Developer: Edge of Reality
Release Date: June 5, 2008
When I started The Incredible Hulk, I was firmly in the camp of "Ultimate Destruction on PS2 is the Hulk game to get." The first few hours of this newer Hulk title can be frustrating, to say the least. You're handed an underpowered Hulk, screwy lock-on system, a few bugs, graphical iffiness, and various control quibbles. Halfway through, I started to warm up to how the game looked, particularly the size and scale of things, how destructible everything really is, the Hulk's building repertoire of abilities and how powerful he was becoming, and the things that irked me with the controls and camera started to bug me less and less.
The Incredible Hulk starts you out at the same place as the recent movie, hiding out in Brazil looking for a cure to Banner's "ailment." For the first couple of missions, the title almost looks to be a direct copy of the film. After that, things branch out, offering to let you wage war on not only General Ross and Blonsky, but also the Enclave, Talbot and Utrecht's U-Foes. The military presents a nearly omnipresent threat to you, as they're the first responders when your threat level goes above zero. The others interweave, and in the case of the Enclave and U-Foes, will sometimes show up at random to antagonize the citizens of New York. Whether you opt to stop them or ignore them and head your own way is entirely up to you, but it is kind of fun to watch the Army, Enclave and U-Foes show up to deal with you and end up turning on each other, forgetting you're even there.
The threat meter works just like it does in Grand Theft Auto; misbehave enough, and they'll send over a couple of Humvees to ask you to knock it off, 50-caliber style. Keep it up, and you'll see mechs flown in, followed by tanks, helicopters, more mechs, and eventually, at maximum threat level, you're constantly hounded by elite mechs and Hulkbuster armors, the suit designed by Tony Stark himself to go toe-to-toe with the Hulk. There's even a "feat" in the game that requires you to survive for at least one minute at threat level nine (the maximum). Without a powered-up Hulk, this can be tricky, but with the beast at his best, you can hold your own.
The feats, as they're known, are in-game achievements of sorts, throwing all sorts of tasks at you to accomplish in the background. They range from expected (score a million points, smash 10,000 things, land 1500 melee attacks, etc.) to unusual (scale the five tallest buildings in the city, destroy five enemies by throwing a huge donut/ice cream cone/taco at them, and so on). Beyond that, you also have comic book covers to unearth and collect, Gamma and Fury canisters to discover that gradually increase your max life and rage meters, and Landmark Tokens, which can only be found within a NYC landmark building after the entire building has been demolished.
The multiple stories and achievements give it legs, but is it fun to play? Once you get used to and accept a few things about it, I'd say yes. First, whenever you throw something, it goes where the camera is pointed, not which way you're facing. Second, the lock-on system is terribly flawed, as the enemy has to be right in front of the camera, and not too close or too far away. Third, the wall-run from Ultimate Destruction is gone, but they found a happy medium with accelerated wall-climbing. The longer you climb, the faster you go. Beyond that, it plays similarly to Ultimate Destruction, only with more buildings, more vehicles, more pedestrians, and more mayhem.
One perk to this version of the Hulk is that you can rip a chunk out of the road or sidewalk at any time (once you learn the skill, that is) to create a shield or projectile. This can save you the hassle of having to look for something to toss at a pesky helicopter or stubborn tank. The Run ability (again, once learned) makes evading or outmaneuvering the enemies much easier. You'll gradually learn higher jumps, stronger throwing, more powerful special moves, and better melee and grapple options. Once you put some time into the game and learn the skills, you stop feeling like a pushover and start terrifying the locals with your sheer power. At max power, juiced-up Thunderclap is enough to topple skyscrapers, knock enemies back five blocks, flatten tanks, and seriously lower the surrounding property values. Full-power Hulk is truly a force to be reckoned with.
All of the collectibles also unlock multiple playable characters, although they only vary at cosmetic levels and in voice. Stomping around as Classic Hulk, Grey Hulk, Maestro, Abomination, Greenscar, Professor Hulk, Ironclad, or even the Hulkbuster Iron Man (unlocked by having an Iron Man save file on your hard drive), among others, is just as fun, and allows for a little personalization. These unlocked characters can be taken into the barebones online mode to also differentiate from your opposition.
Online consists of smashing things to see who can get the most points in a set period of time. There are three main problems with the online play. First, rarely is anyone playing, and when I did find a game to join, it sat there for at least another 10 minutes waiting to start. Second, the Healing Factor special move isn't available, so you can't recover your health once the match begins. Third, the online mode isn't mentioned anywhere in the manual. Talk about a tacked-on feature for an added bullet point on the box.
There are some other problems in the single-player portion in terms of it not explaining some objectives very well, nor hinting at which one of your powers to which an enemy might be susceptible (when in doubt, try the powered-up Thunderclap). Even after you get used to it, the lock-on system and some of the control/camera quirks can be frustrating in a tight spot, but they generally work okay. The wall grab can be fussy at times, too, because if you barrel into a wall, it breaks apart, making it harder to grab. During the few rare indoor sections of the game, the camera becomes a huge liability, zooming in too much when stuck on a wall, or giving you a terrible view of the action. Outdoors, it works okay and can be manually adjusted at anytime. The larger map is sometimes useless in tracking particular enemies or objectives. If U-foes or the Enclave show up in the city, there's no way of seeing just how far away they are if they're beyond the edge of the minimap; their locations are not marked on the bigger map.
