Duke elucidate opinion!
When crafty Editor in Chief Ben first handed me The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction to review, of course I had to immediately bellow "Hulk smash!" Ben's tolerance level was quickly strained, however, when I followed with ?Review crush!" and "Bash graphics!"
"You are not," he informed me in no uncertain terms, "going to write your review like The Hulk."
That should have been an easy instruction to follow, but then I hadn't yet played any of Ultimate Destruction, because there is no better summary of this game than "Hulk smash!" Hulk. Smash. You're The Hulk, and you smash stuff. That's it. That's pretty much the whole game.
It also turns out that being The Hulk and going on unstoppable, mindless, destructive rampages is simply one hell of a lot of fun. No wonder Dr. Banner keeps giving in to his green side all the time.
In fact, he's been doing it since 1962, when the first issue of The Incredible Hulk hit newsstands. I mention this because Ultimate Destruction departs entirely from the plot of the Ang Lee movie (and subsequent blah game) and brings a bunch of the classic Hulk characters together, like Mercy, Doc Samson, The Abomination and General Ross. The plot does take some liberties with the Hulk mythos, especially around Emil Blonsky and his transformation into The Abomination, but like everything else in the game, the story is pretty clear-cut: the government wants to capture and neutralize The Hulk, Doc Sampson and Bruce Banner want to cure The Hulk, and of course, Hulk want smash.
Most of his smashing takes place in the game's central city hub. Like that other hip superhero Spider-Man, Hulk can roam about the big city just getting into scraps for fun, although eventually he'll need to jump into a main story mission. Hulk will take down all sorts of enemies and bosses as he demolishes his way to success.
The game's two maps, the city and the desert military base, are also liberally peppered with side-missions. These are a little disappointing, however, as they play more like Tony Hawk goals rather than actual missions. Try to go a certain distance jumping only from rooftop to rooftop without touching the ground. Kick as many cars as possible through the goalposts. Race Hulk along a course in the shortest time possible. Unfortunately, they often feel very un-Hulk-like and most aren't very fun. Hulk not car!
But completing these, as well as the linear story missions, gains you "smash points." These are very important because you can use them to purchase new, more devastating moves. There must be about 100 moves to buy, from a variety of foot stomps and ground pounds to thunderclaps and air slams. He's like a one man rhythm section, and by the end of the game, The Hulk is practically a force of nature. Hulk strong!
What really makes all that smashing work is the fantastic control. Tight, precise, and intuitive, controlling the Hulk is a paradise of wanton destruction. You can't really go wrong as you run up the sides of buildings, leap across the city in impressive bounds, and charge up attacks while bringing the hammer down on unsuspecting opponents. Gameplay this good can be a reward in and of itself, like in Resident Evil 4 or the original Driver.
Part of the pleasure is found in the destructible environment. Just about anything can be grabbed, thrown or otherwise destroyed " people, tanks, mechs, helicopters, signs, cars, trees, traffic lights, giant hamburgers, some buildings" nearly everything. Grab a city bus, hurl it at a gas station, and revel in the chaos. Hulk smash good!
And he looks pretty good doing it. The Hulk charges around cannonballing into things, jumping and smashing in a perfectly Hulk-like manner. The destruction in his wake, even unintentional, is impressive. His toes grind into the concrete, which cracks under his weight, cars knocked out of the way go flying, and it all stays nice and smooth, even with debris flying everywhere. Although the textures are overly simple, the whole thing works well. There are minor graphical differences between the three consoles, but not anything worth turning green about. Hulk pretty!
The audio is equally good, with satisfying smashes and crashes and roars of rage, not to mention the screams of the panicked populace. The music has the orchestral, heroic flair we've come to expect since the first Spider-Man movie, but my favorite track is actually an all-drum riff that fits Hulk's bestial fury perfectly. Hulk sing!
Really the biggest problem with Ultimate Destruction is that at 10 hours or so, the Story mode is a bit too short, and that's the only gameplay mode. There are no other ways to play and no multiplayer whatsoever. You can "free roam" in one of the two locales for a while wreaking havoc, but that only holds up for so long. More environments would have really helped. Plus, the side missions, which are really mini-games, aren't nearly compelling enough to keep you going. You can play through again in Hard mode and try to find the 60 "comic books" scattered about which unlock galleries, movies, and new pants for the Hulk, but that's nothing special. Hulk short!
Sure, the Hulk is really just a one trick pony of destruction, but what a satisfying pony ride. Fans of the green beast or just action games in general shouldn't hesitate to don those magically-resizing torn purple pants for a few hours and throw the rules (and vehicles) of society out the window. It's good to be the Hulk, and when you put down the controller, you can almost hear the sad walking away music. Hulk cry!