In the smouldering foundry of cacophonic excess that is E3, a good first impression has to be wrought in seconds. Otherwise the masses predictably just saunter (or sauna) on by.
Vivendi-Universal Games clearly got the idea this year, tempering my sweaty tumble toward exhaustion by thrusting me in front of an array of tempestuous temper tantrums, ranging from the sparkling festival of firefights that is F.E.A.R to the lispectacular mountains of (fake) cocaine piled high to promote Scarface, sandwiching games like The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction in between. And for all the delights on VU's stand, the latter was arguably the most intensely and immediately gratifying of all.
Within seconds of taking over the Hulk's reins, I was rampaging up the sides of skyscrapers, leaping into the air and piledriving attack helicopters into the pavement, batting Hulk-seeking missiles out of the air with lamppost baseball bats and chucking buses at tanks, all without even bothering to look at the moves list. A few minutes of chuckling enthusiastically later, I brought my fists down with such an almighty rage - emphasised in slow motion - that the splashdown sent a building tumbling and the ripple effect propelled an entire traffic jam into the air, riding expensively away on shocking waves of HULK SMASH.
Unlike the less than incredible Hulk game-of-the-movie, Ultimate Destruction tethers the Hulk's unstoppable rage to a GTA-like cityscape and sees you trying to cause as much carnage as possible, with an array of story and side missions built around his core super powers, and plenty of hidden Easter eggs lurking off the thoroughly beaten track.
The Hulk has several basic moves, including one that allows him to pick up virtually anything in the game world - be it man, monument or mechanical monstrosity - but, alliteration aside, it's the degree of destructibility that won me over. Control and world design are consistent with the average third-person action game, but the degree to which the Hulk can rampage around his city home - and a pair of other worlds, including the Badlands seen in the film - is unprecedented. He can even pick up cars and buses and crush them into boxing gloves, or use big round objects as giant bowling balls.
The "run" button allows him to leap between the tops of buildings in a single bound, and charged jumps and attacks allow him to scale heights at a pace that would leave GTA fans reeling. I used to get off on zooming around the skies in a stolen chopper in Vice City; Ultimate Destruction lets you piggyback choppers for kicks, and then kick them, or down them and throw them at other choppers - with a lock-on system that allows you to throw pretty much anything at pretty much anything hostile.
The core focus of the game is destruction, and narrative progression is cleverly encouraged by the addition of new moves as you move further and further in. The E3 version opened up a lot of the Hulk's meatier moves from the get go, allowing players to sample a fuller range of attacking options, and it suggests a very gratifying endgame. To use another GTA comparison: standing on top of a building with a rocket launcher seems a bit blasé when you can stand on top of a building with a rocket launcher ripped from the back of a tank, catch rockets in mid-air, and leap between rooftops smashing just about everything in-between.
Granted, I am matching the Hulk's fury with my own hyperbolic intensity, and in the wake of the world's most concentrated onslaught of new games it's easy to be sceptical, but hopefully you won't have to be for too long. A time-limited demo version is due out ahead of the game's launch, and for those of you sick of being caged in by bounding boxes, forced to watch your drool dripping down invisible walls that protect gloriously detailed environments from your explosive output, such a demo should help Ultimate Destruction prove itself a good match.
My only worry is that developer Radical Entertainment's last title, GTA clone Simpsons: Hit & Run, didn't really survive beyond the novelty of the first few hours. But, even as the effects of the E3 demo wear off, that strikes me as the only barrier that Ultimate Destruction still needs to prove it can break through. If it does, it'll leave the last Hulk game looking rather comical by comparison.