It ain't easy being green.
As we struggle to keep up with the lightning-fast progress of modern technology,
as our relationships buckle under the weight of countless self-help books, as
our lives get more and more complex each passing day, you have to admire simplicity.
And as superheroes go, it doesn't get simpler than The Hulk, whose entire thought
process, daily business and reason for living can be summed up in just two words.
even Hulk nemesis The
Thing's 'It's clobberin' time!' contains a conjunction and a multisyllabic
word. But The Hulk just wants to smash, and for that the big guy earns a top
spot next to Solomon
Grundy on my Favorite Dumb Superhero list.
So it goes that The Hulk game (technically just called Hulk) is a study in simplicity. You're The Hulk, and you smash, and then you smash more, and then you might grab a drink, but then you'll be back to smashing in no time. For the most part, it nails the concept well. The thing is, gamers sometimes want to do more than just smash things, and while the carnage is prodigious, the game is repetitive and a little boring.
Though released only a few weeks before the film, the game takes place one year after the events in the movie. Your friend Dr. Crawford has turned traitor after promising to cure you of your gamma poisoning, instead stealing some of your power, sealing it in a Gamma Orb, turning into a sort of mini-Hulk and creating an army of mutants. You set off to straighten out the mess, ultimately clashing with the mysterious Leader behind the shenanigans. It might not be as compelling as the comics or the television show (which changed Banner's first name from Bruce to David, oddly), but it's a decent enough backdrop.
You play as the not-so-jolly green giant for most of the game's 25 levels, stomping from linear mission to linear mission, absolutely obliterating everything you see. Enemy guards? Hulk smash! Doorway made for normal-sized person? Hulk smash! Piping, windows, cars, oil barrels, gun turrets and helicopters? Hulk smash! Hulk smash!
All this smashing is accomplished by a different kind of smashing, called "button-smashing." Though the game gives you a few combos and a nifty long-range handclap, you'll do just fine punching and kicking idiotic enemies until they stop moving. You can pick up all kinds of things to use as effective bludgeoning tools, but it's still just a smashfest. Though you'll see things like "Brutal!" and "Enraged!" flash across the screen when you string together some hits, they only exist to tell you that you're being "Brutal!" and that you're "Enraged!"
Along with the typical health bar, Hulk has a Rage meter that increases as
he takes damage, inflicts damage or picks up flashing Rage orbs. Fill up the
meter and Hulk can perform one of only two uber smash moves that - you guessed
it - lead to increased smashitude. More moves and depth here would have been
Presumably to break up the flow, several levels force you to play as wimpy Hulk host Bruce Banner, who is about as intimidating as an unripe banana. The Banner levels require stealth gameplay, but fail to offer any of the staples like wall hugging, leaning around corners or even a little enemy light-of-sight indicator. Instead, you crouch when you have to sneak by something or run like hell when no one is looking. You can also punch and grapple, but this rarely does any good.
It's also rarely done easily thanks to a terrible camera, which is placed in fixed locations and cannot be manipulated at all. This leads to occasional directional goofs as well as the usual object obstructions. It's not as bad during Hulk levels, at least.
Every so often you'll have to open a door or something, which usually requires the exact same letter-shifting puzzle. Oh sure, the letters change, but there's only one kind of puzzle. Weak.
They validate these awful Banner levels by coming up with odd reason why you can't turn into The Hulk - you're too weak, there's electrical interference, you left your Hulk soda in the car, etc. - so it boils down to a lot of trial and error and trips to the bar for a beer. Seems like it would have worked much better had they encouraged you to TRY to turn into The Hulk more often, since no one wants to play as a 50-pound scientist.
But for the most part, you won't have to, as most of the game's main Story
mode is spent as the Jade Giant. Progressing through this will open up Time
and Endurance options in Challenge Mode, as well as the aptly named Hulk Smash
in which you in fact Hulk Smash all over the place. You can also unlock goodies
including movie art, making-of FMV and cheats.
I think the new Hulk looks like a beefed-up version of Jim
Carrey in Dumb & Dumber, so I'm not really thrilled with the modeling.
However, the overall graphical style is pretty cool, featuring a sort of watercolor
texture effect, plenty of big explosions and a steady framerate on all systems.
The Xbox version runs a bit smoother than the other two, but the three games
are otherwise identical.
Coolest of all is the fact that the game environments fall apart beautifully,
the perfect canvas for your smashing behavior. You'll bash all kinds of objects,
which react fairly realistically thanks to a good physics engine. You can smash
piping off a wall, then use it as a club. Whack a guy with a car. Walls and
floors crack and crumble as you hammer them with your fists and feet. The sense
of destructive power is palpable and really drives the game along.
It all sounds okay thanks to adequate effects, though the music grows annoying and the voices (Banner's is handled by the film's Eric Bana) grow tiresome and redundant.
And sadly, so does the game. While it genuinely makes you feel like The Hulk (more than I can say for recent comic book duds X2: Wolverine's Revenge and the shameful Batman: Dark Tomorrow), it doesn't make you feel much like playing once you've gotten through the Story mode, which should take you all of about two days. For that matter, the bad enemy AI, poor enemy variety and extreme linearity makes it hard to want to play any of the levels more than once. In the case of the Banner levels, you won't want to play them at all.
But that shouldn't stop fans from giving Hulk a spin as a weekend rental. The constant smashing is actually pretty fun for a while. Just don't drop any green on this green giant, or you might wind up smashing your TV.