Version tested: PlayStation 3
It can't be that hard to put together a decent movie tie-in, surely. The characters have been created already, you've got an existing story to adapt or develop from and there are probably several action set-pieces you can build entire levels around. OK, so the deadline is written in stone and you'll probably get six months to knock the game out, if you're lucky. But since nobody is expecting anything particularly original it should be simple enough to produce a game that's pretty good, at least. Right?
Thor has all of these advantages, coupled with the ability to dip into Norse mythology as well as Marvel's rich comic-book universe. So why does it fail so badly at the most basic elements of gameplay? How do you take the concept of "Big Man Smash Monsters With Hammer" and make it so dull?
In essence, this is the God of Thunder offering his take on God of War. Thor enters an area, enemies rush out, and you start mashing the buttons to smash them all into a fine paste with your magical hammer. And, sad to say, button-mashing is really all that's required. There is a ridiculously long-winded combo system in place, augmented with four elemental powers, but as with most melee fighting games that are put together in a hurry, there's rarely any need to learn more than a handful of useful attacks to get you through each encounter.
In fact, this game has a very convoluted control scheme for what is an incredibly simple genre. There are a multitude of commands, with most face buttons pulling double or even triple duty depending on the context, the selected power and whether the button is tapped or held down. As an example of how hectic the controls are, Thor has one button to jump, a shoulder button to swoosh forward while jumping and a completely different button to jump long distances when looking at a glowing symbol. Wherever actions could be streamlined, they've been allowed to sprawl across the joypad like a lazy house guest.
This might be forgivable if the game had the sort of fluid dynamism that repaid the time taken to master the depths of the combo system. But Thor is no Bayonetta, and instead every action feels lumpy and thick. Judging combos is harder than it needs to be, thanks to noticeable lag that leaves Thor's hammer swinging slightly out of sync with your inputs.
Combos take the form of a set number of normal attacks punctuated at the end by a strong attack, but counting out the numbers required is a dark art. It's not uncommon to attempt a space-clearing hammer strike only to end up with a directional wind blast. The block move is particularly sluggish to respond, and breaking out of a combo to defend yourself is a waste of time. There's no sense that your strikes are connecting with the enemies, and no obvious correlation between what's happening on screen and the damage you receive. Player feedback is inevitably diminished, and it's easy to be booted back to a checkpoint without understanding why.