The start of the summer movie blockbuster season usually signals the arrival of their requisite videogame counterparts, a genre that Sega has been more than happy to keep filled for some time now. Their latest is Thor: God of Thunder, a multi-platform release for the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, and DS consoles, and loosely-based on Paramount Pictures’ live-action movie of the same name.
Prior knowledge of the Thor universe isn’t required, neither is having seen the movie that it’s based on – they’re not connected in the slightest, except for the vague likeness and voice talents of stars Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston. The console versions present an original story that sees the Frost Giants of Jotunheim attacking Asgard to take back an ancient treasure, which results in the death of Thor’s beloved friend Lady Sif. Ever the schemer, Loki persuades his brother Thor to seek his revenge by traversing across the Nine Worlds to administer his own unique brand of god-like justice – from the butt of his mighty hammer Mjölnir.
The Xbox 360/PS3 versions (i.e. the HD versions) were developed by Liquid Entertainment (The Lord of the Rings: War of the Ring, Rise of the Argonauts), and frankly, they’re just awful. Unlike its Wii cousin, which shares the same basic plot and narrative, as well as few gameplay elements, these HD versions are brought down by the very things that should have elevated it; a clunky, congested combo system that seems designed for maximum torture and a technical performance that looks cheap and performs worse. God of Thunder? More like God of Blunder, and one of the worst movie-based games I’ve ever had the pleasure of walking away from.
Speaking of visuals, I’m starting to get worried whenever I see a game plastered with the Unreal Engine logo, at least by any developer other than Epic Games. Thor has all the prerequisites of a modern HD game: the graphics shine, they sparkle, and practically everything has that sunlit sheen as you walk by, all things that make for impressive looking still-shots. But things go to hell when it starts moving, as all those shiny models and backgrounds are reduced to a jittery, stuttering mess. It’s almost as if Liquid Entertainment lifted the visual likeness of the movie and slapped it willy-nilly onto the poorly-made character models and simplistic backgrounds, nearly all of which are rendered so poorly you can feel the lack of effort that went into rubber-stamping them into the game. Nothing looks or feels impressive, and the game’s appalling frame-rate often makes it nearly-unplayable with game-crashing glitches and freezes.
Yes, most of what’s on the screen looks like the movie that its based on, but there’s not a single character or moment that stands out. There’s even an option to play the game in 3D, but with visuals this poor why by Odin’s Blade would you even want to? It’s pretty pathetic when the lesser-powered Wii offers a superior visual (and playing) performance.
What could – and probably should – have been a rather straightforward God of War-clone has instead been reduced to one of the clunkiest, most overly-complicated combo systems that I’ve ever seen in a supposed button-masher. Again, what should have been simple button presses have instead been mapped to a complex system of button-presses, button-holds, double-taps, all mixed and matched in the most unpleasant ways imaginable. Controlling Thor feels like you’re driving a forklift, and taking out random enemies can often require an unnecessarily long string of specific combos, and that’s when you’re not trying to pull off the sub-standard grappling moves unique to this version.
Exacerbating this is the wretched technical performance, which stutters the game so badly that even simple combos have trouble connecting. And that’s when you’ve got an ideal camera angle, which needs to be manually (and constantly) tinkered with to even see what’s happening on the screen. There’s a multifaceted upgrade system that lets you power-up by linking a hierarchy of hexagonal patterns, but even this seems to have been engineered for maximum confusion and hair-pulling. Was this game even tested before it was shipped to retail stores? Who thought any of this was fun?
Thor: God of Thunder on the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 is about as unpleasant a movie tie-in game as I’ve ever played, and one of the single worst videogame experiences I’ve had this year. It’s an action-game for masochists, with a combo-system so profoundly unintuitive and not fun that its mind-boggling that anyone at developer Liquid Entertainment thought fit to release it to the public. It’s not connected to the blockbuster movie in any way, apart from sharing the likeness and voice talents of Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, so you’re under no obligation to play or even associate yourself with this mess to support one of Marvel’s Avenger heroes. If you have to play a Thor game, opt for the vastly superior Wii version, or even the 2D action of the DS version.
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