The Incredible Hulk
Genre: Sandbox Superhero
Developer: Edge of Reality
Release Date: 06/05/08
There is a great big green elephant in the room when one talks about the new Incredible Hulk game. That is of course, the old Incredible Hulk game, Ultimate Destruction. In some people’s eyes, it is amongst the best super hero games of all time. In my mind, it is certainly the best Incredible Hulk game released up to this point. It’s so good in fact that the new developers indicated that their game would be a spiritual successor to UD. In many ways they have succeeded in creating a semi sequel. But have they created a game that is better than its predecessor?
Well, to start with, let’s look at the graphics. Ultimate Destruction was a lot of things, but a graphical masterpiece it wasn’t. So on one count at least, this iteration of the Hulk is batting a thousand in terms of copying the style of UD. I may be a bit spoiled after playing GTA 4, but the city in Hulk suffers from a couple of problems that used to plague previous sandbox games. Namely, there is noticeable draw-in, and texture changes are very noticeable. Usually things go through a process when going from pristine to smashed, but not here. Of course, the draw in is noticeable because the city is so freakin huge. The developers apparently used NASA maps to model their Manhattan, and it shows.
Hulk himself looks…well I can’t say I’m a fan of the new look, but I suppose that’s more the movies fault than it is the games. I mean what are you going to do if you’re the game based on the movie? Use Cel Shading? So in that aspect they did a very good job of getting Hulk to look like movie Hulk, and Abomination looks just like his silver screen self. The actors, however, are another story. While Ed Norton looks passably like Ed Norton, Tim Roth barely looks anything like himself. They used him for the voice acting, so I don’t think they had issues with licensing. The rest of the actors (William Hurt as General Ross, Liv Tyler as Betty Ross) are all good enough so as not to be distracting, but you can tell the real work was put into making the Hulk and Abomination, and into making Hulk smash.
Hulk smashing is of course what Hulk does best, so naturally this should be where the most fun is to be had in the game. And in truth, there are very few games that compare to the kinds of fun that can be had when you hulk up and decide to go on a rampage. One of them is Crackdown. The other is Ultimate Destruction. This is one place where the student surpasses the master, as UD just doesn’t let you destroy nearly as much as this game does. Every building in the game is capable of being rocked to the core, so to speak. There is a real sense of power when punching puny humans and seeing them flying off into the distance. Yet even here, where I am praising Hulk for doing what UD doesn’t, I have to also point out that it does it in a much more limited way than UD ever did. Targeting is not nearly as useful as it was in UD, and your move set is not as robust as it used to be. There are no longer any kicks. You are limited in what you can do while airborne. No more grabbing helicopters and riding them down to the ground. No more grabbing a super hulk buster and smashing it to pieces one bit of weaponry at a time. No more gamma bombs. Also missing is the bus surfing and wrecking ball swinging that made UD such an interesting game to play through and discover. Replacing those are some mini games which are fun and some which aren’t. Darts I approve of. Throwing lamp poles at the side of a building is amusing and certainly more challenging than the last game I had to play darts in, which was GTA4. Sadly, the hit detection in the Darts game is skewed to make you miss even when you quite clearly have hit the target.
Other mini games aren’t nearly as fun, and I found them to be more of a chore really. Especially when some of the upgrades require a certain number of gold medals in the mini games in order to attain them. Another thing the developers have done to make the game more interesting for you is to include a number of landmarks that would be familiar to anyone with any kind of knowledge about the Marvel Universe Manhattan. Stark Tower, Matt Murdoch’s law offices, Dr. Strange’s place, the Baxter Building (home of the Fantastic 4.) These buildings too, are completely destructible. This annoys me, to be honest. Let me explain.
Apart from a sort of appearance by Iron Man (His Hulk Buster armour appears in the game if you have a Iron Man save on your hard drive), there are no other super heroes in this city that is usually over flowing with super heroes while Hulk is on his various rampages. You would think the Fantastic 4 would be un-amused to find the Baxter Building under attack. The Thing, in particular, might take umbrage. Dr. Doom for that matter would be mighty unimpressed to find his Latverian embassy being flattened. Instead, we get nothing. Not even a Spider-man sighting. Maybe they are all off fighting in The Secret Wars while this game takes place. I don’t know. Of course I realize the reason for this, the developers don’t have the rights to the characters, and so instead we get an open world sandbox game filled with one superhero, a few super villains and their various henchmen, and the Army. I don’t even blame Edge of Reality for this. It’s just when you go ahead and remind me that this is a universe where other super-heroes exist; I’m going to miss them when they aren’t around.
