Review: Thor – God of Thunder (X360)

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Movie tie-in games are a staple of the industry along with the notoriety that they often bear as quick cash-ins. Not every movie gets one, though whenever one is made, it’s usually greeted with a mixture of dread and fear by those that know their reputation. Exceptions to the rule are rare. The hope that the next project might break the curse also often disappears almost as quickly as the game does into the bargain bin.

Thor: God of Thunder from Liquid Entertainment tries to shatter that reputation, building on the excitement surrounding the film. Yet even for the mighty Nordic godling empowered by Marvel heroism, it proves to be a fight even he can’t win.

Comic book veteran, Matt Fraction, wrote the story that sets this game up as a prelude to the actual film, squeezing in Marvel-ized throwbacks to the comic book stories that fans will appreciate. Here, Thor seeks vengeance after one of the Norse gods dies in a fight with the Yotun, ice giants that are the sworn enemies of Asgard – the city he and the other gods live in on another world. Of course, in seeking revenge, Thor unwittingly unleashes a doomsday weapon that starts tearing everything up. His brother, Loki, might have something to do with that, but it’s clear that the player will be the one saving the world. Or worlds, as the case is here.

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Actors Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston voice, and lend their faces to, Thor and Loki, respectively, as they also play them in the movie. Odin even looks like Anthony Hopkins, though his voice is done by someone else. But don’t expect the dialogue or the story to be that memorable since most of it is just there to push Thor on to his next fight.

If you want more, you’ll have to either watch the movie or pick up one of the actual comic compilations as there’s little in the way of extras other than changing the color of Thor’s lightning bolts or his costume. Even after finishing the game, there’s not a whole lot to get excited about in terms of extras. No comic book covers, no bios, nothing to invite anyone into his world past the references inside the game itself.

Smashing enemies in the face with Thor’s hammer rewards him with valor points that are essentially experience points and can be used to purchase a large number of upgrades for Thor’s abilities. More powerful lightning attacks, focused earthquakes, and brutal combos fill his arsenal with a nice variety of godlike abilities. The huge platter of skills looks like it could be a smorgasbord of power until you realize that it’s only teasing you with wasted potential. Instead of feeling as if the gameplay frees you to unleash heaven and hell on your enemies, it feels more as if the designer wants to shove you into specific roles in every battle like a marionette.

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Even Thor’s Rage, a special, screen-breaking attack, suffers from this set predictability. He can gather enough “rage” by attacking foes and then unleash a devastating attack that wrecks everything in sight – that is, only if the current fight lets you. Otherwise, it’s up to a mix of magic powers, using Odinforce, and his hammer to do the job. But most of the time, I ended up grabbing and insta-killing smaller enemies before battering larger foes with my paper mache Mjolnir.

That’s because Thor’s hammer is about as effective as a sponge finger useful only for building up Thor’s Rage or smashing enemies enough to execute the really damaging QTE attacks. QTEs are literally the reason Thor exists and the only way to quickly deal with most of the foes you find here since they are often of the huge variety. This is especially true among the boss-type characters that shrug off Mjolnir’s pokes until they keel over for Thor to batter them with a QTE. Magic helps against the regular cannon fodder, but against bosses, it’s only marginally more effective. It’s still all about the QTE.

Batter the enemy, grapple QTE them to death, rinse and repeat. It’s a gameplay refrain that gets old before long and which players will repeat ad nauseum for hours until the end. Unlike SCEA’s God of War where Kratos’ attacks actually feel as if they deliver damage and kills with every hit, the reliance on QTEs in this game make it less about about a god than it is in following a scripted fight. Bloat enemies with enough hit points, and it only makes the torment last longer while Thor’s signature weapon impotently nudges them with every flailing hit to set them up.

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Perhaps more ridiculous is the advice that it gives players in fighting giant-sized enemies by telling them to jump and hit their torso area for better damage. And then it starts throwing plenty of these foes at the player, resulting in a lot of jumping and thumping, adding to the monotonous gameplay of “batter and QTE”.

I should have also gotten used to how the camera requires me to nudge it all throughout the game to keep it useful. Or being unable to actually look straight up as if Thor’s neck were fitted with a hidden brace, but I was wrong. There are also no options to adjust it, either, other than micromanaging it with the right analog stick. But I can change the color of my lightning.

Then the game cheated with the final boss. I smashed him down with my combo of hammer jabs and QTEs to only a sliver of health, but because my last QTE attack hit him and left a few pixels of red on his bar, the game healed him up until I could actually do one to push him into the next phase of the fight. That’s right: the game told me to literally do it over again until I got it right. I should know since I repeated this fight after dying several times, no thanks to grappling with the terrible camera. The best thing I can say on the fight is that even without these problems, the final boss was challenging enough.

Finishing the game allowed me to start a new one with all my upgrades, but getting to the end was more of a relief than an excuse to put myself through it again. There really was some potential here if it had been given a lot more time to work with – the artists made the boss fights look good and with more polish and variety, it could have been a good action adventure in the vein of a godly beat ‘em up. Instead, it feels rushed in time for a movie with a Thor whose mighty hammer is about as scary as a birthday pinata with a heavy injection of QTE repetition.

If you have to play as the God of Thunder, get Marvel Ultimate Alliance instead and unlock him there. At least when you hit someone with a hammer in that game, they actually feel it.

Thor: God of Thunder
Sega / Liquid Entertainment / Red Fly Studios / WayForward Technologies
Xbox 360 / PS3 / Wii / Nintendo DS / Nintendo 3DS (reviewed on Xbox 360)
Rated: T for Teen