Saving the best for last.
Spider-Man is the patron saint of geeks. The witty one-liners we come up with hours after a jock threat has passed occur to him on the spot, and instead of receiving forceful underwear dislocations from the Neanderthals among us, he hangs the bullies high, like tighty-whiteys out to dry.
The only problem with Spider-Man is that he's too much the hero “ there isn't a bad bone in his body. He's bound to the mantra "With great power comes great responsibility," but since when are responsibility and maturity the stuff of escapist fantasy? We aren't heroes and we're responsible enough in our daily lives. When we tune out, we want to enter a dark dreamworld where our blackest thoughts can get some exercise. We want an anti-hero who wears his insanity like a suit and who cherishes innocence because it tastes yummy.
We want Venom.
And we're going to get him in Activision's upcoming Ultimate Spider-Man. We recently got a chance to try on the legendary black skin and take a couple spins as both Venom and Spider-Man at a recent Activision event, so we can somewhat safely say that when this game comes out, you're going to have a blast saving civilians and eating them, too.
Treyarch, developers of Spider-Man 2, have proven that they can capture the thrill and freedom of web-slinging as our favorite superhero, but we were concerned that Venom would simply be like a Ken to Spider-Man's Ryu “ the same but with a couple cosmetic differences. Instead, Venom is like a rabid gorilla on PCP to Spider-Man's agile spider monkey.
His standard melee attacks are almost always one-hit kills against human opponents, but he can also lash his symbiotic tendrils like an angry octopus to take out several enemies at once, near or far. His only weakness is that the insatiable suit will steadily feed on Eddie Brock's life force, meaning he will constantly have to feed on civilians and enemies to keep himself alive. Oh darn.
At the tap of a button, Venom snares human targets with his tendrils and sucks them into himself like a big, aggro anemone. After juicing the poor soul like a Capri Sun, he spits the drained and helpless body back to the asphalt, recharged and ready for more ultra-violence.
But with Venom, you don't just run around eating people left and right. Instead you leap like a satanic flea. Unlike Spider-Man, Venom can't use webbing, so he propels himself from place to place with super jumps that fire him hundreds of feet in the air. From there, he can either use his tentacles the same way Spider-Man uses the web zip-line, or he can crash down to earth for further feeding. Venom also has a standard jump and can climb walls like Spider-Man, as well as use his tentacles to scale buildings in a hurry. We were a little bit shocked to find that Venom couldn't web-sling, but the important thing is that he has a feel all his own. The beauty of including a playable beast like Venom in this game, after all, is to do all the things a Spider-Man can't.
Namely, munch on people.
Because aside from that, Spider-Man can still do it all. His basic web-slinging mechanic has been streamlined into a more graceful stroke requiring nothing more than the press and release of a single button. The designers used this tighter, simpler foundation to build a web-slinging system of even greater complexity. Now, holding different face-buttons while swinging as Spidey results in new moves, like swinging extra fast, climbing the line for greater altitude, and launching into all sorts of crazy aerial contortions.
Thankfully, jumping no longer depends on the laboriously long charge-meter of Spider-Man 2. Instead, tapping the jump button will result in a hop, jamming it a leap, and then you can jam it a second time for a building-clearing double-jump. Spider-Man's webs are still the vehicle of choice, but in a pinch he can easily leap out of or into danger.
Whether you're destroying the world as Venom or patching it back together as Spidey, you'll be astounded by the way the brilliant cel-shaded graphics give every scene and angle the look of a moving comic book. Venom's alien skin looks wonderfully mercurial, its cel-shaded slickness blending and fading into black opacity. Cut-scenes are phenomenally cool as characters literally leap in and out of comic panels. This game looks super.
Oh, and one last thing: I'm pretty sure I wasn't supposed to see this, but I caught a glimpse of a sick showdown between Venom and Wolverine in a dingy pool hall. Wolverine was fighting in his element, but he was clearly no match for Venom's size, speed, and tentacles. Apparently, Ultimate Spider-Man will shift the focus away from meaningless battles against faceless throngs of puny humans to epic battles between your favorite heroes and villains.
Frankly, we can't wait for this amazing dose of super-duality. Feeling charitable and noble? Then swing in and save the day as the amazing Spider-Man. But if your boss is on your back, school work is making you blue, and the only date you can find is on your recently expired credit card, don the black suit of injustice and take chaos into your own hands as Venom. Either way, we're sure you'll have a super time at the end of September.