|System: Xbox 360, PS3|
|Release: February 21, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Robert VerBruggen
At first glance, Asura's Wrath looks incredibly promising. The game features big-budget graphics, an interesting, violent comic-book aesthetic, and gameplay elements that draw on everything from God of War to fighting games to third-person shooters. What's more, the main character's abilities change as the story progresses, which should give developer CyberConnect2 a chance to keep the gameplay fresh. It looks like it has the potential to become one of the first must-play action games of 2012.
At first glance.
Unfortunately, a demo just dropped on Xbox LIVE and PSN, and after taking the fifteen minutes or so required to defeat the two included bosses, I'm very, very worried. Yes, the graphics are terrific, there are hints of a bizarre and amusing story, and the developers managed to incorporate a wide range of gameplay styles. But what should be an interesting combination of disparate elements instead feels like a pointless hodgepodge of ideas that don't work together. It's possible that the demo isn't representative of the game as a whole—in fact, I think these boss battles might work a lot better as the culmination of longer stages with lots of normal enemies, as opposed to the focus of an entire demo. But if the demo is supposed to turn me on to the idea of spending $60 on Asura's Wrath, it didn't work.
The influence of God of War—as well as other games inspired by God of War—is immediately apparent. While the visual style here is a bit more cartoonish, the developers didn't hesitate to create massive, powerful bosses that require you to home in on a weakness. There's even a gauge you can fill by successfully landing attacks. Instead of just giving you an attack bonus when you activate it, however, this "Burst Gauge" actually triggers cutscenes and helps advance the plot.
Another element stolen from God of War and its ilk, unfortunately, is a heavy reliance on quick time events. I don't hate QTEs as much as some gamers do—used correctly, they can add variety to the gameplay and make cutscenes interactive and tense. Too often, however, these boss battles felt like nothing more than a long succession of nagging prompts: Hit X! Move the left stick right and the right stick left at the same time! Hit Y, but make sure you get the timing right! Hammer the B button as fast as you can! Even during normal combat, the game often shoves prompts in your face that allow you to evade attacks or perform special moves.
The other gameplay styles on display in the demo aren't a whole lot more successful. The melee fighting seems to work fine—I especially enjoyed beating up the second boss, who requires you to jump over his projectiles before running up to him and punching him—but there isn't enough of it in the demo to tell whether it can sustain an entire game. The third-person shooting is an utter disaster thanks to its horrific control scheme. For some reason, the left joystick not only moves your character's feet, but also moves the aiming reticle across the screen, and you can't invert the Y axis for aiming. (This is especially weird when you consider that you can invert the Y axis for the camera, which is a lot less likely to get you killed if you move it the wrong way.) You can also lock on to your targets, which drains the challenge.
The control woes don't end there. The basic setup needlessly deviates from the industry standard for these kinds of games; for example, on the Xbox 360, the melee attack is on the B button instead of X and/or Y, and the dodge maneuver is awkwardly relegated to the right bumper instead of being placed on the right stick or given a face button. The options menu seems to suggest that multiple control schemes will be added at some point, but I couldn't find a way to change this in the demo.
My final complaint is that the demo is exceedingly easy. It's possible the developers did this intentionally, and the final product will be tougher, but I beat both bosses on my first try. Also, I noticed that the quick time events allow you to push the wrong buttons before pushing the right ones, which made them practically impossible to miss.
In fairness, this is just a demo, and it's possible that the problem is with the demo rather than the game itself. Maybe these QTE-heavy boss battles are intended to be cinematic experiences that top off long stages, rather than a core part of the experience. And maybe the game's over-the-top sense of spectacle—one fight takes place on the moon—will be impressive enough to paper over its flaws. But the powers that be at CyberConnect2 and Capcom chose these two segments to promote the game, so to a certain extent it's fair to make judgments about them. And in my view, the logical judgment is that Asura's Wrath won't be nearly as fun as it looks.
Date: January 11, 2012