As long as there have been game consoles, there have been superhero games. Gamers over a certain age may be able to recall a day when several blue and red blocks were enough to convince gamers they were controlling Superman on their Atari 2600. Those days are long gone and even when our beloved comic book heroes appear as they should in a game, it does not always translate into a wonderful gaming experience (Superman, once again, for the N64 is a perfect example of a case where everything went wrong). Through a veritable sea of hit-or-miss superhero titles comes a surefire smash in Radical Entertainment's The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. Take one part GTA and two parts Mercenaries, and wrap it all up in a soft shell Marvel comic. Bake for two minutes in your gamma ray machine and "Voila!" instant fun!
Pretty much everything the Hulk has been known for his entire comic-book life is on display here. Players can run at high speeds, bound across a city, and smash just about anything they can see. The more destruction and havok you wreak on society, the more you're rewarded for doing so. As a matter of fact, the Hulk's abilities are a bit curtailed in the beginning of the game by design. Players are rewarded with "smash points" for going ballistic on everything and everyone, which can then be used to purchase new attacks that will enable the Hulk to deliver even more destruction in even more elaborate ways. Everything in the environment can be picked up and thrown at an opponent, and some items can even be transformed into weapons of mass destruction. Grab a car and rip it in half to create giant steel gauntlets for Hulk's fists that amplify the damage caused by his punches. Buses can also be used as shields or a battering ram. You can even pick up an enemy soldier and flick him like a bug across two city blocks, or just bitch-slap him into the afterlife.
Bruce Banner has taken up residence at a secluded church, with a view toward building a machine that will help him unlock the secrets of his alter ego and perhaps end the madness altogether. The church location acts as the Hulk's home base and hub of operations. From there (by choice of jump points) the Hulk chooses a destination and bounds off in search of things to smash. This is where the design becomes similar to Grand Theft Auto inasmuch as all of the game's storyline missions are "activated" by icons you'll find on the map within the area. Players can free-roam smash (which brings up the similarities to Mercenaries), take part in the story missions, or even embark on the many side-quests found littered throughout the city. The side quests, although silly at times, are a great way to rack up the smash points.
The game really shines in its simplistic control and intuitive design that enables even the most casual of gamers to pick up the controller and be the Hulk. Running (and dashing), punching, throwing, climbing up buildings and charging your attacks to make more powerful attacks are all easy to pull off, and, more often than not, end up being the button (or button combo) you would hit on instinct. The main feeling conveyed by the user control and imagery in this title would be immersion. Ultimate Destruction succeeds where a lot of superhero titles fail (and fail miserably) by actually making players feel like they are the particular hero the game is about... in this case, of course, the Hulk. Players will realize this very thing the minute they hear the screams of terror from the soldiers as they pitifully try to run away from the big green menace.
Graphically, the game sports adequate and intriguing visuals, even though the character and object models tend to be a little short on detail. There's nothing here that would be considered groundbreaking, but everything is well-represented on screen and the job gets done. Are the visuals overwhelmingly pretty like Ninja Gaiden? No, but they don't need to be. The main gripe with the visuals lies more in the camera than the graphics themselves. The endless motion and violent jerking about the Hulk is known for can cause a bit of motion sickness in people, particularly in the "overly brown" desert levels. Some people are more sensitive to it than others, but quite a few people have brought this up. Those with high-definition equipment can be the Hulk in 720p on the Xbox.
The audio design is superb in its relentless ferocity, yet quite detailed and subtle at times as well. Naturally, everything in this title is about the smashing, crashing, and exploding, so those of you with subwoofers will find them getting quite a workout. The acting in the voiceovers is really well done, and even when the game really starts pushing its "comic book" themes you can feel the actor's commitment to their characters. None of the performances sound "phoned in" at all.
This game is what most superhero games should be. There are many comic-book related items to unlock during the course of the gameplay, and this works very well as a reward for which the fans can strive. Whether you are a true fan of the Hulk or just feel that a game in which you can kill/smash/destroy everything in sight would be a great cathartic experience, you will have a great time with Dr. Bruce Banner's alter ego.