NOTE: ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON COMICBOOKMOVIE.COM 10/15/2013
Leading up to the October 25th release of Batman: Arkham Origins, as opposed to reviewing or featuring Asylum and City, I thought it would be more original to look at the previous comic book themed games created by WB Games Creative Director, Eric Holmes and another thematic origin game. The first up: Hulk for the PS2.
Hulk if the tie-in/sequel to the 2003 Ang Lee film of the same name and once again has Eric Bana reprising his role as Dr. Bruce Banner. Still on an endless hunt for the cure to his condition after the events of the film, Banner is contacted by a long time colleague who says they’ve managed to synthesize a cure to the Hulk. This however, is a ruse as Bruce is then unwittingly used to create another Gamma powered monster that he must stop. This also puts Banner and the Hulk in opposition of the plans of the villain known as “the Leader”.
Hailing from developer Radical Entertainment, Hulk serves as a prototype of everything you would want from a game where you’re in control of the Green Goliath: Lots, and lots of SMASHING. A beat-em-up at heart, Hulk has access to strong and heavy attacks that can be charged for added effect like a deafening thunder clap. You can also weaponize most anything in the environment and punch back tank missiles like they were nothing. As early as the opening training tutorial, you can tell that Radical took great care in making the Hulk feel powerful, whether you’re batting mutated Hulk dogs with a bat forcefully removed from a wall or throwing a soldier around like a rag doll, you as a player feel unstoppable.
Other areas in the fighting are not as clearly refined as your basic moves, like the lock on targeting. The screens in Hulk can quickly become filled with enemies as well as objects you can pick up, both of which register with the lock on reticule. Too frequently you’ll pick up an item meaning to let it fly loose at an enemy, only to have it come in contact with another item. This rears its ugly head most annoyingly in the boss fights where projectiles become a quick way to dispatch them.
Breaking up the main missions with the Hulk where your smash everything in your path are missions that are Banner specific sneaking missions. One of the complaints about the game upon its release was the inclusion of these mission, but I feel there inclusions strengthens the game as a whole.
Firstly, they serve a narrative purpose to the story. One of the trickier things about having a mindless mass of mayhem as your main character is that you have to guide them through the adventure. Banner has a purpose, the curing of the Hulk from his system, and therefore is used effectively to move his alter ego from Point A to Point B. The Hulk in essence is a reactive as opposed to proactive creature, and to contrive everything laid out in his path of destruction would be stretching things a bit too much in the silly direction.
The sneaking missions also serve as a break to the Hulk missions, which become insanely repetitive despite having tight controls and feel. Each and every level with the Hulk is fighting through waves and waves of endless foes ad nauseum. The enemies themselves tend to repeat after a while and after mowing down dozens of army grunts or Hulk doges, the break is definitely welcome.
Finally the sneaking missions are not terribly difficult or complicated. You won’t be shooting out lights, climbing on pipes or shimmying on ledges, just waiting for a brainless guard to turn his back or avoiding a spotlight. The only other task you’ll perform is a simple timed hacking mini-game were the goal is to match letters and numbers with no consequence if you fail.
While the developer clearly knew how to accurately bring the Hulk to the game space, the same can’t be said for his rogues gallery. Throughout the short adventure you’ll go toe to toe with Ravage, Half-Life and eventually the Leader among others. The only villain that has any motivation or introduction is Ravage, as he ignites the plot and seems to be your central antagonist. That is until around the half way mark when the Leader becomes mentioned casually by Betty Ross in a cut scene and then it’s a mad dash to stop their evil plot. On boss levels, like the one with Half-Life the energy vampire, the character is only given a brief before hand mission introduction before you’re faced with him.
A second problem with a few of the bosses is their tendency to regenerate. Just as you learn the pattern and think you’re close to winning, their power will spontaneously fill up again. Should you fail to take them out after the replenishment, you’re forced to start all over from the beginning.