Ultimate Spider-Man


posted 10/26/2005 by Sean Colleli
other articles by Sean Colleli
One Page Platforms: GC

For the past several years, comic book games have actually been improving.  Gone are the tedious beat-em-up yawn fests of the 16 bit era; we now have hits like X-Men Legends and Hulk: Ultimate Destruction.  Spider Man, through his movie rejuvenation, has been at the forefront of gaming too, but his last two outings were only good, not great.  The game that accompanied the first Spidey film had considerable depth but was limited to a level-based setup.  Spider Man 2’s innovation was a massive, free-roaming New York.  Kind of like GTA, but without the low polygon hookers.

There won’t be another movie starring the wall-crawler for at least two years, so developer Treyarch has tapped another area of webhead lore: Ultimate Spider-Man.  The comic, launched in 2000, is a retelling of Peter Parker’s early days as a hero, and the game follows one of the series’ most pivotal story arcs: the Venom saga.  This is where Ultimate is different from all of the other Spidey games: it lets you play as Venom himself.  This new gameplay dynamic is accompanied by the most Marvel characters seen in a game thus far, as well as a refined interface and (finally) some bonus content. 

While all of the extras make for a more involved play experience, by far the most attractive element on Ultimate Spider-Man is the story.  Spider Man the Movie 1 and 2 dropped the ball in that regard, and the plots of the respective films felt tacked on and at times totally neglected.  Not so with Ultimate.  Treyarch commissioned the writers of the comic, Mark Bagley and Brian Michael Bendis, to pen the script and create the character art. 

The result is impressive; aside from recurring characters, some classic Spidey villains make their Ultimate debut in the game.  The plot is also canonical with the comics, a first for comic-game crossovers, so if you’re a regular reader of the book expect to see some fallout from the events of the game.

The graphical style accompanies the comic story with faithful accuracy.  Cutscenes, while still full-motion, are framed in fast-moving boxes and panels, and occasionally spoken dialog is represented in stylized text.  Even outside of the cutscenes, the game looks like a comic book.  I know cel-shading isn’t anything new, but it’s the way the developers use it that makes it special in Ultimate Spider-Man.  Everything, especially characters, appear as if it’s been inked.  They all have heavy black outlines and vibrant, loud color shading.

The buildings and the background have some questionable draw distance, but the flat, abstract appearance of the city in the distance lends even more of a comic look to the environment.

The sidekick to the visuals, sound, also does a good job of bringing the silent pages of a comic to life.  The voiceovers are all well done and suitably over the top, even if Spidey and his nemeses are all a bit younger than I’m used to.  Parker’s smarmy one-liners are a lot better than Toby Maguire’s vacuous deliveries in the movie games.   Music is effective when it shows up, but it lacks a necessary variety that makes the overall score rather bland.
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