Hulk Download (2003 Arcade action Game)

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Marvel's muscle-bound monstrosity stars in this PC game, based on locales and characters from Ang Lee's 2003 feature film rather than the comic book series. Playing the role of Bruce Banner and his enraged alter ego, players must fight a number of mutant enemies, avoid military pursuers, and smash through a variety of interactive objects while navigating the 3D world.

Troubled scientist Bruce Banner and his enraged alter ego, Hulk, battle against the terrifying forces of the Leader - a gamma villain intent on using the Hulk's gamma energy to unleash a relentless army of gamma creatures on the world. Betrayed by his long-time colleague and mentor, Professor Crawford, Bruce releases the essence of Hulk into the Orb (the successor to Bruce's Gamma Sphere - used in the film). Now, Bruce must pursue the Orb and its mysterious possessor through San Francisco, into the Freehold of Alcatraz, out of heavily guarded military installations and finally to the terrifying, surreal Freehold of the Leader himself. By facing his own shattered identity, Bruce will overcome the insane intentions of the Leader.

Fans of the comic book (myself included) should be warned that the entire story and the main characters Robert Bruce Banner, and his cranky green alter ego, The Hulk, have been watered down and tailored to fit a PG-13 rating. I find that funny since the story behind the comic book has a very grim outline, which is more fitting for an action/drama than a summertime blockbuster, but hey - I'm not the director. Anyway, for the uninitiated, Robert Bruce Banner was born in Dayton, Ohio, the son of Dr. Brian Banner and Rebecca Banner. He was loved by his mother, but hated by his alcoholic father, who was extremely jealous of his relationship with his mother. A former atomic physicist, Brian concluded that Bruce's intelligence was a mutation derived from Brian's exposure to radiation. Brian Banner finally murdered his wife when she attempted to leave with Bruce. Bruce was raised by Rebecca's sister and later attended Science High School. He redirected his anger into his study of science.

Years later, a now well established scientist Bruce Banner got a job working for General "Thunderbolt" Ross to create the Gamma Bomb. While working on the test site, a reckless teenager trespassed onto the Gamma base bomb test site on a dare. A terrible accident ensued, and Bruce had to save the teen from a lethal exposure to the gamma radiation. The teen escaped, but Banner didn't - and the added gamma radiation, mixed with the levels Bruce was exposed to as a child, gave birth to the Hulk. The teenager, Rick Jones, would spend the rest of his life trying to make up for his mistake, while General Ross vowed to hunt the Hulk down and destroy him.

The Hulk is the product of Bruce's conflicting emotions, originating from his childhood traumas. He is his angry, aggressive alter-ego. Bruce will transform into Hulk every time his anger gets the better of him. The entire story is a grim metaphor of violent human behavior, and how every man with psychological traumas brought on by the family or the society in general has to control the beast within him, unless he wants to become an outcast and a hunted animal. The Hulk is a very interesting character, hiding deeply complex psychological issues under his 7-foot, green-skinned frame, and is an interesting character study - more than just a big brute who smashes some shit up when he gets a little cranky. Unfortunately, players will find none of this complexity in the game, as the story is boiled down to its basics. Bruce gets angry - he turns into Hulk; Hulk gets angry and throws stuff around like he's Mariah Carey having a nervous breakdown.

Conceptually, the game is broken down into two segments. One is more action oriented as it lets you control Hulk and smash the crap out of military installations, frail human beings and evil scientists that got a hold of the Gamma energy and turned into Hulk-like monsters themselves. The other one is more stealth-based, as Bruce Banner - the man - is unlike the Hulk, frail and very vulnerable. These stealth missions will fail if you turn into the Hulk, so you will have to make sure Bruce is not too angry or too hurt.

Right off the bat, I should warn PC users about the lackluster controls and some of the tricky camera angles that can make the stealth-based portion rather tedious and pointless really. The Hulk (PC) doesn't feature a bona fide mouse support. In other words, there's no free look, and while this works rather well during combat, the control interface and the camera angles suck when it comes to the stealth-based aspect of the game. Sneaking past guards and looking for clues inside military facilities is pretty straightforward, so you'll be fine even if you can't see all the angles, but it's kind of frustrating to even think what this game could've been like if we had a proper PC interface in there. Granted, you can still switch to first-person look, but that's kind of pointless since switching to first-person often might be just as frustrating as having to battle with the funky controls in the third-person view. As I said, the stealth-based gameplay is very basic, so you shouldn't have much trouble breezing through these missions. The AI is fairly oblivious, and not at all intelligent as the opponents in, say, Splinter Cell. The puzzles come down to cracking easy digital locks and moving around a few crates here and there, and won't require much brainstorming. The stealth element serves only as a short break from the main attraction - which is smashing stuff up with the Hulk.

In essence, The Hulk is a true action title. As Hulk, players will get to pick up all kinds of heavy objects in the environment, throw spec ops soldiers around like they're rag dolls and battle other Hulk-like monsters - even energy draining vampires. I must say, although it's not exactly Havok material, the physics engine works quite well, and most of you will surely like how Hulk throws objects, monsters and soldiers around. Hulk has a variety of destructive moves that he can perform, and in this case, the keyboard-only controls work quite well.

The designers have done a solid job on the level design. Even though they're constrictive and highly linear they are designed skillfully enough not to get you confused and to keep you focused on the action. The game's difficulty setting is excellently balanced - it's challenging, but never frustrating. The boss encounters are intense and quite rewarding. Even though the story is not the strongest segment of this game, it will be good enough, and well-implemented enough to keep you interested in the game until you finish the story mode. As this is a multi-platform release there won't be any multiplayer, and the special features that are provided with the game aren't really interesting enough to compensate for the lack of replay value.

Still, to get back to what I was saying about the gameplay; I actually enjoyed the combat quite a bit, as it was sufficiently challenging and dynamic enough to keep me wanting to play more. The way that the programmers throw enemies and new challenges at you reminds me a lot of Namco's Dead to Rights; there are a lot of them, and you will rarely be able to finish the level in just one try. But, that's the beauty of such an arcade action game. In Hulk, players get to continue the level three times from an auto save check point, and if they botch that up, they have to replay the entire level all over again. Such a save system is a good thing in my opinion, as it gives the game even more of that arcade action flare. The fact that the Hulk is represented in 3D and can move about freely in the environment is just an added bonus of course.

Visually, the game is a mixed bag of blessings. The designers have done a good job on the models-the animation is fluid and the main characters have a distinct cel-shaded comic book look to them. I love the way that they've used shading to create an illusion of muscles on The Hulk. The environments, on the other hand, are very simplistic with low-res textures and blocky objects. On the plus side, at least the frame rate is rock solid, even with a lot of particles on screen.

The sounds are professionally done and very powerful. The only gripe I had with the sound effects is that they do get repetitive after a while, especially when you're fighting boss characters. Still, it's clear that Vivendi Universal didn't want to have their reputation tarnished by having lackluster voice acting in the game. Quite the contrary, the actors do a great job; Bruce and Hulk, as well as all of the bad guys, sound very convincing.

Much like The Hulk comic book revolved around a story of two opposing personalities, this game is a story about two very opposing gameplay modes. The stealth segment with Bruce Banner is too simplistic and flawed to be truly engaging, but the segment with The Hulk more than makes up for it. The game is ultimately very linear and shallow, and it doesn't do the comic book characters justice, but it's still enjoyable and addictive if viewed as a pure arcade action / beat-em-up experience.


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