Activision has hit the nail on the head with their new Spider-man game. Ultimate Spider-man differs from Spider-man and Spider-man 2 in three major ways: the look, the story, and the playable characters. This game adopts the comic book origins more fully than the other two, has a fast-paced adventure, and allows the player two different characters during the game. Also, the first two games mimicked the films, while Ultimate Spider-man follows the story set down in the comic book series of the same name. Not to be confused with the Amazing Spider-man, Ultimate Spider-man could be thought of as a large-scale "what if" series, recreating the Spider-man mythos during Peter Parker's young teen years.

In the first two games, the developers went for extreme realism in their graphics and cinematics, but in this new game, characters are boldly outlined, cel shaded, and oddly proportioned. In many cutscenes, the player is shown a series of action-packed comic frames, such as Spider-man swinging out of one panel and into another. It gives an unexpected new dimension that aims to please comic book fans. Viewtiful Joe's graphical style is extremely similar to the Ultimate Spider-man cutscenes, but in-game, the New York City buildings and cars are slightly more realistic.

Spider-man and Spider-man 2 were based on the movies of the same names, and the missions you were required to beat roughly followed the movies' plots. This game has nothing to do with the upcoming Spider-man 3 film. Instead it follows the story of high schoolers Peter Parker and Eddie Brock. Brock was Parker's childhood friend, and they had got together to find out what experiments their fathers had both worked on years ago. They discover the Venom suit, and it takes over Eddie quite soon into the story. Most of the time Peter is distracted on his mission to stop Venom, but this is his true aim.

Most levels will have you playing as Spider-man, but occasionally you will play through a level as Venom, who has very different moves. Spidey's particular style of movement mainly deals with webs, using them to swing or launch forward. Venom's abilities are more strength-oriented: jumping hundreds of feet into the air and whipping tenticles around to pull himself. Spider-man attacks thieves and thugs with punches, kicks and webs, and alternatively, Venom viciously lifts up innocents, and has a choice of brutally pounding their faces into the pavement, throwing them away, or sickeningly snapping their backs. He can replenish health by absorbing pedestrians' life forces, and this skill makes the Venom levels much easier, because health is readily available all over.

The game is very short and has a somewhat unsatisfying end, but there is replay value up the yin yang. After the seven-hour story is finished, there are a multitude of races and combat tours to complete, and a reward for completing the game is the ability to switch from Spider-man to Venom at any whim. As Venom, you enter a destruction mode where you have to rack up as many points as possible before the police or army takes out the trash (you). Probably as compensation for the small story mode, the game is full of cameos by superheroes and villains such as Wolverine, The Human Torch, Beetle, Rhino, Carnage, Electro, and the Green Goblin. Half of these would be enough to keep Marvel fanboys giddy, so all things considered, this game should be borrowed or rented at least, as there is weeks of unlockables and no one can get sick of webslinging across Times Square or leaping off the Empire State Building.

Rated Teen, for Violence and Language. Available on the Nintendo Gamecube, Nintendo DS, PC, PS2, and XBox. The Game Boy Advance version is a side-scrolling game that apparently contains the same plot while looking very different.

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