Hulk: Ultimate Destruction
Normally, I avoid licensed games like burning death. You can hold on to your memories of Goldeneye and the like all you want, they are the few pearls buried deep amongst the suck. For the overwhelming majority, the best you can hope for is that they're less than terrible, and even that's possibly raising your expectations high. Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, on the other hand, is a slightly different beast. For one thing, I actually went out of my way to track this puppy down. Why? Well, two reasons. First and foremost, it was the last game by Radical, a little-known group who you might recall were responsible for a fun game by the name of Prototype. Second, this is, in all but name, a prequel to that game. But with the Hulk instead of Carnage/Venom.
The plot is even more bare-bones than its successor: Bruce Banner, in yet another attempt to rid himself of the Hulk, teams up with Dr. Leonard 'Doc' Sampson to try and create a machine to purge the Hulk from his system. However, long-term arch-nemesis, General Thunderbolt Ross, is determined to stop him. On this occasion, he's being aided by the shadowy security agent Emil Blonsky, who seems to be remarkably well connected for someone in his position. And after coming into contact with gamma radiation at the remains of Banner's lab, Blonsky seems to be going through a few... changes of his own.
Okay, anyone familiar with Prototype? Then you know exactly everything you need to know about this game. Seriously, I'm not joking, for all the violence, carnage and other neat stuff, Prototype is, at its heart, little more than a refinement of the H:UD engine and gameplay. You can pick up cars and charge your way through the streets, you can charge attacks, jumps, you run vertically up the sides of buildings, health comes in the form of little glowing balls - green for Hulk, orange for Mercer - and you can buy upgrades and new moves with experience earned by destroying enemies and completing missions. There's even an extra bit on the end of your health bar for 'critical mass' attacks
Of course, there are a few fundamental differences. For one thing, the Hulk being the Hulk, there's no different forms or weapons to switch to. However, you can 'weaponise' certain objects around the map, like turning a van into a shield that doubles up as a boomerang, or, my personal favourite, turning a car into a pair of giant gauntlets to help you further punch the crap out your foes. Second, and least surprising, the various areas you can visit are nowhere near as crowded as the streets of New York. You can still tear down the streets knocking folks and cars out your way, but you won't be as fast, and there won't be anywhere near as many folks or cars. That's a limitation of the hardware and the engine, however, so we'll let that slide. Hulk isn't anywhere near as acrobatic as our man Mercer, but in fairness, that's in keeping with the comics: Hulk hits hard, not fast. Perhaps the most important thing is the stealth elements - namely that there aren't any. I mean, come on, the Hulk's a ten-foot tall green behemoth! It's going to take more than a cardboard box and a crocodile mask to hide this bastard anywhere. If the police or the army see you, they fire on site. However, they won't call out the big guns at first. The game features a GTA-style threat level meter: the more destruction you cause, the higher it gets until they eventually call out a Strike Team on you. Stay out of sight and the meter eventually drops Maybe it's just me, but the Strike Team attack choppers in this seem more vicious, swarming over you like angry wasps, one thing that you'll quickly wish was different no matter which game you're playing.
The one thing this does have, that Prototype doesn't, however, is a sense of humour. For as good as it was, Prototype was frequently accused of being more than a little po-faced about everything, being as deathly serious as it could possibly be. Here? Well, you can collect comic covers to unlock art galleries, art and the like. Some of the first things you'll unlock are different coloured pants for the Hulk, the first few being various flags of the world. I spent most of the game running around in the Canadian flag for no other reason than I found it utterly hilarious. And then there's the Cow Missile cheat. Surprisingly does exactly what you'd expect, replacing every missile in the game with cows. Call it revenge for the way you can punt cows over the horizon in the second major area of the game, another little touch that never gets old.
Hulk: Ultimate Destruction is, well, a prototype Prototype. Not quite as refined or polished, but still worth a shot for those like me who blazed through the original and want more. On its own merits, however, it's still a darn good game. It's difficult to get across the power of someone like the Hulk in a game. After all, the Hulk is easily one of, if not the single strongest character in the Marvel Comics universe. Putting him at full power would completely kill any and all challenge in a game. H:UD strikes a good balance between the two poles, even if Radical's love for missile spams on a par with the best of Macross do result in you pinballing across the map. For anyone looking for more Prototype-style hijinks, or a younger sibling who'd love the game, but is too young to be messing about with that much blood, gore and other cool stuff we grown-ups get to play with, this is a fine choice.
And the inevitable "Who'd win in a fight between the Hulk and Alex Mercer" question?
Hulk strongest one there is. Hulk Smash.