Review: Thor: God of Thunder (PS3)

Title: Thor: God of Thunder
Format: Blu-ray Disc
Release Date: May 3, 2011
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Liquid Entertainment / Marvel Studios
Price: $59.99

When I met with the guys from Liquid Entertainment at last year’s New York ComicCon, they showed some concept art and a video with developers talking about the direction they wanted to take the game. They had noted comic book author Matt Fraction writing the story for a whole new Thor adventure set in the same universe as the movie. They wanted to make an exciting and fun Thor game that explored more of the comic book lore than the movie ever could. Roughly six months later the game came out and it would appear that they fell a bit short of that initial vision.

Gameplay:
The game actually sets itself up with themes very similar to the movie. You start in Asgard as Thor, sparring with Loki and Sif when the Frost Giants appear and attack the three of you. Sif is gravely wounded during the battle and Thor is devastated. So, without Thor’s knowledge, his father Odin decides to use all his power to bring Sif back from the afterlife. In doing so, he wipes himself out and falls into Odinsleep to recover. Loki then meets with Thor and goads him in to attacking the Frost Giants on his own. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston are the only two actors from the film to lend their voices to the game.

The moment you start up the game you’ll realize it’s time to lower your expectations, perhaps even further than they were given the history of movie game tie-ins. The welcome screen and menu honestly looks like it was designed by an intern circa 1994. The fonts, layout and options available all seem incredibly generic and boring for a game about a legendary God, or an action game in general for that matter Unfortunately, this is truly a sign of things to come as the whole thing then devolves into what is essentially a repetitive 3D brawler.

You simply move from one generic area to the next, fighting off waves of enemies one, two or three at a time while the rest stand around in the background posing and flexing as if they’re stuntmen in a kung fu movie waiting their turn to jump into the fight. The AI is generally laughable, the collision detection is terrible and the environments boring. Must I go on? Yes, I must, because I need you to understand why this game rated so low for me. Having rotten collision detection in a beat ’em up pretty much ruins the game. The moves you have are pretty beefy and it can be a lot of fun to swing Thor’s mighty hammer Mjölnir around smashing enemies left and right.   However, when you take those moves and find that you’re not landing them because of poor coding, things can get frustrating pretty quick, especially in boss battles.  You can grab enemies but only after you’ve softened them up a bit and their stomach glows yellow… seriously.  The problem is, you need to be directly in front of them and when you pull it off, the animation cuts out of whatever it was doing and launches into the “grab” animation, ugh.

Speaking of animation, it tends to be so sloppy that coupled with the shady hit detection, it’s incredibly difficult to know when you’re landing hits on the enemy and when you’re actually being hit by them.  The only way I was able to figure it out was by watching my health meter.  Unfortunately, it all looks the same whether they hit or miss and the health meter is your only indication that anything is really happening here.  Thor has magic that can be unlocked and when used, that sets off some cool effects but really, that’s about as good as it gets.

Thor’s ability to fly has also been severely curtailed. Since this is a very linear game with one specific path, the flying ability is rarely allowed. If you fall off a ledge in any of the levels, Thor will automatically fly back up generating a “Heroic Recovery” trophy. There are very few places within the game where you’re allowed to fly and even then it’s pretty weak. You’ll just see an icon in the distance which means you can use a button combo and Thor will fly to that spot. Since you can only move where the game directs you throughout the levels why not just put it into a more dramatic cutscene?

It may seem all doom and gloom and that there’s no depth to the game at all, but that’s not entirely true. You’re given a large skill tree where you can unlock new moves and magic using experience points gained by defeating enemies and smashing up the small bits of landscape that just happen to be destructible.   The thing is, most of the moves seem to have little effect when playing the game, you’ll defeat enemies faster and have cooler magic and all, but you’re still stuck with the same poor animation and hit detection.

If you stick around long enough, you’ll make your way across four different locations from the comic books including Thor’s home of Asgard, Nifelheim, land of the Frost Giants, Muspelheim, the volcanic land of Surtur and his forces and on to Vanaheim’s swamps and forests to fight Ulik’s rock trolls. Sounds nice and varied right? Well intrepid reader, I’m sure you’ve learned by now that things are not always as they seem. Each of the levels tend to look the same with a new coat of paint slapped on them. While it’s really cool for a Thor fan to go to all these places in a video game, there’s not a whole lot going on in any of them. Everything is set up so you have an open, generally circular area to fight in and then a narrow pathway to take you to the next open area and begin another fight. It’s all kind of a letdown.

Visuals:
The graphics range from decent to poor throughout the game. Beyond Asgard, there doesn’t appear to have been a whole lot of effort put in when designing the environments. The character models and levels tend to look worse than the six year old God of War on the PlayStation 2 with the only saving grace being slightly better lighting. The character models for the enemies look pretty generic and similar throughout the game. There’s just not a whole lot to say here. It’s like that feeling you had when you were a kid about to play a game based on Star Wars or Batman. The excitement of finally getting to mess around in their worlds, all leading to the inevitable letdown when everything looked generic or just completely unlike the worlds you know them to be.

The game does have 3D support but even that tends to be well short of other 3D games available on the market right now. You can adjust the 3D effect in the options menu and while Asgard looks pretty nice with some decent depth to it, it’s wasted everywhere else.

Audio:
Having two actors from the film should help out in the audio department right? Not so much. While Tom Hiddleston does a pretty good job reprising the role of Loki, Chris Hemsworth doesn’t sound like he was given much direction or time when reading his lines. I imagine a tight budget and timeline with one take line reads throughout. The rest of the voice actors also do a decent but ultimately forgettable job throughout the game. The music is alright. It tends to be appropriate for the game but it’s not really memorable either.

Conclusion:
Thor: God of Thunder appears to be a game with great ambitions that just falls short in so many ways. Everything here feels rushed, from the mediocre voice acting to the cookie cutter level design and generic enemies. There obviously wasn’t time for any meaningful QA as this game feels like it’s still in a pre-alpha stage. It’s a shame to have wasted the efforts of the writer and voice talent on a game that obviously could have used another year or so in development. Unfortunately, the whole thing just ended up being a sad, sloppy mess.

Score:
3.5

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  • Well they got comic book movies up to par after all these years. Maybe now video games can. Sadly they are never given the time to be made as good (or better) than the movie tied to it.

    • I still have great hope for Captain America.  When I saw it last year (and briefly at E3) it had a very Batman Arhkam Asylum vibe to it.

  • Anonymous

    Dude, we all appreciate you constantly taking it for the team. How you always get the less then stellar games to review and still don’t go (more) insane is a credit to you and your OCDness.

    Thank you sir for making Joe Consumer aware of the perils of rubbish games.

    Salute!

    • Well I was able to follow this up with inFAMOUS 2 so I’m in rehab I guess 😉