Thor's a large, angry man with a thunder hammer. Squished into the form-fitting mold of a videogame, there's only so much you can do with that. Sadly, wordy RPGs, Cooking Mama: Cower, for This is Thor's Kitchen Now, and adorable pet sim Thorz aren't really options. So, what are we left with? Did you say “a God of War clone so middle-of-the-road that it ought to be getting flattened by oncoming traffic”? Well, you'd be wrong, because Thor: God of Thunder doesn't even make it that far. It occasionally tries – bless its heart – but at the end of the day, it's just bad. Plain and simple.
When we first booted up the game, it seemed like Thor was on track to ape ape-armed force-of-nature Kratos with a decent amount of finesse. The almost awe-inspiring sense of scale was there, as were the compulsively mashable combos and the irrationally pissed off main character. Hell, even the title was basically the same! As it turned out, however, each of Thor's hastily cobbled-together components inspired far more “awwws” and “awfuls” than awe. That's pretty much Thor in a nutshell: it lulls you into a false sense of security with some semblance of competence and then hammers you back into reality with obnoxious glitches and boneheaded design decisions.
Let's start with combat, for instance. It's God of Thunder's bread-and-butter, and why not? Hammer plus face equals fun. Seems like a pretty simple equation to us. And there's even a fairly robust skill tree weaving its roots throughout the whole thing, granting you access to a number of stat upgrades and powers. But then you actually start, you know, fighting and – not so coincidentally – stop smiling. For one, the subtle art of Hammer-Fu is incredibly basic, with only a few combo inputs that in turn don't produce terribly varied results. Elemental powers – like lightning, thunder, and wind – spice things up a bit, but fail to meaningfully distract from the fact that you're tapping out the same two or three-button combos over and over and over.
Above: “YOU SHALL NOT PASS,” etc.
And maybe that's secretly Thor's greatest strength: it's a highly accurate simulator of the titular god's immortality, because battles feel like they last an eternity. Enemies take a bit too much damage, hit detection is all over the place, actually bashing enemies feels like you're in a pillow fight with an army of hollow chocolate rabbits, and they just keep coming in wave after tedious wave. So you shake your hammer at them and your fist at the game's awkward camera angles until your rage meter fills and everyone dies. Oh, and the rage meter is a thing in the game too. Same basic idea, but with more disappointment, because it's one of the few moments where Thor seems truly godlike, but you're rarely in control. Occasionally, though, we also got to wail on enemies while Thor was still Hulking-out, and that was a skull-splitting good time. However, those segments were the exception, not the rule.
Of course, what would a professional Kratos impersonator be without skyscraping bosses and gimmicky rapid-fire quick-time events? Did you say “better off”? Well then, you and God of Thunder's designers are in the midst of what we like to call a “polite disagreement” – you know, the kind where you add their family name to your repertoire of most potent curse words. By and large, boss fights are pretty much extensions of what you'll come to know and begrudgingly tolerate from normal enemies, but bigger. Most of your time, then, is spent wailing and flailing to chip away at your gargantuan foe's even larger health bar. Unfortunately, these are wars of time and attrition, with nary a hint of strategy or excitement to be seen.
Above: Little-known fact: Thor's hobbies include ice sculpture. There were no survivors
And then – after you've button-mashed your poor fingers into an early grave – the biggie-sized bastard starts glowing, and it's time to move in for the kill. Frequently, this involves climbing the boss, picking a spot, and hacking away at it until your foe says “Uncle” or “Goodness me, I do believe my entire shoulder is gone. What a bother.” It's a neat idea, sure, but it's once again undone by a design choice that's equal parts frustrating and mystifying – in this case, random QTEs. So you might think things are going well – what with the boss against the ropes and all – but he'll beat you within an inch of your life unless you've memorized the random attack he might throw your way. Translation: trial-and-error. Whoopee.
Beyond that, God of Thunder also contains the occasional jumping puzzle, which is – you guessed it – turned into a gymnastic exercise in frustration by your old pals trial-and-error-based design and bad camera angles. We nearly rage-quit after one particularly infuriating moment involving ice crystals and our agonized screams, but then soldiered on for the purposes of this review. You're welcome, three living humans who didn't already know the score with movie licensed games.
Above: <insert obligatory “Hammer Time” reference here>
Really, superhero superfan or not, there's just not much of a reason to bother with Thor. Even if you can get past the shallow, repetitive combat and puzzling, you'll only be rewarded with a story that's distractingly badly acted and too long-winded for its own good. Frankly, we wish more movie tie-ins could be like The Dark Knight game. Oh, what's that you say? It got canceled due to quality issues? Exactly. We rest our case.
May 9, 2011