We almost got the perfect Incredible Hulk video game back in 2005. Vivendi and Radical Entertainment's Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. The free-roaming action game suited the angry green giant perfectly, with only the limitations of the PS2 and Xbox holding it back. Since then all's been quiet on the Hulk front. With a new movie attempting to reboot the series in theatres right now, SEGA has taken the reigns for yet another Hulk video game. Sadly, this latest effort would make even the calmest people turn green.
Once again you'll take control of Hulk in a free-roaming New York City, with you only ever controlling Hulk - you're never in control of Bruce Banner, as you were in the previous movie licensed Hulk game. As Hulk you can leap great heights and distances, smash through objects, destroy everything in sight, pick up large objects, climb up buildings and generally act like you'd expect a giant, super strong green man to act.
From the off the problems are all too obvious though. The first level is set within a factory and sees Hulk smashing up numerous exploding canisters and fighting off fairly simple enemies. Camera problems crop up within seconds and once you're done with the short indoor level the camera doesn't get much better. You'd think the freedom of the open air would be good for a camera, but it becomes problematic when you're on street level, especially when trying to look at enemies coming at you from the air.
As in Ultimate Destruction, jumping around is still the best way to get from place to place, not only because it's faster, but also because the camera isn't so easily obstructed when you're in mid-air. Charging up your jump and then leaping across skyscrapers will have an appeal no matter how poor the underlying game is, and the same is true here.
As in the majority of open-city games, missions are triggered by wandering up to markers placed around the city. Working through these moves you through the game's story, which in truth only bears a slight resemblance to the current movie even though many of the movie's main characters (and actors) star. As you progress you'll unlock new moves, not only to your core move set but also to your Rage powers. These special moves require you to use your stored Rage energy (filled by smashing things up) and come in very handy. Early on the most useful allows you to replenish your health, while the more powerful attacks come in handy during encounters with larger enemies.
The way you earn these upgrades is actually one of the game's most successful ideas. Instead of buying them with points or tokens you gain them for feats accomplished during play. These can be as simple as spending a certain amount of time in the air or things you can only achieve at certain points in the game. This mix means that certain moves are locked until the time is right for Hulk to perform them, but you're also gaining new moves steadily throughout your time with the game.
Being a giant green man doesn't go down too well with the residents of New York, so if you get up to no good you'll get the city's defence force on your back. To begin with this is nothing more than some soldiers with guns, but it can elevate to tanks and helicopters. It's during moments of combat like this that the game is most disappointing. Combat just doesn't feel exciting enough. The targeting system is hit and miss and Hulk generally has to be very close to an enemy to make contact. You want to be going mental and smashing things up, but you find yourself having to take your time and make sure you're positioned correctly.
There are other problems too. The enemy AI is beyond poor at times. At one stage or another you'll find yourself fighting near water, where the enemies seem to have a death wish. For no apparent reason armoured vehicles just drive straight into the water and soldiers stand perilously close to the edge waiting for you to flick them in. How you get out of a high threat state is even more laughable. The idea is to evade the defence force, but to do this you need to take a ride on the New York Subway. I'd have thought this would be a recipe for mass chaos, but in the game it reduces your threat level to zero.
A fairly drab series of missions and side missions, and some far from perfect controls don't actually prevent The Incredible Hulk from having moments of fun, but the game seems so sloppily put together that your overall enjoyment is tarnished somewhat. Hulk himself looks pretty good and is perfectly acceptable for a next-gen character model, but he's the only good looking thing in the game. The buildings are flat and sink into the ground instead of collapsing - don't think you're going to get Mercenaries 2 destruction here. Cars and other vehicles look incredibly simple and appear to be driven by idiots. The draw distance is terrible, with all but the biggest objects popping in as you move through the city, and the frame rate becomes sluggish when the action heats up. Although running on older hardware, Ultimate Destruction is a more visually pleasing game to play.
As far as movie licensed games go, The Incredible Hulk isn't terrible, but it falls into the same mediocre category as SEGA's Iron Man game. You'll get moments of fun simply from being Hulk, but this isn't enough to carry the whole game. The incredibly disappointing presentation is sadly the final nail in Hulk's coffin. It looks like we'll be getting out Ultimate Destruction for a few more years whenever we want our Hulk fix.