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Ultimate Spider-Man (PlayStation 2) artwork

Ultimate Spider-Man (PlayStation 2) review

""How come Spidey hasn’t hit puberty yet?" "

"How come Spidey hasn’t hit puberty yet?"

"Why does the Green Goblin look like the Hulk with horns?"

"What the…Nick Fury’s black! When did that happen?"

If you play Ultimate Spider-Man without knowing why it’s called Ultimate Spider-Man, you’re bound to have those three questions and a few more besides.

You see, the comic this game is based on, Ultimate Spider-Man, isn’t the Spider-Man you’ve come to know or love or hate or mildly care about; it takes place in a whole new universe. Same characters, different spins; old situations with new twists. Not the first time Marvel’s made a Spidey reboot, but it is the first time it hasn’t sucked; great art, solid storytelling, believable dialogue for believable characters…a must-buy every time I hit the comic shop.

And this game captures everything I love about the comic down to the finest detail. The comic’s art? Perfectly recreated by the cel-shading. The story? A follow-up to the Venom saga, my favorite issues out of my favorite comic. Cues taken straight from Comix Zone; every cutscene comes in moving boxes, every sound effect gets visualized. The action’s tense, the plot’s smooth, and it’s all handled by Brian Michael Bendis, the same guy who does the comic.

This game makes the comic fan in me geek out, 100%. But the videogame fan in me…well, he ain’t too happy. Everything’s fine when the cutscenes are running, but once they’re over, once you actually start playing the game…ugh.

Ultimate Spider-Man starts out with Spider-Man 2’s winning formula: Drop the player in the middle of New York City, let him swing around doing the super-hero thing, advance the plot every few minutes and call it a game. That I’ve got no problem with; it was a good idea before, it’s a good idea now. It’s a little annoying that the environment is almost exactly the same as the last game, but New York City is New York City; can’t really expect it to change much.

What I did expect was a little more variety in the side missions. Spider-Man 2 was a fine game, but once you beat it…well, there’s only so many times you can save some kid’s balloon before it gets old. I kinda hoped the side missions would have me doing some new stuff…maybe breaking up some riots…maybe pulling the old ‘daring rescue from a burning building’ routine…maybe even saving a cat from a tree, just for humor’s sake. Something new.

But does Ultimate Spider-Man bring new side missions? No. Does it even stay with the old ones? Nuh-uh. They’ve actually taken a step back.

You’re either A) saving a construction worker from falling off a building that’s not under construction B) beating up some stereotype-ridden gang, even when said gang doesn’t appear to be doing anything illegal C) stopping some joyriders from, heaven forbid, breaking the speed limit. And that’s it. Once I had to save three construction workers from death, and all I was trying to do was make it from Spidey’s house to the Daily Bugle. Three construction workers. Different buildings. Same time.

And it wouldn’t be so bad if you could just skip the side missions and pretend they don’t exist, but the game shoves them down your throat; you have to do a certain number of side missions before even the smallest of plot developments. And then there are the fighting tours and the…gah…races. Oh, how I despise the races.

The fighting tours are senseless but simple; just go around, beat up a gang of bad guys who were minding their own business until you came along, then move on to another spot and repeat. Just some street fights, nothing hard.

But the races…those are annoying. Not because the courses you have to swing through are particularly hard or anything, but because if you don’t earn a high score and get where you need to go as fast as you can get there, the game spits on your efforts and makes you do it all over again. Accidentally swing into a building? Might as well start over. Zagged when you should have zigged? Start over.

And even when you finally make it to the story missions and do stuff that you should give a damn about doing, you’re still not safe from the tedium. The races are back, but with a whole new way to give your ass pain: Ultimate Spider-Man loves chase scenes.

Either half the game has you chasing someone or it feels like half the game has you chasing someone; I honestly can not tell anymore. I’ve had to start so many chases over, they've just blurred. My quarry throws a bomb, lobs fireballs my way, I dodge and dodge, and by the time I can figure out where he got off to…

Game: He got away! Try again?

Me: I hate you.

And most of the time it doesn’t even make sense for the enemy to be running away. Spider-Man can’t be an inch over five feet tall. The Rhino is pushing fifteen feet, he probably weighs more than an eighteen-wheeler, and he’s got horns. Horns. Why run away? Why?

But no, the irritation doesn’t stop there. Ever so often, you’ll have to stop and have Spidey put his strength to use, usually saving someone who’s had a car fall on them and should, by all rights, be dead. You get your muscles in motion by rapidly pressing the L and R buttons…at first. Then the game decides to get tricky, forcing you to press them at exactly the right speeds or face failure. Somewhere between the tenth and sixteenth time I had to watch Spidey drop a car off the Brooklyn bridge, it became very frustrating.

And I’ll be damned if I forget Venom and the whole ‘Be legendary or be predatory’ gimmick that Treyarch’s been touting. Playing with Venom’s quite a change from Spidey; they don’t even share the same powers in the Ultimate universe. Venom doesn’t sling webs; he gets around by jumping really high and really fast. He doesn’t stick to walls; he digs his claws in them. And he eats people. Or, at least, he sucks them into his suit, vibrates a bit, and then spits them back out. Which may sound lame, but keep in mind: The main universe Venom eats people’s brains and can’t go five seconds without telling everyone that he does so. It could be lamer, that’s all I’m saying.

Now, don’t misjudge my judgment: Ultimate Spider-Man does have some good moments, namely the boss battles. A younger Spidey means a weaker Spidey, so you’ve got to rely on the Spider-Sense to stay in the clear. Some are evenly matched and let you go blow-for-blow with your foe, some make you do a little thinking and find the weak spots, some have you swinging high above the city in an acrobat-attack. Good variety all around; there’s even a guest boss when Venom goes feeding in a certain six-clawed canuck’s favorite bar.

But to get to the good stuff you’ve got to trudge through the drudge, and if you’re not down with Ultimate Spidey beforehand, you’d do best to stay clear. I managed to wipe through it in a day, but only because the story drove me to see it all come together; like the comic it came from, I had to get to the last page. No drive, no buy.

lasthero's avatar
Community review by lasthero (October 04, 2005)

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