There was a moment in the movie Spider-Man where I realised that Sam Raimi really knew what the character and the comics was all about; the moment Peter Parker throws off his fear, his guilt, his teenage angst and heads out into the city, swinging from building to building, tumbling acrobatically through the air in a glorious celebration of his newfound super powers. The rest of the film and the sequel confirmed it – freedom, great power and, of course, great responsibility – all the great themes and pleasures of a classic comic-book enshrined in celluloid for everyone to enjoy.
If only super-hero games could do the same: capture that feeling of what it would be like to cast off your dull human limitations and take to the skies, leap tall buildings with a single bound, fight injustice with unearthly powers. A few manage it – Spider Man 2 or City of Heroes, for instance – but most fail miserably. Take Fantastic Four, for example. While it pays closer attention to the comics than the film, the game is still little more than a collection of scripted battles, with Mr Fantastic limited to some long-range punching and the Human Torch seemingly chained three feet off the ground. It couldn’t have been more mundane if it had tried.
The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction is different. Admittedly, it does little to capture Bruce Banner’s pain at his uncontrollable transformation into a rage-fuelled, savage titan, but it certainly conveys the pleasures of hulking out. Imagine you’re the world’s grumpiest toddler having the world’s worst tantrum in the world’s biggest sandbox with all the best toys at your disposal. For once, the title is right on the money.
Sandbox is an appropriate word, because like Spider-Man 2, Ultimate Destruction takes a leaf from the Grand Theft Auto book. After a brief prologue in the wilderness, the game shifts to a large-scale city environment, full of skyscrapers, traffic, a handful of pedestrians and a whole lot of police. It’s a big wide world, but then it has to be – with a huge repertoire of moves and capabilities, the Hulk can climb the tallest sidescraper, pound his way clean up the side of buildings, leap from rooftop to rooftop and smash his way through anything that stands in his path. This is one of those rare games, like Prince of Persia, where just getting around is part of the fun.