As you'd expect from a Hulk title, destruction is its raison d'etre. The Incredible Hulk's New York City is his sandbox, and he's able to destroy it at will. Buildings will fall, vehicles will explode and civilians will mess themselves at the sight of the mutated green beast marauding through the city. It's undeniably fun.
Destruction is exactly what a Hulk game should be about. And in this tie-in with the summer blockbuster of the same name, the Hulk can barely even move without breaking something. Simply running through the streets will result in the kind of carnage usually reserved for a Parisian street riot. Even sticking to the rooftops and leaping from building to building, you'll find yourself attracting the unwanted attention of the army as chunks of concrete rain down into the streets below. Cause too much damage and the authorities will come after you, a concept familiar to anyone who's played GTA or Crackdown. In fact, the latter is probably the closest next-gen reference point we have for this latest version of the Hulk. Like Crackdown, the easiest way to navigate the city is by chaining huge jumps together, climbing buildings and generally keeping away from street-level until you need to knock the **** out of something. Where the two games differ, is in their approach to missions.
The Incredible Hulk features a linear story that loosely ties in with the film. The Hulk is essentially caught up in a battle between the US Army and a shady cabal of scientists known as The Enclave. What this means in terms of gameplay is that most missions will involve you fighting one faction, the other, or both at the same time. As the missions are completed, new abilities can be unlocked, giving you access to a powerful range of attacks. However, while the story missions do give the game some focus, they are very repetitive and uninspired. Almost all of the missions will involve leaping through the city to a waypoint and smashing something to bits. Although this is the Hulk's speciality, it gets old pretty quickly. Even the odd boss battle fails to add much variety to the game as it's never difficult to work out how to beat them. For example, when you take on the Giant Enclave robot early on in the game, you'll probably realise that the massive glowing target on his chest is a good place to aim for. The level of destruction on offer is impressive. The Hulk can turn almost anything into a weapon.
The main frustration with the story mode is the amount of 'protect' tasks that you have to endure in order to finish the game. In the last third of Hulk, it seems as if every other mission involves you keeping a horde of enemies at bay as your 'comedy' sidekick Rick Jones struggles to work a computer. It's as if both Sega and developers Edge of Reality have never read a "most annoying missions" thread in a games forum. Protect missions are painful, especially in the context of a Hulk game - being the Hulk is about smashing stuff, it's not about constantly keeping an eye on Rick's health meter. Because, if we're being honest, it wouldn't exactly be the worst thing if Rick suffered an early death.
The missions are linked together with some of the shoddiest cut-scenes we've seen in a long time. Most simply involve a static image with a brief voice-over, but some are obviously meant to be cinematic and so we are treated to some migraine-inducing colour schemes and shocking voice-acting. Even though the game's characters are voiced by the same actors as the film, they really sound as if they're just going through the motions. Poor old Edward Norton sounds like he's slowly dying inside during his miserable monologues. It all feels a little sloppy and unfinished. And this is a theme that continues throughout the game.
The myriad technical issues present in The Incredible Hulk are constantly conspiring to sap all the fun out of the game. Although the visuals are quite nice in places (the Hulk model, for instance, is appropriately grotesque), the game suffers from some terrible pop-up and draw-in. This is most evident as you climb vertically in the city – reach the top of a tall building and marvel at the watercolours-covered-in-vaseline effect that renders everything down below offensive to the eyes. Stay at ground-level for too long and he'll inevitably smash something. Get around the city quicker by climbing to the rooftops.
Big-city sandbox games tend to suffer from framerate issues and The Incredible Hulk is no exception. Mystifyingly the game engine mostly holds up well when there's a lot going on and yet, during quieter moments, it will grind to a halt becoming incredibly jerky for seemingly no reason. This will last for up to 30 seconds at a time, meaning that if you do encounter any enemies, you may as well just run as you'll have little chance of enjoying the battle.
Add to this a whole array of bugs and you're left with a game that shouldn't have made it through the testing process. The collision detection is pretty appalling in places (in the final battle with Abomination, both the Hulk and his enemy had to fight whilst partially submerged in erm..grass) and there's a consistent sound bug in the second half of the game. At first I assumed Sega had licensed some avant garde techno for the soundtrack but it soon became obvious that it wasn't meant to be happening. It's one of the more amusing flaws present in the game, like the water bug that you'll no doubt soon see on Youtube. Whenever Banner's alter ego touches some water he uncontrollably leaps about the place, waving his arms like a Scouser on speed. It is genuinely funny. However, one bug that isn't quite so amusing is the one that causes the game to freeze up regularly (once every 2-3 hours of gameplay from this reviewer's experience). What we're left with is a half-decent game in danger of being overshadowed by serious design flaws.