Since hitting the PS2 over half a decade ago, the God of War formula has become fairly well-known, with some games doing a decent job with it like Dante’s Inferno, and others using it as a basis and then adding to it like Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. There haven’t been all that many outright knockoffs that actually manage to do the concept poorly because it’s largely goof-proof. Its all-action, all the time formula ensures constant action through your actions and can allow, in the right hands, for some epic battles. Sadly, that isn’t the case with Thor.
High Impact’s effort may copy God of War’s on a basic level, but it fails to succeed at doing justice to it in any way. Sure, you’ve got your basic melee attack, a power attack, a variety of magical attacks, and grapples. However, the controls have a slight delay that always throws you off and the control scheme itself is a bit too convoluted for its own good at times - with the D-Pad, both analog sticks, and all buttons being required to do something. Even making use of a radial menu to upgrade Thor’s abilities is a chore because of how unresponsive the controls can be and how exact you have to be when pushing the stick to move the cursor around. It’s nice to have a lot of options available, but if you’re not going to implement them well, then why bother? It just serves as a superficial way to pad a game that has no real depth to it.
Combat becomes boring very quickly since there’s no real depth to the combat, little weight to the attacks (or life to any of the animations in general), enemy variety is lean and when you kill them, they just disappear suddenly, which isn’t the least bit satisfying. The lack of variety in everything just kills the fun - you go from one room defeating a dozen foes, then trigger a set piece that triggers another series of battles in another room that is ever-so-slightly different and face the same ones before doing this seemingly a billion times to get to a boss battle. Even with having a bunch of options in combat thanks to melee attacks and three types of elemental magic, there isn’t much variety to combat because two of the three types are thunder and lighting, which (shockingly) act in basically the same manner, and there aren’t many enemies that require magic to defeat them, so your best bet is to usually just hack them to bits with your hammer until you get to a boss. There’s a rudimentary combo system in place, but there isn’t much depth to it, and the combos usually look clunky anyway.
The boss battles may be massive in size, but fighting them is incredibly annoying - and not due to their difficulty. Normally, they just try and ape the Shadow of the Colossus mechanic by having you wear down a foe, then exposing a weak spot that allows you to leap onto your massive rival and do damage. To be fair, the aforementioned Lords of Shadow ripped it off as well, but did so excellently, this just does it in a clunky way with none of the excitement that those games had. You do a few attacks and for some reason tiny yellow arrows will pop up (I guess send there by the gods or something), you hit the correct one, and then hit the right button, and you can then do damage. I’ve got a 32-inch HDTV and these arrows were barely visible. The same went for the on-screen prompts for either attacks or information - I thought the days of tiny text were gone after the first Dead Rising; apparently, I was wrong. However, if you’ve got an SDTV, or plan on playing this on a smaller set, don’t bother trying to play this- you’ll either suffer needless eye strain or get so frustrated you’ll want to throw your controller.
Other technical issues make traversing this sterile adventure of the gods more challenging than they should be. The camera is controlled with the right stick, but is moved very slowly then, and will usually swing in too closely, resulting in you not being able to see through the myriad of large emerald structures that you smash to gain orbs, or whatever else happens to be there, like a wall or column. Thor also suffers from some issues with slowdown and a lot of freezing. I never had to restart the game or system to get things back to normal, but still, having to bring up the pause menu to rid myself of the problem was pretty annoying and another clear sign that the game was rushed out the door.
Aside from the text issues and lifeless animations, Thor offers up bland character models and somewhat impressive, but largely generic environments. The developers clearly wanted a grand scale, but couldn’t really execute it, so you just wind up looking at either large empty areas with nothing in them, or a series of areas that all look basically identical. The larger open areas might’ve actually worked for an impressive visual if there was anything but the same bland backgrounds to look at while you‘re in them. There is some nice detail to be found at times, like with Thor’s cape texture, but it’s usually fleeting and that specific example just brings to mind how little animation his supposedly flowing cape actually has.
Despite falling short everywhere else, Thor’s audio is actually pretty decent overall. The voice work from the movie’s cast is a bit melodramatic, but not terrible. The sound effects are pretty good and unlike the disappearing enemies, actually give you a sense of satisfaction when you smite your foe with crackling thunder and lightning blasts. The epic-sounding music is fantastic. It’s the one part of the game beyond the large bosses and generic shots of far-off clouds that make anything in the game actually seem grandiose in scale.
Thor for the 360 and PS3 is a sub-par God of War clone that does a surface-level job of replicating what makes that kind of game work, while missing the point of what works on any kind of deeper level. If you like that style of game, play either that series or any other games like it that have been mentioned. The lack of polish here makes it impossible to recommend as a purchase at any price, although if you must rent it, go with the 360 version since it lacks a mandatory 3GB install. If the movie’s fresh in your mind and you want a fun Thor game to play, try out the 8-bit throwback on Marvel’s site, or use him in Marvel vs. Capcom 3.