Review: With great power comes great responsibility. Is Treyarch up to the task?
Two summers ago, the release of Spider-Man 2 across the world brought us a summer classic. However, it also brought us a video game tie-in, which was eventually hailed by critics as one of the best movie-based games of all-time. Featuring fast-paced and innovative web-slinging action, the ability to roam around Manhattan for hours, amazing graphics and an intense combat system, Spider-Man 2 the game became an instant classic. In 2005, audiences were not treated to a new Spider-Man movie. Nevertheless, developer Treyarch and publisher Activision released an original Spider-Man game titled Ultimate Spider-Man.
Based on the adventures of Spider-Man from the modernized Ultimate Spider-Man comic book series by writer Brian Michael Bendis and animator Mark Bagley, Ultimate Spider-Man takes the franchise into a new direction. Instead of a visually dazzling realistic Manhattan and a mature Peter Parker, Ultimate Spider-Man puts gamers into the role of a Spider-Man that is about to hit puberty. Gone are the gorgeous and realistic visuals from the previous installment, instead we are thrust into a world that mimics a comic book entirely. By using 3D Inking Technology, the developers were able to accurately convey the artistic style used by Bagley in the comic books. At first glance it appears as if though Spider-Man is stuck in the cel-shaded world of Wind Waker, but quickly you realize that this 3D Inking Technology is very unique.
Casual Spider-Man fans might be surprised at first to see characters such as the Fantastic Four's Human Torch and even X-Men's Wolverine featured in the gameplay. However, this should come as to no surprise to fans of the Ultimate Spider-Man comic series. Started six years ago, this modernized version of Stan Lee's legendary comic book series stays true to its origins but also features plenty of other superheroes and villains from the Marvel Universe. As for the actual storyline in the Ultimate Spider-Man game, the main focus is on the relationship between Peter Parker and Eddie Brock. Their fathers had once worked on a ?Venom Suit' that would be crucial in the search for the cure for cancer, but their employer Trask Industries became interested in using this ?suit' for other purposes. Before a lawsuit could take place, both their fathers died in a mysterious plane crash.
At the age of fifteen, Peter re-unites with Eddie and finds him working as an assistant at Empire State University. Eddie explains their fathers' work to Peter and shows him the ?Venom Suit,' which is being stored inside a beaker. One night, Peter steals the vial to carry out a few ?tests,' which angers Eddie when he learns of what has happened. He flushes down a second, hidden flask of this substance, and after a few incidents, ends up turning into Venom. Venom is a creature with a knack for creating havoc, and it is up to Peter Parker in his role as Spider-Man to protect New York City and himself from the villain that is now on the loose.
As Spider-Man, Peter Parker is armed with an arsenal of web swings, wall crawls, punches, kicks and a few special moves. The web swinging action isn't as intricate as it was in the predecessor, which is some what of a shame. In Spider-Man 2, I could literally simply web swing for ten minutes at a time for the sheer joy of it. The web slinging engine has been toned down, and I don't get the same rush of excitement as I maneuver from skyscraper to skyscraper through downtown Manhattan. As a matter of fact, even the combat system has been toned down.
Although it does make sense that a younger Peter Parker possesses a smaller arsenal of moves, it doesn't make the memories of moves such as the Multiweb Hammer go away. In Ultimate Spider-Man, being successful in combat usually involves moving from wall to wall quickly in order to round up your enemies and then quickly disposing of them in one quick move. Sure you can go about kicking and punching, but enemies do not die and will simply get back on their feet sooner or later. Circling around enemies and webbing them into a cocoon or even hanging them to a lamppost is the way to go about a hoard of bad guys. Boss fights, which are plentiful and memorable (such as the Green Goblin, Rhino and Silver Sable) are more challenging and require certain strategies. Yet before you get to these bosses, you will usually have to chase them, which can be incredibly frustrating at times.
Ultimate Spider-Man, as was its predecessor, is essentially a free-roaming game similar to the GTA series. As long as you've rescued enough citizens from their perils, you can swing on over to the next mission marker and embark on a new part of the story. The actual story will keep gamers busy for roughly ten hours of solid gameplay. And to spruce things up, some missions require you to control Venom. This character is the complete opposite of Spider-Man. Instead of helping out society, his goals are killing people and destroying objects. Although he can't web sling, Venom has a monstrous locomotion jump that will quickly get you from point A to point B. Wall crawls and claw attacks are part of his routine, yet what is most interesting is his need to feed on others to keep up his energy. Devouring an armed cop may be one thing, but feeding on a five-year old kid is what Venom is all about.
However, Ultimate Spider-Man features so much beyond the story. As you swing around the city as Spider-Man, there will always be civilians in trouble or a crime about to happen. From civilians falling out of buildings to robberies to speeding criminals to gang wars to civilians under fallen debris ? someone is always in need of Spider-Man's aid. Although it is not an obligation, you can spend as much time as want helping out these citizens. On top of this, there are roughly 60 races and 36 combat tours scattered throughout New York that will keep you busy for hours upon hours. Successful completion of certain races, for example, will trigger certain attribute upgrades. And if item collection is one of your hobbies, Ultimate Spider-Man has plenty of that as well. Scattered around the city are dozens of unlockables, ranging from 75 comic book covers to all kinds of concept art to landmarks to six alternate costumes. All in all, hard-core gamers can spend well over forty hours completing this title in its entirety.
Graphically, Ultimate Spider-Man is quite an achievement. The 3D Inking Technology allows the game to stay true to the comic books series. It literally feels like you are flipping through a comic book at certain points of the games. Cut-scenes take place in the form of comic book pages, and this style makes the game stand out. I enjoyed the animations that accompany gunfire, as well as the words such as ?Rata-tat-tat? that accompany helicopter gunfire on the screen. The characters all look terrific, as if though they are fresh out of a comic book. The details have been toned down to suit this style, but this makes the animations even smoother than ever. New York City has also undergone a redevelopment. Instead of just Manhattan, the borough of Queens has been included. However, the size of the map has been toned down a bit, yet it is still a vast environment and takes some time getting from place to place.
As for audio, don't expect to hear voice work from Tobey Maguire or Kirsten Dunst. I was actually initially surprised to hear Peter Parker's high pitched voice at first. It is a bit annoying at times, especially throughout his tirades of smack-talk. Otherwise, the voice work is nothing special, but gets the job done. The soundtrack is not as epic as it was in Spider-Man 2, and consists mainly of several forgettable guitar riffs, some suspenseful tunes and a pinch of techno. The sound effects were spot on, as everything from the web slinging to the punches had a gimmicky yet appropriate quality.