By default, a game based on a movie has to suck. It's one of the unwritten rules of the industry that movie games are pure profit: Stamp it out quick, screw the gameplay, and we'll make it up to the players with our next genre-buster. Treyarch's "Spider-Man 2" proved that this wasn't the way things needed to be, and Radical Entertainment has carried the torch of playable movie game tie-ins admirably with "The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction." Using the same sort of framework as Treyarch's freeswinging action title, Hulk manages to combine mindless violence and interesting gameplay in a fun-to-play package. Long-term entertainment may be out of reach of this angry goliath, but it's well worth a look if you like action smashups. Read on for my impressions of what it's like to step into Hulk's very big shoes.
- Title: The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction
- Developer: Radical Entertainment
- Publisher: Vivendi Universal Games
- System: Xbox (PS2, Gamecube)
- Reviewer: Zonk
- Score: 8/10
Indeed, there are as many similarities to Grand Theft Auto as there are to Spider-Man. Just as in GTA there is a lot of fun to be had in finding out exactly how much destruction you can wreak on an urban (or desert, for that matter) environment. The cityscape in Hulk is very destructible, with concrete shattering and trees exploding from even the slightest twitch of the Hulk's impressive physique. Though you can't actually destroy buildings, you can tear them up quite impressively, and almost everything that isn't nailed down can be imploded, exploded, shredded, flattened, or ripped apart. Enough of this sort of activity, and you're bound to attract attention. The screaming citizenry will have long since noticed you, but the forces of the military are a little slower on the uptake. After your second story mission or so, you'll have a funky art deco gauge in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. As you confront humanity with their own transience, the gauge will begin to grow yellow spikes. Once you have enough spikes, the military will send a strike team out to take you down. Typically this will take the form of a couple of attack choppers with machine guns and rockets. In an urban environment, the attack squad is easy pickings, because you have a lot of umm ... ammunition.By ammunition, I mean cars. And buses. And the burned-out wrecks of already downed helicopters. Tossing around major artifacts of western civilization may sound complicated, but it really isn't. The control schema for Hulk is the best kind: simple with lots of permutations. There's a jump, a punch, a grab, and a "special." Each button can be held down to power-up the move, and easily one of the most satisfying elements of the game is the ability to leap from block to block and building to building like a pissed-off green jackrabbit. In the early game grabbing and throwing objects is one of the most effective tactics, and a powered-up throw can go quite a ways. Movement is just as effortless, with Hulk leaping onto the sides of buildings and scaling them with ease. In fact, the Hulk moves so quickly and decisively that at times he can get a little overenthusiastic. In tight situations the controls can get a little mushy, and with Hulk's power and speed even a slight thumb twitch can result in an unintended leap of a block or more. The developers did a superb job of getting across the Hulk's raw physical energy, but in some cases more forgiving controls would be appreciated.
All of these cool moves and attacks aren't yours to play with at the outset of the game. As you move through the title you'll obtain "smash points," a form of currency. You accrue smash points by destroying stuff (rewarding you for all that urban renewal) and for completing missions. At certain intervals in the title new sets of moves will become available, which you can spend your smash points on to become even more effective at taking out representatives of our nation's military. Some of the moves (like "Air Recovery") are purely functional and serve to improve the Hulk's efficiency in combat. Some of them, though, are pure showmanship. My personal favorites are the hand slap, which creates a violent shockwave that throws your enemies into the air, and the ground slam, which does unfortunate things to any tanks you may be standing on at the time.Though you do get some points for wrecking stuff, your big source of smash points will be mission completion. Story missions follow the somewhat cookie-cutter tale of Dr. Banner and his colleague as the two of them try to come up with a way to de-Hulk Banner for good. Holed up in a church, hidden way out on the outskirts of a major city, the good doctors are building devices that will aid them in their goals. As the Hulk, your tasks center around two general themes: 1.) steal money, gear, technology, etc. for the ongoing project of reversing your Hulkism, and 2.) disrupt and destroy the military's attempts to develop ever more elaborate anti-Hulk weapons. You'll occasionally get the chance to do something unique, like the occasional fight with arch-foes from Hulk comic canon. The Abomination fights are particularly rewarding (drop buildings on someone and you'd think he'd get the hint). Side missions are your other main source of smash points. Scattered throughout the world maps, side missions are short, fun exercises in Hulkishness that allow you to improve your understanding of the controls and earn some points besides. They vary widely in mood and temperament, and some are predicated on having purchased a particular attack. One desert mission, for example, has Hulk punting cars over a field goal. The city missions are especially varied, with options available to rescue citizens from a burning building, use a large metal girder to slam soldiers falling from a helicopter out across the water like baseballs, races through the city streets, and unfathomable rushes to get large vehicles to perch precariously on the tops of skyscrapers. Depending on how well you do, you can earn a bronze, silver, or gold medal. Each step up offers increasing smash point awards. While to participate in the side missions initially you'll have to stalk the city streets or the desert landscape to find mission markers, once you've gotten a medal of some kind you can access the event through the main options hub at the church, allowing for easy access to fun.
