"You won’t have to play Thor much at all to see that the title is inspired by the highly successful God of War series. Kratos, the bald-headed warrior from that other series, has simply been replaced here by the blond-haired and impetuous Thor. Instead of wielding a whip, he swings a hammer around like a sword… when he’s not grabbing monsters three or four times his size and wrestling them to the ground by the horns. This is a “T”-rated game, though, so there are no severed heads or geysers of blood and there are no naked women in mini-games or elsewhere. Thor may be a god, but he lives in a bland world."
Before he crashed to Earth and met Natalie Portman, Thor was a brash young god who lived in the great walled city of Asgard. One horrible day, evil forces launched an attack on his home. Angered by some unfortunate goings on and spurred to action by his conniving brother Loki, Thor launched a campaign of vengeance that eventually put his entire universe at risk. Thor: God of Thunder, a recent video game release for current-generation platforms, relates the surprisingly underwhelming tale.
Though video games can effectively tell stories, they usually fail to do so. That’s especially true when a game’s developers are facing an unmoving deadline--the release of the “Thor” movie, in this case--and it’s truer still when those developers are trying to shoehorn a proper character development into a series of action-packed set pieces. Thor never really stood a chance.
The biggest problem with the story is that Thor is an incredible idiot. He’s anxious to do his own thing, especially when his father Odin forbids it, but then he blindly follows orders issued by his blatantly untrustworthy brother, Loki. The majority of the game’s cutscenes contain no character development at all. They merely consist of Thor rounding a corner and running into Loki, who then tells him where to go next. Chris Hemsworth provides his digital likeness and some voice work, but the dialog is so ridiculously bad that he can hardly be blamed for sounding like he’s half asleep.
Such shortcomings aren’t a surprise given the game’s general setup. You won’t have to play Thor much at all to see that the title is inspired by the highly successful God of War series. Kratos, the bald-headed warrior from that other series, has simply been replaced here by the blond-haired and impetuous Thor. Instead of wielding a whip, he swings a hammer around like a sword… when he’s not grabbing monsters three or four times his size and wrestling them to the ground by the horns. This is a “T”-rated game, though, so there are no severed heads or geysers of blood and there are no naked women in mini-games or elsewhere. Thor may be a god, but he lives in a bland world.
Forget the notion that Thor: God of Thunder might tell an interesting enough story to warrant the subtitle, then. If you play and enjoy the game, you will do so because you like the combat system and its overtures toward brutality. Unfortunately, even the combat system is far from perfect.
If you’ve played a brawler in the past, whether that be God of War or one of its many other clones, you should have a general idea how Thor plays. Most levels consist of the hero running from one chamber to the next and fighting monsters at each junction. There’s a level halfway through the game that largely plays out like an on-rails shooter, and there are a few platforming sequences interspersed throughout the adventure that probably won’t take you more than three or four minutes to clear combined. Otherwise, this is a game about clobbering things with your hammer.
The thrill of combat is diminished by an inadequate camera system that needs constant adjusting if you want to see your enemies and their incoming attacks. Whether you’re fighting a bunch of weak foes who try to flank you and pepper you with projectiles or huge beasts that fill most of the screen, it seems like you can never see what you need to see unless you’re constantly fiddling with the right analog stick. It gets ridiculous because you absolutely need to be able to see your opponents at all times. You need to know when you’ve dealt enough damage that you can grapple them and kill them.
Grappling plays a significant and generally positive role in the game’s combat system. Though there are a few enemies that you can defeat with a swing or toss of your hammer, many foes wear armor. They can withstand a lot of damage from your area-based magic attacks and they can absorb quite a few melee swipes while barely flinching. To win in battle, you have to beat down your opponents until they are dazed and then quickly grapple them to finish the job. If you don’t respond quickly enough--often because the camera wouldn’t let you see the signs that it was even possible to grapple--then you won’t regenerate energy and your enemies will have an easier time finishing you off with shots fired from off-screen.
When you’re not grappling your enemies, you are often trying to attack them with a toss of your massive hammer. Unfortunately, you can’t target a single enemy with your hammer unless you first press in the right analog stick--which uses up magic energy--and you otherwise can’t even count on your hammer toss flying in the right direction. When you’re surrounded by enemies, you may well throw your hammer off to the side while the approaching enemy that you meant to slaughter stabs you with a spear or claw. If you’re battling three or four enemies and one is almost defeated, you might suddenly start throwing your hammer at another one entirely (or at thin air!), prolonging the span of time where you must deal with three or four foes instead of one or two. It’s exasperating and there’s really no excuse for it.
Another problem is that as you advance through the game, you can master various skills that make you a more lethal force in battle. That sounds like a positive thing, but experience points are not distributed generously enough. By the time you reach the end of the game, you still won’t have learned every skill. Clearly that setup was intentional on the part of the developers and is intended to add replay value, but the dynamic opens up the possibility that some players will learn all of the wrong skills and reach the end of the game severely underpowered (or worse, not reach the end of the game at all).
Even if you develop Thor perfectly, there are choke points throughout the game where you’ll meet with unexpected hikes in difficulty. The game features four difficulty settings, counting one that you unlock by completing the campaign for the first time. Thanks to the camera and character customization issues already noted, however, only the easiest setting provides an enjoyable experience. It’s the only one where enemy attacks are weak enough that you can withstand a sufficient number of cheap hits to beat a horde of late-game enemies. Even on Easy mode, there are some challenges in the last stages where you’re working against a timer and your enemies are so good at absorbing attacks that you won’t be able to beat them unless you engineer a series of perfect grapples. There are some instances throughout the game where you basically have won a battle, then without warning must enter on-screen button prompts to deal a finishing blow. Perhaps that explains Thor’s rage?
Ultimately, this latest superhero game feels like what it very likely was: a rushed attempt to cash in on a temporarily hot license. The developers imitated some great games and the grappling system that they implemented provides some engaging moments of gameplay, but a wonky camera, poorly implemented customization and a disappointing plot--not to mention unimaginative environments and the occasional glitch--can leave Thor: God of Thunder feeling more like an ode to the god of tedium than a companion to a blockbuster film.
Staff review by Jason Venter (June 01, 2011)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
If you enjoyed this Thor: God of Thunder review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!