Hulk smashes damn near everything in one of the year's best action games.
With Ultimate Destruction, Canadian developer Radical Entertainment has created one of the most satisfying mayhem simulators I've ever played. Everything, from the slow-motion shockwaves to the remarkable sound effects, is designed to give you an injection of 200-proof adrenaline with every crushed building and pulverized vehicle. The game attaches this experience to a trendy but undeniably pertinent free-roaming environment…actually, two of them. Both the city and the badlands are full of people, traffic, buildings, and other potential targets.
The Hulk is blessed (or cursed) with immense strength and durability, and his huge legs allow him to run up buildings and jump across entire city blocks. He feels somewhat uncontrollable at first, but as you destroy things and complete mission objectives, you earn Smash Points to buy new moves. The list of available moves is extensive, and it gets even longer as you progress through the game. Eventually, you can learn several new moves that make it much easier to control Hulk's running and jumping, and your own skills with the controls will also improve over time. By the end of the game, you'll be making Hulk leap around the city just as fast (though not nearly as gracefully) as Spider-Man would.
But Hulk's offensive capabilities far outweigh Spidey's, and Ultimate Destruction does the Green One plenty of justice. There are dozens and dozens of combat moves, most of them initially locked, nearly all of them useful in at least a few situations. Hulk starts out with a few punches and kicks, but soon he'll be pile driving mechs, tossing tanks by their barrels, throwing trees and street lights like javelins, and crushing buses into surfboards. (Yes, you read that last part correctly.) One of the coolest moves lets you deflect –or better yet, catch– the missiles which seem to fill the screen at every turn. The timing is tricky, but if you manage to catch a missile, you can throw it back at the offending helicopter or whatever else you feel like blowing up. There are also several really spectacular moves that can only be performed when Hulk's energy bar is nearly empty or full beyond normal capacity. The latter type is easily abused late in the game, since energy pick-ups are usually bountiful, but it's hard to complain about the game allowing you the frequent use of these area-clearing moves when they're so much fun to watch. And, in general, the system provides a strategic question of whether to burn a chunk of energy on a super move or to keep it as part of your life bar.
The plethora of moves and generous freedom to raze public property would make a fun game on its own, but Ultimate Destruction mixes in a fairly strong story mode to give more structure and a lot more intrigue to the proceedings. The game's story revolves around an effort by Dr. Bruce Banner (a.k.a. The Hulk) and Dr. Leonard Samson to build a machine that will destroy the Hulk persona and leave Dr. Banner to live in peace with himself and the world. Finding all the parts for the machine means stealing some advanced equipment from the military, so the duo needs to use the Hulk to go out on some dangerous retrieval missions. Doc Samson devises a hypnotic device that allows him to implant primitive commands in the Hulk's psyche, such as "Destroy", "Retrieve", and "Protect". In this way, the monster can be controlled just enough to find all the equipment necessary to ensure its own demise. But a third, evil portion of Dr. Banner's psyche is beginning to manifest, and as the story progresses, this "Devil Hulk" persona threatens to derail the machine's construction, even as the U.S. Army is constantly seeking to destroy the Hulk through the use of force. The military is developing a line of walking tanks called "Hulkbusters", and if that wasn't enough trouble, the military base's civilian commander is slowly losing his mind as he transforms into Hulk's arch-nemesis, The Abomination.
The story is cleverly constructed and manages to bring in some interesting support characters while, more importantly, providing some variety in Hulk's objectives. Most missions boil down to seeking out a critical piece of the machine, stealing it from the government, and bringing it back to the hideout in one piece even as tanks, helicopters, jets, and Hulkbuster mechs pursue with artillery fire and guided missiles. There are also a number of boss fights against Abomination, special Hulkbuster prototypes, etc. A few missions involve several complex steps and can take quite a while to complete; the game sometimes provides checkpoints during these longer missions in case you fail near the end, but some of the lengthiest missions still have no checkpoints at all.
Every mission's objectives and significance to the plot are thoroughly explained by Doc Samson, with frequent interjections from Banner himself. There are also several rendered cinema scenes, as well as fully narrated data file entries on major characters and items. In other words, this game has a ton of voice acting, and thankfully, much of it is excellent. Banner and Samson are completely believable, while the bad guys are a bit cheesy but still quite adequate. There is even a secret playable character with dozens and dozens of his own hilarious one-liners. Rounding out the audio package are the pounding sound effects, which really do make all the difference in authenticating the game's explosions, and a predictable soundtrack that knows when to fade out and let the effects and dialogue take over.
The story mode is long enough without being packed with filler missions, and there are also many side-missions to be attempted at your option and leisure. These events are often silly, such as booting cars through far-off goal posts or traveling across rooftops as far as possible without touching the ground. Most of the side-missions are fun, and they can provide you with extra Smash Points too. The game also has secret icons hidden across both environments which unlock bonus costumes and art galleries. And when you beat all the story missions, you get the option of playing again on a harder difficulty level with all of the moves you've earned the first time through, so it's completely feasible to unlock all of Hulk's abilities even if you aren't interested in the side-missions.
With so much to do and such a fun gameplay model to do it in, Ultimate Destruction comes out on top as one fantastically fun action game of superior quality, which is particularly rare for a multiplatform title. This game is highly recommended even if, like me, you could care less about the Hulk or even about comic books in general.