With the success that Marvel had with the release of the 2002 movie Spider-Man, and each proceeding sequel, the gaming community has been blessed with an influx of Marvel game titles. While the original Spider-Man series is largely centered on the movies, Ultimate Spider-Man breaks away from the movie franchise and focuses on its own modified version of the Spider-Man story. While some may not appreciate the cartoon style graphics, Ultimate Spider-Man brings in a fresh new plot that gamers, who have never read the comics, will find a great experience nevertheless.
The plot in Ultimate Spider-Man is a complete departure from the movie. For instance, Peter Parker and Mary Jane are 15-year-old high school students, in comparison to the movies where they have graduated and are living on their own. On top of that, Mary Jane already knows who is behind the Spider-Man mask. As a matter of fact, she even mends his costume from time to time. Another twist in Ultimate Spider-Man is Venom's origin. For those who are not familiar with the original Spider-Man story, J.J. Jameson's son, who was on a space mission, brought the Venom symbiote back to earth. Through chaotic and extraordinary circumstances, Peter becomes attached to the symbiote and starts going insane before he is able to remove the suit. The suit leaves Peter and seeks out a new host; this host is found to be Eddie Brock, a rival photographer for the Daily Bugle Newspaper. Ultimate Spider-man deviates from this classic story line. In the game, the Venom suit is the culmination of research by Peter and Brock's parents to cure cancer. Peter and Brock are good friends in the beginning, but gradually grow apart as Peter realizes the evil potential of the suit. Needless to say, the story that ensues is good enough to make you forget that it is different from the original storyline.
Ultimate Spider-Man actually offers two paths for you to follow in the single player mode. While different types of games give you a choice between a good or evil character, here the two sides are fused as you control Spider-Man in some stages and Venom in others. Thankfully, gamers get to play as Spider-Man most of the time since his personality is more developed than that of Venom. Throughout the game, Spider-man will have free roam of the city and will be able to accomplish a variety of secondary tasks before. The side-missions range from acrobatic timed courses, to eliminating gangs around the city. In some missions you are able to roam around the city with Venom, but these are few and far between, and once that mission is complete, control switches back over to Spider-man. The difference in tactics and mobility of the two characters are noticeable in the gameplay, while Spidey relies on his web to get through the city and fight bad guys, Venom prefers giant leaps and brute strength for fighting and movement.
The city is laced with a variety of activities that range from saving suicidal people on rooftops, to winning acrobatically challenging races. While these may seem frivolous at first, each primary story mission requires a certain number of activities to be completed before it's unlocked. Certain "activities" happen randomly, so you need to pay attention to your city scanner for those red dots, as they represent the location of a crime in progress. The activity hot spots represent a variety of tasks that needs to be accomplished; these range from timed races, to successfully dealing with local crime gangs. A special series of races can be attempted which pit you against Johnny Storm of the Fantastic 4.
A real highlight of the game is the story missions, with boss battles being an especially satisfying experience. Instead of just pitting you against a boss in a death-match, Ultimate Spider-Man goes the extra mile by giving you extra challenges before a battle. For example, you will first need to rescue numerous people from the carnage of a boss's rampage around the city before you are allowed to face him. It's this extra layer of complexity that makes Ultimate Spider-Man's boss battles both enjoyable and challenging at the same time. The controls at the core of all this action are intuitive and easy to pick up as well.
In the sound department, Ultimate Spider-Man delivers top-notch voice talent for most characters. As for the soundtrack, the background music consists of a single tune when you're swinging around and looking for missions, but will change to upbeat music when you encounter a boss or receive a new assignment. Sound effects like web throws and web swinging sound pretty much like you expect them to. Unfortunately I felt like the overall background noise in a busy city was definitely not in this game. A lot of extra detail just wasn't there. There's no tense music, but keeps to the same tune. Still, the focus is definitely on the voice acting, and that part of the game doesn't fail to impress.
The graphics in Ultimate Spider-Man are likely the one factor that will decide whether you love or hate the title. The game is all cell-shaded and the developers have done an excellent job of bringing the world of comic books to life. The cut-scenes are masterfully presented in a comic book fashion that, remain true to the spirit of any marvel comic. But, another issue is the frame rate. The game visibly suffers in this area when Spider-Man is web slinging around the city. I must admit that they do an impressive job of not having his webs 'stick to thin air' as in the good ol' days of the Spider-Man cartoons. Unfortunately each web swing comes with a slight drop in frame rate, which makes web swinging more challenging The frame rate can also be seen to suffer during intense boss battles, especially when there are a lot of explosions or rapid color fluctuations. The amount of visual detail is also not that impressive. As much as I loved to websling around the city and perch myself up at the top of skyscrapers, the lack of detail on each building is just appalling. This lack of detail could possibly be explained by the attempt to follow in a comic book style story line. However, the faithfulness to the comic genre is really a two-sided coin and could potentially be a turn-off for some gamers.
On the whole, Ultimate Spider-Man remains a pretty good game with an interesting plot and addictive gameplay. At the very least you might just decide to websling around the city for hours and save the good citizens of your fair city. Although Ultimate Spider-Man is a fun title, this may not be enough for those people who are picky about the quality of both the graphics and sound. If you're a fan of Spider-Man, this title is worth the opportunity to just websling around New York and keep it safe from the bad guys.