Those expecting The Incredible Hulk to be as timeless as the Mario Bros. or Legend of Zelda franchises or as talked-about as the most recent installments of Grand Theft Auto or Guitar Hero will be as disappointed as those expecting the corresponding movie to be as classic as Star Wars or as universally popular as Harry Potter. However, like the movie, just because the game is not extraordinarily groundbreaking or destined for greatness does not mean that it is without merit. And although the game is not particularly challenging or original, The Incredible Hulk is, especially for fans of the Marvel universe, certainly fun.
There’s no way around, so I’ll just make the comparison straightaway and then elaborate throughout the remainder of the review. Here it is: The Incredible Hulk is extraordinarily similar to games in the Grand Theft Auto series, particularly those installments following GTA2, after which the overhead view was abandoned in favor of a three-dimensional format.
Hulk utilizes this same presentation style, adopting a third-person perspective that focuses on the Hulk as you maneuver him around the island of Manhattan. The game also employs the controller setup typical of the action genre, with the left joystick controlling movement and the right joystick controlling the camera angle, while the buttons and d-pad are used to attack, jump, grab, and perform various combos.
While these elements are common to many games and don’t indisputably link Hulk to GTA, the game’s non-linear and even sandbox-style gameplay begins to make the similarities between the two more readily apparent. As with games in the GTA franchise, players must complete various missions in order to move the game forward, but the non-linear format allows players to choose the order in which they complete missions, as there are several separate storylines presented throughout the game, each with its own unique missions. However, again like the GTA series, Hulk has a sandbox format, and players do not necessarily have to complete any missions in order to continue the game.
As with GTA, players are free to roam Manhattan creating as much or as little destruction as they see fit, and, to this ends, the game is filled with mini-games and ‘feats’ (like finding all the gamma and fury canisters hidden throughout the city, to name only a couple) designed to challenge your skill at controlling the Hulk and taming his strength and fury. Along with the storyline missions, completing these mini-games and feats will unlock upgrades and extras.
For those skeptics out there who think that maybe I just play too much GTA and am exaggerating the similarities between Hulk and the GTA series, I’ll present one final piece of evidence to prove my case. (Actually, I can prove that I don’t play too much GTA by telling you that I have limited experience with the franchise and have only played GTA2 and Vice City, and even the time I spent playing those was relatively minimal.) Perhaps the most striking similarity between Hulk and GTA is the meter that monitors the Hulk’s perceived threat level. Indeed, just as causing undue death and destruction in Liberty City, Vice City, or San Andreas will cause the police to take notice and send units to subdue you, as the Hulk’s perceived threat level rises, the U.S. Army will deploy a proportionate number of troops and combat vehicles to attempt to subdue him.
(Those players concerned with preserving the Hulk’s reputation as a hero and debunking claims that he is a menace will be pleased to know that while it is nearly impossible to move around Manhattan without crushing cars and destroying building walls, New York citizens are invincible, as civilians will lift themselves and limp away from even the most powerful blow. In this way, Hulk lacks the inherent violence of the GTA franchise, making it, admittedly, distinct, although this difference seems minor to me.)
Like its gameplay, the game’s graphics and sound effects are of standard quality for the action genre. While the cut-scene characters and their movements are a bit rigid and robotic (live-action cut-scenes or clips from the movie would have been appropriate, but are unfortunately not included), the action during the game is fluid and well-designed. While the visual design is not as thorough as that of top-tier action games like GTA IV and New York citizens may not be quite as animated as those of Liberty City, the Hulk, other primary characters, and their movements are, indeed, constructed with incredible fluidity and detail. (Sorry for the pun, but I couldn’t resist.)
The audio is similarly mediocre, with realistic city and battle sounds and some moderately suspenseful background music during missions, but, overall, the audio track is unremarkable and often unnoticeable.
Fortunately, the audio-visual aspects are not the areas on which the game’s designers appear to have been most focused. The area that does appear to be central to the game’s design, however, is its story. After the relative failure of Hulk in 2003, the 2008 reboot of the series signals a return to storylines from the original comics, and, fittingly, the game supports this spirit by introducing more elements from the Marvel universe.
In addition to portraying events from the movie (like the efforts of General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross to capture the Hulk; Bruce Banner’s love for Betty Ross; the use of the supersoldier serum by Emil Blonsky, who is then able to transform into the Abomination; and Dr. Samuel Sterns’ efforts to find an antidote for the serum), the game presents multiple storylines inspired by the Marvel universe that are not included in the movie (like the appearance of Rick Jones as the Hulk’s ‘sidekick’; the efforts of the Enclave, a team of four scientists with plans to establish a New World Order, to conquer Manhattan; and the rise of the U-Foes as a supervillain team).
