Going back as far as 1982’s ET for the Atari 2600, video games and Hollywood have had a long standing and tumultuous relationship. Indeed, this cross-breeding of Hollywood and video games has produced some of the most awful and repugnant gaming creations this side of the Isle of Dr. Moreau.
Let us not forget this relationship works both ways however, with video games inspiring such atrocious pieces of, and I use this term loosely, “cinema” as Super Mario Brothers and Street Fighter. Now with the release of The Hulk by Vivendi Universal and Radical Entertainment, we hold our breath as we wait to see if it can live up to the reputation of it’s comic book legend. The answer may surprise you.
In The Hulk you take up the title roll of everyone’s favorite green mutant (teenage mutant ninja turtles not withstanding) in addition to that of Bruce Banner as you smash, crush, throw, toss, punch and destroy virtually everything in site. The majority of the game play found therein boils down to two components. The first puts you in the large shoes of the Hulk as you fight soldiers, genetic mutants, dogs and bosses from one location to the next. While there is a story to be found, it serves little more than to setup the next location for the Hulk to wreak havoc. In addition to the standard punch and throw attacks, the Hulk can also produce a ranged sonic boom attack that can smite enemies from medium range. He can also hurl his foes into one another a la bowling ball style.
Game play is not incredibly complicated, but the Hulk does have a few different move combinations that can be initiated by various key strokes. Combat is far from deep, but there’s something wholly satisfying in picking up a soldier and flinging him into a wall or simply grinding him into the floor. Nearly all of the objects in the environment are destructible and this makes for some great fun: like breaking off a lamp post and smashing it over a baddies head or simply putting someone through a stone pillar and having it crumble around them. The Hulk essentially moves from one room to the next, clearing it of any hostiles and proceeds on to the next (usually by smashing through the adjacent wall) until he reaches the level’s boss. It may not sound all that thrilling, and indeed the premise behind it isn’t, but the gameplay in The Hulk works quite well.
While you run amuck as the Hulk, you truly feel powerful. This is to the games credit as the loud, booming sound effects add to the immersion that you’re a giant green smashing machine. The crumbling of walls, cracking of floors and general pounding of enemies all sound convincing and add to the experience. The Hulk is large, fast and extremely powerful and all of this really comes across well during the course of the game. We’re also treated to the voiceover of Eric Bana who reprises his roll as Bruce Banner in the motion picture.
The graphics in The Hulk are very appropriate. They possess a cell shaded feel that reminds us the Hulk comes from the pages of a comic book. Character models are fairly detailed and the game is teeming with color. The game’s designers seemed intent on keeping the Hulk feeling true to its comic book roots in terms of looks and sounds (if only so much could have been said for last year’s movie).
Unfortunately all is not green in The Hulk. For whatever reason, the developers felt inclined to include within the game numerous levels where you aren’t the Hulk at all. In these instances you’ll be playing the roll of Bruce Banner in his human form. This is where an otherwise entertaining action title truly stumbles and is by far the game’s greatest shortcoming. While the Hulk is a huge, powerful force to be reckoned with, Bruce Banner is the complete antithesis. Weak, slow and inept at combat; Banner must stick to the shadows to survive. The sections of the game that require you to play as Bruce are simply stealth based missions that feel slapped-on and out of place. While initially it was somewhat of a pleasant surprise to take some time off from the carnage inflicted by the Hulk and to catch my breath – that feeling quickly dissipated. The stealth missions simply don’t work. They are tedious, underwhelming and overly difficult. While it’s unclear what the developers were trying to accomplish with the inclusion of such missions,( perhaps blame Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell) it’s clear that they don’t work on any level of gameplay.
Despite the incomprehensible mixture of stealth in a pure hack and slash game, (think tuna fish and chocolate syrup, both fine in their own right, nauseating together) The Hulk proves to be an entertaining and surprising movie-based game that breaks the stereotype and manages to outdo the cinematic source material on which it’s based.