, praiseworthy paradigm. Similarly, another pairing of two worlds happened earlier this year for comics and for games. Ultimate Spider-Man creators' Brian Michael Bendis (the writer) and Mark Bagley (the artist) joined the forces of developer Treyarch to craft a sticky and smashing good time for the first Spider-Man game in four years that isn't based on a movie. Straight from the painted print, the medium of Spider-Man's origin is at last once again realized.
Forget what you know about the average Spider-Man mythos. You need to. For, Ultimate Spider-Man chronicles a different kind of legend for the webhead. It's not just Spider-Man anymore, but ULTIMATE Spider-Man. This is Peter Parker when he was still a teenager in High School, when balancing homework was just as important as juggling Mary Jane, home life, and his job at the Daily Bugle. But rather than being rival photographers, Eddie Brock and Peter Parker grew up together in this universe always the closest of friends. Their parents were scientists in business together, creating a living tissue that could cure cancer. When the two's parents went missing, however, Peter adorned the suit at first thinking it was okay. Later though, he discovered how unnaturally imbalanced the symbiote was and ended up rejecting it. The dark-minded Eddie, on the other hand, became a perfect match for this evil attire. It made him bigger, stronger than anyone, and with the knowledge of Peter's double identity, he's become Spider-Man's greatest adversary.
Grand Theft Auto back again, tag teaming up with Spider-Man. If you can remember last year's comic-based gaming events, you might recall that Spider-Man 2 was one of the more popular borrowers of the mega-popular Grand Theft Auto formula. New York City was sized so immensely, scaling the Empire State Building was a workout for the itsy bitsy Spider-Man. People were everywhere with problems. Swinging through the enormous metropolis would deal Spider-Man more and more repetitive tasks. Save balloon. Chase car. Terminate gaggles of enemies. It was a lot of rehashing, and it was required. That's not the case anymore, or at least not as much now. Ultimate Spider-Man is an action-packed, uh, action game, once more trying its hand at a Grand Theft Auto-inspired system. New York's still sizably mighty, albeit reduced. People don't give out mission objectives anymore. They either just happen or icons lead the way. Past events unfolding act a little more natural with red beacons sometimes popping up on Spidey's radar. People get injured and need to be taken to the clinic. People cling for dear life from scaffolds. Most of the time though, people need a spanking when gangs linger in waiting for Spider-Man to end them. Take the mapped blue pills instead, and you'll be wailing away at multiple groups of hi-tech-gadgetry equipped thugs or speedily weaving a webbed race. Completing small portions of these tasks within the free-roaming state unlocks the next story-based missions. In other words, Spider-Man's always on the move.
Spider-Man's so boring, though. Who wants to wallcrawl, trapeze through the air, and practice acrobatic stunts on villains all the time? Why do just that when you can also glide across the same city higher and farther, snack on civilians, and heave persons and things all around you? Venom is here and he's in playable form for the first time since Maximum Carnage way back in the 16-bit era. Be predatory. Be extraordinary. The black-gooed, alien-eyed, razor-toothed Venom is here to take names and rip them to pieces. As Venom you'll face off against some interesting challengers and their quarry. From Silver Sable, to Wolverine and Electro, Venom will need to whip the entire army-like division of S.H.I.E.L.D. into bent shapes whilst escaping from ground and airborne fire at one point in time. During another turning point, Venom will chase down Electro and crush him while protecting his greatest nemesis, an unconscious Spider-Man. Being Venom is amazing, but doing the things he can do is even more than that. Venom can swipe at enemies with his tentacle-like suit, he can leap into the air at a marvelous stretch, and he can devour the energy of people to retain loss of life by wrapping them up with his absorbent costume. It may be evil to be a bad guy, yet it feels oh so good.
Of course, Spider-Man isn't without his own trials and tribulations. When you're not inhabiting the master of disaster, you're stuck with the scrawny bug. Spidey has his own taste of fun (or in his typical situation, trauma) where he'll get to parry against regular groups of normal nobodies and pit wits against the likes of Rhino, Beetle, Green Goblin, and yes Venom. Chasing down the tank-like Rhino at one entry will give Spidey the job of rescuing city dwellers trapped under obstructions while hot on the tail of the bulgy brute himself. Then comes the bullfight, with Rhino being the bull and Spidey acting as the red flag. A guy like Beetle and a guy like Spider-Man you'd think would be compatible both being of the insect genus. But one flies around blasting the other with laser beams and bombs while the other shoots webs -- punching, sticking, and kicking the former into submission. Like always, it's fun to be a Spider and a Man intertwined, and an even greater joy when given the wheel to driving the best Spider-Man villain there ever was, Venom.
