Thor: God of Thunder hands-on has us swinging the hammer, but watching our thumbs

With the C2E2 pop culture convention making its second annual appearance in Chicago this past weekend – and Marvel owning the largest booth space on the show floor – Sega seized the opportunity to give attendees their first shot at Thor: God of Thunder, the tie-in to the forthcoming big-budget film. Sega’s recent track record with Marvel licenses isn’t exactly pristine (Iron Man and Iron Man 2, anyone?), but as with the film itself, we’re certainly willing to give Thor a fair shot before drawing any serious conclusions. But we’ve got to be honest: Based on what we played, it’s tough to stay optimistic about this action-oriented adaptation.

God of Thunder attempts to deliver a God of War-like action experience – hack-and-slash mayhem, myriad combos, and larger-than-life boss fights included – but without the “Mature” rating or any need for significant gaming skill. You can button mash your way through the entire demo we played without putting much thought into your actions, though more advanced players can trigger special moves against bosses and upgrade their abilities and magic attacks with earned Valor points.

Unlike the film itself – in which the titular god “builds character” and “comes of age,” says Sega of America producer Matthew Powers – God of Thunder explores other ground, with Thor battling beasts in four worlds pulled straight from the pages of Norse mythology: Asgard, Niflheim, Muspelheim, and Vanaheimr (mythologically speaking: the Gods’ home base, mist/ice world, fire world, and water world respectively). Noted comic scribe Matt Fraction helped craft the tale just as he did for the Iron Man 2 game, while film stars Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston provide their voices for what Powers estimates is a 10-hour single-player campaign.

We tried out five different sections of the Xbox 360 version, four of which put Thor up against common enemies and bosses alike in standard-looking ice, lava, and forest settings. With Thor’s abilities fully maxed-out for the demo, we were able to smack around these mythical foes with light and charged wind, thunder, and lightning attacks, pummel them with hits and throws of mystical hammer, Mjölnir, and trigger scripted events where we’d climb around a larger boss to attack various weak spots. And in the fifth demo stage, Thor was pulled down a river by a tamed beast (who you’ll prod with lightning bolts), throwing his hammer at enemies and smashing through barriers en route to another fantastical showdown, no doubt.

But despite being based on the near-final version sent in for approval, the C2E2 demo of God of Thunder ran terribly, with a consistently poor frame rate, uninspired texture work, and notable collision detection issues. And while we freely admit that the show floor isn’t the best place to judge a game’s character, the combat lacked the kind of spark that makes games like God of War and Darksiders stand out, making it seem more like a clunky, middle-of-the-road (at best) action affair.

Maybe we’re missing something; or maybe the hours spent outside these canned demo scenarios will provide the context and excitement needed to bring the action to life. We can’t say for sure. But the demo did nothing to assuage our fears of Thor: God of Thunder being another Iron Man-like clunker, likely to boast as much precision and grace as, well, a giant metal hammer. We’ll reserve final judgment until we get to play the final game, but unless you wear a winged hat as part of your personal fashion statement (even if you’re an Eagles fan), we’d advise you to do yourself a favor and wait for the reviews to hit before picking this one up.

Mar 22, 2011

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