Hulk: Ultimate Destruction
Once upon a time there was a giant. He was big and green and liked to smash things. Lots of things. Will you help him smash these wonderful things? You should...
Xbox, PS2, GCN
The resurgence in recent years of comic book properties has, it would seem, inextricably bound the realms of print, film and videogame together -- comics become movies, which in turn become games; comics become games; games become movies and comics. It's a never-ending carnival of avaricious capitalism that has publishers, studios and comic book houses clamoring to produce content to satiate a public whose interest in the subject matter is all but renewed. The results are not always what you might call stellar.
Although, while seldom outstanding, it's fair to say that the level of quality has risen markedly of late. So much so that it's possible for one to actually play these games and not have shuddering flashbacks of the early to mid-nineties (Superman, Fantastic Four, Batman and Robin; I'd go on, but my fragile psyche can only withstand so much). But more than simply being passable, many of these games are actually rather good, garnering critical acclaim and selling because of their quality and not just because they're making use of a popular license. The Hulk: Ultimate Destruction is the latest such example.
Making use of the ubiquitous 'sandbox' gameplay (we won't hold that against it though) style, The Hulk: Ultimate Destruction unleashes players upon open-ended environments in which they are bound more or less only by their whim. Left to your own devices, you're free to engage in story-based missions, mini-games or simply roam the city causing the eponymous brand of destruction.
Speaking of which, the game's title is actually pretty apt because the level of devastation you are capable of sowing is extensive to say the least. In environments teeming with life, being able to hurl vehicles; run up buildings; beat tanks with their own turrets; uproot trees, poles and even puny humans to be used as makeshift projectiles is something that seldom grows old. And doing all of this seamlessly while moving and fighting at breakneck speed is just, well, it's just cool. Really freakin' cool, in fact.
Kicking and punching only works for so long before it grows tiresome, something the developers have realised and remedied. Wanton mayhem may be its own reward, but just in case, Radical offers what are known as Smash Points as recompense for your hard work. Accrued by competing in mini-games -- events that test the not-so-jolly green giant's prowess in various disciplines: seeing how far he can swat (using a metal pole) soldiers jumping out a helicopter, for instance; running through a series of illuminated markers in as short a time as possible; or simply causing as much damage as is inhumanly possible within the set time limit -- and just by destroying things, Smash Points are the game's currency and are used to buy new moves.
More favorable transactions you'll likely never see; in exchange for these otherwise useless Smash Points, you're given access to some truly effective, not to mention visually impressive, attacks. Moreover, these open up new combos and styles of gameplay that elevate the title above that of mere mindless button-smasher. Ironic, no?
Everything from mid-air recovery to being able to punch back missiles to new weaponizations are available to the discerning shopper. Weaponizations, being as integral a part of the gameplay as they are, deserve special mention. These are context-sensitive moves hulk can employ that greatly enhance his attacking or defensive powers. When picking up small vehicles for example, players can press the triangle to have Hulk rip it in two and use the individual pieces as boxing gloves. Yet other variations see him using larger vehicles as shields, or using missile racks torn from military vehicles as his own personal throwing dart stash. Useful and fun, everything the modern misunderstood outcast could want.
Speed is not something typically associated with The Hulk, but it is something that, as much as his destructive prowess, defines this latest adventure. Gamma-infused limbs, as quickly becomes apparent, are not only useful for smashing things, but for traversing acres in what amounts to little more than seconds. Whether running along the ground or leaping through the air, the Hulk is fast. That you can destroy things while also moving at breakneck speeds, well, that's a little thing we like to call icing.
It's a necessity because having to cover the amount of virtual real estate you do, anything else would most likely have been unbearable but as it stands, moving around is a highly enjoyable part of the gameplay. Imagine if you will: running along the ground, seamlessly transitioning to the face of a building, then running up it and using it as a springboard to leap miles into the air, landing on the roof or latching onto the side of another building with your fists before setting off once again. One particularly enjoyable mini-game even tasks you with moving across the city without ever touching the ground.
All of this functionality would be pretty useless without some sort of challenge tied to it, and this is where the story-based missions come into play. Although initially simple, these ramp up from encounters with a local, ill-equipped police force to full-scale military assault squads replete with helicopters, tanks, and Hulkbusters.
Leaping from building rooftops (or rock mesas when in the Badlands) is only more exhilarating when being hounded by throngs of offensive units. Enemy bosses too, are a significant, if not the most significant, aspect of the game. They're certainly some of the most exciting moments to be found. The scale of everything is ramped up considerably during these sequences and the game is all the better for it. Best you find out for yourself, though.
Of course, no self-respecting free-roaming game would be complete with a threat meter of some kind. Cause too much destruction and a response team is dispatched to eliminate you. The upside of this is that destroying the response team nets a sizeable Smash Points bonus.
Much has been made of the collaborations with writer Paul Jenkins, artist Bryan Hitch and others working on the project, but ultimately it's the gameplay, more than the story (which is entertaining, if perfunctory) or the art (sufficient) that makes Hulk: Ultimate Destruction one of the best superhero videogames to be released this generation.
Technical hitches are kept to a minimum, but as is commonplace with free-roaming play, fade-in and pop-up rear their malformed countenances from time to time, and the camera can, despite your efforts, fail to capture the best view of the action possible; especially so during the more demanding boss fights. Bass-heavy and a little awkwardly paced, the score nevertheless sets the tone well. Solid, if uninspired voice-casting makes for a well-rounded aural package.
Even running straight through the story missions with little deviation, Hulk: Ultimate Destruction lasts a good number of hours. The comic books littered about the gameworld add to the longevity somewhat as many players will diligently seek them out in order to gain access to the myriad unlockables; from the ridiculous, country flag-themed pants for Hulk, to the sublime, Making Of developer videos. Unlockable content is a malady all too common in current generation games but at least in this case Radical have, for the most part, made the reward commensurate with the effort.
Superhero videogames are here to stay, that much is self-evident. But if they're all of the quality of Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, well, then the only thing you need concern yourself with is counting down the days until your favorite superhero gets a digital makeover. It's an easily recommendable game.