Even as a superhero, getting around the city can take quite a while, so Hulk resorts to the NYC subway system (despite deciding against it in the movie). The purpose of the subway is twofold. First, it gets you from place to place much more quickly than running and hopping from rooftop to rooftop. Second, it erases your threat level, putting you back in good standing with the city once you emerge from the subway. You have to discover the subway stops before you can use them, but that, in conjunction with all of the collectibles and unlockables, makes The Incredible Hulk truly as much a game about exploration as it is one of destruction.
The Hulk himself looks good, showing off the rippled muscles, torn pants, floppy hair and gritted teeth. He moves and animates well, and he sounds the part of the angry giant as well. The other voice-overs in the game are handled by their movie counterparts, though they sometimes lack the flair they had in the flick. Edward Norton in particular sounds more like he did when narrating Fight Club in monotone than an emotionally wrecked man on the verge of annihilation at every turn. In any event, the cut scenes and voice-overs do what they need to do.
In terms of system details, The Incredible Hulk does have a patch available already (v 1.01, 14MB), but unlike many other games out there now, it does not require anything to be installed to the hard drive to play. Despite that, the load times are very reasonable, only a few seconds here and there. Hulk also supports vibration for those of you sporting the new Dual Shock 3. Autosaves occur after virtually every mission, collectible, or special item found, so you never have to worry about losing your spot. Loading back in happens automatically as well, dropping you right next to Grand Central Station in NYC in the heart of the city. It's also close to a subway stop, allowing you access to the outer areas right away, provided you've already been to those destination subway stops.
Speaking of the city, The Incredible Hulk contains a fairly faithful reproduction of it. I could argue that the avenues aren't as straight as they should be, or the buildings aren't all in the exact right places, or this or that touristy thing is missing, but in the end, it's a sprawling, open-ended sandbox to save or destroy as you see fit. For those tired of touring these big in-game cities only on foot or in a car, this could offer the variety you're looking for. Dynasty Warriors fans will also likely get a kick out of the action here, as it handles similarly to that game, except with a ripped-open transit bus where you'd normally see a pole arm.
The specifics of the visuals could be debated as well. From atop the Empire State Building, the city is a virtual sea of fog. You can make out the outlines of flat-textured buildings in the distance, but on the ground, you can see just fine, further than necessary to judge a big jump or square off with the enemy. Day/night cycles change everything too. The glow of streetlights and headlights comes and goes, the sunset gleaming off a mile of windowpanes will have you squinting, and the sparkle on the Hudson at sunset is definitely a nice touch. The only things that pop in are small insignificant details like picnic tables or chain link fences — certainly nothing that would slow down the big green guy. If you look closely, though, you can see building textures updating as you arrive at them. At first they may look a bit like buildings from GTA3 — that is, a bit blurry and bland. Give it a few seconds, and the textures update, lighting effects and post processing kick in, and it starts to look pretty nice. Then you smash it.
I can see how some may complain about The Incredible Hulk, but honestly, after playing this and Spider-Man 3 side by side, I'll take a smoother frame rate over flashier visuals. When going bowling down Fifth Avenue with a shell of a taxi cab, hitting two dozen objects, making them explode and collide and break apart buildings and such, it never slows down. Some have reported lockups with the game, but the only time I experienced one was after playing for several hours straight, and even Assassin's Creed ran into chugging/lockup problems after that much play. I assume it's more of a hardware/heat issue than something with the game, unless that's what the 1.01 patch fixed. I played the game exclusively on a 60GB PS3, for what it's worth. Regardless, the frequent autosaves mean you won't lose much progress even if the game does act up.
As the Hulk's powers ramp up, so does the difficulty of the missions. They typically range from "protect this" to "destroy that/them" to "recover an item." I guess it could get tedious for some, but Hulk fans won't mind. Who expects a stealth mission in a Hulk game anyway? The objectives in Ultimate Destruction weren't a whole lot different, nor were the controls. However, what this game lacks in imaginative objectives, it makes up for with the punch that the protagonist packs, something sorely lacking from the recent Iron Man game, a title I could barely tolerate long enough to get a save file and unlock the Hulkbuster over here.
By the end of it, I came to actually prefer this Hulk game overall. Is it better than Ultimate Destruction in some absolute sense? Maybe, maybe not; it's certainly debatable. While Spider-Man 3 might have had a somewhat better-looking and more accurate Manhattan, the frame rate in The Incredible Hulk is more solid, except for brief rare occasions when you're literally leveling several blocks of the city simultaneously. Also, once you've stomped a mile in Hulk's shoes, navigating NYC by swinging on webs feels positively pedestrian. Sure, it has some problems (lock-on, targeting, getting stuck in the air on objects), but they weren't nearly enough to stop me from finishing it and grabbing every last collectible. I expect to play it more, too, as there's nothing like smashing a city by hand to unwind after a stressful day at the office.
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