Throughout the years, licensed and movie tie-in games have been frowned upon by the knowledgeable gaming community. Not because their subject matter is poor, however. It’s due to the fact that they’re usually rushed, lack creativity and/or feature broken mechanics. It’s a lack of care, time and resources that seems to contribute to these issues. The result is more than often a complete failure to win over informed gamers who generally know what to expect from licensed video games – a waste of money and time. Though the games’ target market of kids and their mothers usually end up forking over the dough as a result of a lack of research and general knowledge.
Recently though, there has been a bit of a change in this trend. As this generation of video game consoles has matured, some licensed games have started to significant improvement. We have seen some phenomenal licensed games in recent years, such as Batman: Arkham Asylum, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions and X-Men Origins: Wolverine – all of which happen to be superhero games. That goes to show that, when treated with care and given a proper development cycle, superheroes (and some other licensed projects) can be excellent video game material.
Thor is a perfect example of an intellectual property that fits this role. As a character, the God of Thunder himself is a phenomenal video game hero and SEGA’s recently released tie-in to the blockbuster film should have been a great game and companion piece. Unfortunately, that’s far from the case. You see; though some developers have received the hint that licensed games can sell extremely well if they’re well-made and thought out, some still feel fine churning out quickly produced messes for a quick cash-in. Insert Thor: God of Thunder from developer Liquid Entertainment. A game that is so poorly designed and obviously rushed that it is a travesty and an insult to gaming.
For those who are wondering, the Thor video game does not follow the movie’s plot. Instead, it features an original premise that sees the Norse god cleaning up a mess that he was manipulated into unleashing by his jealous and evil brother, Loki. After their home planet of Asgard is attacked, Loki hatches a plan to trick his brother into unleashing a powerful demon. Loki’s plan is to make his strong and popular brother look like the dumb bad guy, while he stops the monster and looks like a hero – thus reversing the opinions that many of Asgard’s residents have formed regarding the pair. Though, once Thor unleashes the devilish behemoth, Loki’s plan backfires and it’s up to the God of Thunder to save the day once again. Thor must travel the galaxy to find a solution to the terrible error that he has committed, which sees him fighting tons of enemies who would rather see him fail than succeed. Thus creates what is a relatively interesting premise that is wasted on such a poor game.
The aforementioned premise and its resulting storyline sees our titular hero traveling to different worlds in order to battle foes of all sizes, ranging from medium to extra, extra large. Along the way, he must complete tasks that will help save his world from impending doom, though you’re pretty much just doing the same things over and over again. The environments change and there’s the odd new gameplay mechanic thrown in over the course of the several hour long campaign, but the added variety is lacking. If you’re going to give this one a chance, make sure to anticipate lots of repetitive combat repeated over and over again, against predominantly similar enemy types. Enemy types are rehashed over and over again in each stage, with some seeming to take forever to defeat. Add in some shoddy and vague directions as to what you’re supposed to be doing and you’ve got a frustrating cocktail brewing.
Like almost all superhero games before it, Thor: God of Thunder is a beat ‘em up. Its gameplay takes place in three-dimensional worlds with three-sixty degree combat. Physical beatdowns are handled through the use of Thor’s trusty hammer, which can be used to create some interesting looking combos that don’t seem to do as much damage as they should. The hammer attacks mix with Thor’s wind, lightning and earth magic to create a two-tiered combat system, which requires some strategic thinking for some bigger bosses, but predominantly resorts to having you press the attack button repeatedly, with the odd combo thrown in for good measure. Most of the time, the combos become an afterthought, though one or two are very helpful for breaking enemy armor pieces.
Since you’re always trying to avoid being attacked (especially by the extremely powerful and gigantic bosses and sub-bosses) you want to try to use the ranged hammer throw and quick attacks as much as possible, so some of the hinted close-combat combos can actually end up being more harmful than helpful because they leave you vulnerable after a lengthy attack time. Magic is helpful for larger enemies though you must use it sparingly due to a limited magic gauge that depletes quickly and fills rather slowly, much like Thor’s health on hard. It’s a very basic combat system that has been done before in many mediocre action games, and there’s really nothing that sets it apart from any of those. Nothing memorable about it either. Just monotonous button mashing with a hint of strategy thrown in.
