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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Review: Hulk: Ultimate Destruction

Xbox (also PS2 & GC), September 2005 [Amazon UK]

I have a huge soft spot for games that finally recreate the experience of being a certain superhero and then throw you through level after level of action and fun. I loved the first Spider-Man game and continued to enjoy the first movie game (never played the second, for some reason). Hulk: Ultimate Destruction leaves me with a similar feeling of glee at being able to be the superhero in question. Essential to its success and the focus point of enjoyment in the game, the experience of being the Hulk is everything you could have wanted.

Bounding around town, running up the sides of buildings, leaping far and digging in, then clambering up, as you strike the sides of towers, ripping out innocent pieces of scenery, throwing things, smashing the ground into huge schockwaves, catching missiles and throwing them at targets, pulling helicopters and jets to the ground, grabbing on to huge mechs and pounding them, impaling hulkbuster battlesuits with a thrown lamppost, playing baseball with special forces dropping from a transport chopper. You really are the Hulk, with all the right feelings of weight, near indestructablity (when not facing giant mechanised war machines) and awesome punching power. If you’ve always wanted to play a game as the savage jolly green giant then here we go, you don’t need to care about anything else – you’ve found your ultimate toy (and it’s hard to see how the experience of being the Hulk could be much improved).

Most people will want a good game outside of the basic Hulk escapism. So past the giggling childhood wish fulfilment, what is there? Well the game is defined by its mission to let you Be The Hulk, so the entire structure is there to best facilitate this. It’s a dangerous goal and it would be all too easy to tip the title into the realms of an entertaining sandbox to play in but little of substance to keep you interested. Ultimate Destruction walks this knife’s edge successfully, so when the “holy shit I’m really the Hulk!” factor wears off you’ve still got plenty of great big fun missions to enjoy your toy in.

There are three central areas in the game: the badlands, the city and the church. The church is essentially an ingame junction room, a bit like the cantina in the delightful Lego Star Wars game. So by entering the church itself you access the menu system to buy moves, read/listen to decoded background files, load, save and so on. Outside the church is a small village and also the jump points to the other two central areas (as they’re available), and at the end of a chapter a special mission star which will advance the storyline to the next set of storyline missions. The city area is a huge city, with plenty of vehicles to use, abuse and throw until they fall apart, people to scare and kill, power-ups to collect and lots of huge towers to run/climb up and leap off. The Badlands house a small town settlement, lots of winding canyons and rocky areas, and ultimately the military complexes.

The central storyline is progressed through missions that appear, one at a time, in the central locations (indicated on the straightforward area map). You jump between church and other area, and you can pick one of potentially several jump-in points as and when you unlock them. You can then either jump to the point closest to the mission location or enjoy a smashing (literally) trip across the city or Badlands. As well as the storyline missions there are dozens of small challenge missions (usually time limited and involving things such as races or seeing how much damage you can do). These can be completed for smash points (also accumulated during missions and any general destruction you engage in) which are then used to purchase the many increasingly insane & powerful special moves for the Hulk.

The storyline missions take a “good” amount of time (I didn’t note down how long but I certainly didn’t feel cheated out of my £30) and give you some truly excellent periods of action. Belting around a city island as General Ross uses his massive mech to demolish the buildings, stopping to pick up and hurl tanks and large pieces of rubble at him is just one stand out fight. You’ll find many a satisfying moment as your critically charged Hulk does a maximum power “atomic” smash of his fists into the ground, blasting apart scenery in the shockwave and hurling Hulkbusters units against buildings and toppling tanks. I’m a big fan of fun and this really is top quality grin-inducing fun as far as I’m concerned.

The story itself has been constructed and scripted by former Hulk scribe Paul Jenkins (currently writing the second Sentry miniseries for Marvel). It’s a shame, then, that it doesn’t feel much different to a standard videogame plot. It’s an action game, so the plot was never likely to enter too far in at the deep end, but even then it seems particularly constrained into the accepted formula of sending you all over the place to collect gubbins for a super machine of some sort. There are certainly above average moments when we look more closely at the characters involved and the nature of the Hulk, the dialogue is generally good and overall it does improve in the second half of the game… but it wasn’t a real step above the norm.

Disguising yourself as a truck isn’t on my list of things I wanted to see in a Hulk game and it’s at this point that the storyline missions take something of a downturn. Until that point they’d been wonderful pieces of total destruction, with the more frustrating encounters being doable after a few attempts and an excellent choice of checkpoint saves on the longer missions. When you find yourself slamming a truck over your head to sneak into the military base, that’s when you know you’re in for possibly the most poorly planned mission in the entire game. Escaping the base with some gubbins is rather hard, which is good, but the checkpoint save comes on the other side of a very long haul through fun, tedium (the truck), fun again and then hell (trying to make a run for the jump out point). It took me many attempts, possibly because I’m rubbish, but in no universe do I see someone walking a long distance very slowly whilst wearing a truck and enjoying it enough to want to endure it every single time they retry. Luckily this is very close to the end but unfortunately the majority of the levels after that are equally frustratingly hard, with at least one more offering a dubious lack of decent checkpoint positioning.

At least one other review mentioned that by the last third of the game actually being the Hulk has become rather passé, throwing planes into tanks being run of the mill. I’d disagree. The shine lessens, certainly, but there are so many moves (well, moves that you’ll actually use – there are even more than you’ll probably never try) and the levels continue to ramp up the insane amount of combat that I never really got tired of Mr. Banner. I would agree that the game couldn’t have sustained anymore levels by the end but I found its length to be just right. It’s a lot of fun, basically, and the less than spectacular storyline still offers plenty of great mission setups. The sandboxes of the city and Badlands are superficially great but don’t hold the depth required to entertain for any length of time. These aren’t the cities of GTA: San Andreas. That doesn’t matter though – alongside the often middling challenge missions they do offer enough to substance to entertain you for a 20 minute bash after work once the storyline is complete. This is fun with a capital H and well worth your time and the inevitable cramps and blisters.


Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 2:50 PM


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All original content is copyright Alex Hopkinson 2005. Other content is copyright the respective owners. To contact the author email: alex [at]

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