This review was originally written for Reset Games, a video game store in the Pacific Northwest.
It seems that these days, you always have to be wary of video games based on movies, and I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. Many examples in the realm of superheroes specifically come to mind, such as X-Men: The Official Game, Iron Man and Iron Man 2, X2: Wolverine’s Revenge, both Fantastic Fours, and Superman Returns. These were all games that just didn't seem to have the necessary effort put into them in order to make the gameplay anything other than frustrating and not very well-refined. There are a couple of exceptions to the rule, namely Batman Begins (not a groundbreaking game by any standard, but still not bad) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (a game that was paradoxically better than the movie it was based on!). Good superhero movie games do exist, and it's always that fleeting fact that gives me hope before I play a new one.
This year's first video game spinning off from the films of Marvel Studios is based on the Asgardian Avenger and is aptly titled Thor: God of Thunder. As a comic book reader that’s been engaged in Thor's adventures for years, this game has a level of immediate appeal. There’s very little doubt that I’m in the main demographic that Sega is looking to sell this game to. All of the preview material looked satisfying, and the developers even secured the two main actors from the film, Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Tom Hiddleston (his mischievous brother Loki), to lend their likenesses and voice work to the game. Anyone that hadn’t quite put the game into their system yet might think that this would be a promising Thor experience.
The only problem with that is that you have to actually play the thing. From here, unfortunately, the game goes downhill very fast, and you'd probably be better off pretending that it doesn't exist.
Design and Story
Thor: God of Thunder, at first, looks like it could be kind of a pretty game. The potential is certainly there, as the Nine Realms and Asgard specifically give it the potential to have sweeping, otherworldly visuals that can take full advantage of the power of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in realizing these worlds and situations. Almost immediately, though, there's a strange...grubbiness and fuzziness to the visuals that make the aesthetics of the experience more disappointing than you might expect.
Character models have what seems like a limited level of animations on relatively basic activities, and this coupled with lip-syncing issues and some sloppy texture work combine into a visual look that isn't nearly as refined as it should be considering the hardware the game is being played on. While some alpha effects and shadow work is generally pretty good, the entire visual palette of the game is far less impressive than it really should be, considering the character and world that this game is supposed to be representing.
Even an element like the music bordered on repetitive and annoying, largely because it's limited. That first time you tackle the first boss, you'll hear the same monotonous “epic” tones over and over again, which tends to drag the experience's tempo pretty considerably. Thankfully, the other portion of the audio presentation, the voice work, was decidedly better. Chris Hemsworth brought the same gravitas, slight majesty, and lurking anger that the Thor of the new film had, and Tom Hiddleston brought the soft-spoken, quietly mischievous Loki we were able to meet in the movie theater as well. I sure hope these guys don’t play this game, though, because they may try to take their names off of it if they spend more than 15 minutes with the controller.
The structure of the story itself is also a little too confusing for my taste, since it doesn't really use the visible signpost of the new movie to help illustrate where it could be taking place in relation to the recently released film. It must take place before the film, since the opening sequence on Asgard sees Thor, Loki, and Lady Sif (also played by the movie's Jaimie Alexander) training together as the Jötun (Frost Giants) suddenly invade the realm. Disobeying his father, Thor goes into a rage after Sif is apparently mortally injured and travels across the realms to fight the Jötun and anyone else who gets in his way, but he may be straying too far since we learn that Loki had something to do with the initial invasion in the first place.
It's a very basic story, and borders on being entirely unmemorable, and even weirdly unnecessary. It takes too many queues from the specific story the movie told, but also doesn't do enough with the vastness of the world it's inhabiting to make much of any impression outside of simply telling you, as Thor, to fight until you get to the end. Unremarkable, at best.
Unfortunately, for a God of Thunder, Thor is a little too difficult to control. It doesn’t seem like the control stick is sensitive enough at first, but it becomes pretty apparent that Thor is relatively difficult to move with the correct response times you’d expect. He can’t jump very high, and oddest (and most frustrating of all to this fan) is that he can’t fly autonomously! Only in very specific circumstances can he fly, and even then, you can’t control it: it's more of a quick fast travel system within a level than anything resembling the way Thor actually flies either in the comics, or in the film. That's a pretty big disappointment, although because he doesn’t do that much flying in the film that the game is based on, maybe that's the core aspect of the movie this game decided to adapt for some reason.
The level construction is also so linear that playing through the game is far more boring than it has any right to be. The progression is just not that imaginative. With a character like Thor and the worlds he's able to travel between, the progression should at least allow for a bit more movement around the realms as they're displayed in the game. I’m not trying to advocate for a sandbox Thor game or anything (though it likely would've been better than this), but for a god who’s supposed to be able to fly, conjure storms, and throw his hammer at anything he needs to, there’s just not much in this game that makes you feel very godlike. Having just typed that, it now occurs to me that this is likely the biggest mistake this game ultimately makes.
Unfortunately, the actual control scheme brings the same kind of disappointment. The game is little more than a button-masher with some half-hearted combos thrown in for “good measure.” There’s an endless flow of pawns that come your way, and each portion of every level feels like you’re going through at least five goons too many before you get to move on to face virtually the same monotony all over again. Even with a conceptually interesting upgrade system in place, the upgrades themselves only really bring cool animations to look at. It doesn’t seem like they empower you very much in an actual fight.
The boss fights in the game were very, very frustrating on top of everything else. At first it seemed they may have simply been overpowered, but once you get the hang of it, the reality is that they’re actually way too easy. After some hammer throwing and button-mashing, all you have to do is run to a hotspot, hit a very simple button combination, and the boss falls flat, defeated sometimes in under three minutes. And this was playing on “Hard.”
The bottom line with the experience as it happens with a controller in your hand, this game is uninspired and far too dull to be seen as anything worthy of Thor. This game is not worthy enough to pick up Mjolnir.
If this review seems short, it’s because this game really is pretty thin. Suffice it to say that if you’re looking to have an experience that makes you feel like the God of Thunder, this game just isn’t it. For Thor’s first solo game outing, this may be a decisive, crippling blow to the possibility of other future, solo outings for the character at some point. (2017 Update: This stands as the first and last dedicated Thor gaming experience. Take that for what you will.) The best Thor experience to be had on a console to date is likely in 2009's Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 after you unlock him. If you haven’t played that game and are looking to play as Thor, that's a far easier — and higher — recommendation to give than Thor: God of Thunder is.
It looks as if this game has fallen into the age-old movie game stereotype, and there’s really no reason that Thor, of all heroes, should have had this happen to him. An experience up to par with the guardian of the Nine Realms is what the character deserves, but this time around, he just doesn’t get it. Maybe the game for Thor 2 will be better?
…Nevermind. It's too depressing to think about right now. The wounds are still fresh.