It’s very apparent that this game had a very brief development cycle. Not to mention the fact that it had a very tiny budget. It looks and plays like it was rushed to meet a deadline without much thought or care put into it. Additionally, the game is almost never enjoyable and rarely ever alters its play style, meaning that you’ll fight the same battles over and over again without much of a change. To say that it is a paint by numbers project would be an understatement. Of course, in order to say that you’d also have to be thinking of ten year-old paint that is far past its expiration date. Unfortunately, it’s a rush job, featuring several elements from other games mixed together without a coat of additional polish. The developers tried to do a lot with it, but their ideas ultimately fell flat and failed to work due to poor and lazy execution. It’s a real shame, considering how good this project could have been if it had an ounce of care injected into it.
Thor is at its worst during its boss fights, which are almost always the same – a battle against a gigantic brute, who must be attacked from a far away range until he’s stunned, then grappled and pummeled into submission. The developers borrowed some mechanics for these fights from Shadow of the Colossus and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, as our overly muscular hero must traverse each boss’ body to find weak spots – jumping from one to another after a couple whacks, in order to avoid being tossed off or pummeled until he’s flat like a pancake. The mechanic worked extremely well for those games but its implementation in this title is so shoddy that it’s more frustrating than fun.
The grapple mechanic only works about sixty percent of the time, even on small enemies who you must grapple to replenish your health – reminiscent of many other titles, like God of War. If that’s not bad enough, the boss climbing mechanics are also shoddy, featuring inconsistent controls and unpredictable outcomes that sometimes see the behemoths pummeling you even though you pressed the right button. Of course, it doesn’t help that the bosses can damage you greatly with minimal amounts of attacks, while it takes Thor (a god) what feels like an eternity to even deplete a moderate amount of their health.
If one was to try to describe the game’s visual style, the term last generation could be used with merit. Not only does Thor play like an uninspired game that’s stuck in the past, but it also looks like one. It’s blocky, bland and ugly, featuring a bloom effect around its character models that is much too strong. Though the environments change throughout the campaign, once every stage, of which there are five with approximately fourteen chapter stops, each level feels similar in design. Sure, they each have maybe one or two new (yet subtle) gameplay mechanics that they bring to the table.
However, they’re much the same in the way that they look, play and their structure. Some parts are too dark, making it hard to tell where you’re needed next, and the game’s boss fights suffer from poor camera angles that prevent environmental hazards from being visible at all times, leading to unnecessary deaths and frustration. The only good thing about the game’s visual design is the fact that the development team did a pretty good job of making the character models look like the actors from the film, though not all of them lend their likenesses to this product. Natalie Portman is a noticeably absent.
Like the rest of the production, the game’s audio design is generally uninteresting and bland. Sega deserves commendation for being able to get some of the more important actors from the film to voice their characters in the game, but a lot of the voice work feels uninspired and lacks life. The same can be said about its sound effects and score, which should have both been amazing, but aren’t. There are a couple pulse-pounding audible moments, but not enough for such an action-packed and chaotic experience. Much like the rest of the production, the game’s audio design is a huge missed opportunity that feels rushed and lacks polish. It’s muffled, unoriginal and forgettable – three things people never want to hear when you’re speaking about audio in a video game or movie.
With a property so rich, interesting and popular as Thor, you’d think that this game would be excellent. Unfortunately, it’s quite the opposite. Tons of poor design choices, an insane amount of repetition and sluggish gameplay add up to create a game that isn’t even worth a rental. Thor fans who have spent a long time awaiting the release of the movie and this game will be utterly disappointed in this game – so much so that even the most diehard Thor fans should stay away.
When Superman 64 was released years ago, it was loudly panned for being an awful mess, full of broken gameplay and terrible design choices. Fast forward more than ten years and we have a product that is very similar. Though the argument can be made that it’s not as broken as the aforementioned worst superhero game of all-time, Thor is similar in the fact that it is uninspired, repetitive, dull and very poorly designed. Take this advice and don’t waste your time with this neutered superhero game. Hopefully the license will receive the video game release it deserves someday in the future, but this one couldn’t be further from what is considered to be a good game. Even the Asgardians will understand why you haven’t stepped in to save their virtual behinds.
Thor: God of Thunder was released on May 3, 2011.