Version tested: Xbox 360
Stan Lee's radioactive riff on Jekyll and Hyde has long provided popular source material for our gaming entertainment. After all, Hulk loves to smash - and what's more videogamey than smashing things? It's a superpower made for gaming. Unfortunately, it's also a superpower that pushed against the boundaries of what games were capable of. Hulk may be the strongest there is, but until realistic physics were an option, his boundless strength could still be blocked by a strangely rigid pile of metal barrels.
It took 2005's Ultimate Destruction to finally unlock the potential in the character, a shameless exercise in visceral wish fulfilment that dropped you into a desert, and later an anonymous American city, and let you go nuts. There were story missions, of course, but nobody remembers those. What we remember was leaping for miles, leaving craters with each landing, surfing on flattened buses and ripping helicopters in half.
This very loose game-of-the-new-movie wisely sticks with the winning Ultimate Destruction formula, but does so in such clumsy fashion that rather than delivering the next-gen evolution we were all hoping for, it's content to simply offer a half-decent cover version instead. That the end result fails to improve on its predecessor, and is in many ways inferior, is a real disappointment.
Spider-Man 2 was the first superhero game to offer a spandex-clad spin on the GTA open city formula, but it's since become fairly common. Superman did it, even Transformers had a go. Hulk, therefore, feels comfortably familiar from the start. You have the free run of New York, using the map to find the icons that will trigger story missions. You can destroy absolutely everything - including buildings, although these respawn - and for fast movement around town you can charge up your jumps to bound across greater distances.
Hulk's basic punches and combos are enough to deal with most normal threats, but once armoured enemies make an appearance you need to start using your Rage powers. This is a red gauge that fills up opposite your green health bar, and it can be filled by basically doing angry things. Punch a wall for a few seconds. Smash stuff. You know the drill. The four categories of Rage power are then selected with the d-pad and deployed by holding down two face buttons. You'll know most of them - his thunderclap and ground smash have appeared in pretty much every Hulk game ever. You can also use your Rage to refill health in an emergency, and to deliver smaller, unblockable punches.
Needless to say, a grumpy green giant stomping about the place, trashing taxi cabs, soon attracts attention and your threat level is basically Hulk's equivalent of GTA's wanted level. The more stuff you smash, the higher the level rises, and the more powerful the counter-measures deployed against you. To start with it's just cops and soldiers, but soon enough there are tanks, helicopters and Hulkbuster troops trying to halt your rampages. Your threat level can be reset, although the method chosen is both laughably simple and utterly illogical. Ducking into a subway station and emerging elsewhere on the map reduces your threat level to zero. Quite how an eight-foot-tall monster in an enclosed space with limited exit points is enough to bamboozle the military is never explained but, hey, comic book logic, I guess.
In Ultimate Destruction, Hulk's powers and abilities were upgraded by cashing in Smash Points, but this is one of the few areas where the new game improves on the formula. Advancement now comes from Feats - basically mini-Achievements within the game - and accomplishing a set series of Feats will grant you new powers. Some are the sort of thing you'll accrue through normal gameplay - jumping a certain distance, defeating a certain number of enemies. Others are story-based, allowing certain abilities to be triggered only after a specific point in the missions. Still more require you to fulfil specific criteria in missions - tricking one of the supervillain U-Foes team into defeating one of their comrades, for instance.
It's a clever system, and one that starts working right away. Levelling up Hulk now feels more organic, and there's obviously been some influence here from Crackdown, with new abilities directly tied to making use of the powers they're based on. The game even features hidden canisters, which make a familiar pinging noise when you're nearby.
There's no getting away from it - the game is certainly fun. Most of the praise for this really should go to Radical, who made Ultimate Destruction, but Edge of Reality has been smart enough to make sure that simply moving Hulk through this fragile environment is entertainment in its own right. There are mini-games to play, should you wish to lug taxis from one place to another or take part in horrible checkpoint races, and there are also lots of collectables scattered across the city. One of the more curious are Landmark Tokens, which can be found inside famous New York buildings, both genuine Manhattan icons, like the Empire State Building, and Marvel locations, such as Dr Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum and Dr Doom's Latverian Embassy. To get them out, you need to demolish the building, which leads to the curious sight of Hulk protecting the city from fiendish villains, only to destroy it block by block himself, like some gamma-mutated Bin Laden, just so he can pick up tokens.
Sadly, that's where the good news dries up. The story missions are a dreary bunch, almost entirely devoid of challenge and the sort of mindless tasks that a vaguely skilled player should be able to rattle through in a couple of hours. Obviously, the content is rather dictated by the character, but even then it doesn't take long to grow tired of the "go here, smash this" routine. An over-reliance on escort and protection missions doesn't help, though these are more irritating than downright frustrating. There's a half-hearted attempt to keep the thread of the movie story running through the game, but it doesn't really work. Ed Norton, Tim Roth and all the other main stars provide voice work for the mission briefings and occasional cut-scenes, but you can tell their heart isn't in it. Norton, in particular, sounds like he's reading his lines while under heavy sedation.
It's the visuals that really let the game down though. If you can think of a graphical sin, this game commits it. Most noticeable is the general low quality of everything that isn't the Hulk. While he gets a mostly decent hi-res model, everything else looks no better than Ultimate Destruction, and sometimes looks a whole lot worse. Objects clip through each other constantly, while the frame-rate drops dramatically whenever there's too much to render. This is basically every time you jump, and since jumping is your primary mode of transport, the game lurches and judders for most of your playing time.
There are even obvious and repeatable glitches. Jump into water, and Hulk automatically jumps back out again. Fair enough, except his freefalling animation gets stuck every time, leaving him skating along the ground, flailing his arms and legs like a jazz dancer. Then he inexplicably catapults backwards, back up into the air, before landing and resuming normal behaviour. Similar, yet smaller, quirks occur while climbing up buildings or jumping in places where you don't really fit. Hulk hangs in the air, sliding against invisible barriers or grasping at surfaces that aren't there. It's gruesome, sloppy and a pretty obvious indicator that the looming movie release date meant this got shoved out of the door before the code had been polished.
The poor technical quality of the game isn't quite enough to dim the innate amusement of thundering around New York as the Hulk, but it's certainly enough to drop this from "long awaited next gen remake of a great game" to "yet another movie tie-in that's only really good for a weekend rental".
5 / 10