Ask people what their favourite Spider-Man game is in 2021, and you'll probably hear one of the following three answers: The 2000 Spider-Man for PlayStation and Nintendo 64, the iconic 2004 Spider-Man 2 adaptation of the Sam Raimi movie, or 2018's Marvel's Spider-Man.
These are all great and perfectly acceptable answers, but I've always been baffled by one glaring omission. For years, I've lamented the fact that one of the most inventive, lore-laden, and lovingly made Spider-Man games out there never gets to be a part of the discussion. I'm talking about Ultimate Spider-Man.
Before we move on, take a look at some of GAMINGbible's favourite Spider-Man games below!
As you can probably tell, Ultimate Spider-Man is very much My Shit. Released in 2005 in between Spider-Man 2 and the disastrous Spider-Man 3, Ultimate was another open-world arachnid adventure from Treyarch that built on the freedom to explore, swing around the city, and save the day at will that was established in its predecessor.
The core difference between Ultimate Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, was that Ultimate wasn't another movie cash-in (not that there's anything wrong with that, as Spider-Man 2 proved). Instead, Treyarch worked with comic book creators Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley to adapt their own, massively successful comic book series of the same name.
The Ultimate Spider-Man books, for those that aren't aware, were essentially a teen-focused reboot of the classic Spidey. In the early noughties Bendis and Bagley remixed a number of classic Spider-Man stories - and told plenty of brand-new tales - breathing new life into familiar characters and plots by picking and choosing from the best elements of the last few decades of Spidey adventures.
Hindsight allowed them to make changes such as ensuring important characters like Norman Osborn and Otto Octavious played a pivotal role in Peter's origins, while also introducing more "recent" (relatively speaking) characters like Venom and Carnage much, much earlier on. It's an approach the Marvel Cinematic Universe has since adapted to great effect.
The bright and colourful world of Ultimate Spider-Man and its old-but-new characters was a hit with comic book fans everywhere, so excitement was obviously high when we learned Treyarch would be working with its creators to turn the series into a game.
It didn't disappoint. Ultimate Spider-Man had a fairly similar structure to its predecessor, in that you could swing around and take on missions when you felt like it or simply screw around and fight crime. It also used the fact it wasn't tied down by the plot of an existing movie to its huge benefit, embracing the vibrant colours and sharp dialogue of the comics with a cel-shaded art style that still holds up to this day, and a plot involving a whole raft of classic Marvel villains and heroes.
The open world in Ultimate Spider-Man was far, far more interesting than the New York in Spider-Man 2 in this writer's opinion. Rather than a boring old Manhattan grounded in boring old reality, Ultimate gave us the, well, ultimate Marvel playground to mess around in. Long before Insomniac's version of New York delighted us with all its Easter eggs, Ultimate Spider-Man was a treasure trove of secrets and references, from the Latverian Embassy and the Baxter Building, to Doctor Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum.
It was a much bouncier game too, developing the web-swinging of Spider-Man 2 even further by giving the player enhanced speed and a double-jump option. The addition of this simple, yet effective mechanic didn't make a ton of sense, but it allowed our hero to ping around the city like a spidery pinball. It also gave combat a much nimbler feel that made full use of Peter's agility - a fitting match for the youthful exuberance of a younger Spider-Man.
The story itself, written by Bendis and Bagley, was a continuation of the critically acclaimed Venom arc from the comic books: satisfying for hardcore fans while still perfectly accessible for any newcomers thanks to a handy interactive recap.
As an added bonus, we could actually switch between Spidey and Venom to enjoy two very different playstyles. Spider-Man, obviously, was all about saving the day and making quips. Venom, unable to swing on webs, could leap tall buildings in a single bound, throw cars, and had to eat NPCs in order to stay alive. Venom's free roam options were literally about causing as much damage as you can, with law enforcement arriving in greater numbers and with better gear till they finally took you down. There was even a scoring system to how much carnage (no pun intended) the symbiote could manage before dropping - a neat little arcade twist on the open world formula.
Ultimate Spider-Man didn't mess about when it came to boss battles, either. Both Venom and Spidey faced each other a handful of times (with the player controlling a different one depending on the scenario), but there were also a handful of iconic fights that made use of both characters' sets of skills. Venom tussled with Wolverine in an excellent bar brawl, for example, while Spidey had a great - and brutal - showdown with Green Goblin. These brawls occasionally felt a little too hard for their own good, but they were always epic, cinematic affairs.
It's a shame Ultimate Spider-Man didn't do better, honestly, because I would have loved to have seen what Treyarch might have been able to do if it were allowed to develop its world and unique aesthetic further. Instead we ended up with Spider-Man 3, and we didn't get another truly excellent open-world Spidey game until Insomniac's effort in 2018.
Still, I'll always remember Ultimate Spider-Man for daring to be different, and for embracing the colour, style, and bombast of comic book superheroes in a time when video games were becoming increasingly obsessed with realism. It truly is one of the greatest Spider-Man games ever made, and will always hold a special place in the hearts of those of us who played it.
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