Noting notability for the playability, Spider-Man 2's authentic physics-enabled suspension system makes its return. Webs actually stick to buildings, thus drawing Spider-Man toward the traction of the pull based on the locality. Though not as voluminous as before, simplistic combos are back in full form to deal judgment to those punishable. Linking these differ in degrees between swooping from building to building when knocking heads and concocting stringy cocoons while reeling them in for a smack-to-the-face make over. Venom's guidance is slightly altered to tailor his unique abilities, but is essentially in the same setup. Swaying to the tempo of the city's heart beat and trashing it is all estimable for a thirty minute tour to find comfort through the total Instruct-a-Torium. The problem with the game is that repetition still exists. Not in the sense that you'll visit and revisit missions, but that you'll easily go nuts trying to meet specific goals. Namely, the ones involving a character chase. Inheriting the DRIV3R syndrome, pursuing villains like Electro is tirelessly inconvenient. You'll have to make no room for errors where adhering extremely close to the mark is a requisite, not an option. At the same time, Venom will need to keep his distance from Electro as he spurts major fields of harmful voltaic bursts on a constant basis. A sliding Spidey/Venom head gauge will let you know of the distance between you and them. Although, the exercise of having to equalize your speed is a very perturbing one indeed.
First and foremost, Spider-Man is a comic book character. People tend to forget that these days when he's popular for his movie conversions more so than his artistic print. To remind us of these roots, Treyarch decided to trade in the usual gritty New York architecture for a comic-like facelift. Painted-on features for pedestrians and buildings? Gone. Edgy yet bland epic-sized city? Gone. Highly stylistic Spidey animations? Gone...if gone means still here. Spidey still graces the sky with flexible brilliance, hopping and bopping enemies everywhere while extending and bending the arachnid to his own beat. And in comes Venom now with his own Hulk-like abilities. When he unleashes his suit's tendrils, he does so with a nice shaky force. When he bounds dozens of feet over a heightened construct, his arms motion forward in coherence to his gravitational inertia. Ultimate Spider-Man doesn't just give itself a comic-y emergence either -- it fills the game up with the motif. The story for example moves through frames of comic strip panels, enacting live-action through multiple windows. This "3D inking" technique, an original cel-shading system, establishes characters in third-person while inheriting the quality of an illustrated form. Colored, shaded, and textured to great effort, characters retain a vibrant sharpness throughout the game. Bold lines pencil in figures with the right tinting to fill the blanks, giving muscular shape to the mass that is Venom or the squeeze on the shorter and scrawnier Webster.
More mesmerizing in this light is that these caricatures are affected in real-time through the cel system's effects inventory. Explosions occur often, such as when vehicles are being hurled by Venom. Composed in a hue of swirling fiery oranges and reds, the glow of the vivid flames will reflect upon the body of your spider or blacky nearby. Everything gets flashy the most when the hosted lineup of foes seeks to interact with you in this world. The battle scene in Times Square with Electro for one, flings automobiles impacting waves of electronic billboards that burst and fizzle. On that note, the environments themselves tie in with the character breed. They're crisp in appearance yet simple in design. Sketched in sameness with even lines connecting the dots to skyscrapers and homes, bridges and sidewalks, trees and street lights. Detrimental damage occurs whenever issuing Venom's organic arsenal: making cracks whether by jumping up and down and onto New York's buildings and streets, or smashing enemies' face first into its pavement. To possible dismay for gamers, New York City is not vast as it once was in Spider-Man 2. Before you could touch the clouds with buildings as high as the heavens. Now all that's left to do is see them in planted drawn lines of puffy white. Bigger isn't always better; refined and reduced is infinitely greater than plain and plentiful any time.
Who you see is what you'll hear, and then some of which you won't. It's common for many games to overstuff the vocals in which you'll receive. A woman's cry from street level can be heard loud and clear from ten stories high? Apparently it can, in this game. Banter between Spidey and the villains are always present as if they were right next to each other, which most times they never are. It's not that big a deal to always catch the perfect aural pitch, though it couldn't hurt for developers to try harder more often. The bigger problem anyhow is that the vocals are rehashed like a song stuck on repeat. Chase sequences you'll fail to pass ten, maybe twenty times in a row all call for scripted dialogue to be spoken consistently that end up grating on your nerves. Luckily, the voice acting is pretty good. No Spider-Man movie means no Hollywood jerks ruining the game experience with half-assed performances. Ultimate Spider-Man is not based on any film. That means no Tobey Maguire, no Kirsten Dunst, and no Bruce Campbell (D'oh). Instead, the game packages unfamiliar and "Ultimately" better suited personalties. Spidey's boyish quips fit in nicely with his character contrasting the matured allies and adversaries around him, including the gravelly voiced Venom who often exclaims, "Hung-gray!"
If it's whooshing, smacking, and combating noises you're asking for, that's what you're going to get from Ultimate Spider-Man's audio department. The elastic gushing and walloping from Spider-Man and Venom's webs and wigglers sound good like they should. Concrete falling apart makes you hear crumbling. A fire hydrant that's been obliterated makes you hear liquid rushing. Fires rustle, crates shatter, and lasers sizzle, all to support the gameplay with some overall decent effects. Kicking up the music scene is general electronic and orchestral-like themes to intensify the death defying swinging, soaring, crunching, punching action. Easily, the musical score can be liked but at the same time forgotten. Though existent, its average-made tunes are a bit too subtle and shy away from time to time. This odd occurrence wasn't smiled upon in last year's Spider-Man 2 game either.