You may draw your own conclusions on Thor: God of Thunder, given it’s a movie tie-in game. It’s hardly a prestigious title to carry, and conjures up some of the worst that gaming has to offer. However, just a month and a half ago things were looking up for Thor, when we got some hands on time with it. I mean although it’s launching with the movie, the story isn’t tied in. What’s more, it’s been in development a while rather than rushing it through to get it out with the game. Sounds hopeful right?
Sadly those hopes were gravely misplaced. Thor may not have taken the typical approach to the movie game development, but it hasn’t propelled it to any great heights. The plot, however, is one of three things about the game that manages to crawl into the “just about ok” category, perhaps because it was actually written by Matt Fraction, one of the superstar writers at Marvel.
Essentially, Loki tricks Thor into releasing an ancient evil to get Thor banished or killed, allowing him to step into his position as the hero. Unfortunately Loki’s plan doesn’t quite come to fruition, and the rest of the game follows Thor’s travels through the various realms to find a way to defeat the big bad that has been unleashed on Asgard. It’s pretty bog-standard stuff really, nothing sticks out as amazing but there’s nothing particular bad about the plot either.
Coupled with getting Matt Fraction to write the game, the game also features the voice talent of Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and Jaimie Alexander reprising their roles of Thor, Loki and Sif from the film. This does give a nice nod to the movie, and Hiddleston in particular does a good job. Overall the voice work from all the main characters is solid, although in places it doesn’t feel quite grand or excited enough.
The other part of the game that comes across as passable is the look of the world. The various realms you visit do all have their own visual style to them, and they come dangerously close to making you feel excited about this game. I wouldn’t say by any measure it looks great, it really doesn’t, but it’s just about good enough and at least the levels feel unique.[drop]The enemy design is more of a mixed bag. Whilst each realm features its own set of enemies for you to smack about with your hammer, their isn’t much variety within each realm. The cannon fodder enemies that can be dispatched in a couple of hits all look pretty much the same, which can be pretty frustrating as they do have different ability sets. When you’re trying to figure out which ones are going to explode when they get too close to you, a more distinctive visual cue would be useful.
Stepping up from the cannon fodder there’s essentially a few types of giant enemy, a mini-boss and a final boss per realm. The final bosses are the only ones that actually look that interesting, in particular Surtur (essentially the devil) looks utterly fantastic. As for the mini-bosses, they aren’t that bad and there is a little visual distinction between the two or so versions you battle in each realm. However the giant enemies are utterly uninteresting, although at least the different classes can at least easily be told apart at a glance.
Where the graphics really fall down is that you often can’t see them. Firstly the game’s frame-rate stutters more than a few times, including once during a cutscene in our playthrough of the Xbox 360 version. If you’ve got more than a handful of enemies on screen and something explodes you will get a performance issue.
Secondly the camera controls are difficult to use and fussy. You can spin the camera completely independently of Thor’s movement but it’s often too far out to be useful, and occasionally zooms out even further into what, presumably, Liquid Entertainment thought would be a useful overview angle to show you some new enemy coming onto the battle field. However, the action doesn’t stop when it decides to do this and as Thor becomes almost too small to see it’s more frustrating than helpful. Bizarrely they also take control of the camera away from you when you’re in a boss fight, deciding to lock it to the boss instead. After you’ve nearly fallen off a cliff for the sixth time this becomes pretty frustrating, and also makes it difficult to reflect or dodge projectiles.
The camera isn’t the only part that’s difficult to control though, controlling Thor himself can be somewhat of a chore. Essentially the controls are pretty standard for a brawler, you’ve got your attack, your special attack (lightning, thunder or wind), the ability to grapple and of course you can jump. You can also chuck you hammer, Mjölnir, at enemies, should you be so inclined.
However, the lack of a lock on for anything other than hammer throws (and even then it’s annoying) is exceptionally frustrating. Seeing Thor swing wildly at the air or stumble as he misses yet another grapple does not seem particularly god like; in fact it just makes him look incompetent and a little pathetic. The only time it’s easy to hit someone is when you get mobbed by the cannon fodder enemies, and even then it’s difficult to actually grapple any of them. There also quite a few combos you can hit but the timing of most seems more reminiscent of Street Fighter than a brawler, making it tricky to hit the right one. The only bit that’s even mildly satisfying is the charge attack for you current special ability. Unleashing a hail of lightning bolts or pulling enemies into a tornado is actually reasonably entertaining.[drop2]Even doing something as basic as walking can be a challenge at times. You’ll find yourself getting stuck between two objects or unable to walk forwards because there’s a two centimetre high crater sticking out of the ground. Apparently the same crater will block you progress even if you’re directing chaos in the middle of a tornado, somehow managing to cause problems even for the wind.
Beyond the controls the general issues and bugs with the game are endless. For example, whilst the game does feature a hint system tied to down on the d-pad, Liquid Entertainment seem to have felt this assuages the need for any signposting at all. What’s even more depressing about that is the levels are, with perhaps three exceptions, so utterly linear that they should be able to guide you through it pretty simply.
The fact that they have to rely on a hint system is, to put it simply, unacceptable and a terrible solution. Occasionally they have Loki come in and give in character clues to Thor about where to go next in the level, but these are always scripted to move the story forwards rather than helping you play the game. It’d be nice if they had him appear to drop clues as to what the solution is, at least it’d feel less jarring.
As for bugs, the game is packed full of them. Aside from the aforementioned frame rate issues there were a few game breaking bugs that appeared. For example on the second level, the first real level after the tutorial, instead of landing on the Rainbow Bridge, Thor fell through it and ended up in the blackness of a missing game world. Luckily this was fixed with a quick reload, but a similar situation later on forced me to exit out to the 360’s dashboard. This was during a boss fight, where Thor died before an animation had completed. The game didn’t quite seem to know what to do and just froze completely; not just once, but three times in a row. There are numerous examples of similar, although less game breaking, bugs that appeared throughout but hopefully you get the general idea.
- The variety of worlds is interesting.
- Voice acting from the stars of the film is good.
- Frame rate issues.
- Game breaking bugs.
- Frustrating character handling.
- Enemies can be hard to differentiate.
- Generally makes you want to throw your controller through the screen.
Although Thor may have looked good before it was released, the final product really doesn’t live up to those expectations. It doesn’t even live up to the expectations of a movie tie-in game. Although I’m not sure if the PS3 version features the same bugs, it’s hardly sterling work without them. There are points of enjoyment, in fact some of the boss fights are reasonably entertaining, but these are fleeting and you’re suddenly returned to the utter depression of the general game. In all honesty if I hadn’t have been playing it for review I wouldn’t have finished it.