The last time we saw Bruce Banner's alter-ego in a console game was 2005's Ultimate Destruction. Instead of a linear, level-by-level story, the multi-platform title opened up the Hulk universe to a free-roaming experience similar to the film-inspired Spider-Man games. With the summer release of the newest Hulk movie, the raging, gamma ray-mutated mass of anger makes a return to consoles in a another open world game. Though it may be exciting to bound around Liberty Cit...I mean...New York City, without restriction, the overall experience is disgustingly hampered by a myriad of technical issues.
That's a lot of anger...
The latest Hulk film—appropriately re-imaging the Marvel character for the big screen—introduced us to a pseudo-origins story where the nuclear-experimenting scientist, Bruce Banner (Edward Norton), has the ability to mutate into an enlarged, green man fueled by anger and rage. While the film used a questionable assumption that increased heart rate equals hulking out, there isn't any similar mechanics used to become the enraged beast in the game. Instead, in Edge of Reality's (developers of Pitfall: The Lost Expedition) The Incredible Hulk, you're free to run, jump and crush your way through New York City in a story partially inspired by the film, only as the Hulk.
After a brief tutorial-like level in Alaska (a scene cut from the movie) you find yourself in New York, and for no other reason than just because the East Coast metropolis is fun to wreak havoc in, apparently. But questioning why the game is staged in New York is irrelevant, since the scenario works. Similar to other sandbox style games, you get to choose when you want to participate in missions, while the rest of the time you're free to go wherever and do whatever you want. The game feels mostly like a cross between Crackdown and GTAIV, borrowing more from the former's gameplay.
A little bit of this, and some of that...
While being a game with a movie tie-in, it's understandable to come into with low expectations, but you'd be surprised at what has been delivered here. Only a single-player offering, The Incredible Hulk is broken up into three different types of missions which you'll activate by hoping around the city to highlighted locations. Although there are tasks to complete which give you an abbreviated version of the film's story, for the most part, you'll be assisting Rick Jones, bitch! (oh, wait...right, that's Rick James). Anyway, the game's character becomes your sidekick of sorts, as the two of you team up to take down the Enclave, a group of four diabolical scientists bent on taking over New York with their advanced armies—what's new, right?
As is the norm of sandbox titles, the mission scheme becomes a bit repetitive as tasks range from protection, destruction to retrieval—even Grand Theft Auto is guilty of this, though its production value makes a simple, recycled structure less evident. What happens here is you'll find yourself doing similar missions within slightly different circumstances as you progress through the game: enemies get stronger, more of them show up, and people die faster.
Gameplay in general, however, wont push you to the brink difficulty, since even boss battles involve little more than picking up an object, or the enemy, and pummeling them into the ground or off of a rooftop. The thing is, this isn't really a problem; through gameplay, you get a good “sense” of being a near-unbeatable, angry superhero. The open structure of the city makes it feel like a giant playground where you can jump ten stories high, and everything gives way to your mass.
In the mood for a little renovation?...
Where the game differs from its GTA and Crackdown counterparts is in interactivity. Just as you would suspect, as a large, heavy and rampage-capable mutated monstrosity, stepping on fragile rooftop shacks and weak cars cause them to bend and explode under the Hulk's weight and strength. Destroying one of America's most beloved cities, however, comes at a price. You'll have to deal with the Army as you draw attention to yourself, as well as Enclave units creating mayhem in the city. Like GTA's Wanted Levels, Hulk builds up a Threat Level where more and more Amy units come out to stop your destruction. The mechanic is simple, but gives you a consequence to your actions and makes you constantly be on the move.
I spy with my yellow eyes...
To augment your building-smashing, car-crushing, enemy-throwing abilities you'll have to complete Feats to unlock new and stronger abilities. Through detailed statistics you can track a myriad of specific tasks. By being able to constantly upgrade Hulk through different actions, it gives the allusion that the game is longer and deeper than it may actually be; you can plow through the game by beating the missions fairly quickly, but unlocking all of the upgrades will add some welcomed length.
Along with a bunch upgrades to open up, you can also unlock a fair amount of extras. Unfortunately, the extra content is the usual concept art and cutscene movies, but by destroying landmark buildings (Trump World Tower, U.N. Building or Guggenheim Museum included) and finding comic book covers, you can unlock additional characters like Grey Hulk. Other collectibles, in the form of rage and fury cannisters, not only give you more health and greater abilities for superpowers, but also 100 hidden items to scour the city for. It's all the usual fare for a free-roaming game, and it may not be super special, but having to search, destroy and complete objectives gives you more to do and is a better solution than any possible cobbled-together multiplayer elements that could have been implemented.
Bad technical issues makes Hulk mad, and, as you know, you wouldn't like him when he's mad...
Essentially, while the mission elements come out as limited and near-superficial, there is plenty to find and unlock in a city that “feels” alive with hundreds of pedestrians and buildings and vehicles swerving around to avoid the green mass. The developers have done a great job at giving you the experience of feeling like the Hulk by destroying almost anything, jumping incredible distances, climbing anywhere and beating the tar out of anything and anyone. All of the things to do and things to destroy, however, are overshadowed by completely shoddy technical issues which shouldn't have ever made it out of any stage of testing.
It should come as no surprise that an open-world game has frame rate, pop-in and draw issues, since we've seen it throughout the console generations. The problem with Hulk, though, is consistent and endemic slowdown, sometimes so much to the point of lockup. Smaller issues like objects consistently popping-in and a strange watercolor effect on long distance skylines add to the unpolished feel of the game.
But it's the little bugs which make the game feel like it was rushed out to be in-time with the film's release. While it's understandable the Hulk may not know how to swim, jumping into a body of water causes him to immediately hop back out onto land, but it doesn't end there. In the 360 version, after you land on the ground from your dip, you'll hop and flail into the air again, even if you didn't press any button on the controller. This little bug is only a sample of minor issues throughout the game.
So many technical problems are really a shame since the game is just stupid fun, while looking pretty good in doing so—for the most part. Cutscenes, on the other hand, are subject to bland textures and less-than-compelling animations: lip syncing is off and there isn't much movement by characters.
Poor audio adds to the game's ills as well. Although all of the voices are done by the film actors, they feel like they're just going through the motions: Norton has little to no inflection, Hurt sounds like he's reading straight from a script, and Jones' actor is just trying too hard. There is also a lack of a noticeable soundtrack. Every once in awhile a beat will pop in, but it's the same one repeated without differentiation or emotive qualities.
If you can stand unreliable frame rates, and liked Crackdown...
For a movie-based game, The Incredible Hulk is an enjoyable experience, when things work correctly. Technical problems plague audio, visual and gameplay aspects, wholly detracting from a game with a nothing-special mission structure. For all of its faults, however, the essence of Hulk's strength and abilities have been captured and portrayed fairly well, with open-world destructibility at hand.
+ Running, jumping and destroying as Hulk
+ Environments look good and are destructable
+ Throwing enemies off of the Chrysler Building
Oh, hell no:
- Major slow down, and overall buggy
- Repetitive, easy missions
- Weak audio components