It's well-known by video game critics and ordinary gamers alike that licensed video games are almost fated to be considered awful before a person bravely picks up their controller to play them. The combination of a film's promotion coupled with a desire to get a tie-in game out to coincide often means that the final product can be rushed or simply lacks any effort or passion in any department.
Thor: God of Thunder is the latest game, spawned from a film which, in turn, is based on a Marvel Comics property. A third person action-adventure title in a similar play-style to the God of War series, Thor can be seen as something of a mixed bag. At times, the graphics and animations can be highly inconsistent, yet the actual gameplay itself can be quite satisfying...sometimes.
The first thing that people should know when it comes to Thor: God of Thunder is that it's not a direct version of the film currently showing. God of Thunder is, in fact, a prequel of sorts, so you needn't worry about watching/playing one to only be spoiled on the other. Disaster strikes Asgard when a group of frost giants invade its hallowed halls, wreaking havoc on the citizenry. In order to seek vengeance, Thor goes on a quest to vanquish all of the evildoers across the realms. However, his own brother Loki tries to use the situation to his own advantage, manipulating Thor and others to try and achieve his ambitions of power. Along the way, you will encounter many elements from the movie in the plot, but there are also sprinklings of characters that have only appeared in the comics so far which will appeal to longtime fans.
If you've ever played a title in the God of War series, then you'll likely feel right at home with how the game plays and the control setup. Using the might of Mjolnir, you must beat and bash your way through the skulls of hordes upon hordes of enemies that you will come across. Not only are you capable of single hits and combos with Mjolnir, you also have three types of magic at your disposal: thunder, lightning and wind. Each magic type has its own strengths and weaknesses against enemies - for example, lightning is great to fry up trolls, while the powers of wind are most effective against fire-types. Thor is also capable of some grapple attacks against larger enemies, of both the regular and boss variety. Along the way, your moves can be upgraded and added upon, as well as your overall health and magic power. The combat itself is actually quite enjoyable - the hit detection is spot on and you will definitely feel a sense of power. Accompanying these various moves and grapples are some unique animations that will vary between enemies. It's probably these which are one of the highlights of Thor: God of Thunder. There might not be blood in the game, but the animations are able to imbue Thor's fighting style with a sense of quiet power, coupled with a certain grace and dignity. His fighting style is not a savage one, but the game manages to capture Thor's sensibilities nonetheless. Outside fighting off minions, there isn't an abundance of other things to do, sadly. There are points that you will have to destroy structures and travel in different ways, but these are few and far between. The game could have also used more puzzles to stretch the brain a bit - you will sometimes have to fetch items and hit certain objects in a specific way, but there's nothing that can't be figured out with simple trial and error, coupled with wondering around. In the few times that you might get stuck, hints can be conjured up by pressing down on the control pad.
Visually, the game is a mixed bag. As mentioned earlier, the combat animations themselves are something to behold, and really befitting of Thor's personality and that of the enemies. However, the same cannot be said for the cinematic sequences. Most of the general movements are done well enough, but the facial animations aren't as full of life as they ought to be, especially when paired with some segments of dialogue. The opening sequence is quite glorious, however - all of the likenesses are pretty spot-on and they've really managed to capture the appearance of Anthony Hopkins quite well. But beyond this, the animations and renderings of cut-scenes are a bit of a letdown. Within the game itself, there are vibrant colours abound at just the right level of saturation that they don't overwhelm the eyes. They're not quite memorable, but they do enough to set the scene well, and at no point does it feel like you're treading the same terrain in different worlds. It's also worth noting that God of Thunder supports 3D TV, though we weren't able to try this out.
Overall, the sound design of Thor: God of Thunder is more consistent than its graphical qualities. In some ways it's a bit more restrained but its simplicity works. There is an orchestral soundtrack throughout, which rises in urgency in some situations for dramatic effect. The various combat noises are all nice and meaty which help to give you a feel of some aggression when swinging away with Thor's mystical hammer or unleashing earthquakes and thunderbolts. Voice acting in the game is of varying quality - while none of the performances are bad per se, some definitely outshine the others. Both Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston provide the voices of their onscreen characters, Thor and Loki respectively. Neither of them exactly ham it up, but they definitely punctuate their dialogue with some occasional enthusiasm and speak very much as they do in the film - Hemsworth's voice has the same deep quality about it as he shows off in the film, and Hiddleson manages to maintain his sense of subtle scheming and jealousy with his intonations. However, it's the sound-alike for Anthony Hopkins that probably delivers the best performance - it doesn't sound exactly like the Academy Award winner himself, but it's quite close and delivers the sense of quiet power that could explode into anger at any moment.
Thor: God of Thunder will take about eight hours to complete on normal settings and if you don't stop to collect everything. And there is a lot to collect, which can carry over into your next playthrough. You can shore up points to acquire new moves, upgrade your already existing abilities and unearth different costumes for the god of thunder that span both the current film and comics. No multiplayer option exists, but given the nature of the game it's not really possible or needed.
As a licensed game, Thor: God of Thunder isn't outstanding, but it's not entirely irredeemable either and is for the most part polished, if unimaginative. The graphical inconsistency and linear gameplay at times is saved somewhat by the meaty nature of the combat and the animations of Thor himself wielding Mjolnir. No two enemies will fall before you the same way, and the way Thor himself fights is befitting of a god and sticks to its own sensibilities. It won't be a must-by for action adventure fans, but there are far, far worse games on the market. And, if you're already a fan of the series of comics or the film then you'll likely get more enjoyment out of it than many others would.