It's been a weekend of Thor for me as I have been playing Thor: God of Thunder on the 360 and watching Thor: Tales of Asgard on Blu-ray. Of course the Thor movie hit theaters on Friday as well and has garnered a surprisingly good amount of critical feedback.
But, as most gamers know, no matter how good the theatrical release may or may not be, usually, the videogame tie-in (or cash-in you might say) is bad. That's more or less the case with the Thor game too, but fans of Thor or the third person action genre shouldn't be so quick to dismiss it as while it's not worth $50 or $60, it is worth at least a rental.
God of Thunder
Thor is a third person action game not unlike God of War, although the quality between the two is worlds apart. The story begins in Asgard with the Jotun assaulting Asgard. Sif, Thor's friend, dies in battle and this gets Thor fired up and intent on destroying all of the Jotun. Odin, father of Thor, uses his powers to resurrect Sif but in doing so he must enter a slumber known as Odin-sleep. Thor, too busy bashing Jotun heads, does not realize this and his trickster brother Loki uses this opportunity to try and seize control over all of Asgard. Between Loki partnering with Asgard enemies and Thor's rampage, an all out war starts between Asgard and surrounding worlds. Thor will travel to a few different locations in the Nine Worlds as he burns bridge after bridge. Ultimately, the goal is to save Asgard from Mangog, the creature born of hate, and the numerous assailants from the neighboring worlds.
Thor will do this with his mighty hammer and the powers of Wind, Thunder, and Lightning. The combat system of Thor will be familiar to anyone that has played a combat-heavy third person action title with face buttons mapped to jump, attack, and special, and with LT acting as a modifier. Special abilities -- those that use Wind, Thunder, Lightning, and targeted throws of the Hammer -- require Odin power which is earned in few ways, most commonly by defeating enemies. It is represented by the blue meter while health is noted in red.
In addition to Odin power and health pickups, Thor also acquires experience from defeating enemies, completing Feats, and advancing through the story. Experience points are spent to purchase upgrades that allow you to upgrade health, melee attacks, ranged attacks, and special power attacks. The upgrade tree requires that you purchase certain upgrades to unlock others, and I liked that I could read a description of each upgrade before purchasing it to better plan my spending. Most upgrades are very linear, though. In other words, you have say the Thunder Trench, which is a great way for knocking enemies over and removing armor. Well, its upgrade basically allows it to travel farther, and then after that, you can steer it around. My point being, most of the upgrades are not all that exciting. Make sure you get the Buzzsaw upgrade for the Hammer throw, though -- I can't tell you how useful that one is.
A moment ago I mentioned Feats. In each area (there are just four or five) that Thor visits throughout the game, there are certain Feats that you can strive for to earn extra experience points. Some of these Feats happen pretty naturally, you don't really have to go out of your way. But others require more effort. You can see all of the Feats from the pause menu and decide how you want to go. Additionally, the game will pop up a Feat-status graphic as you reach certain milestones in a Feat such as destroying 10 of 20 of a certain environmental object. You can also earn additional XP by doing special moves a lot and becoming a master of the Ground Pound, or Thunderclap, or whatever the move might be.
In addition to Feats, each area has several collectible objects to find as well. Some are hidden inside destructible objects, others are in plain site. These collectible objects are not only part of Feats and Achievements, but they also give you alternate Thor costumes and lightning colors, as well as Health and Odin-power carrying capacity.
While I appreciate the collectibles and the decent upgrade tree, they can only do so much to offset what is a very mediocre, grinding experience. Despite some cool looking combos and a good variety of attacks, the combat gets very repetitive. Combat makes up at least 90% of the game, too. Of the main areas that Thor goes to, the enemies look and attack differently, but are very similar. You have the weaklings, that are mainly there for you to grapple with and net extra health or Odin-power (your choice, depending on whether you finish them with X or Y). Then you have your medium grade tough guys, followed by the giants, then the boss.
Combined with the presentation quality, Thor does not impress. But, I will say that I kept coming back for more. Even in the final defense of Asgard which is really difficult and tiresome, I found myself firing the game back up and continuing. There's something to be said about a game that is, frankly, very mediocre overall but keeps you playing. I knew this game was short, and I hate putting time into a game that I don't finish, but there was just enough of a ratio between time played and reward received that made it worthwhile.
Now as for the presentation quality, it's flat. A few of the death animations were neat, but you see them over and over again because of the lack of variety. But as far as the environments and detail in both the world and the characters, it's lacking pretty severely. Worse yet, the framerate really suffers at times. Defending the horn in the final stage as well as several other points throughout the campaign bring some very noticeable slowdowns. They don't last more than twenty or thirty seconds, but it just shows a lack of polish. The cutscenes and voice overs show a similar lack of expertise and polish. If you go into the game expecting this as I did, it's not a huge deal, though.
To the summary...