Publisher: Vivendi Universal
Developer: Radical Entertainment
Release Date: August 23, 2005
If you've ever read an Incredible Hulk comic, you'll recall that almost every story has some point where Hulk has been, I don't know, shot by approximately 500 helicopters at once or something. Hulk will be all hunkered down, hands covering his face, experiencing some sort of animal rage… and then he'll just snap and go nuts on his attackers, like he suddenly remembered that he's functionally invincible. With a mighty "HULK SMASH!" he'll tear into every breakable thing in the vicinity. A few pages (or issues) later, there'll be nothing but ruin left.
That orgy of devastation is pretty much what reading an Incredible Hulk comic book is all about. It also seems to be the moment in time that the entirety of the upcoming Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction video game is about. The gameplay is a noticeable departure from the style of Radical's last Hulk title, which was tied directly to the Hulk theatrical film. Instead, it feels … well, like the sort of comic book experience I described above. Bruce Banner is only present in cut-scenes, and never figures into the gameplay experience.
The game's design feels very true to the comic-book nature of the character. When we saw the game at E3, it was pretty much 20 minutes of watching the Hulk break things. Oh, sure, the developer giving the demo offhandedly mentioned that there would be a story or something, written by the actual writer of the Hulk comic books, but that's clearly beside the point of the game. What it's really about is totally, completely wrecking everything you can. The feel of comic-book authenticity is just icing on the cake.
The mechanics of the title are highly reminiscent of the Spider-Man movie games, with the Hulk leaping and climbing around an urban cityscape. The gameplay style is very "sandbox," with the player allowed to basically wander around the city doing whatever when they aren't involved in a story mission. Unlike Spider-Man, the missions don't have anything to do with being heroic or saving people, or even delivering pizza. The world of Ultimate Destruction is one where the Hulk is a persecuted freak who lashes back at his tormentors with bestial fury. The two missions we saw could be easily boiled down to "puny humans attack Hulk, Hulk does not care why, and so Hulk smashes them into fine puny human paste."
Gameplay in Ultimate Destruction is all about racking up a big score, and you do this by breaking things. The more stuff you break, and the cooler you look breaking it, the higher your score. Virtually everything in the game is breakable, from vehicles to buildings, and you can use a stunning array of found objects to smack things around. You can also heft things up and fling 'em for distance if you want, even things like buses and lamp posts.
The game's love of found weapons climaxes in a weirdly Nintendo Logical "weaponizing" system that lets the Hulk actually convert certain objects into equipment on the fly. We saw the Hulk turn a grabbed car into a big metal body shield, and then another downed vehicle into these big metal fists. This really shouldn't be useful at all and we have no idea why the Hulk would do it, but it makes for a decently cool image.
So, what do you do with the points you rack up for stylishly defeating enemies? Well, you can use them to buy more attacks, mostly. Players will start with about 70 moves for the Hulk, which they can expand to 150 in the course of the game. It probably seems a bit circular to smash things so you can buy more ways to smash things, but at heart, Ultimate Destruction is a game about pure unbridled power fantasy. It's fairly appropriate for players to start awesome and then slowly work on getting more awesome as they go.
Most of the enemies we saw at the E3 demo were fairly nondescript, mostly run-of-the-mill thugs, military guys, and giant robots. Fans of the comics don't need to fret, though; Ultimate Destruction is going to feature some of the bad-guy cameos that fans love so well. Fans can look forward to fighting an incredibly large version of the Abomination, and the dev teased a few more classic Hulk villains being involved in the game's story. Given how spotty the Hulk's rogues gallery is, this means virtually any of Marvel's weirdest villains could end up making a showing. Our hopes are pinned on MODOK or the Wrecking Crew. Hell, we'll even take Absorbing Man.
It's hard to fairly judge the graphic quality on a half-finished game you're looking at for about 20 minutes while your feet ache, but Ultimate Destruction struck us as a pretty visually solid title. There was nothing that really leapt out and wowed us, but the Hulk was nicely scaled to his setting and the puny humans he encountered moved convincingly. The textures and poly counts were nothing special, but the emphasis with this game seems to be less on visual spectacle and more on having lots of moving objects onscreen at once. It's the sheer scale of the carnage that makes Ultimate Destruction noteworthy, so we can't fault Radical's priorities here.
The developer who did the game demo for us kept emphasizing that Ultimate Destruction's goal was to provide gamers with the "ultimate power fantasy," in a way that only a license like the Hulk makes possible. It caters to the hidden desire for ultimate power that lurks deep in the id of most gamers, and does a remarkable job of granting the illusion of total freedom to the player. If the gameplay can stand up any kind of prolonged focus, then Hulk fans and casual gamers will have a real winner on their hands in The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction.