Friday, June 26, 2009

REVIEW - The Incredible Hulk

Long story short: it sucks.

One can't discuss Edge of Reality's The Incredible Hulk without first making mention of Radical Entertainment's '05 ode to joy, Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. It wasn't graphically impressive, it wasn't particularly deep or insightful, but it was balls-to-the-walls fun. I'd love to tell you about UD, the simple controls and extensive move list, the mad chaos that would fill the screen, but the important bit is this: the game made you feel like the Hulk, successfully giving the player a sense of the unstoppable movement and violent, limitless power of the green machine. It is, arguably, the best superhero game ever made.

Now, the reason I have to bring up that Hulk when speaking of this Hulk is because Edge of Reality made damn sure to let us know they were trying to hew as close as possible to the thrilling heights that game achieved. In interviews the devs would assure us they only intended to improve on what Radical had accomplished. In trailers, signature moves from UD were constantly shown, and a cheer rose up from the gamer masses - it's Ultimate Destruction in HD!

But hear me well, fellow gamers. It's not UD in HD. Edge of Reality are liars. Dirty, scummy liars who put out a game that's not worth the money it would cost to rent it. Yes, they included a signature move from Ultimate Destruction - the ability to rip a car in two to be used as giant metal boxing gloves - and excluded every other 'weaponization' from the game. Someone looked at the very extensive move list from UD and decided to axe 98% of it. They figured we don't need to be able to leap into the air and grab on to an enemy. Or even punch them more than once while we're up there. Someone decided that having SAM launchers in the game would be cool, but it would not be cool to be able to rip off the missile packs and toss the projectiles yourself.

The bogglingly large move list from the '05 game has been cut down to - I'm not kidding - four combos. And I don't mean combos that chain into each other. I mean four combos, period. Throw in the ability to wield cars and phone poles as clubs and projectiles, a single airborne punch, some grabs, and being able to rip up chunks of walls to use as shields, and there you have it. Beyond four rage abilities, that's the extent of the combat. If for a moment that sounds enjoyable, let me assure you the word that comes to mind is 'tedious'. Everything about the gameplay seems off, and only the final strike in the heavy, heavy, heavy combo feels like it has any weight to it. Boss fights are a chore, particularly past the halfway point where every strike you take will stun you (Hulk has a glass chin), and Hulk's attacks do zero damage until you stun the enemy with a particular combo (Hulk should work out more).

Nearly everything about the new game feels like a corner cut, or a bit of potential wasted. Instead of effortlessly smashing rush hour traffic aside as he barrels down the street, bumping into a taxi cab will slow Hulk to a crawl. Instead of sprinting up the side of a building, Hulk grabs on and propels himself upwards with mighty pulls. Gone is the sense of momentum and freedom, replaced with a mechanic that feels slow and limiting. And it's this sense of everything being smaller than it should that permeates Edge of Reality's effort. In a game that should ask you to experience limitless power, it only ever feels constrictive.

There are some interesting and even good choices made, but these are pinpricks of light in an otherwise dreary experience. Hulk wearing an earpiece that lets his pals give him instructions is ridiculous - but during missions it's seamless, and it works. The Rage Meter and its use is a good choice, and the ability to level every building in the city is pretty cool. But in order to take down the building you basically have to play a poor man's Rampage - smashing one section of wall, moving twelve feet to the side and repeating until the place comes down. When you stand atop a skyscraper and leap into the air you'll hear the low howl of the wind and be reminded of the moments of high-flying peace in the Ang Lee flick. Then you look down and discover huge sections of the city haven't yet popped in.

Visually, technically, the game is a disaster. I won't list the staggering bugs I encountered or disappointing art direction or other problems, I'll only say there is texture pop in the title screen. Yeah. It reaches for nothing, and achieves the trifecta of the movie tie-in game: abysmal production values, profoundly boring gameplay and a popular property to exploit.

In the end, it's a mediocre game that is only downright awful because it directly compares itself to a much better title. Every time it tries to emulate an aspect of its stellar predecessor the result is a lame attempt, or a badly executed substitute. In Ultimate Destruction, maxing out your threat meter would result in an epic battle of bite-sized proportions with a flight of choppers or a five-story Hulkbuster mech, while the new game throws an unlimited amount of enemy combatants at you. Kill twenty enemies and twenty more will appear. Dispatch those, and you have affected no change - there are twenty more, ready to take you on. After a hundred foes, the result was feeling like I hadn't accomplished anything by killing anyone.

And that's never a good thing.

-William Hurt as General Ross
-the Rage system would be a great addition to a better game

-worthless gameplay
-astoundingly bad production values
-pretty much everything aside from William Hurt

Don't waste the money it would cost to rent it.

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