As mentioned above, upgrades are handled in a different way. I like it. Instead of beating opponents to itty bitty pieces to collect green orbs of whatever to spend on upgrades, you earn specific upgrades for doing specific things in the game. Beating X number of opponents will get you Y skill; jumping such a distance will earn you this other skill, etc. The upgrade requirements are listed very clearly in the pause menu, so it’s not like they are a mystery. Except for the jump requirements. Good luck doing those without a guide. There are of course advantages to doing things the other way, namely you can buy things that suit your tastes, but there is nothing stopping you from doing that in this system either.
Now onto the sound. Let me describe for you what it sounds like to be playing this game. Jump up. Now when you land, have a battleship fire a broadside from its main guns. When you run, have a base drum hit every time your feet hit the pavement. Then throw in some glass exploding, some buildings collapsing, and lots of screaming. That’s basically what it’s like. It all makes for an excellent auditory experience. Or at least it would, were it not for the seriously annoying music that plays when your threat level rises. And it WILL rise. That’s just the nature of the Hulk. The music is right out of “Prince of Persia Warrior Within” land, with generic guitar riffs for the sake of it. It goes away if your threat level does, but of course what’s the fun in losing your threat level? Nobody wants to play when you aren’t a threat. So naturally we turn the music down. Sadly this is the only solution.
As one might imagine, when the game is based on the real Manhattan, even for someone as gifted as the Hulk it can take quite a while to get from the southern tip all the way to the north end. To compensate for this the developers instituted a teleport, just like the last game. Unlike Destruction however, you don’t find jump points to hop around the city with. Instead you have to use the Subway, which instantly made me imagine the absurd conversation between Hulk and a Ticket collector that ended in “What you mean Hulk no have exact change??”Â What’s even funnier is the commercial for the movie specifically shows Banner avoiding taking the subway because New York’s subway is famous for its aggressiveness. Anyway, you must find these subways yourself, because apparently Banner cannot read a subway map, and Hulk doesn’t care to. These subways do have the added benefit of acting like safe houses in GTA, as traveling from one spot to another in the city will instantly remove your wanted level.
There were a few glaring problems I found with the game technically. On some occasions, say if you have to redo a mission for example, there will be a kind of feedback that only appears in the sound in game. Hit pause and it disappears, return to the game, and it’s there again. At least I think it’s feedback. I’m not an audio engineer, just a sometimes audio designer. I can’t imagine anyone would use that kind of noise as a way to increase tension or that kind of thing. It happens infrequently, but definitely happened more than once to me on my play through and it is very distracting too. Yet this isn’t the biggest problem. More than a few times the game has frozen on me, to the point where a system reboot is required. I thought perhaps it was my system, but I’m seeing more and more reports of it online, so it’s not just me. Nothing takes away from the enjoyment of a game more than not knowing if the game will crash on you at any time during gameplay. This is something that should have been taken care of prior to release, and the fact that they weren’t suggests they were trying to cash in on the movies release. Technically this game could have used some more time in the Gamma Radiation Oven.
I really dislike having made so many comparisons to Ultimate Destruction in this review. A game deserves to be reviewed based on its own merits, not made to suffer the indignity of being constantly compared to its sibling, so to speak. Yet I really felt like I had no choice here. The games are so alike, with Ultimate Destruction being such a good example of what to do right with a Super Hero game, that when there are differences I simply must point them out. A lot of people were hoping this game would be an exact remake of UD for the current generation. Personally I could have lived with that. But this is what you get when you change Publishers and Developers. People want to leave their own mark on the product, not just remake someone else’s game. Let’s put it this way, were it not for the existence of UD, this would be a revolutionary game. As it stands it’s not the best Hulk game in existence, instead it’s the second best Hulk game. How much enjoyment you get out of the game will depend largely on how attached you are to the old game and how willing you are to experience the new one for what it is.
Control/Gameplay: VERY GOOD
Balance: VERY GOOD
Appeal: VERY GOOD
Final Score: ENJOYABLE.
Short Attention Span Summary:
While not quite as good as Ultimate Destruction, it’s nothing to sneeze at. One might say it’s the Penultimate Hulk game. Technical problems hamper this game more than bad design or anything of that nature.