It hasn?t always been easy being green for the Hulk, and not just in terms of the villains he fights on the four-color pages ? his video game history hasn?t exactly given Hulk fans pause for their rage. A run through the gamut can make one?s gamma irradiated veins bulge: a Hulk text adventure (I hope I don?t have to say how ridiculous that idea sounds) for Commodore 64 type computers back in the day, an all-to-ordinary side-scrolling game for the Sega Genesis, and his first foray into 3D action (The Incredible Hulk: The Pantheon Saga), which tanked so horribly it?s a wonder the big green guy has stopped raging since. The not-so-jolly green giant has fared slightly better with the video game based on the movie version of the Hulk (which I personally happened to particularly like, diverging from the opinions of many other writers here), the game earning a score of 7.8. Unfortunately, it was a game that could not stand the test of time ? while it focused on what the Hulk does best (smashing), the smashing got way too repetitive, with new things to smash coming few and far between, and a move set too limited to keep the smashing interesting. The ?stealth? sequences, where you simply played Bruce Banner, were quite simply a joke. But that game?s developers, Radical Entertainment, decided to give Mr. Green a chance to truly shine (and smash) with their second attempt at giving the Hulk a worthwhile video game ? The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. The end result is something that most certainly would make the Hulk smile. While most certainly not perfect (it has some flaws which we?ll get into), it?ll definitely sate many gamers? thirst for smashing, be they Hulk fans or not.
So what?s gotten Dr. Banner so worked up this time around? Well, while working on a complex mind-diving machine to permanently quell the inner demons in his psyche that cause the Hulk to emerge when he gets angry, a certain Emil Blonsky (Also known as the Abomination, and viewed by most comic book fans as Hulk?s most famous foe) from a shadowy US government agency called the Division, decides he wants a piece of the Hulk. He is interested in the Hulk for the same reasons that most shadowy US government agencies interested in him for: To use the Hulk?s capabilities as a military weapon and destroy the opposition, blah, blah, blah. Honestly, do you need to know the rest? Anyone even remotely familiar with the Hulk can guess: the good Dr. Banner gets angry, the bad guys decide they don?t like him when he?s angry, and much smashing ensues. Unlike the previous Hulk game, in The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction you?re always playing as the Hulk, and the statement from the movie in regards to how the Hulk represents ?rage, power, and freedom? is truer here than in any previous Hulk game. The game definitely has more of the last part ? freedom. The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction takes a page from the Spider-Man 2 video game by implementing the free-roaming mission system originally made famous by the Grand Theft Auto series, in which one roams freely around the environment choosing which missions they would like to attempt. However, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction does it better than Spider-Man 2 ever could. While Spidey?s implementation of such a system initially made a high quality experience at the start, Spider-Man 2?s free-roaming became meaningless as its missions were recycled (changing only the locations) over and over and over again. What good is free-roaming if you just go in circles? Thankfully, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction avoids this pitfall by having its non-story missions (which it calls challenge missions) varied and diverse, and sometimes downright wacky and funny. In one challenge mission, you take a giant blue gorilla balloon and use it to float into a ring of flares; another has you bat a Hulk-sized golf ball (with a makeshift club, of course) through city streets and desert stretches; and yet another has you punting cars through football goal posts. Granted, the vast majority of these missions aren?t that involved, as they basically have you do a single task to the best of your ability. The game is no Grand Theft Auto as some types of challenges eventually do get partially recycled, and a few of the missions can get frustrating to the point where you want to, well, smash things. The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction puts in so many things to do, and makes them so diverse, that the odd frustrating mission doesn?t hurt the game much at all. It truly is a fun, free-roaming romp. Like some previous installments of the Grand Theft Auto series, there are a series of story missions which all have to be completed to progress through the game, and if you just focus on them, it is possible to breeze through the game in a 10-15 hour time span. Doing that, though, would take so much fun out of the game, wouldn?t it? And besides, completing the challenge missions earns you valuable smash points, which certainly help.
Smash points? Points for smashing things? Yes, folks, in The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction,there is a larger incentive to smash things than there is for simple progression through the story. Smash points are one way the smashing stays fresh throughout the game, because these smash points are used as currency to purchase new abilities for the Hulk. New abilities translate into more ways to smash things. And there are many, many moves to purchase throughout the game, from ?weaponizations,? where the Hulk takes ordinary objects (in his case, things like cars, building beams, wrecking balls, etc.) and turns them into creative weapons. He does everything from turning small cars into steel boxing gloves to makeshift skateboards from larger vehicles. There are a large number of throws available, as well as your obligatory combo attacks. Some of these moves make the Hulk seem as if he?s taken a few lessons from Yuen Wo Ping, as he can be quite maneuverable as he does everything from running up walls to a short air dash to make a mid-air u-turn. These aren?t all available to you from the start ? you unlock more moves to purchase as you progress through the game?s story missions. This is quite nice as it gives the game a more natural learning curve, and it only throws new moves at you once you?ve mastered the previous ones. And trust me, the thrill of bouncing a giant mech off the ground a couple of times before finally pile-driving it to make a shockwave from the impact of its body is worth the wait for purchase, as it?s quite a treat to behold.
The topic of beholding brings us to perhaps the most visible flaw (no pun intended) with The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction ? the graphics. While the models of the main characters and the mechanoid enemies are highly polygonal and well smoothed, and the animations are fittingly exaggerated and just plain superb (the sight of grappling an enemy mecha from the air and going into a massive slam never gets old), the environments don?t share the same spit and polish. The buildings look too similar, looking overly blocky with sharp cutoffs and wall textures are reused repeatedly. The signs and banners you see throughout the game look merely stuck on like stickers. Explosions are overly simplistic, being merely quick flashes with little debris, and mere expanding spheres representing the Hulk?s area-of-effect attacks. Damaged world objects like cars have jagged polygons, and while the texture decals that denote where the Hulk did his damage (cracks, craters, etc. that appear in the environment) are particularly well done, sometimes they get cut off by seams. Thankfully, the audio technicians did a lot more spitting and polishing than the graphic guys, as the audio makes up for whatever the graphics lack. Smashing stuff truly sounds like smashing, with breaking glass, bending metal, and other sounds resonating loudly with each hit. One of the coolest parts about the audio is that the sounds of being smashed are different for each type of object, instead of being generic damage sounds. The chatter and subsequent screams of your military opponents are excellently performed and absolutely hilarious ? you?ll find it hard to suppress laughter when you hear the driver of a missile launcher scream ?execute evasive maneuver delta bravo?? just before the vehicle explodes. Ordinary civilian banter in your presence, while initially funny, can get annoying after a while, though. The orchestral accompaniment is also superb ? quiet when you don?t need it, epic without being clich?, and loudly booming in all the right places.
There?s plenty of reason to keep playing once the main story is finished, aside from the perpetual quest to better your challenge mission scores. Scattered throughout the environment are ?comic books,? small icons that, when collected, provide you with bonus materials, such as concept art, comic book covers from the original comics, and, best of all, snippets of a ?making of? documentary that becomes more complete with each comic book icon collected, as the process of making the game gets revealed to you piece by piece. Bonus materials excluded, there is still plenty in this game to keep you playing, because between the free roaming, the wacky challenges, and, oh yeah, smashing, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction is a solidly put together comic book based game that shines brilliantly where other similar games before it have failed miserably. Some blemishes sometimes slow down the Hulk?s otherwise unstoppable rampage, but there?s enough quality here to satisfy almost any gamer?s craving to break stuff as the big green one, fan or not. You?ll love him when he?s angry.