God of QTEs
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.
Purified Digital Catharsis
Asura’s Wrath is a lot of things. It’s an action game. It’s a blatant God of War rip-off. It’s a story with martial arts craziness the likes of which we haven’t seen since Fist of the North Star. But, most of all Asura’s Wrath is a game about being really angry and really awesome. It’s total unrestrained catharsis in video game form. Though some believe making a game solely for the purpose of venting your anger and stress cheapens the gameplay experience, the game’s creators insist that there is a certain artistry to rage that they hope to capture in this game. I was skeptical, but after seeing the short demo and new trailers for the game, showcased at Captivate 2011, I was instantly hooked.
The game’s main character is the sometimes two-armed, sometimes six-armed, sometimes one-armed, demi-god Asura, and he is pissed! His daughter has been kidnapped by deities that resemble figures from Hindu mythology, and he is ready to punch all of them to death in order to get her back.
That’s all we know about the story so far, which is odd because the game’s producer Kazuhiro Tsuchiya said that the story will be the center point of the game’s rage-based gameplay. Asura will gain new abilities, powers, weapons, and forms based on what is happening in the story, and in some instances his entire control scheme may change. It doesn’t seem as if Tsuchiya is speaking of a gradual power-up system like we have seen in The Legend of Zelda or God of War. Instead, it seems as if Asura will have entirely new move-sets in-game based on what is currently cinematically appropriate.
The gameplay itself fits snugly into the standard 3D action game mold. Players will run around an overworld, mash some buttons, beat up enemies, and then murder them in gruesome ways via quick-time events. The maneuvers Asura will be able to take in battle depend largely on how much “godly power” he is able to utilize. Apparently, Asura frequently holds himself back, which prevents him from accessing all of his abilities, but as he gets angrier he becomes more godly and has more attack options open to him.
Asura’s Wrath sets itself apart from other action games in a couple of ways. First of all, the environments seem very interactive. In trailers and gameplay we see Asura picking up poles, pillars, boulders, and more to lay the hurt on his enemies. We also see Asura running his enemies into wall, slamming them into the ground, and otherwise using his environment as an effective means of attack.
Secondly, the enemies themselves seem to be much more than simple targets for button mashing. In gameplay trailers, we saw that Asura has a variety of grab and grapple moves, as well as situational strikes. We have seen Asura wrench weapons from his enemies’ hands to use against them, pick up two enemies and smash them together, counter a jumping enemy by throwing it into a crowd of troops to take them all down, and much more. Depending on how many enemies surround him and in what way, Asura seems to have tons of different techniques that disarm his opponents and otherwise use their own strengths against them. It makes many battles play out like fight scenes in an anime, rather than simple mash-fests.
The creators of Asura’s Wrath also seem to take pride in its quick-time events. In fact, we have been shown more QTE footage than actual game footage. Supposedly, QTE’s are different in Asura’s Wrath than they are in other action games, thought just how they are different has not yet been revealed. There are rumors going around that you don’t auto fail if you mess up a QTE, and that some QTE’s may have branching paths or choices of commands to take, making them all more like the scenes from Heavy Rain than anything in God of War. We can only hope this is the case.
Then, there is the scope. First, God of War had Kratos battling titans the size of contents. Then, Bayonetta had you fighting against a boss the size of a meteor. Well, Asura’s Wrath looked at all of that and said “we can totally do better.” The very first boss battle we saw involved a Buddha-like creature the size of a mountain. After dodging a missile barrage, Asura is tasked with running down the boss’s arms, punching it in the face, and then fighting its giant spaceship … which seems redundant because the boss then grows to be bigger than earth itself! It descends its finger which is easily the size of a small moon down toward Asura, who then sprouts four extra arms (story-based powers, get it?), catches the finger, and punches it Jo Jo’s Bizarre Adventure style until his own arms shatter into a million pieces and the boss explodes from the inside out!
It was at this point, that my eyes started bleeding from the sheer awesomeness of it all.
Overall, Asura’s Wrath is looking to be one hell of an action title. It’s not trying to re-invent the action genre, it’s just trying to come at it from a new angle. The game isn’t soaked in blood and gore like God of War, rather it’s saturated with outrageous action at every turn. It replaces realistic violence with stylized anime fighting, and it tries to integrate this into every aspect of the game, from core action to cutscene. I am very interested to see what other tricks Capcom has up their six sleeves, when they showcase the game again this year at E3.