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
Thursday, October 13, 2005
Random Gaming Comments 2
The PC is my gaming platform of choice and I only console game because my Xbox was free. Still, I like to keep an eye on that market these days as it has rather large effects on my favoured platform. I just read this first impression of Xbox 360 launch title, Perfect Dark Zero and it sounds pretty much what you’d expect from a day one first person shooter on the first of the next generation consoles. I get the feeling that, more so than ever before, people will be making massive judgements on the next three consoles far too early in their lifecycles. Technologically speaking they’re all pretty much there, presumably around the same level of my new PC infact (I’m too lazy to do ultimately pointless investigation into specifics). The games will take time – we all need a bit more patience.
Outside of completing Hulk: Ultimate Destruction (which I have a review of to post) and playing Battlefield 2 online, I’ve been spending a lot of time gaming in Emulators recently. I go through cycles like this, so I’ve been resuming my game of the Japanese Playstation title Super Robot Wars: Alpha Gaiden, which is fun for a fanboy like myself. It’s nice to be able to read plots & dialogues without a translated FAQ though, so I’m also playing a lot of Final Fantasy 6 for the first time.
I must admit I expected FF6 to be a bit more mature than it is (I was running on the assumption it would balance along the same lines as 7 in terms of tone and dialogue) but it’s been good nonetheless. I do like seeing what they do with the SNES hardware – I think it’s quite fascinating to witness how much developers can get out of old hardware towards the end of its shelf life (there was some really comparatively powerful stuff done on the C64 near the end). After I complete 6 I’m contemplating playing 7 through from the start and finishing the end this time, which is a dangerous road to travel...
Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 3:47 PM
I’ve put up some index pages that you can find linked on the top left. If you’re bored enough to be reading this blog then it’s entirely possible you’re bored enough to have an interest in hunting through for pieces that interest you, so those pages should sort you out.
Expect to see my notes on Street Angel and Sharknife Vol. 1 assembled into posts that resemble reviews sometime soon(ish). Well... before christmas at least. Also I should be returning to my journey through the Judge Dredd strips once I finish off my review of the next period. Comics parcel reviews have been abandoned to avoid turning “blogging for fun” into a second job but I expect I’ll have a fountain of gibberish to write about various issues as time goes on.
Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 3:05 PM
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Review: Final Fantasy VII: Last Order
A short review for a short one-off piece of anime. Apparently included in the Final Fantasy VII : Advent Children DVD in Japan (not currently scheduled for the west, strangely), Last Order is a 25 minute anime set prior to the events of the original Playstation and PC game. If you’ve not played the majority of the game then the anime (and this short review) will spoil some decent storytelling moments in the game. So a bit of a gap, which I shall fill with a screen capture of animated SOLDIER Zack.
I must admit, my memory of Final Fantasy VII has slipped slowly away in the 3 or 4 years since I finally played it on my PC. I was initially a bit baffled as to why a character named Zack appeared to be Cloud, and Cloud... wasn’t. Then it clicked and I remembered the neat piece of false flashback memories in the game – this anime (also something of a flashback, largely) depicts the incident at the Mako Reactor involving Cloud, Tifa, Zack and Sephiroth. In parallel we’re shown Zack escaping the clutches of Shinra with a practically comatose Cloud, hunted by the Turks on the way to Midgar (set a few months before the game begins, I believe). Despite how complex this sounds, it’s actually a pretty straightforward 25 minutes.
It’s also a rather lacking 25 minutes. What works as a nice part of the game storyline does not make an outstanding piece of anime. It’s a nicely animated version of that backstory, and the new sections are very fluid and action packed but it’s all very much in the territory of an average episode of a TV anime. There’s nothing outstanding here and much more could have been done with the “present day” material that surrounds the pre-existing events of the past. The ending is particularly poor, as they try to make a shocking and sudden stop in the post-escape pleasantries but instead produce a jarring cut to the credits which rounds off an all too short, and all too unadventurous 25 minutes.
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children
Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 10:59 PM
Comics On The Screen
One of my pet interests is the concept of online comics distribution, or more accurately the lack of it. In the past I’ve bemoaned the lack of huge libraries of comics to be paid for with pocket change and read on the screen. It’s a market that could potentially exceed American print distribution, or at least work in those kinds of numbers., Folk from all over the world deciding to buy and read a few digital copies of this and that from the huge Marvel & DC superhero backlist, or what have you. Offer these at high quality and yet cheaper than single issues or trade paperbacks – the iTunes method, basically. There are already a decent number of people who’ve downloaded the first 300 issues of Uncanny X-Men which they then read in the simple yet tremendously accessible CDisplay software. It’s a topic not often discussed in the comics internet but it has cropped up every so often – the technology loving comics writer Warren Ellis being someone who has expressed a similar longing as I have (though I expect he’d be much less interested in the superhero library of Marvel and DC).
So yesterday’s Lying In The Gutters column over at ComicBookResources offers up some commentary and a short interview on the subject. This section in particular caught my eye:
"If you think comic shop owners scream bloody murder when there's an exclusive with Barnes & Noble, imagine how they're going to scream if you can download your X-Men or your JLA from the publisher website (never mind the piracy), instead of setting foot into the shop."
Despite everything I read about the western comics market (and I read entirely too much about it) I always forget that there are retailers who can get shafted by so many of our grand ideas. I selfishly approach these thoughts from the perspective of a very nerdy customer with too much disposable income, so retailer concerns have to be pointed out to my crumbling brain. It’s true though. Whilst many comics fans would continue to buy the bulk of their material through shops there would still be a significant percentage that would move a chunk of their business to the digital realm. As the article states, many readers would rather not read material on their screen but it’s certainly a less prevalent attitude as people grow up with technology. You could get around this by only offering older material, which would be my suggestion, but this may also have some effect on retailers and their slim profits.
There’s also the Infinite Crisis problem. You have the latest Marvel or DC event that involves a dozen titles and tie-ins which you’re informed “aren’t necessary to enjoy the main story” but inevitably end up carrying things of importance and garnering your interest. Many a superhero fan does not want to or simply cannot afford to buy all these titles off the shelf. Comics are expensive and corporate crossovers have had too many drastic failures to warrant large scale investment from your average reader. So your current internet comics fan will just pirate the stuff they were never going to buy. If these issues cost them then some, if not all, would instead pay for them. These things are never direct migrations from the free & illegal to the cheap and legal (we all like free things after all, and it’s not like we’re stealing actual objects…) but there’s established examples in books and music that suggest that you would convert enough.
Then again, comic fans are a strange breed…
Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 8:59 PM