Version tested: Xbox
Wanton, gratuitous chaos and mayhem? Check. Undiluted carnage and unflinching destruction? Tick. The entire US military raining unlimited death on your gamma-mutated ass? Ding. More explosive button-mashing in the opening chapter than most games put-together? Nod. Tortured, sensitive scientist's quest to reverse gamma mutation makes it okay to kill several thousands of civilians and cause the systematic annihilation of an entire city? Uh-huh. But when you're dealing with a Marvel superhero game we demand bucketfuls of crazed nonsense that makes us grin like Jack Nicholson (and probably cackle maniacally like him too) That The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction delivers oceans of the stuff is precisely why we enjoyed the palpitating romp from start to finish.
As ever, Bruce Banner's unending search for a cure to the gamma ray mutation goes on. It can't be a whole lot of fun having to replace your wardrobe every time you lose your temper, but life for the genius scientist gets a whole lot worse once his secret research base/hideout is discovered by nosey government official Emil Blonsky.
To stop the secrets of his mutation research falling into the wrong hands, Banner flees the scene, destroying all his equipment in the process. Worse still, Blonksy's curiosity is met with a dose of the same gamma radiation that causes Banner to mutate into The Hulk - only Blonsky doesn't have the presence of mind to do the right thing. In the hands of Blonsky's mutated altered beast, The Abomination, the whole city is under threat, and so begins the fun.
Essentially the Paul Jenkins-penned storyline deals with the two-pronged quest for Banner to rebuild his research project as well as put Blonsky out of the picture. At the same time, the leader of the military forces General Thaddeus Ross sees it as his patriotic duty to protect the city from the perceived evil of The Hulk, and consequently unleashes the might of the United States military to see that Banner is crushed like a bug.
Being a Marvel Super Hero, though, mere machines are no match for The Hulk. Turning the dial marked 'frenzied combat' up to 11, Radical Entertainment has built a game that almost entirely focuses on being The Hulk and re-imagining just how much wild-eyed chaos and destruction one angry mutant could cause, given half the chance.
Unlike Radical's underwhelming movie-based effort from two years ago, Ultimate Destruction places you in control of The Hulk throughout; with Banner's role reduced to that of a narrative device. Evidently Radical got the message that gamers wanted to be served up massive amounts of mayhem, not sneak around in corridors. And talking of corridors, Radical has ditched them completely (bar one very brief section late in the game). Instead, the Canadian team has gone down the free-roaming, city-based road paved by GTA et al. But while the design premise is half-inched from Rockstar North's seminal classic in many respects, the feel is closer to Treyarch's Spider-Man 2, complete with light-hearted optional side-missions and island-based skyscraper-laden cityscape.
Crazed and confused
But while the feel of bounding around to vertigo inducing heights around a bustling metropolis delivers much the same initial impression of Spider-Man 2, the game does much more in terms of offering up combos and abilities that take the combat to an entirely different realm. Plenty of games down the years have offered up deep and complex combo-heavy combat, but few have ever gone as far into the realms of insanity as The Hulk.
Like most games, The Hulk deals with such matters by virtue of an upgrade system that enables you to buy new moves by cashing in the Smash Points that you earn through finishing missions and generally pummelling objects and enemies to dust. But unlike your typical videogame, there are literally dozens of utterly crazy new moves to add to your roster - some of which allow you to 'Weaponize' (horrible, horrible term) objects in the game.
For example, you can pick up discarded missile packs from air defences, rip them in two and create your own mobile rocket launcher system, skate around on a bus, or even use a giant boulder as a makeshift bowling ball. Radical never ceases piling on new combos and abilities, and it's this constant delivery of new toys that turns Ultimate Destruction into a true sandbox gaming experience. It gives you the environment to play around with at your leisure, the story missions to become immersed in, and the throwaway sub-missions to have a laugh with. Fancy punting cars over a moving goalpost? How about whacking soldiers falling from helicopters? Or punching missiles back to the sender? Or destroying as many aircraft as possible? Maybe some golf with a giant boulder and a girder? They're all there for a bit of light relief, they're all very throwaway, but it's a game where mindless entertainment is never far away.
