Review by Carl Lyon
Marvel Studios? reboot of The Incredible Hulk has just smashed its way into theaters, signaling the second blow in their one-two punch of summer blockbusters, the first being the near-perfect Iron Man. Of course, being a summer action film, the not-so-jolly jade giant needs the obligatory merchandising tie-ins plastered with his lime likeness to bring in the green (I can do these alliterations and puns all day). However, both the film and the video game bring in their own individual challenges: the movie needs to overshadow Ang Lee?s 2003 well-intentioned but misguided effort (which it does) and the video game needs to try and hold a candle to 2005?s Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, the holy grail of superhero video games.
Well, one outta two ain?t bad.
As far as movie-based games go, The Incredible Hulk is probably one of the better efforts out there, which is certainly not saying much. Taking most of its cues from its forebear Ultimate Destruction, it drops the green goliath in a free-roaming city to do whatever the player desires. Take the sandbox gameplay of Grand Theft Auto or Crackdown, with the Hulk smashing everything in sight in between glowing icons that lead to missions or minigames, and you?ve got a pretty good idea as to what to expect from Hulk?s dopey, shallow fun. It?s quite possibly the closest you or I will get to living out this charmingly primal male power fantasy.
The plot of the game loosely follows the events of the movie, with Bruce Banner trying to find a cure for his gamma irradiation in Brazil, then returning to America after being discovered by the U.S. Army. From there it follows its own separate storyline involving the Enclave (a group of evil scientists clad in what looks to be Master Chief?s summer wardrobe), occasionally returning to the film?s plot with the Hulk battling the military and the Abomination, then pads out the rest with C-list villains like the U-Foes, a sort of villainous Fantastic Four, and the Bi-Beast, an Enclave-manufactured droid with two stacked faces for double the reaction and motor control (Huh?). The game?s story is pretty weak, being told in a threadbare fashion using hideous and cloudy pre-rendered cutscenes or lame static images with dispassionate voiceovers. Of course, faulting a Hulk game for a slim story is like faulting a Final Fantasy game for all the androgyny: it just comes with the territory. In any case, the threadbare story serves its purpose of leading you by the nose to your different missions, which involve either defeating a group of enemies, escorting side characters like the intensely irritating Rick Jones to safety (which you will do begrudgingly over and over), or carting some piece of scientific equipment across Manhattan like a giant irradiated courier.
Navigating Manhattan, an incredibly accurate facsimile based off of satellite data, is fun and easy. Hulk can easily run, bound, and climb his way across the skyline, using a simple GPS waypoint system to get where he needs to, with the occasional subway station (the Hulk rides the subway?) to lessen the time it takes to navigate the full-scale Big Apple. Controls feel appropriately Hulkish, with a wide turning radius and the tendency to destroy anything in your path: you?re a sloppy hooligan, but it makes sense. Even better, virtually anything in your grasp can be obliterated. A few well-placed punches will bring mighty skyscrapers tumbling down, chunks of rubble can be used as projectiles and shield, and a car can make for a pair of lovely steel boxing gloves in a pinch. Beware, however, as just like in the aforementioned GTA, your chaotic actions will call the attention of the military who will hound you relentlessly until you either let your threat level cool down (a near-impossibility once you hit threat levels over 6) or hop to the nearest subway station to transfer to a different section of the city away from the madness.
Unfortunately, The Incredible Hulk faces a daunting battle with a deadly foe: bugs. No less than four times during my playthrough the game completely froze up my Xbox, right towards the end of a mission. Gameplay occasionally stutters to a choppy crawl in areas populated with a lot of signs and billboards (I assume due to the textures being buffered into memory), and God forbid that you fall into a body of water, as the Hulk will launch himself back out flailing like an idiot in empty space for several seconds before control is returned to your grubby mitts. Simply put, the game was rushed to meet a summer blockbuster?s release date, which is truly tragic. Given a little more time and polish The Incredible Hulk could have been a triumph, and a worthy successor to Ultimate Destruction, however its little annoyances and unpolished feel make it worth little more than a weekend rental.
[NOTE: For all things Hulk, check out our interview with director Louis Leterrier, our interview with star Tim Roth and our coverage of the 'Incredible Hulk' red carpet Premiere.]