Some games are both enjoyable and frustrating at the same time. Ultimate Spider-Man sports a quality story, great graphics, and two genuinely different styles of gameplay. On the other hand, that gameplay includes positively infuriating chase sequences and a distinct lack of freedom during certain instances.
Ultimate Spider-Man does a lot of things properly. As a fan of the character from back in the day, I enjoyed the writing most of all. Brian Michael Bendis, the writer of the Ultimate Spider-Man comic book, was brought in to script all the dialogue and help guide the overarching story of the game. Spider-Man's quips have never sounded better. The story, while deadly serious during some segments, never stops being fun. This helps the game feel more like a breezy joyride than an angst-filled, dark, gritty horror of a title.
The art style and gameplay both factor into this feel, of course. All the graphics are modeled after Mark Bagley's (penciller on Ultimate Spider-Man) style. Toss in custom cel-shaded graphics and you really feel like you're playing out an issue of the comic book. If you don't like cel-shading for whatever reason, stay away. The entire game looks cartoony, but no so cartoony that it kills your suspension of disbelief. Cinemas are told by way of dynamic, three dimensional comic book panels and mix animation and still images. Characters pop into and out of panels at will. This is an interesting (and very cool) way of doing cinemas. It keeps the action moving along at a frenetic pace, but still delivers necessary story beats. The voice acting is vibrant and well-cast. It's a cardinal sin nowadays to have voice actors who sleepwalk through their roles, but Ultimate Spider-Man dodges that bullet nicely.
The often fast-paced action is easy to follow, thanks in part to a simple auto-targeting system. If you want to target a certain enemy, simply flick your stick towards him and press an attack. The combo system is set up in such a way that alternating attacks between enemies actually makes the combos more effective, so this is a valuable skill to learn. Webswinging is also easy, though it is altered from the previous Spider-Man games.
Most of this, of course, pertains to Spider-Man. Playing Venom is a bit different. Where Spider-Man is about quick attacks and grace, Venom is all about breaking things, brute force, and getting the job done as quickly as possible. Instead of webswinging, Venom can leap high into the air to cover ground quickly. The closest comparison I can come up with is that playing Venom is a lot like playing the Hulk: you're out for maximum property damage. Venom's constantly losing health (it's plot-related! really!), so you have to seek out people and drain them of life to replenish yours. It adds a bit of depth to the game, which is always a good thing.
The bosses are both well-done and irritating. Each boss has an exploitable weakness or some gimmick to use against them to keep the fights fresh, but the bosses fall prey a little too easy to simple patterns. There's probably an easy way to beat each boss if you think cheap. Here's a freebie: when you fight Venom for the second time, jump when he roars. You can beat him without taking a hit.
After that, though, is where the problems come to the light. In the Rhino fight, for example, you begin by chasing him through a neighborhood and eventually cornering him in a car dealership. Then, he runs his pattern of invincible and attacking to vulnerable. The problem is that you cannot leave this small area. If you try to scale the buildings, you get "Area Unavailable." If you try to leave via the gate, you get "Area Unavailable." This, put bluntly, is annoying. It really breaks up the rhythm of the gameplay to hit invisible walls like this every now and again. It takes you from doing everything a spider can to sitting on your couch in your Spider-undies in no time flat. It's a missile fired right at your suspension of disbelief.
Combined with this are a number of chase sequences that are just about as bad as escort missions in other games. You have to chase a few characters (notably Rhino, Electro, and a certain spoileriffic Spider-Man mainstay) through the streets of New York City. If you get too far away from them, you die and have to start all over. This, again, is annoying. The enemies will often try to attack you or do something else to lighten up the chases, but they never rise above being absolutely tedious. There's a fairly small margin of error, to boot. The chase scenes don't exactly mesh well with the spirit of the game. If you catch up to the baddie, he'll either stand there, say something, and dash off again, or stand there, attack, and dash off again.
I can understand why the chase scenes were put in there, in theory. A true running battle across New York City between Spider-Man or Venom and one (or more!) of their enemies would've been incredible, particularly if the city was outfitted with damage models. Instead, we're given a faintly ridiculous game of tag, with the winner only being decided if you manage to stick with the enemy until the end.
Ultimate Spider-Man is a fairly short game, as well. You can easily beat it over the course of a couple days. The action is fun, but a couple of the vagaries of gameplay kill that. This is a case of an otherwise high-quality game being hindered by a few iffy additions that wreck the whole experience. It's a good game, to be sure, and an excellent representation of both the Spider-Man character and comics, but it falls a bit short of classic status.