Thor: God of Thunder Review

by on May 12, 2011

Thor: God of Thunder ReviewGame: Thor: God of Thunder

Developer: Liquid Entertainment

Publisher: Sega

Available on: PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)

Thor was always the odd man out in the Marvel Universe. Because he is a God rather than a mere superhero, Thor’s fights and stories have grown to be more epic than those of his peers, which befits his almost immortal status.

With the 2011 Thor film currently raising the character’s profile in cinemas, can Liquid Entertainment and Sega give Thor the adventure that the Norse God of Thunder deserves?

STORY: Thor: God of Thunder’s tale is very different from the plot of the recent film. The game sees Thor set off on a quest for revenge against the Jotun Ice Giants who have snuck into Asgard, killed Sif and generally ransacked the place. Along the way Loki, mischievous as ever, tries to manipulate the denizens of Asgard and obtain more power. It is low-grade comic book fare and, despite being told through attractive cutscenes, is remarkably unexciting.

GRAPHICS: It is staggering to think that Unreal Technology, which has powered so many stunning games over the last few years, is also the beating graphical heart of Thor. The slapdash quality of the graphics are hinted at by the menus, which seem to have been lifted from a second rate PlayStation game, and fears are confirmed once the game is up and running. Character textures are blurry and their movements rigid and staccato. In fact, there are times when this stiffness makes the characters feel barely part of the world at all.

Thor can control thunder, smash the ground with his hammer, Mjolnir, and in this game he can also control the wind to blast away his enemies. A character with such immense power should be surrounded with incredible pyrotechnics. Unfortunately he is not. The lightening effects are dead and unimpressive and there is never a moment in the game where the graphics come alive and make you say “wow”.

Worst of all, the entire graphical design is dull. The game is full of panoramic views, but they are of largely lifeless, empty worlds. Thor: God of Thunder is available to play in 3D, which might explain the obsession with views that emphasise distance and depth of field. However, all this really does is present the player with a game-world where anything that looks interesting is low on detail and far away, leaving nothing but a sparse and empty level for the player to try to enjoy.

The graphics have their moments, but these are mainly in cutscenes where the likenesses to the film actors are generally very good. In the main game many of the enemies are impressively sizable but overall, this game is one of the poorer implementations of Unreal Technology in recent times and a let-down for a character who is defined by his unique image and iconic comic representation.

SOUND: If Thor has a stronger element, it is in the music. An orchestral soundtrack was the only sensible choice and it is implemented well, giving Asgard and the rest of the nine worlds an imperial quality. The score makes the battles a little more stirring but it ultimately can’t save them from their unstimulating graphics and tepid gameplay.

The sound effects, for those in a game when the main character cracks rocks with his godly hammer, are gutless, trickling out of the speakers and sub-woofer rather than cracking and booming and reverberating around a room. Thunder should be a sound that terrifies children and makes grown men nervous, so a god wielding that power in battle should be represented by one of the most paralysingly frightening light and sound shows known to man. Thor: God of Thunder doesn’t get near to this.

Playing the game, looking at the graphics and listening to the sound is a very similar experience to getting the keys to a Ferrari but being told you can only drive it in first gear. You spend all your time beating your hands in frustration, knowing you can’t enjoy what you have been given because you are wasting its true potential.

GAMEPLAY: Thor’s recent outing in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 showed him as one of the bulkier, slower characters in the Marvel universe.

At least he was responsive.

The first of Thor: God of Thunder’s many crimes against gameplay is its noticeable controller lag, which infects both the game’s combat and its platforming sections. The game draws its cues from God of War, but where the ancient Greek adventure was flowing and tactile, Thor’s Norse shenanigans are rendered clunky and unpredictable by the combination of unresponsive inputs and a somewhat over-complicated control scheme.

The messy controls predictably give the combat a feeling of randomness which is compounded by confusing hit animations that make it extremely difficult to identify either successful hits or times when Thor has received damage. Despite an attempt at a combo system and a range of different weather-related special moves, the fighting aspect of Thor: God of Thunder is consistently disappointing and unrewarding.

There are some short puzzling moments that interrupt the action but despite their brevity, these are an unwelcome intrusion. It is a good rule of thumb that if puzzles need large, incongruous boxes of text to explain them then they need to be removed from the game immediately, or at least extensively re-designed. Opening the door to Niflheim, which Thor does at the end of the game’s first chapter, is one such example. The process needs to be explained through text, thus simultaneously making it badly designed and unsatisfactory to complete.

As unwelcome as the brief puzzle interludes are, they do give you a chance to move forward. The same cannot be said for some of the game’s brutal difficulty spikes, which replace Thor’s “learning curve” with a “learning medieval staircase”: flat boring sections followed by leaps in difficulty which make you wonder whether you have changed a setting by mistake.

Thor is littered with clumsy design and tired gameplay that isn’t worthy of one of the Marvel Universe’s great warriors. Only a truly die-hard, blinded-by-love Thor fanatic would find pleasure here.

LONGEVITY: How long you play a game is almost always determined by how much you enjoy it, but if you manage to eke some pleasure out of Thor: God of Thunder, then your rewards are a handful of largely pointless collectibles and the ability to carry your powers over to another play-through of the game. Hardly earth-shattering stuff and frankly, more than one crack at the Thor single player game is behaviour bordering on masochism.

VERDICT: The game industry must be stubborn. Year upon year, it belligerently churns out horrible movie tie-ins with only a handful of games rising above the dirge. Thor: God of Thunder is not one of those bright lights. It is an outright poor game and, moreover, a huge disappointment.

This was a character whose basic powers and abilities should translate perfectly into a high-drama, high-octane action game. God of War is, of course, the template but Thor: God of Thunder doesn’t come close to knocking Kratos from his lofty perch. The license and the character are wasted, and a boundless universe is crushed by unimaginative and poorly executed game design.

The God of Thunder deserved better.

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