The Incredible Hulk Update
We tear through Sega's upcoming action game starring the lovable, gamma-powered hothead.
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Taking a superhero from the comics into just about any other medium is a tricky journey through a minefield. Films often have to condense decades of lore into a tidy two-hour package, and games have to find a way to fit a character into a game. Not an easy task to be sure, and one that has blown up more than a few folks in their attempts. Sega and developer Edge of Reality are tackling the surly emerald hero with an upcoming game that blends elements from the film and the comic into an action game for all of the major platforms. We've had some brief looks at the game during the past few months, but we haven't had the time to sit down with the proper game until now. Sega sent over a fairly complete work-in-progress version of the game on the PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, and Xbox 360 that let us spend some quality time fighting crime and trashing a city.
For those unfamiliar with the Hulk, all two of you, the massive green creature is the gamma-radiation-powered alter ego of unassuming scientist Bruce Banner. A freak accident finds Banner caught in an explosion that irradiates his cells with gamma radiation. Rather than winding up like a hunk of burnt toast, Banner's body absorbed the radiation. The upside is that he gained the ability to transform from a meek scientist into a massive behemoth that's nigh invulnerable, with almost incalculable strength. The downside is that Banner isn't able to control the transformations too well; they're tied to his emotional state. The other downer is that his Hulk form isn't the sharpest tool in the shed and tends to go on destructive rampages due to a phenomenally short temper. Over the years, the Hulk has evolved in a number of different ways, ranging from new colors for his body to varying levels of intelligence, but the core remains the same: Bruce Banner is one messed-up dude.
As a game character, the Hulk hasn't had the smoothest of rides over the years. The purple-trousered powerhouse goes back as far as the early '80s and the Commodore 64. Back then, Marvel Comics tried its hand at a game with the big guy with Questprobe 1: The Incredible Hulk, a mostly text-based adventure that, unsurprisingly, didn't quite capture the big guy's appeal. The ensuing years have seen the heroic powerhouse make appearances in one form or another on almost every major console that's been on the market. Up until a few years ago, the Hulk games weren't much to write home about--that is, until Radical Entertainment served up The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, which mixed some GTA-style open-world action with destruction on a massive scale. The end result was probably the best game to date in which the Hulk starred. Ultimate Destruction has obviously served as a big inspiration for Edge of Reality's Hulk game, which follows the Ultimate Destruction model. The key difference with this Hulk game is that it now has some movie plot to add to the mix courtesy of the forthcoming film starring Ed Norton as Bruce Banner.
The film narrative serves as one thread running through the game that, again, takes an open-world approach to laying out its missions. After you go through the game's tutorial level, you'll find yourself in a massive, bustling virtual New York. You're free to cause as much mayhem as you like, although you'll eventually call attention to yourself and have to deal with armed forces trying to get take you out. The damage racks up points that unlock upgrades for the Hulk, letting you do things such as regain health, or even perform crazier acts such as ripping cars in half and using them as enhancements to your punches. Besides racking up points, roaming the city will let you collect gamma and fury canisters that enhance your health and rage meters, respectively. The game spreads 100 of each type throughout the city and challenges you to find them. When you've had your fill of plowing through the city, you can choose to try out the various missions, which you can trigger by venturing to different color-coded spots. Besides the movie-based missions, which tell the tale of Banner trying to avoid being recaptured and tested as the army tries to figure out what makes him tick, you'll find a host of other missions to try. You'll find a secondary set of story missions, based more on the comic universe, that find the Hulk joined by Rick Jones, eternal hero sidekick, as they face off against an evil organization known as the enclave. The substory opens the door to a ton of comic content that should definitely please fans. Besides the story missions, you'll find a bunch of different missions that are minigame-style challenges. From what we played, the missions are pretty straightforward and have you escorting Rick around, saving people, destroying buildings, or fighting various bosses. The big goal is usually to just smack the stuffing out of anything remotely evil-looking.
In terms of content, The Incredible Hulk offers some exclusive morsels on most of the platforms it's on. All platforms have unlockable skins to use while you play, but the PS3 has the exclusive Green Scar Hulk skin from the Planet Hulk story arc, whereas the Xbox 360 has the Joe Fixit skin from when the Hulk was gray. The Wii game's exclusive content is its control scheme, which is a bit of a stretch but better than the lack of exclusive content on the PC and PS2 games. Control in the game is pretty standard across the board, though the Wii has its own unique remote-and-Nunchuk-powered scheme. You'll be able to get the Hulk to jump, punch, throw, and perform superpowered attacks pretty easily. Targeting can be a challenge sometimes, but it wasn't too big of a problem.
The visuals in the game run the gamut that you'd expect for a multiplatform release. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions are the sexiest-looking games of the bunch, with large, detailed environments that you can trash in spectacular fashion. The Hulk looks suitably menacing while hopping around and doing his thing. The enemies you face are looking alright, although regular enemy soldiers are pretty tiny-looking in comparison to the Hulk and the city. The various vehicles and larger foes stand out much more. The PlayStation 2 and Wii versions aren't as crisp and lack some of the more over-the-top destruction options. The in-game camera can be problematic at times, necessitating some deliberate ways to attack foes, but doesn't seem too bad.
The audio in the game is shaping up to be a solid (albeit unspectacular) mix of music and voice. There's a decent amount of ambient audio in the city, with pedestrians and the like. Given the Hulk's demeanor, there's just a lot of roaring coming out of him and, depending on his mood at the end of a mission, you can sometimes make out some phrases. The rest of the cast is a bit more eloquent thanks to the actors from the film lending their voices. You'll hear Ed Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, and William Hurt in the game. Other NPC characters, such as Rick Jones, don't get any Hollywood talent to bring them to life. As far as music goes, what we heard was an uneven-sounding mix of low-key tunes, orchestral bits, and rock music, which popped up at the end of a mission. Effects for explosions and crashing objects were fine but didn't seem to stand out too much.
Based on what we played, The Incredible Hulk is shaping up to be a solid-enough game featuring the Hulk. The basics of gameplay let you do just about everything you'd want to do as the Hulk--in other words, smash and bash, which is a good thing. We're not sold on the whole upgrade system, given that it still feels a bit too game-y. However, the comic content adds some nice bits that fans should appreciate. Hulk fans will want to keep a lookout for the game when it ships early next month.