Thursday, September 30, 2010

12 Months, Sixty Dollars and a PS2: September


HULK                                                                                        By Universal Interactive

My wife and I have recently been reading Peter David’s truly masterful run on the Incredible Hulk comic book that spanned nearly all of the 1990’s.  David’s writing is inspired and his treatment of the character shows a true appreciation for Stan Lee’s original creation.  Because of this, we both had a renewed interest in all things Hulk.  Thus, whilst scanning the racks at MUST HAVE MUSIC and MORE for this month’s game, the HULK game naturally stood out to us as a potential candidate.  The only drawback was that the game was based, and spawned, from the subpar 2003 Hulk movie, and there was an equal chance that the game would suck just as much as the movie did.  Examining the game case and manual provided some hope: the game did not follow the movie plot, but was more of a sequel!  Even so, there was no promise of a good game, but with our brains enswirled (yep, I just made that up) in Hulkitude (also mine), we decided to just go for it and see what shook out.

The game itself isn’t terrible, just repetitive.  You alternately take turns controlling the Hulk or his alter ego Bruce Banner.  The Hulk levels are pretty straightforward smash ‘em ups, with the occasional mild puzzle (and I mean mild) to solve.  Most of the time as the Hulk you fight off endless waves of bad guys while trying to pursue someone or escape the onslaught of gamma dogs and machine gun fire.  In addition to pulping bad guys, you can also wreck up the place something good because the environments are almost entirely interactive.  A nice feature, but much like punching guys with guns, it can get old fast.  The Banner levels attempt to be more inventive requiring you to use stealth to evade your enemies in direct contrast to the Hulk’s less subtle approach.  As a matter of fact, confrontation as Banner will almost always result in Game Over.  As Banner you must sneak your way around military installations while trying to achieve an objective like synthesizing a cure for your condition or deactivating security controls.  Parts of the Banner levels are kind of like the stuff you do in Red Ninja, only with less finesse and fun.  Also imbedded in the Banner levels are several sequence puzzles that you must unscramble in order to proceed.  These sequence puzzles are generally presented as security codes you must override.  The puzzles are simple, but each one has a time limit that usually means you’ll occasionally need some good old fashioned luck to solve it in time.

In both areas of the game the level design is fairly uninspired.  There are neat parts here and there that give the game potential, but all in all the game is ho-hum.  The Hulk levels are fairly mindless smash ‘em ups, which has the potential to be a lot of fun and very much in the spirit of the character, but the enemies are boring and repetitive as are the Hulk’s limited cache of attacks.  “Oh great, another soldier with an energy shield, first I’ll throw a crate at him, then I’ll pick him up and slam him into the wall.”  Repeat a hundred times…  The high points are all of the various walls and doors you get to smash through as you progress through the levels. The Banner levels provide a little more cerebral stimulation, but the execution is clunky and thus some areas become frustration fests where you begin to question whether or not it is really worth your time to try to sneak past those search lights again and again.  The basic game has a shot at being really fun and the idea of playing as both Banner and the Hulk fully captures the essence of the character, but the game feels churned out instead of crafted and the result is a little dull.

What is not dull is the graphics; I only wish I meant that in a good way.  Everything in this game is shiny.  And I mean everything.  From the Hulk’s skin to General Ryker’s suit, every single surface in this game is shined up to the max.  The cut scenes are the worst.  Everyone looks like they are made of jello in the sunlight.  I think they were going for a cell-shading effect, but the result is a glossy nightmare.  The in-game graphics are better and a have more depth and texture, but overall the game looks over polished.  And if the glare doesn’t blind you, the voice acting might just push you over the edge.  Much like the acting in the film it is based on, the voice acting in this game is extremely heavy handed.  Banner is just as maudlin and gruff as Eric Bana’s film portrayal.  I’m still not sure why he isn’t the Hulk all of the time, as angry and frustrated as he seems…  The rest of the characters are two dimensional and forgettable and I think we are all better for it.

At the end of the day, I will say that the HULK game is far better than the movie it is based on.  Maybe it is because my expectations were less, but unlike the movie I was able to lose myself in the Hulk parts of the game and just enjoy smashing stuff.  I wish the game had inspired me more and was better able to hold my interest, but that may have been asking more than the game was able to give.  At its heart the game has very good intentions, it just cannot seem to fully deliver on any of them.    That being said, I don’t think my five dollars were wasted this month as I was able to eek out at least five dollars worth of entertainment from smashing tanks and tossing oil drums at helicopters.  HULK has the makings of a great Hulk game, but it just wants to be a little more than it is. 

Next month, we enter the home stretch of the “12601” project with only three games and months left!  There are still plenty of…um…interesting games on the shelf, which ones will make their way into my home?  See you next time…

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