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Ultimate Spider-Man review

Really ultimate or just bigger-headed, asks Xbox World 360

There's nothing like a good makeover. Just ask anyone who's been on a Living TV reality show.

The formula is very simple: take a bird with a face like a bust knacker, spend a stack of cash on scrubbing her up, and you've got yourself a tasty little trophy wife. All of which casual sexism leads us to the latest outing for Marvel's web-slinger.

Activision is a publisher that knows how to treat its superhero licences respectfully.

It might only be just over a year since Spider-Man 2 left us jaw-dropped at its impressive recreation of New York, cracking superhero fisticuffs and ropey camera work, but as the wall-crawler swings back into view, he feels altogether mintier and freshly scrubbed-up.

The Ultimate universe is Marvel's re-imagining of its classic heroes, and just like the comic books, the game manages to revitalise familiar characters and locations brilliantly.

A lot of videogames look nice, of course, but Ultimate Spider-Man has the confidence to look truly distinctive.

It might be called something fancy now like 3D Comic Inking Technology (you - like us - will know it's really cel-shading), but as a result it's one of the most stunning titles on Xbox.

The bold primary colours, thick lines and multiple framing all help turn Ultimate Spider-Man into a rainbow eyewash for your tired mince pies.

You could almost lie in front of your TV all day wearing shades and a Hawaiian shirt, basking in its magnificent glory. If, like us, you didn't have proper jobs.

However, much like spraying boatloads of deodorant over stale armpits, the all-new look only masks the fact that the Spider-Man gameplay hasn't progressed underneath the shiny new threads.

It's still a very enjoyable game, but apart from a few refined elements, it's also an extremely familiar experience.

The game proper is split into two distinctive portions, where city events need to be completed in order to unlock story missions.

It's not an intrusive mechanic, it's just that the city events become samey very quickly. They basically consist of A-to-B races, combat tours against handfuls of goons and rescue missions where Spidey has to rush a citizen to hospital within a time limit.

The story missions are where the game is really at, with Parker going toe-to-toe against a rogues' gallery of villains. This usually involves a chase through city streets, rescuing citizens from burning cars and collapsed buildings, before a showdown with the heinous bad guy.

These battles involve exploiting the characters' weakness (such as Electro's aversion to water) and feature enough spectacle, bluster and drama to make for thrilling face-offs that perfectly ape over-the-top comic book showdowns.

The big addition to Ultimate Spider-Man is that we also get the chance to take control of Venom, the bad-ass of the piece.

Instead of apprehending crims and wise-cracking, Venom snaps soldiers over his knee, face-plants enemies into concrete and throws cars at helicopters. Oh, and he sucks people into his chest and drains their energy before spitting their carcasses on to the pavement. He's nice like that.

It feels liberating to play as the bastard of the piece and crucially it allows for more variety in gameplay.

Developer Treyarch has also cut down the amount of moves, throwing away a whole bunch of fighting combos that you probably didn't use anyway.

A little less successfully, the excellent precision swinging of Spider-Man 2 has been streamlined in favour of a one-button, one-web approach that can make it difficult to truly master Spider-Man's aerial physics and momentum.

We can see the attraction of this, but some may find it a little shallow after last year's game where you really felt like you were swooping city-wide.

So, Ultimate just lags behind Hulk as our favourite superhero game, though, it's still fantastic to look at and two-fisted fun to play, which is what every game based on a comic book should be.

If anything, with the story mode clocking in a smallish eight hours, it's over too quickly. Still, there'll be another one along soon.

Ultimate Spider-Man is out now for Xbox, PS2, Gamecube, PC, DS and GBA

More info

DescriptionCartoon-shaded superheroics, cameos aplenty and two wildly different, playable characters make this the best Spidey game around.
US censor rating"Teen","Teen","Teen","Teen","Teen"
UK censor rating"","","","",""
Release date1 January 1970 (US), 1 January 1970 (UK)