Developer: Edge of Reality
Release Date: June 5, 2008
Marvel's roll call of films continues with "The Incredible Hulk," and right on its massive heels is the almost inevitable console adaptation. Sega's new game is pretty fun for a sandbox beat-'em-up, but a slew of problems make much of the game feel as if it had just left the lab without having been tested.
Sega's third-person city buster roughly follows the film while embellishing it with a few extra twists. To add a few more challenges to the main story, new enemies crop up as things unfold, including the scientific cabal known as the Enclave, a rogue Army officer, some new guy who is always giving missions to Bruce Banner, and a band of superpowered mutants. If you've seen the film, you'll be in for a few surprises. If you haven't seen the movie but are just a fan of the Hulk, The Incredible Hulk game manages to succeed in turning you into an unnatural force that nature and science can do little to stop … aside from the bugs.
Along with a few other film actors, Ed Norton, Liv Tyler and John Hurt have returned to voice the game, and the results are somewhat mixed, mostly due to the low-quality cut scenes but also because of the surprisingly wooden acting from a few of the stars. Most of these are stills with voice-overs, but the cuts themselves don't do much for the story. The music, on the other hand, is pretty good ear candy for when you're blowing away storefronts with your fists. Heavy beats are accompanied by a growling guitar in the background, although it occasionally drops out and leaves you in silence right in the middle of playing.
The Big Apple doesn't look half-bad up close, and there is a lot to explore in the city as the Hulk. Famous landmarks such as the Empire State Building, Trump Tower, and the Met are there to check out — or bring down, in case you're in a bad mood. Cars crumple like paper in the Hulk's hands, people go flying everywhere as he runs into them, and walls and windows explode to leave behind twisted wreckage. This is a city where comic book rules apply to everything, as weird as it can be to throw civilians at Army helicopters.
The downside is that while it can be fun to pound buildings into rubble, climb the side of Stark Tower, run through traffic and watch cars fly, or jump from rooftop to rooftop high above the asphalt, it can sometimes feel as if the engine is about to fall apart. The short-view distance makes New York look pretty awful outside of your immediate area; building textures pop in on your approach, billboards magically materialize from the ether, and the city builds itself before your eyes as you jump through the sky. This, along with frequent choppiness and bizarro physics, might only be a few of the symptoms, but they will follow you throughout The Incredible Hulk and drag down the experience at the least opportune times.
Don't be surprised if you jump up onto a ledge and are stuck, making it appear as if the Hulk were sky diving a foot above the concrete. It's also possible to find that the Hulk's running sprint is stopped cold by a two-foot ledge. Jumping into the water pops the Hulk back out, since he apparently can't swim; he then ricochets off the ground and rebounds backward through the air on his way down, as if he were the Prince of Persia. Even though it's a movie game, it's difficult to believe that a title with this kind of quality managed to slip through.
When the title does work, the Hulk is his own best weapon, along with whatever you make him pick up; you can use vehicles, soldiers, lamp poles or even giant chunks of wall to smash whatever dares to get in your way. The controls make it easy to move the Hulk around and dish out the kind of punishment that make insurance agents cry. He can grab the sides of buildings and climb up to safety, jump through the air with the greatest of ease, and run like a freight train through city streets. There's even a lock-on feature that focuses on specific enemies, which would have been helpful if it weren't so broken. You have to be facing your enemy to actually lock on, and it only seemed to work half of the time, so you may logically think that by pulling down on the trigger lock, you'd spin Hulk around to face his nearest threat. You'd be mistaken, and you'll find yourself playing with the camera instead.
The Incredible Hulk also has its own goals to pursue in addition to the usual 360 achievements, whether it is in destroying a certain number of vehicles or taking out a certain number of enemy soldiers, all of which go toward unlocking enhancements. As you fill out the to-do list for each one, the Hulk will unlock new powers, such as a devastating hand clap that sends a shockwave of gamma-powered annihilation in all directions, or passive abilities that improve his healing rate or make him a bit more powerful.
There are also hidden gamma canisters scattered throughout New York that improve the Hulk's health. Fury canisters also do the same thing for the Hulk's anger, which acts as a sort of "energy gauge" for his fury abilities. The Hulk already regenerates his health, albeit slowly, but as one example, using some of his fury will also allow him to heal up all of his damage at once. Anger management is not what you want the Hulk to practice. You want to make him angry and keep him there in order to use his more powerful moves, especially when you find yourself fighting against bosses that can range from incredibly easy to ones that are only susceptible to one kind of attack that you must repeat ad nauseam.
Much of the gameplay revolves around the Hulk going after some bad guys to pummel, smashing up an objective, recovering an item, and playing keep-away after retrieving said items. Missions are shown on the map, and you have the option of starting the ones you want, so you're free to explore the city or vent the Hulk on local property values. Buildings remain destroyed until you leave the game, although the engine won't remember everything, such as the traffic jam that you might have created by jumping on top of a gas tanker in Times Square. When you return to a block where you'd previously knocked out some store windows, they may have been miraculously repaired if the building is still standing.
All of this remodeling comes at a cost, as the Hulk draws more attention to his actions by not being conspicuous. Then again, you're a huge, green wrecking machine on two legs in New York, but since the game doesn't take itself seriously, most everyone will ignore you as long as you don't start smashing things. If you do, you'll raise the alert level of the city, and it will start throwing more powerful military units at you in an attempt to calm you down with heavy ordnance. This is where The Incredible Hulk shows off its arcade and comic roots, as all the gloves are off without having to worry about annoying little things like public perception, collateral damage, or the law. When you're the Hulk in this game, you make the laws. If things get too hot to handle, you can always duck into a subway and clear your alert status, which is kind of strange, but I guess in this particular world, it makes perfect sense that no one notices a giant green guy on a train.
Two-thirds of the title is actually pretty fun, as the Hulk is called upon to do what he does best, which is to destroy everything in his way, even though many of these jobs are just variations of each other. Unfortunately, in the last third of the game, quite a few missions have the Hulk performing fetch jobs. One mission type that the design completely goes overboard with is the keep-away, where the Hulk manages to grab some piece of equipment, put it down out in the open, and then defend it against enemies, which doesn't make much sense.
There are also minigames that are unlocked during the course of the main missions outside of the central story. They're small contests that you can play to test your skills, and they're pretty creative in having the Hulk do things that he normally wouldn't, such as taking Betty to various stores on a shopping spree while the military is in pursuit, carrying cabs to their destinations, or playing Hulk's version of the 12 Days of Christmas.
Finishing the game doesn't necessarily mean that everything is done and accounted for, either. You can still continue to explore New York, play more of the minigames, and even revisit previous missions in case there's an achievement you may have missed or an in-game goal that you want to grab. Unlocked bonus characters will also allow you to change up the Hulk's look, and you even get a bonus for having a save game for Iron Man.
Much like the Hulk is both the best and worst that Bruce Banner has become, Sega's The Incredible Hulk shares the same problem. Running around as a green, humanoid wrecking ball in New York's sandbox of steel and concrete castles can be fun for a while until it starts feeling like a repetitive exercise in dealing with missions that try and enlist the Hulk as a nanny for stolen gear or have him destroy yet another group of bad guys who don't have the good sense to stay out of his way. Throw in the shoddy performance of the engine that dogs the repetitive gameplay at nearly every turn, and it can easily become an experience that can get your own blood boiling. Fans of the film or of the Hulk in general will probably get the most gamma dosage from this title, but even they might find that it works better as a weekend experiment.
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