Review: A retelling of Hulk's evening in boozing: "HULK SMASH'ed! HULK WASTE'd! HULK HUNG LIKE HORSE!"
"No Hulk, you're just hung over."
The Hulk is not a giant. Not in the way that Marvel's Spider-Man or the X-Men take to universal acclaim, anyhow. Look at their movies: great. Look at their games: some of the best in comic book tie-in history. Look at The Hulk's 2003 film and game conversions instead. What do you get? Crap. The Incredible Hulk is nevertheless a Marvel favorite no matter how disappointing his recent merchandising endeavors have been. He's mean, he's green, he's a fighting machine, and we still love him. Hulk just hasn't been able to win anyone over as much as the super geeky, super strong every guy or that team of unique freaks. But, that's likely because everyone was looking at The Hulk franchise the wrong way. Rather than wait for another box office stinker to base their game around, Radical Entertainment just did it. They made a Hulk game using the freedom granted to them without constraint and without the need to internally stage the gameplay on a fixed and utterly asinine plot. Now all that remains is if whether Vivendi's non-movie-licensed game is a smashing success...or a SMASHING SUCCESS.
Science can be fun when there's gamma radiation involved. Explosions! Transformations! Decimals! On second thought, forget that last one. In an unnatural chain of events, Bruce Banner was caught in the blast of a gamma bomb while its launch was underway. Reconstructing his DNA code whenever stressed, his body physically alters from physicist to ticked off time bomb. This curse Bruce must live with now as the green-skinned Hulk, through his endless crusade to remedy his big bad ways of near-unstoppable destruction. However, his efforts always end up in disarray with those seeking his capture or demise. Focusing on the inconvenience at the moment, Bruce's latest experimental duties are put on hold when General Ross's army knocks at Bruce's door with a nasty surprise. Bruce isn't one to leave guests hanging outside. So with his party suit on, he goes out to play. Not without escaping unscathed, working alongside the General is Emil Blonsky, a man bent on destroying all specimens spawned of gamma rays. But in his carelessness, Blonsky picks up The Hulk's radioactive remnants left behind. Now an "Abomination" like The Hulk, his newfound powers and his detrimental determination to kill off ol' Greeny will convene toward his ultimate goal of stopping Bruce's alter ego at all costs.
More often than not, you know that when you're about to play a superhero game it's going to be some sort of an action title. The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction doesn't deviate from that expected course. Why would it? Superheroes are built for fighting. They live for the thrill of engaging powerful sources of evil in their own little worlds. What does that entail for this next installment in Hulkville? Similar to Spider-Man 2, think of this game as another comic book-cloned Grand Theft Auto. Though rather than swing and solve repetitive people problems through a prosperous New York City, Ultimate Destruction instead offers markers on mapped habitats (mainly consisting of a metropolis and mountainous territory) you can choose to partake in or otherwise must. Essentially it's the same type of deal. Only, emblems now replace the denizens and mission briefings are handed out before ever participating in any activity -- meaning you'll be able to cancel and come back later if you're not up to the task yet. This grants a bit more freedom to the automatic talk-to-immediately-accept-quest integrations supplied by the Spidey sequel. It's also good to know that the variety in errand types won't necessarily force endurance of the same mission emissions twenty times in a row in just a half hour, like was the case in Spider-Man 2.
When it comes to getting the job done, The Hulk has his work cut out for him. Then he can do whatever he wants with it. Grab it, crush it, pummel drive and punt it. The Hulk's got a lot of moves, and many situations to explore their potential. Retrieving important devices to further Doc Samson's research (The Hulk's guiding associate throughout the game), breaking satellite radar stations to throw off the bad guy's scent, flexing his muscles for royal rumbles with bosses (of huge robots and the super strong mutant-ous Abomination creature himself), and generally combating jet planes, tanks, miniature foot patrolmen, and so forth are some of the adventures The Hulk will have to put up with on his storied travels. This opposed to the elective side of the tracks where you'll be running races up and around buildings, destroying as much as you can in any given area as fast as you can, rescuing civilians from a burning building's rooftop, or even playing a game of Hulk golf using enormous makeshift equipment. Between the main quests progressing the plot along and optional goals rewarding smash points, there is lots here to keep anyone busy and enough of a challenge differentially not to scare them off.