Such aspects inspired by the Marvel universe but not included in the movie are admittedly not perfect representations of the storylines originally presented in the comics, but this is typical of most adaptations, and, therefore, the game’s designers should be applauded for making the effort to expand upon the movie’s story while simultaneously retaining characters and story-arcs from the Marvel universe.
As a fan of the Marvel universe and all its inhabitants, it’s a little difficult for me to gauge the appeal The Incredible Hulk might have to a broader audience. As an action game, it is certainly not as challenging or intricate as GTA IV or top-tier first-person shooters like Halo 3. And while an online multiplayer mode is available, unlike many other action games, Hulk is clearly designed to function almost exclusively as a single-player game. Moreover, I’m not sure that the visual quality is quite stunning enough to justify buying the high-definition PS3 version over the substantially less expensive PS2 version.
Lacking the intensity of other action games, without a strong multi-player format, and failing to deliver a superior audio-visual experience, the game may not have broad enough appeal to capture the attention of the general gamer. However, the game certainly caters well to a sizeable niche market, namely that of Marvel fans. As such, the game, while still not quite challenging or intricate enough to be truly entertaining, is intriguing simply because it further develops the Marvel universe in media beyond the original comics.
Even minor details like the inclusion of the Daily Bugle building, Stark Tower, and the Latverian Embassy within the Manhattan cityscape should interest Marvel fans. Additionally, unlockable characters like the original Grey Hulk, Classic Hulk, Maestro, Professor Hulk, Ironclad, and the Abomination are playable on all consoles. And although I’m still not sure it makes the PS3 version worth the additional cost over the PS2 version, the PS3 version does exclusively contain World War Hulk as an unlockable character. (To be fair, the Xbox 360 version exclusively contains Joe Fixit as an unlockable character, and the GameStop Xbox 360 version contains Red Hulk as an extra-exclusive unlockable character.) Finally, for those who have Iron Man for PS3, Hulkbuster Iron Man is available as another extra-exclusive unlockable character. (Hulkbuster Iron Man is also available as an unlockable character on the Xbox 360 version, but, again, you must have both Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk for the system.)
Again, these features will not likely be enough to interest the average gamer, but Marvel fans should find such extras intriguing, even if they still don’t quite make the game incredible. (Sorry, again, but it’s just too easy.)
Just as the game may not be as valuable to the average gamer as it is to the Marvel fan, it may very well be the case that the average gamer will not find The Incredible Hulk to be as fun as I do as a Marvel fan. However, I think there is certainly some level of enjoyment that all can derive from the game.
Although its rather standard format and simplistic missions are likely not challenging enough to sustain the average gamer’s interest for a prolonged period, the game is certainly filled with enough options to be at least moderately entertaining. Even if you get bored with the prescribed storylines and somewhat rigid missions, you are free to attempt the myriad other feats that unlock various extras and upgrades.
For example, there are several playable mini-games with tasks ranging from destroying as much of the city as possible in one minute, to racing through various checkpoints in as little time as possible, to carrying as many taxis to their destinations as you can before your allotted time runs out, to killing as many soldiers as you can in two minutes. Then there are even more feats that can be completed at any time, like completing the fifteen jump challenges hidden throughout the city, climbing the five tallest buildings on the island, destroying Manhattan landmarks to collect souvenirs from their rubble, destroying an Army M1 Abrams battle tank, and killing five enemies by throwing a giant donut, to name just a few.
These mini-games and additional feats are just as fun to complete and sometimes just as challenging as the more explicit storylines and missions, preventing gameplay from becoming too rigid or redundant and ensuring that the game remains fun throughout, even if it isn’t extraordinarily original or intricate. If all else fails, there are some simple pleasures, like crushing cars, throwing trees, and destroying buildings, that never lose their fun.
As I’ve previously noted, mediocrity and unoriginality in a video game do not necessarily indicate an utterly horrible game, and such is the case with The Incredible Hulk. Despite its unoriginal format, lackluster graphics, underwhelming audio-visual experience, and simplistic and rarely challenging gameplay, the game still has enough flexibility to be continually fun, as the myriad mini-games and feats presented throughout help keep the game interesting even when the primary storylines and missions becoming redundant. Again, while the average gamer might only find the game to be nominally fun, The Incredible Hulk should be more valuable to Marvel fans, who will find the incorporation of several aspects of the Marvel universe intriguing and satisfying.