All right, so it’s a slick looker, and it sounds pretty good too. But what about the meat and potatoes, the gameplay? Well, if you’ve played Spider Man 2, you’ve basically played this game. It runs on the same basic principle, the free-roaming Manhattan, and probably even the same game engine. Thankfully, there are some welcome improvements over the sequel game. The city has been scaled back a bit, making the environment tighter and easier to navigate. Spider Man 2’s New York was so massive, with so much empty unused space, that I never felt like Spider Man, like the city was a playground that I had domain over.
All that’s changed in Ultimate. New York feels a lot more relevant now that evry area has a function, a purpose. And with the addition of Venom, I can be more than just a protector. The symbiote terror controls a lot differently than the webhead, mostly because he doesn’t swing on webs. Rather, he leaps great distances, high into the air. I’ll admit, it was a rush the first time I hit the R trigger and Venom shot up several dozen stories, then came crashing down to put a large crater in the pavement. Venom doesn’t have any falling damage, unlike Spidey, but the symbiote is constantly eating away at the health of Eddie Brock, Venom’s tortured alter ego. Venom doesn’t grab health powerups, however; he recharges his strength by draining it from innocent bystanders or enemies, sucking them into his syrupy mass and leeching the life right out of them.
Venom’s story stages are simple, straightforward slugathons through several city blocks. The only object of his missions is to rip, tear, smash and otherwise wreak havoc on the city and anyone who happens to get in his way. Again, it feels a lot like GTA, because Venom’s attacks are decidedly brutal and actually fatal to his enemies. In addition to the aforementioned health-drain, face planting a hapless guard or snapping a guy’s spine like a toothpick is particularly satisfying. But as you cause more destruction, tougher and bigger forces are called in to take you down.
It’s very similar to GTA’s star system, with a score counter at the top of the screen registering just how badly the military wants you dead. You know you’re in trouble when they start radioing for Hulk-Buster units, which means you’re just as destructive as Mr. Big Gameplay-wise, Venom certainly brings something fresh to the table, if a little reminiscent of the Hulk. Spider Man, however, remains largely the same. The swinging is tighter, the combat has been spruced up with lively acrobatics, but he’s still the same wall-crawler, and that’s a good thing. For the most part, the game’s two main characters are a solid offering. It’s the boss battles that get a tad checkered.
It’s not the fights themselves that are problematic. The actual struggles with the likes of Beetle, electro, Green Goblin, Silver Sable and the rest are all epic and heart-pounding. It’s getting to them that has me griping. For some reason, almost every boss fight is preceded with a chase through the city, whether you’re playing as Venom or Spidey. I can understand this if the villain is trying to escape, but chasing down the baddies that are single-mindedly trying to kill you in the first place doesn’t make sense. The chases are rather annoying too; a floating arrow points you in the general direction, but weaving in and out of skyscrapers gets old fast. You’ll find yourself doing these chases over and over again, and they quickly become the tiresome task of pattern memorization. They wouldn’t be worth if they didn’t lead up to awesome battles, masterful cutscenes and story revelation.
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