Clobbering enemies and all is cool stuff, especially when you know how open the gameplay is and how bonuses will affect your return rate. As mentioned, there's a map system in the game that displays icons along the outline of the sector The Hulk has taken position in. Throughout this far-reaching and free-roaming grid are choices laid out before him. Orange exclamation points highlight the bevy of sidequests available. Singular story pursuits are shown as green stars. Exiting the gameplay map where civilians, enemies, and mission marks coexist in are done by using the jump points to retreat back at a central hub (a church where The Hulk can spend accumulated smash points, select gameplay zones, amongst other things). Or simply, The Hulk can rampage all he wants through the separate expansive regions right in front of his very eyes. The really neat thing about The Hulk game is that like in Spider-Man 2, he can just freely explore the depths of the differently detailed locales. Literally using The Hulk, you can vertically run up buildings and leap from one meridian point to another. You can mess with people all you want, tossing them about and such. Vehicles can become shields or ripped in half and used as boxing gloves. A lot of this emanates from the extra work in garnering smash points though, which all adds toward the replay value of the game.
Through exploring dual stomping grounds, aside from accumulating collectible green and yellow particles (green ones refill Hulk's health meter, and yellow adds 2,000 smash points to his account), comic books are tucked away in hidden locations throughout the sector. 60 of these exist in all, unlocking stuff like codes that funnel hefty amounts of smash points into the deposit and ones that can change The Hulk's shorts into patterned flags from different countries. To define the smash points, these are part of a charted tabulation that gains new moves for The Hulk once exchanged. From the outset, The Hulk's just a big gravy train with basic programming. Work hard for your codes, and he'll work harder for his money. So hard for it honey, so you better treat him right. How does catching missiles and sending them back to their home sound to you? How about physically clutching an airborne helicopter as it weighs down on your power? Does slamming meaty fists against rubble to incite erupting shockwaves impress at all? Dozens of possibilities can happen simply if enough points are gathered, becoming somewhat of an addiction along the way.
Just as it happens that there are so many linking variations involved, getting accustomed to the combat in the game is not the most apparent transition. There's the standard set of controls (X to jump, square to punch, circle to grab, L1 to lock onto targets, R1 to run, etc.). Then there are combo strings that most times are short, but at all times are too many to remember. Pressing X and then triangle will create a surfboard ride out of a shield, for example. Now a shield is composed of a large truck that you first have to pick up with circle and then convert into protection with the triangle button. In a game where enemies bombard you with bullets, rockets, laser beams, and artillery from all angles, you don't want to have to keep pausing the game to check the list of move sets. Aside from its coded ordeal, the gameplay is decent fun. Maybe not as majestically fluid as swinging through an open-ended city on a spider web, but The Hulk has his moments.
What do you expect to see in a Hulk game -- pink tutus and white unicorns? Sorry to disappoint you. With his muscular green mass, all you get is chaos. Disrupting that line between sane and insane, The Hulk is like an explosive wrecking ball. Structural damage is a real eye-opener, while debris builds behind Mr. Green pouncing onto the side of a building, coherently being dragged down by his sliding weight. Widened denting occurs naturally wherever The Hulk's impressions lie. Heaving a banged up vehicle at a helicopter busts it up into charred scrap metal. Bursting discharges from smoke-trailed missiles pour all around Hulk. Punching obstructions based on their material causes adherent breaking and shattering results. Yes, Ultimate Destruction is a nice looking game. There is all kinds of temporal wreckage you'd want that's viewed pleasingly enough. It's too bad then that the visual worth is subdued. Both the environments and characters are not to where beautified realism just oozes with stupendous delight. While prodigious, level backdrops don't produce much of an intricate design, and also cut corners on detail. Steep buildings and sparsely filled streets cover the city portion, as barren peaks and tiny rock formations do so for the badlands. The Hulk is green and he acts mean, but lacks some much needed refinement. Loads of neat effects persist in a stature that's unfortunately drained to a modest artlessness, which isn't actually bad but could still be better off.
Wild, muscular men with a lot of green...in their pocket, are the execs at Vivendi who've plunked down their wads on the table to net some notable talent for Ultimate Destruction's telling. Neal McDonough, who you might remember as the crooked marine from Timeline, voices The Hulk in his dorky human state. The "real Hulk" just grunts and growls a lot in-game. Ron Perlman, one smooth customer (Blade II, Alien: Resurrection, and more recently Hellboy), does his deep throat thing for Abomination. Generally, the talent and performances are fine; just don't expect anything memorable to come of them. The true stars of Ultimate's voicing hails from its roundhouse of radio attuned enemies. All the way from one breach of the city to the next, you'll overhear scripted communications from army guys truthfully commenting on Hulk's violent actions as he commits them page for page. Subtly integrated, a rhythmic orchestral score also abides by the action occurring onscreen. It's not too loud, nor is the music repetitive. Its fair dramatic flare just isn't evidenced enough as the score seems to wrap itself around the action so well you won't notice it at all times. Thundering quakes continue to bounce along as The Hulk hops and drops. Scraping metal and frequent blaring outbursts check in during the handling of hectic ground skirmishes you'll often face. To sum up the audible action: Hulk audio GOOD