When you look at a character like the Hulk, you can see both a character that is pretty easy to adapt into a fun video game, yet at the same time extremely difficult. In some form or another, people have been making Hulk-esque experiences since the days of early arcade titles like Midway’s Rampage: Game’s granting players the fantasy of being a giant monster destroying everything in its path. The problem with a game like Rampage though, is that after a while, this type of gameplay gets pretty repetitive and the fun wears off pretty fast, which was a problem with Radical’s first game starring Marvel’s jade giant, simply titled Hulk and inspired by the 2003 film of the same name. Despite being shackled to a film that didn’t really get a warm welcome and hasn’t aged particularly well either, Radical managed to produce the first good, not great, Hulk game, that was just missing that extra something to make it truly great and memorable. Between 2003 and 2005’s release of The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, Radical managed to find that something and created an experience that hasn’t been matched in over a decade.
The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction’s scenario is not unlike a lot of classic stories starring the character: Dr. Bruce Banner, the alter ego of the Hulk, is trying to find a cure to his monstrous side all the while trying to fight off the U.S military led by General Thunderbolt Ross and another gamma powered mutant, the Abomination. This type of scenario however is not that easy to adapt into a video game however, as with most video games, it’s generally understood that the main character is trying to complete an objective, whereas a character like the Hulk more or less wants to be left alone and just happens to get himself into situations where he has to use his incredible strength to escape.
With the aid of writer Paul Jenkins, Radical remedied this by cleverly using a character from the Hulk’s world, Doc Samson, hypnotically plant suggestions into the Hulk’s mind such that you could have the best of both worlds: a Hulk game where the player can feel what it’s like to be the character, while at the same time suspending their disbelief that a more or less mindless creature would be tracking down components to a machine and returning them to a hidden base of operations. It also doesn’t hurt that actors like Neal Mcdonough and Ron Perlman are around lending their talents as Dr. Banner and Emil Blonsky, the human side of the Abomination, respectively.
With their first Hulk outing, Radical crafted a brawler that while very solidly put together, fun, and leagues better than the Hulk game that came out on both the SNES and Sega Genesis, didn’t really earn the “Incredible” that normally comes before the character’s name. To deliver the best Hulk game possible with Ultimate Destruction, Radical took inspiration from another top-tier comic book released one year prior, Spider-Man 2, which for the first time, put the title character out of linear game and into a fully explorable open-world.On top of a city playground, rich with buildings to climb, demolish, or simply leap over, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction also had desert environments in which to freely roam in, each with collectibles, power-ups, and both main and side-missions to complete.
The main-missions featured in Ultimate Destruction are not unlike those of other games in the genre: go somewhere, collect something, destroy something, or escort a character, though I will give a lot of credit to the creative mission that has the Hulk hilarious “disguising” himself under a truck; His legs peeking out like a cartoon character as he “covertly” infiltrates a base. In the game’s side-missions however, things get a lot more varied and fun, and you get a sense that Radical really got a lot of mileage out of the simple five letter word, SMASH. Peppered throughout all the open areas are missions ranging from races where you can see how fast you can get from one area to another, to variations on games like soccer and golf with a Hulk twist as you use a giant steel beam as a club. Some are better than others and way more replayable, but none feel like wastes of time or filler content, as getting better scores in mini-games award medals and points to upgrade your character, and unlike Spider-Man 2 and its immediate sequel, Ultimate Spider-Man, content is not hidden behind having to complete so many side objectives.
There’s a lot of elements that make The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction such a memorable experience all these years later, from the voice work, the amount of stuff you can do and the large open environments, but above all else what makes it so fantastic is that you feel like the Hulk: Your leaps are large, your attacks, whether simply punching or performing a devastating thunderclap, have the appropriate amount of weight to them, and something as simple as the controller vibrating in tune with your foot steps is just that little extra element that elevates the game that much further. Of course you can also never forget you picked a car up off the street with your bare hands, only to smash it together into steel boxing gloves. How many other games let you do that? The answer is not many, and none offer as much satisfaction.
I have the most experience with this game on the original Xbox, where it still looks crisp and has aged very gracefully, but you can also play this on the PC, PlayStation 2 and GameCube. Whatever you have lying around that can play this game, replay it or experience it for the first time. There’s a lot of open world games on the market today, but none offer quite the same experience as The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. Spider-Man games that have the explore anywhere theme have only gotten better since Spider-Man 2 dropped in 2004, but in the following years since its release, no one has managed to top what Radical did with Ultimate Destruction.