If you’ve ever been a comic book fan, you’ve got to be somewhat happy and alarmed at the recent explosion of interest and development of the entertainment industry into your pastime. With many ideas in these companies going stale, they seem to turn an eager eye to proven plotlines and characters that’ve stood the test of time. (Besides that, most of the ideas in comics are more original than a lot of the movies or games around….) Marvel’s embodiment of a raging Id, The Incredible Hulk, is merely the latest to have been strip mined from the comic world, becoming a less than stellar film which splashed onto screens before fading away. Just like any summer “blockbuster” film, it had a plethora of merchandising, including the latest superhero offering on all three major consoles, GBA and PC from VU Games and Radical Entertainment.
Mercifully, Radical spares players the typical rehash we’ve all come to expect from tie-in movie products. Instead, the plot of the game takes place a few months after the action of the film, with Dr. Bruce Banner still coming to terms with the monster within that was unleashed from his experiments with gamma radiation. Unfortunately, Dr. Banner’s infrequent peace is about to be shattered into even smaller pieces with the interference of The Leader, who is seeking to harness the power of that very same gamma radiation to create an army of mutant creatures. However, not only will Dr. Banner and his alter ego have to face down the growing threat of altered beasts (no pun intended), but he’ll also have to square off against other threats, such as Flux, Ravage, and Half-Life as well as the U.S. Army.
Fortunately, The Hulk has numerous ways to dispatch his enemies, which has transitioned over into the game world well. Over 40 separate maneuvers are available to The Hulk via his combat system, which consists of a number of punches, jumps, and grapples. The chosen move is executed by either a series of button presses or a charged and released button, which then triggers an attack. Purists of the comic should take heart, because the infamous sonic clap and ground smashing jump are included, along with a number of other moves that take advantage of his fury. In fact, attacking builds up a rage meter, which allows you to boost your damage or unleash a super-powerful attack towards your enemies.
Gamers won’t just go through the game crushing everything in sight (although that is a definite facet of gameplay). As you journey through the 25 different levels, you’ll also be relegated to sneaking around as Dr. Banner. Here, players will infiltrate bases, crack computer codes and mix chemicals, among other things, to return to your “safer” alter ego. Creatively, the game justifies many of these occasions on plot reliant devices, such as a gamma inhibitor introduced into Bruce’s bloodstream, or alarms that go off at the detection of gamma signatures of The Hulk’s kind.
However, as interesting as The Hulk could’ve been, it fails in a number of ways. For one, Banner’s missions are highly uninteresting. Quite a few of them would be better performed by someone of Solid’s Snake’s character, but Banner is no Snake, and conversely, players might have to get used to restarting numerous times to get a sneaking mission right. What’s worse, Banner’s control scheme is horrible. To put it in perspective, fans of Resident Evil that complained about its tank-like maneuverability of characters would praise them over The Hulk’s manipulation of Banner, with its highly flawed camera angles and sticky directional control. Secondly, the puzzles that he has to solve, particularly the code cracking, is so simplistic that its inclusion is practically useless, even on the hardest difficulty setting. Not only does it serve as an annoying distraction to the game, but it also slows the actual action of the game dramatically when you’re concerned with whether or not some pathetic guard noticed you. For god’s sake, man, you’re the freaking Hulk! Turn around, get angry and smash him!
Even aside from the highly limited nature of Banner’s missions, the highlight of the game, primal destruction leveled on the surroundings, is tempered dramatically by two flaws. Granted, just about anything can be destroyed, and what’s more, these items can be picked up and used as weapons against anyone or anything, further increasing the mayhem within an area. However, one thing you’ll quickly discover is that the number of enemies The Hulk faces are severely limited. By the fifth level or so, you’ve practically seen just about every kind of enemy the game will throw at you.
It also doesn’t help that with this limitation comes a definite reduction in the number of moves used to eliminate opponents. In fact, if you get used to the basic punches and the ground stomp, you can basically take on the entire game without breaking a sweat. This simplicity will most likely reduce players to mentally thinking along the lines of, “Me Hulk. Hulk Smash. Me Like.” That brings me to my final point, which is that the game is just too freaking short. Nimble gamers will probably be able to tackle this entire adventure in ten hours or less, quickly losing interest as the levels fly by. Even many of the included extras aren’t enough to sustain a gamer’s attention, which will probably result in this title falling to the bottom shelf of a collection.
In many ways, it’s a shame, because the graphical quality of The Hulk is actually rather good. With a distinctive cel-shaded approach to both The Hulk and to many of the cutscenes, the cinematic flavor that the designers were attempting to capture obviously succeeded. The Hulk leaps out of the screen, vibrantly and rather well animated, with large, expressive facial features leading the way for the other game characters. Oddly, as I mentioned earlier, the decent camera work featured for Hulk missions disappears for many of the Banner levels, often getting stuck in walls or on objects. It’s as if the camera can’t compensate for the lack of size. Destruction of environments is probably one of the better details, however, with large clouds of dust rising and settling after massive leaps and debris tumbling from destroyed items.
Sound is also bolstered, primarily though the efforts and talents of Eric Bana, who played the unfortunate Dr. Banner in the movie. In fact, it’s primarily his show, considering that the other characters from the film, such as Betty, are barely in the game, if at all. Boosted with a soundtrack inspired by and including soundtracks from the movie, we’re looking at a title that featured both Dolby 5.1 and stereo options for home systems, which infuses a great environment for the gameplay…..too bad it’s flaws hinder the musical options.
All in all, if you consider yourself a Hulk fan or a Marvel fanatic, you probably already own this game. If so, I hope you’re enjoying tearing through towns and places laying waste to your enemies. However, if numerous limited game features, shortened play and poorly implemented secondary characters reduce this game to the “try before you buy” category.