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E3 2005: Ultimate Spider-Man First Impressions

Marvel takes the wraps off of its latest comic game starring everyone's favorite webhead.


Activision has had a very good run with its series of Spider-Man games based on the impressive Sam Raimi-directed films starring Marvel Comics' iconic webslinger. The latest title featuring the amazing arachnid is a departure from the movie games and instead focuses on his comic adventures. Of all Spidey's various books over the years, Ultimate Spider-Man focuses on the newest incarnation of the hero, which is part of Marvel's Ultimate line, and aims to reintroduce the 40-plus-year-old character to a modern audience. The game serves as a companion to one of the book's most popular storylines, which introduced Venom, and makes use of a unique approach to its narrative, all of which sets it apart from the previous games from Activision. We recently had the chance to get a look at the game in motion, which is arguably one of the slickest comic translations we've seen to date.

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Click to enlarge.

If you haven't followed Marvel's Ultimate line of comic books, we'll toss in a quick primer so you won't be left behind. The line began in 2000 with Ultimate Spider-Man, an attempt by Marvel to update the decades-old hero for a new generation of readers. Though all of the key points of Spidey's origin remained intact, Marvel and writer Brian Michael Bendis had some fun with the finer details. Whereas in the current Marvel series Peter Parker is all grown up and married with all sorts of personal baggage to sort through, Ultimate Spider-Man's Peter Parker is back to the basics. The young high school student is a Web designer at the Daily Bugle newspaper and is dating one Mary Jane Watson. This fresh approach not only reintroduces all the elements of the Spider-Man canon that many of us grew up with, but also adds new twists that have attracted a slew of new readers and maintained the faithful fans. Ultimate Spider-Man's story picks up where the Venom story arc left off.

The third-person action adventure game uses an objective-based mission structure that lets you roam through a massive chunk of New York City. You'll be able to zip around Manhatten and Queens, checking out the local sights like Peter's home and high school, or focusing on mission-critical objectives that will advance the story once completed. The gameplay mechanics are in line with developer Treyarch's previous Spider-Man titles, and the best aspects of the two movie games have been combined to result in an end product that the team is hoping will be an accessible experience. You'll have access to the full array of Spidey's powers, speed, strength, superhuman leaps, webslinging, and so on, which will all come into play as you fight crime. Ultimate Spider-Man also features a flexible combat system that the team hopes will re-create Spider-Man's unique acrobatic combat style.

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Click to enlarge.

Now, while this all sounds fairly routine for a Spider-Man game, Ultimate Spider-Man heats things up with the inclusion of a second playable character, Venom. But, rather than simply being a palette swap, Venom actually features unique moves that set him apart from Spidey--which is namely raw power. Whereas Spider-Man is all speedy leaps and lightning-quick moves, Venom is a nigh-unstoppable powerhouse who wields all the subtlety of a bull in a china shop and can cause mass destruction with his powerful tendrils. The catch for such power, though, is that when playing as Venom you'll have to feed innocent bystanders to your suit to keep it from draining your life force. Better them than you, right? The addition of Venom to the mix is a treat for fans and should also provide some variety to the experience.

The missions you'll undertake will be set throughout the city and will determine which of the characters you'll play as, and it seems as though you'll be playing as both characters for roughly the same amount of time. Though some of the missions the characters will participate in may be a bit similar to one another, you'll find that how they go about their business is distinctly different. Besides standard missions, you'll get into boss fights against familiar faces, such as Electro, which become dynamic adventures once both Spidey and Venom get in the mix. Our demo showed an epic street battle between Spider-Man, Electro, and Venom in Times Square.

Spidey's solid gameplay is complemented by a stunning visual style that frames the action in a pseudo-3D comic style complete with motion-graphics panels that the camera flows in out and of as the cinematics unfold. To add to the comic feel, the graphics use a lighting and black inking system for the characters, which does a remarkable job of simulating the art style of a comic book. We were able to check out a few different segments of the game and are mightily impressed by the sleek storytelling in this work- in-progress title. The story panels and the camera work around them is well done and ensures the action is never visually boring. In fact, based on what we've seen, we'd say the game displays the kind of polish and style we'd expect out of a Japanese game, which is a very good thing considering its state of completion.

The audio in the game is sounding good, with a solid cast of voice actors being tapped to bring the comic cast to life. We're especially pleased by how Spidey's trademark quipping has come off. The music we heard featured a collection of tracks worthy of a good comic romp, so we were pleased.

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Click to enlarge.

Our early look at Ultimate Spider-Man was a positive one and left us wanting more. The gameplay looks like it's offering what you'd want from a Spider-Man game, while the visuals add in a whole new level of style that's been overdue in comic games for some time. We're extremely anxious to see how the game will turn out, and we aim to make it one of our firsts as we begin roaming the E3 show floor this week. Ultimate Spider-Man is slated to ship later this year for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, PC, Xbox, Nintendo DS, and Game Boy Advance. Look for more on the game soon.

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