But however mindless it looks at times, however many moves there are to remember, Ultimate Destruction never burdens the player with overly complex combos that require up, left, X and Y, touch your toes, pause for half a second and then backflip to a double A and a long B press to finish. If anything, seasoned gamers might find all of it a tad on the basic side, with most moves involving no more than two buttons. Even at their most fiddly, moves use repeated presses of the same button, or involve grappling, followed by another simple two-button combo.
Of course, by offering up so many moves, there's a degree of freedom in terms of how you go about tackling the game, and it's this stamp of individuality that marks it out as being an enjoyable festival of carnage that doesn't take itself at all seriously without resorting to self parody.
But let's not get too excited. As much as we loved jumping 50 feet into the air and bringing down an entire fleet of aircraft with a Sonic Thunderclap, or hurling a Juggernaut down onto the head of a foe, the repetition of constantly dealing with an improbable quantity of enemy desensitises you from the bombastic nature of what's really going on. Bounding high into the air and smashing a Chopper into shards of twisted metal soon becomes routine, as does swinging a tank around by its barrel and tossing it like a hammer. Weaponizing a car into Steel Fists becomes so first chapter that the only thing that really drags you through the game is the prospect of being able to buy some new moves at the end of a mission.
Back and forth
The only genuinely disappointing thing about Ultimate Destruction is in the mission variety; i.e. there really isn't a great deal. Time after time you're slogging it from one end of the City or Badlands, dutifully performing yet another destroy, fetch and carry mission that involves legging it from everyone you can avoid, smashing up everyone you can't, and legging it back to your church hideout with some miscellaneous widget. The number of times you have to do this over the course of the 30-odd missions is astonishing; you'd have thought the designers would have noticed the amount of repetition and addressed it, but yet, almost right to the end you're doing the same things literally over and over.
Of course, there are some exceptions; such as having to protect someone getting from A to B, defending a building from some nefarious goon or mashing up a convoy, but it seems like Radical spent most of its time working on the combat engine rather than spending much time thinking of unique ways of utilising the dozens of moves at your disposal.
While all of this makes for valid criticism, and it's fair comment that more mission variety could make the game even better, Radical gets away with the incessant repetition by putting so much effort into its fighting engine. This is arguably the game's saving grace, or we'd end up spending entire paragraphs bitching about how the camera is often slightly unhelpful, or how we're not at all enamoured with respawning enemies. Fortunately, such unforgivable gaming sins as these are very few and far between, so on the odd occasions that they do crop up you deliver a swift Hulk SMASH and get on with it.
The eyes have it
It's also fair to point out that the visuals are hardly the best we've seen, yet somehow do just enough for it to never be a deal-breaker. The attention lavished on the game's characters generally makes up for any lingering misgivings on the lack of polish on the game's environments, and you'll probably be quite happy smashing everything up and admiring the excellent explosive effects to realise that, actually, the game engine's looking a bit tired. Roll on next-gen. Still, with US/importers/modders able to enjoy 720p on the Xbox version (and 480p on the PS2), there are some things left to celebrate.
One slightly disappointing or underwhelming area is the game's audio, though. Despite roping in the undoubted writing talents of former Hulk comic writer Paul Jenkins, the between mission cut-scenes are uniformly drab, sterile, and lack a clear direction. Again, not something to detract in any serious way, but it's a shame the game's cinematic standards weren't upheld throughout.
In terms of value for money, Ultimate Destruction is one of those games that's relentlessly enjoyable and hugely entertaining from the first minute to the last. You could bracket it firmly within the '30-seconds of fun over and over' school of game design. It's by no means complex or brutally challenging, either; even with over 30 missions it'll take you no more than 10-12 hours on the first run-through. Sure, there are unlockables (such as the hard mode, a special version of Banner to play as, and the ability to play as The Abomination) but by then we'd had our fair share of button mashing super heroics. Like a satisfying Hollywood action flick, it's instant, thrilling and gratifyingly disposable. It's the three-minute pop song of videogames, with all the hooks in just the right places, and for that we salute Radical for giving us a game that really does deliver Ultimate Destruction.
8 / 10