Reviewed: September 24, 2005
Released: August 23, 2005
Forget stress balls, scented oils, and yoga class. If you’ve had a bad day at the office and need to blow off stream, plop The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction onto your disc tray and go wild. I promise after five minutes of using street lamps to skewer helicopters you’ll forget all about that nice healthy run you were going to take and give your thumbs the exercise instead. “Ultimate destruction” says it all in Marvel’s newest – and best – take on the Green Goliath, an open-ended orgy of free-roaming mayhem .
Fans of last summer’s Spider-Man 2 will probably take to “Ultimate Destruction” immediately as it offers the same appealing style of play: totally independent movement through vast virtual environments. But unlike Spider-Man, where cars, people, and other little details of the 3-D Manhattan functioned only as props, the Hulk’s surroundings are completely destructible – anything and everything can be damaged, demolished, or manipulated.
Pick up a car and toss it off a bridge. Grab a puny policeman and smack him around. Use a radio antenna like a Louisville slugger. If you can see it, chances are you can crush it. Even getting around is a blast: with tremendous leaping abilities you can cover whole city blocks in seconds and even scale buildings by running straight into them.
Everything you destroy earns you aptly named “Smash Points” which are then used to purchase increasingly elaborate moves that will only improve your power to dish out the pain. The coolest of these enhancements are the “weaponizations” that allow you to turn everyday objects into attack-enhancing tools. For the price of a few Smash Points you can teach Hulk to flatten a bus into a full-body shield or turn a sedan into a pair of steel boxing gloves. You’ll need every upgrade you can get, as you’ll face a host of progressively tougher foes looking to take ol’ Greenskin down for good.
The story element offers a variety of missions in several locations including the expansive city environment and an arid badlands chockfull of tanks and artillery. While the story itself is rather forgettable it does offer the player the biggest set of challenges, requiring you not only to smash but also to protect, retrieve, search, and follow. These tasks become a bit tedious after a while but they are action-packed, and only your success in story mode will unlock more attacks, new foes, and some terrific bosses.
Boss battles are a real highlight. You will face some serious butt-kicking baddies, including a lightning-fast psy-witch named Mercy and a giant robot that tears apart whole city blocks during your struggle. While bosses provide some thrilling brawls they also force the player to use Hulk’s strength strategically since mere button mashing won’t do the job. These are the best times to pull out your super-energized Critical Mass attacks; unleashing shockwaves of pure chaos to smote your foes in true Hulk style.
The numerous cutscenes and dialog-heavy exposition is bearable since it always leads to more clobbering and crushing. The environments are also peppered with amusing “challenge missions”, such as a distance competition in which you try to whack helpless soldiers as far into a nearby harbor as possible. Bottom line: there are lots of ways to keep yourself entertained.
“Ultimate Destruction” looks good, but it’s far below the dazzling standards set by other recent PS2 action titles like God of War or Devil May Cry 3. This is the trade-off for rendering such massive, busy environments where every object is touchable. So the artwork is cookie-cutter, the buildings and people are all very pre-fab, and the city is somewhat unremarkable, but at least it’s BIG so Hulk has plenty of room to stretch his tree-trunk legs.
The story is prodded forward with a few slick movies laid out with a moody, comic-book feel, but they’re supplemented with far more common cutscenes that are pretty lousy by contrast, with big, muddy pixels and character models barely out of the wireframe stage. The framerates are smooth and consistent, however, and there is little or no choppiness during gameplay, even when the screen is packed with whizzing rockets and colorful explosions (expect healthy load times before each mission).
Like Spider-Man the camera sometimes does more harm than good, sticking buildings and pedestrians in your face at the worst possible times, but an intuitive target-lock system helps Hulk stay focused amidst all the fighting. This is especially welcome during missions requiring you to keep pace with specific enemies like trucks and helicopters. Kudos to the designers for the little things, like Hulk’s funny mannerisms celebrating a successful mission (yawning, flexing, grabbing his crotch).
While music is almost non-existent in “Ultimate Destruction”, no expense was spared on effects, as evidenced by the bone-jarring intensity of every snap, smash, scream, and explosion. Though the lack of tunes sometimes makes for awkward silences, the gameplay is full of ambient city noise and voice chatter. The very appearance of Hulk on street level will kick off a plethora of shouts and hollers from nearby citizens (“He’ll kill us all!” and “Run!” being the most popular).
Police and Army radio transmissions also make for fun listening as they react to your movements. Rip up a streetlight and they cry “The Hulk is armed, sir!”, and really baffle them by using a delivery truck as a surfboard: “Um…Doctor Banner is changing his tactics, sir!” Neal McDonough of “Band of Brothers” and “Boomtown” fame performs Banner well, though he’s called upon to deadpan a few wisecracks that seem completely out of character. Other voice work is passable and dialog is predictably campy, but, hey, this is a comic book, right? Quibbles aside, the sound is solid.
Between a couple dozen story missions, frantic boss battles, loads of challenge missions, and tons of hidden items, “Ultimate Destruction” offers plenty of ways to keep your thumbs busy. The numerous unlockables include “Making Of…” featurettes, new (and amusing) costumes, art and cover galleries, and some funky cheat codes. Hardcore fans of the Hulk comic will be especially pleased with the unlockable Gray Hulk, complete with 3-piece suit and pimped-out Fedora.
Though any free roaming game is bound to get repetitious eventually, the real value is being able to turn on “Hulk” any time and spend as little or as long as you want just wreaking havoc. The mindless stress-relief factor adds to the already respectable replay value and makes this title a good one to have around for when you want instant gratification without worrying about save points and plot.
With so many lame and lackluster comic book-based games out there, it’s natural to be wary and even jaded about yet another one. This is especially true of the Hulk, when PS2’s last attempt at the Green Meany resulted in the decidedly sub-par movie tie-in complete with crummy Bruce Banner stealth missions. Yeech! But it was exactly that wariness that made this title so pleasantly impressive when I played it for the first time. Here, amazingly, was a comic-inspired game that was actually, well, FUN!
The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction doesn’t break any new ground but it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not either. The Hulk as a character has always been about the deranged joy of just losing control and succumbing to your inner two year-old. The game designers set out to capture that thrill of tearing off on an unstoppable temper tantrum and they nailed it.
You won’t see it win Game of the Year, but you probably won’t ever be bored while you’re playing. It may lack the ambition of more original games like God of War, but “Ultimate Destruction” is still a solid, satisfying action title, a refreshingly fun comic book adaptation, and a must-have for all Hulk fans.