Ultimate Spider-Man Updated Hands-On

We check out the latest work-in-progress Xbox version of what just might be the ultimate Spider-Man game.

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During a recent Activision press event in San Francisco we had the opportunity to get our hands on the latest Xbox build of Ultimate Spider-Man, which is currently scheduled for release toward the end of this month. Set shortly after the disappearance of Venom in Ultimate Spider-Man comic number 39, Ultimate Spider-Man not only sees Spidey's nemesis resurfacing, but also gives you plenty of opportunities to play as him. We got to see a handful of different levels from Ultimate Spider-Man during our time with the game, and we can report that both of the playable characters are a lot of fun.

The first level that we checked out was the game's first, which essentially serves as the tutorial for Spidey. The level saw us assuming the role of Peter Parker (who's only around 15 years old in the Ultimate Spider-Man universe), who is confronted by Venom outside his high school late at night. We were familiarized with the controls for jumping (and double-jumping), punching, and kicking during the battle with Venom that ensued, as well as with the game's Spider-Sense mechanic, which lets you perform special moves by pushing a button when the Spider-Sense aura appears around your head. When the fight was over we were taken to the next stage of the tutorial, which was set in among the sun-drenched skyscrapers of New York. Predictably, our first goal here was to get to grips with Spidey's webswinging controls, which we're pleased to report are incredibly intuitive and--thanks to some superbly acrobatic animations--very satisfying. The biggest challenge when swinging from weblines was avoiding routes where there weren't many tall buildings to swing from, since you won't be able to suspend your webs in midair. When scaling tall buildings--which can be done very quickly using weblines if you're in a hurry--we even noticed residue from our recent webslinging activities in places. How's that for attention to detail?

Spidey's webs have more uses than a Swiss Army knife.
Spidey's webs have more uses than a Swiss Army knife.

Once we were comfortable with swinging around the city, we were able to head toward any number of different waypoints that were indicated on a radar at the bottom of the screen. The radar, although small and simplistic looking, does a great job of showing you exactly where your objectives are, including at what height you'll find them. At the first waypoint that we made our way to we found a gang of thugs hanging out on a rooftop, which gave us a great opportunity to see how well Spidey's combat skills hold up against multiple enemies. As you'd expect, the thugs didn't present much of a challenge, particularly once we got the hang of performing evasive maneuvers with our Spider-Sense button and using our webs to tie up enemies who had been knocked to the ground. On our way to the next waypoint, which was the starting point for a checkpoint race against the clock, we found a hidden art collectible, and the last waypoint that we found tasked us with rescuing an injured woman from one area of the city and getting her to a hospital as quickly as possible.

We were then shown a level taken from later in the game, which initially tasked us with pursuing Beetle (a Marvel character previously unseen in Ultimate Spider-Man) as he flew through the city causing trouble. The chase really tested our swinging skills, and when Beetle saw us getting a little close for comfort he decided to create something of a distraction by causing an explosion at the entrance to one of the tunnels under the Hudson River. At this point our primary objective changed, and we were required to rescue two members of the public from the tunnel before their own health bars (which were essentially timers) expired. Rescuing them required us to do nothing more than pull them away from the tunnel and get them to an ambulance waiting nearby. But the time limit was pretty tight, so it wasn't a walk in the park by any means. We also performed a similar service for a woman trapped high above the city streets in a burning building, and here we got a very brief look at a confrontation between Spider-Man and Venom--who we assumed control of moments later in his own tutorial level.

What Venom lacks in agility he more than makes up for with brute strength.
What Venom lacks in agility he more than makes up for with brute strength.

Where Spider-Man controls like some kind of hyperactive monkey a lot of the time (which is not a bad thing), Venom feels more like some kind of unstoppable gorilla. The Venom controls aren't radically different from those that you'll be using for Spider-Man, but the pair have very little in common as far as their abilities are concerned, so playing with Venom is a completely different experience. Venom's attacks, for example, include a pretty standard claw swipe, a long-range tentacle swing, and a number of brutal finishing moves that can be performed whenever you manage to grab an enemy. Venom can also pick up items such as cars to use as weapons, and he basically feels like he's invincible--right up to the point that you notice his health dropping as a result of the Venom suit's insatiable appetite. When playing as Venom, your health will be dropping constantly, and the only way to keep it topped up is to feed, which is done by absorbing energy from people, whether they are enemies or innocent passersby. Feeding is accomplished simply by holding down the left trigger button when you're close to your target, at which point Venom will pull them closer and spend a few seconds absorbing their energy. You're unable to move while feeding, which makes you vulnerable to attacks. However, we had no problems taking out entire gangs using nothing but the feeding attack, so it'll be interesting to see if Venom's levels get more challenging later on.

We thoroughly enjoyed every minute that we spent with Ultimate Spider-Man on this occasion, and we're really looking forward to getting our hands on a finished copy of the game as its release date closes in. The screenshots of the game look great, incidentally, but to really get a sense of how awesome this game looks you really need to see it in action. We'll bring you more information on Ultimate Spider-Man as soon as it becomes available.

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