Thor: God of Thunder
Let’s just cut to the chase, and call this baby God of Thor. Sega’s PS3 and Xbox 360 adaptation of Kenneth Branagh’s Marvel superhero movie plays very much in the style of Sony’s epic Greek myth brawlers, with the son of Odinin the shoes of Kratos as he takes on the many foes of Asgard with the aid of his iconic hammer. This in itself isn’t a bad thing. God of War has helped inspire a number of fine games, from THQ’s under-appreciated Conan to Sega’s own Bayonetta to Darksiders: Wrath of War and last year’s Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. Unfortunately, a lack of originality isn’t Thor’s big problem. What is is that it’s not as polished, well-executed or entertaining as God of War or its clones. It’s not even as much fun as Dante’s Inferno - a phrase we hoped we’d never have to use in anger.
The plot, told in cutscenes voiced by movie stars Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston (though Sir Anthony Hopkins hasn’t bothered), covers an invasion of Asgard by the naughty ice giants, and Thor’s attempts to wreak vengeance on them - though as he’s doing so on with instruction from the infamously treacherous Loki, you can be sure that there’s more to it than that. Fundamentally, this comes down to the standard-issue brawler gameplay of moving through a series of locations, battering foes by the dozens, with the odd platforming or (basic) puzzle-solving section to keep things sweet. Predictably, each level ends with a climactic boss battle, before the story takes us on to the next. In the style of Devil May Cry, God of War, Bayonetta, Castlevania et al., these boss battles feature humungous foes whose attacks need to be blocked or shrugged off long enough so that you can exploit some obvious weakness when it appears and dish out some damage. Basically, you know the score.
Thor isn’t a complete disaster. The Unreal Engine 3 powered graphics aren’t exactly stunning, but some of the cool fantasy production design of the film has been carried over, the characters and monsters are reasonably detailed, and we get some nice enough shiny armour and flashy magical effects to spice things up. Some of the larger bosses are truly impressive, working on the same massive scale as God of War's titanic foes. The game also tries hard with its combat system, with a range of basic melee and ranged hammer attacks, a handful of useful grapple moves, plus a selection of three sets of god-like powers to deploy, including wind, thunder and lightning-based attacks. Different foes have different weaknesses, and - as with God of War - there’s a certain level of tactical depth in deciding which enemies need to be taken out in which order. Finally, we get a reasonably solid upgrade system, with enhanced moves becoming available as you earn credits for battling foes and discovering hidden stone markers.
Unfortunately, the fighting doesn’t work. It all feels fiddly and stilted in comparison to the fluid, graceful combat of God of War. Blocking and dodging moves are a nightmare to pull off, particularly as many moves leave you unable to block for a period. With a dodgy auto-aim, many of the hammer-throwing, thunder and lightning powers are difficult to control in the heat of battle. And the camera is awful. After an hour or so of playing Thor, you soon realise why God of War decided to control the point-of-view at all times, rather than expect you to handle it using the secondary analogue stick. All too often in Thor, you’re battling to see what you’re doing or who you’re trying to do in.
While we’re moaning, it seems odd to have a hero who can fly and keep him so tethered to the ground. Despite his Norse godhood, this Thor can only take wing when the game says its time to fly off to a new location. Surely when you’re battling such huge opponents, a little flight might be a nice way to even up the odds?
Meanwhile, the pacing and level design is both unimaginative and woefully flawed. When you’re not wandering through another pedestrian series of encounters, you’re facing a long-haul brawl against dozens of foes where your worst fear is that you’ll die before the end and have to get through the whole tedious lot of them again from the start. This isn't good.
Worst of all, however, are the boss battles. Each one we’ve battled our way through has been too long and too clumsy. The basic idea - dodge some blows, deal some damage, grapple onto your gigantic foe and dish out the pain - is sound, but you’re asked to do it too many times before your enemy goes down. What’s more, you have to wait for your grapple opportunity, but when it arrives the developers have seen fit to throw in spurious obstacles and annoyances that get in the way of your attempt. Frankly, one bout against the frost giant Ymir would have been annoying enough to stop most people playing for good. When the game throws in a repeat appearance minutes later, you won't know whether to laugh, cry, or pound your fists against the screen in a display of rage that we’re sure the infamously grumpy Thor would understand.
The upshot of all this is that we should probably call this one God of Chore. It’s great to see Marvel’s mighty god of thunder in action, and the style of game should fit him like a glove, but when all is said and done Thor: God of Thunder isn’t much fun to play. If you want to play a great fantasy brawler, pick up one of the aforementioned rivals from the nearest bargain bin, and leave this plodding adaptation on the shelves.