With Joss Whedon’s The Avengers movie drawing ever closer, the superteam’s ranks continue to grow as Thor and Captain America’s instalments in the series of movies breach the horizon. Their trusty side-kicks – the inevitable videogame spin-offs – are of course, sure to follow, but this time out it appears they’re being inspired by other heroes.
Cap’s been making a stir with his recent appearance in a game trailer that showcased tactile combat sequences and parkour window climbing, suggesting he’d been taking a few leaves out of a certain cape crusader’s comic-book. Thor’s title, meanwhile, wears his colours even more proudly by adopting a ‘God of’ subtitle and unapologetically featuring a disgraced God being cast from the heavens by his father and faced with defeating various otherworldly behemoths in order to make his return to glory. Clearly, the question that is on the lips of every Marvel fan who can still muster the strength to hope for a worthy game adaptation, is whether these games will be able to meet their lofty ambitions, or miss and fall in to the same mire of mediocrity as The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man before them.
Despite being featured prominently in Marvel vs Capcom and Ultimate Alliance, Thor has never appeared in his own game. God of Thunder, if nothing else, gives him the best possible start. Based on a script by Matt Fraction (who took responsibilities on the Thor comic after Kieron Gillen’s run), the narrative of the game runs parallel to the film, allowing a freedom to adapt a more game-suitable plot structure which was rarely awarded its predecessors. The studios even worked with Marvel when designing worlds not featured in the current movies in order to be consistent with future releases. Yes, that’s studios plural. With Sega producing, three different games are being developed under the God of Thunder banner by three individual studios, with the aim to release a multiplatform title that plays to the strengths of each of the consoles.
Unsurprisingly, the PS3/360 version is the most God of War like, with what the industry has frustratingly coined ‘BAMs’ (Big Ass Monsters) taking prominence. Relatively unknown developer, Liquid Entertainment (behind Rise of the Argonauts) has released a demo consisting almost exclusively of boss battles for the game. These sequences betray a familiar reliance on felling colossal opponents by quick time events and systematic dissection of oversized anatomy, but what the game does with these is legitimately imaginative, if not innovative.
Smaller foes will also see Thor resembling Kratos, as these brawls largely consist of weighty combos and over-the-top powers. Unfortunately, in its current state, God of Thunder lacks the flow of that game’s combat, as truly satisfying move sequences are difficult to build in the distance between enemies. The flexible camera also jars, and you may find yourself longing for God of War’s restrictive but functional, fixed viewpoint. Valor points can be attained while fighting and these can utilised to upgrade Thor’s skills and powers, adding not only thunder, but wind and lightning to your arsenal.
For continuity, Chris Helmsworth and Tom Hiddleston reprise their roles as Thor and Loki in voice-acting, but given the exclamations and snippets of dialogue on show here, one hopes the standard of acting is higher in the upcoming film. Nevertheless, their likenesses are uncanny and the level of fidelity to the source will please die-hard fans, as the worlds featured consist of Asgard, Morpelheim, Nilheim and Vanaheim and Thor’s rogues gallery is well represented by showdowns with the likes of Surtur, Ulik and Ymir.
The game will take 8 to 10 hours to finish asserts producer Stephen Frost. This game-life will be slightly extended by additional costumes and play modes, but with a lack of online play the experience may well fall short of the immortality befitting the subject matter.
The Wii version, while originally also slated for PSP release, could ultimately end up being a Nintendo exclusive as Sega have announced they are backing out of Sony’s handheld in favour of the 3DS. Platform politics aside, Red Fly Studios are developing, fresh from also handling the Wii release of Star Wars Force Unleashed II with under-appreciated proficiency.
The game features the same overall story as it’s older brother, while placing a greater emphasis on the plight of Earth. Encouragingly, the game looks and plays much like Spiderman 2 or Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction of Marvel’s short-lived heyday. Sadly that heyday was 6 years and a whole console generation ago, and the undetailed environments and blocky effects does even the Wii’s understated capabilities a disservice.
The controls are suitably simple, with a liberal tapping of the A button for attacks, D-pad to switch between elemental powers and some judicious use of waggle – which Red Fly assure us is used sparingly – to bring Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir, in to play. From such humble mechanics comes much opportunity for juggling and linking combos, and building a sequence of over 40 hits allows for even greater elemental finishes. Keeping with the God of War influence, valor emanates from defeated enemies copiously which can similarly be used for levelling. Unique to the Wii version are runes, which will allow greater customisation to Thor’s attacks.
The Wii demo which was unveiled allowed far more exploration than the other, boss-centric, version. It also demonstrated a specific feature of the Wii version where levels will transition in to Sin & Punishment flying sequences, where Thor’s lightning becomes his weapon in an on-rails shooter. Much like the previous version’s quick time events, this is a novel if not original feature, but it does give some justification for the title’s release on the Wii as an alternative version, rather than an outright lesser one. Not just a side-show from the main battles, this transition also occurs in a boss battle against Surtur giving an unexpectedly epic atmosphere to the proceedings. It’s nigh-on heresy in the gaming community, but whisper it: the Wii version could prove to be superior.
Finally, the DS version; likely fated to be the overlooked version as the 3DS hits shelves. This, however, which would be a shame, when the minds behind it are WayForward, responsible for the side-scrolling Wii sleeper-hit, Batman: The Brave And The Bold. Unavailable for demo at the time of writing, the studio will apparently be playing to their strengths with another 2D brawler. The screenshots currently released are underwhelming, but with WayForward’s pedigree there’s a chance they might be able to work the same magic with Thor’s simple hammer and lightning mechanics in one last heroic effort on the aged platform.
Thor: God of Thunder hits consoles on May 3rd, the same day as the US cinema release.