Unless you're in denial about being unable to squeeze into the Spiderman outfit that your mother bought you from Argos for your fifth birthday, (the one you refuse to throw out) or a member of Father's For Justice, then there isn't an awful lot of the time when you can pretend to be one of your favourite Marvel heroes. Even if you do manage to squeeze into your outfit, crushing your internal organs in the process, you still probably can't swing around the locality with the ease and dexterity of Spidey or scratch pretty patterns into your nemeses face Wolverine-stylee. Not without the risk of embarrassing yourself in front of the whole neighbourhood when those nice men in white coats come to take you away, anyway.
With this in mind, the Spiderman games on this generation of consoles have not disappointed. From the comfort of home we have been able to control the alias of geek boy extraordinaire Peter Parker in, over and around Manhattan with a simplicity realised after a couple of minutes play but with the impression of an act much more skillfully executed. Ultimate Spiderman successfully continues this enjoyable trend.
Spiderman's latest outing is inspired by the comic book with which the game shares its title, one which has been published during the past five years. To complement this decision the game's creators Treyarch sensibly hired Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley, the comic book's creators. With these chaps on board scripting every line of dialogue and providing pencil designs for each of the characters, the game well on its way to success. The storyline involves our favourite human arachnid embarking on a quest to search out and defeat his arch enemy, Venom, after he (as Peter Parker) and his friend, Eddie Brock Jr., messing around in their fathers' laboratory accidentally unleash its contained power which manifests itself in Brock. He disappears in a flash of electricity and sets off to cause havoc in New York City.
The first thing that strikes you about the game is the way it looks. The playing field is alive with hundreds of vivid tones and outlined in black to give the sense that you really are playing a sketched out comic book character and living out the latest edition in real-time. Think along the lines of XIII or the Dreamcast's Jet Set Radio and you're some way to imagining how everything appears. Whether morning, noon or night the landscapes look great, detailed with all manner of buildings and props, many, such as the Brooklyn Bridge that you'll recognize instantly as staples of New York. Compounding the feeling is the way the cut-scenes play out like a live action comic. Characters leap in and out of white bordered frames and sound effects burst onto the screen like they did in the 1960s Batman and Robin TV series. Most can be skipped but rarely will you want to miss out on the spectacle of them.
As you might have gathered if you've ever experienced any of Spiderman's appearances on various formats there's never a shortage of civilians needing to be rescued in Manhattan. Those pesky thugs just never seem to realise when they've been beaten and this is the case in Ultimate Spiderman too. Gameplay is divided into both optional and compulsory sections. In order to progress through the story mode you must use icons on the map to seek out and complete a number of 'City Events' before making your way to the next designated beacon. Unfortunately these scenarios are as uninspired as they were in both prequels. Rather than a varied selection of circumstances it's usually just a case of decking a couple of hapless foes and webbing them whilst they're paralysed or rescuing a couple of people in precarious positions. Seeing off New York's criminals can be amusing, despite the moves available being more limited than in the previous games. Still, with a bit of training you'll be wall flipping, web slinging and thwacking a group of hoodlums to their demise in a matter of seconds, before nipping off to your next destination and another chapter in the story.
Alternatively you can dismiss the cries of citizens in need of your assistance and head for areas marked on the map as Combat Tours or Races. The first is simply a test of your scrapping abilities where you're directed via the on-screen arrow in the direction of small clusters of gangs. These trials last a couple of minutes each and are really just a bit a diversion from the main game. So too are the Races. A timer appears and with the assistance of the all-knowing arrow you must swing your way through a series of large checkpoints dotted around the vicinity. Your reward is either a bronze, silver or gold medal depending on how quick you complete the course. In addition to these options, there are hundreds of tokens to collect around the city. Chances are you'll stumble across many on your travels, but to collect them all requires real dedication. Whether the reward of new outfits and a comic book cover gallery is worth the mammoth effort required is questionable and seems at times like a cynical way of extending the game's longevity. Nevertheless the excuse to fly down low through the city streets with the wind in your spandex is a strangely therapeutic experience that you won't tire of quickly.
Spidey meets a variety of his Marvel Universe contemporaries on his adventure (Wolverine, Green Goblin, Nick Fury etc., more than any have appeared in a Spiderman game before), some of whom feature as bosses for you to battle with. The boss fights are to be commended, for while they stick to a tried and tested formula they're more often than not exciting affairs; defeating each of them consisting of studying the enemy's movements for the best moment to strike and repeating the process so that they die before you do. At a couple of points in the game the storyline takes a twist as you take control of Venom. In one instance you'll be controlling the fork-tongued monster, pitted against Electro in a clash that takes place under the bright lights of Times Square. Your task involves simultaneously destroying him (most effectively by hurling passing cars), and making sure that he is distracted from an unconscious Spiderman who he would otherwise electrocute with deadly consequences.
While Ultimate Spiderman isn't the perfect superhero game it is yet another step in the right direction, progressing suitably well from its predecessor as well as the most recent Incredible Hulk offering. Though the game is short (about 10 hours for the main game), and there a couple of minor frame-rate (PS2 version) and camera issues, the appeal of web assisted travel through the city streets to root out every last token is something you'll probably pleasure in doing. Couple this with the brilliant voice acting throughout and quirky comments from the public as you glide by, ('He looks thinner on T.V!') and Treyarch are definitely onto a winner. Despite its slight imperfections then, Ultimate Spiderman is a game that will be a thrill to play from beginning to end, for both seasoned gamers and middle-aged protesters in ridiculous outfits.