Unfortunately, the storyline isn't all that interesting. It's a stripped down version of the Hulk's tale of woe, spliced together to provide an impetus for your thrilling heroics. Despite this, the voice acting manages to impress. The folks they got to do the main characters do a competent job of expressing the emotion and humor of their various situations, and even manage a couple of funny one-liners. Random Non-Player Character vocalizations are interesting too, with military NPCs being particularly well done. You can tell from auditory clues when they're about to attack, giving you another way to stay on top of things in a frenetic combat situation. In general the audio for the game is well done, with what little musical scoring there is being adequate to the background music task. It's not going to win awards, but it's not distracting either. The sound effects utilized in the title are very satisfying. Every smash, crunch, or crushing blow has that much more impact on the player because of the well done audio environment. Little touches, like the twisting of metal as you pull a car apart to form into gauntlets, or the quickly fading pleas for help as you toss a soldier over the horizon, are what add an extra layer of enjoyment on the experience.And Hulk is no slouch visually, either. While it's certainly not the most beautiful game released this year, it's far from bad looking. The Hulk himself is well animated, with a large pool of movements to draw from. His shambling gait is well reproduced, and the slightest twitch of his Buick-sized limbs does a good job of demonstrating the power you're given control over. NPCs aren't given nearly as much detail, but other than a vanilla sameness to your opponents, after a while there isn't a lot to complain about. The destructible environment that the engine offers and the timely use of explosions are what really completes the experience. When you toss a car it doesn't just bounce. If you throw it hard enough, it shatters into a maelstrom of flying steel and fire, usually taking out anything unlucky enough to be nearby. Tanks, when destroyed, can be pulled apart for use as two different weapons. The chassis can be used as a shield (assuming you know the correct move) or thrown, and the turret can be used like an oversized club. The little details like that add to the enjoyment factor.
So combat is fun, they give you lots of stuff to do, and even though it is a weak plot, you have a reason to keep playing. Regrettably, like all heroes, the Hulk has a vulnerability. Repetition, in this case, is the downfall of the big green behemoth. While the first few missions are experiences that you really shouldn't deny yourself, after a while the fun inevitably begins to curve downward. Though the first time you leap into the air and toss a firetruck downward at an assaulting military unit you'll grin from ear to ear, after the 50th time that same move has lost its luster. The fun drain is the Achilles heel for any title, but the "Ultimate Destruction" suffers from that fun-drop fairly quickly. Once you get past the tutorial and the first few missions, you quickly realize that you've seen most of what the game has to offer. To be sure, you face down new opponents and situations, stopping a convoy before it reaches a goal, protecting objects from destruction at the hands of the military, etc., but after the 25th time you destroy a tank it's just not novel anymore.
Hulk, then, is a well-made title with highly entertaining gameplay that suffers from a quickly apparent lack of variety. If you enjoy comics or action beat-em'-ups, Hulk is well worth a rental. The first five hours of play will be extremely enjoyable, with some very memorable moments that can only come from the self-determined playstyle becoming so popular nowadays. Over the long term, your entertainment level is likely to drop, and folks seeking a high return of entertainment for their investment might be better suited waiting on Kingdom Hearts 2 or Final Fantasy XII.