E3 Reviews: "Ultimate Spider-Man," "Hulk: Ultimate Destruction" and "Marvel Nemesis"

Friday I looked at all the non-Marvel comic bases video games. Today, we look at the Marvel games available at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. As with my previous review, remember, these are snap reviews based on limited playtime on unfinished games. The final products may be very different.

Activision's "Ultimate Spider-Man" won E3's Player's Choice award for a reason. Even in its early form, it looks that good. Much like last year's "Spider-Man 2," "Ultimate Spider-Man" gives players a chance to roam around Manhattan thwarting evil. This year, Manhattan has been shrunk down a bit, but Peter Parker's stomping grounds of Queens have been added.

The game is thoroughly entrenched in the Ultimate Marvel Universe. Brian Michael Bendis wrote the script and Mark Bagley provided the character designs. Venom is an alternate playable character. Other characters that have been confirmed include Electro, Rhino and Nick Fury and the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It has also been confirmed that other guest stars from the Ultimate Universe will appear, but they haven't been revealed yet (look for an interview with Bendis tomorrow here at CBR for just one of those characters).

So what makes the game so good? Everything that made "Spider-Man 2" so good has been maintained. The free-roaming, webswinging action is still in the game. Mini-games where Spidey helps out the denizens of New York are still in the game.

However, everything else has been improved. The mini-games are more varied and far more detailed. The hand-to-hand combat, which occasionally was somewhat jerky in the last game, looks far smoother. Unlockables, which were missing from the last game, have been promised in some form.

Beyond that, what really made this game stand out beyond every other game at E3 were the graphics. The game explodes with color and excitement, making the comic book art come alive. Manhattan is a place of energy, light and excitement. Spidey and the other characters look like Mark Bagley drew on your television set.

There were still a few technical issues with the game. Spidey's webswinging was a little stiffer than it should have been, but there is still plenty of time to fix that. The only unforgivable mistake: Samuel L. Jackson isn't playing Nick Fury.

Unfortunately, EA's "Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects" doesn't capture the same kind of magic. The game is a 3D one-on-one fighting game, pitting various Marvel heroes against each other and new characters called the Imperfects, who, quite frankly, look like random sketchings from a mid-90s Image comic. Everything is based on designs from comic artist Jae Lee. Now, I love Jae Lee's artwork. He is one of those artists who will make me pick up a book purely for the art. But he is not the choice I would have made to base a Marvel fighting game on. Game producers said they were looking for a darker, graphic novel work, but Lee's artwork just doesn't transfer to video games well, let alone video games with Iron Man in them.

Beyond that, the combat engine is overly confusing. Everyone has all their powers, but using them didn't feel natural. Iron Man can fly and shoot repulsar rays; Spider-Man can web swing and shoot webs; Wolverine can stab people. But using the powers affectively felt like a chore.

The funny thing is, the game's producer admitted that people are unlikely to play that much as the Imperfects. Quite frankly, I didn't even bother playing with them, because I could care less about them when I can have Iron Man beat up Wolverine.

On the plus side, VU Games' "Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction" kicks nine kinds of butt. With a script written by Paul Jenkins, the game is based purely on the comics. (For more with Jenkins on this game, click here.) There are no movie elements - Hulk doesn't look like Eric Bana. The art is definitely based on a real artist, and I know I recognize who it is, but it is killing me that I can't think of the name. "The Ultimates" artist Bryan Hitch has supplied the cover art, however.

The name "Ultimate Destruction" is apt. The stealth missions of the first Hulk game are gone. In their place is Hulk beating stuff up. Hulk smashes puny green soldier men. Hulk smashes puny cities. Hulk smashes walking metal men.

The new game allows Hulk to wander around a fully destructible city smashing things. Supervillain fights end up looking like something out of the second Superman movie. Even better, Hulk can pick up any object smaller than a building and use it as either a shield or a weapon. That includes people. Hulk can also take a shield/car and propel it with his legs to use as a surfboard, leaving destruction in his wake. As an in-joke, Hulk can also wrap cars around his hands, resembling the popular Hulk Hand toys that were available when the movie came out.

Villains in the game include Emil Blonsky, aka the Abomination, Gen. Thunderbolt Ross and Mercy, an obscure Hulk character that hasn't appeared in the comics since 1997. VU Games promises more information, such as other Marvel characters and an all-star voice cast, to be releases at Comic-Con International in San Diego.

Simply put, the game is fun. If anyone saw the preview of the game at Wizard World LA, it is almost a different game it is so much better. Hulk smashes. Hulk jumps. Hulk runs up the sides of buildings. Hulk throws tanks at stuff. Hulk is fun.

I still can't tell whether or not Activision's "Fantastic Four," based on the upcoming movie, is good or not. It didn't help that the game wasn't playable, and only a movie trailer with small tidbits of game footage was shown to the E3 public. That's not so unusual - the same thing was done for "Spider-Man 2" to keep plot sensitive elements of the movie secret, and the game ended up amazing, pun not intended. However, I was given a special viewing of the game and wasn't overwhelmed.

The gameplay seems fun enough. It plays something like an action intensive version of "X-Men Legends." Ben, Sue, Johnny and Reed all fight together at the same time and up to two players can switch between the Four at any given time. The powers are all well represented and the combat engine appears robust. There are far more moves that can be pulled off than in "Legends," and the power up system, which allows players to choose which powers and moves to increase with experience points, works well.

What is lacking from the game are the graphics. The build of the game I was watching was old, but the game is coming out in June. The Thing looked flat. He was big and orange, but his rocky exterior looked like the crags were painted on. Sue Storm looked like she was missing a few polygons as well, and not because she was turning invisible.

If the graphics problems are solved, this could be a really fun game. As I said, the combat was pretty intense. And Reed's stretchy fighting style needs to be seen. But the build I saw needed work.

"X-Men Legends 2," on the other hand, looks amazing. The only thing I can tell you that wasn't in CBR's earlier preview of the game is that the Age of Apocalypse appears to fit into the game somehow, and cameos from other Marvel heroes have been promised, although which ones remains a secret. But the game looks incredible so far. Raven Software looks like they know what they're doing.

That's it for all the comic book games at E3 2005. It looks like it's going to be a pretty fun year or two for fans of comic books and video games.

Jeremy Goldstone is the host of the GameBreakers podcast at http://www.videogameradio.com.

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