Kratos, your time is up. No longer are you the angriest man in videogames. Or the angriest god in videogames for that matter. Your title now belongs to certified rageaholic Asura, whose temper tantrums are so spectacular they make the grumpy Greek’s seem about as violent as Feta cheese.
This spiky haired new kid on the face-punching block is also the new king of QTEs – and good job too, as Asura’s Wrath is absolutely full of the things. In fact, there are so many QTEs that at times it’s almost not a videogame, but a spectacular display of Simon Says, playing out in front of some of the most insane imagery gaming has ever seen. If you’ve sampled the demo and battled with the boss whose thumb ends up bigger than a country, then know that scene is entirely typical of Asura’s Wrath. Trust us on this one – you’ve never played a game like it.
Pigeonholing Capcom and CyberConnect2’s new actioner is tricky. It’s definitely a brawler in that fine Capcom tradition. More on that later. It’s also an on-rails shooter in the vein of Panzer Dragoon. At times it’s both. And at others it’s neither. Suffice to say, Asura’s Wrath is more than a sum of its parts; it’s an utterly compelling, daft, thought-provoking rollercoaster of a game that demands attention, even if it’s for the wrong reasons.
Let’s get to the narrative. At least that’s straightforward enough. You’re Asura, one of eight demigods who protect Gaea (Earth) from the Gohma, an evil species that’s keen on wiping out humanity. Early on, though, you’re cast from the Karma Fortress and banished to hell. 12,000 years later you are resurrected, and want revenge. Except now that the demigods are all deities, they’re infinitely more powerful, and want to harvest humanity for their own maniacal crusade. Perhaps it’s not so straightforward after all.
In any case, it’s this story that is the driving force behind Asura’s Wrath. Even though huge chunks of the game aren’t interactive, the standard of animation and storytelling (particularly in the original Japanese dub) are of industry-high quality, and easily enough to keep you ploughing through the relentless QTEs and chat-heavy cut-scenes. You never know what’s coming next – the level of creativity on show is truly amazing. At one point you’re riding a Tron-style light cycle through a spaceship. Another has you battling on the moon against a guy whose sword is so powerful it can stab through the Earth. And that’s barely the half of it.
There is some proper gameplay at the core of Asura’s Wrath, although it’s used sparingly and often interspersed with those amazing-looking QTEs. As a brawler, it’s not exactly Bayonetta or Devil May Cry, but it is fast, highly responsive and thoroughly satisfying. The flow is always the same – batter everything, use your heavy attack when you can, dodge regularly, and if a big button prompt appears on screen, hit it. Every encounter demands you fill the red bar at the top of the screen – the rage meter, effectively – when it’s full, you hit the right trigger and activate Asura’s titular wrath, and lay the kind of smackdown that would make The Rock retire and take up knitting.
QTEs might usually be the last resort of developers who’ve run out of ideas or are lacking in skill, but here they’re almost an art form. Each one is flawlessly synched to the action, so you really do feel like you’re making Asura punch lasers away with his six arms (oh yeah, sometimes he has six arms) or kicking a hole through a giant elephant. Is that enough to justify their extensive use and the relative lack of true interactivity throughout the game? Perhaps not, but there’s no denying how well these semi-playable scenes have been constructed and executed.
The on-rails sections are similarly guilty of placing style way ahead of substance. You can link together chains of lock-ons and fire off missiles while you plough towards your goal, but there’s no depth whatsoever. Thankfully, what’s happening in the background almost always makes up for it. Even during the opening scene, you’re tumbling through space, blasting Gohma as you speed towards Gaea below, with monsters exploding all around you. That’s within the first five minutes.
When Asura’s Wrath pulls all of its ideas together it really achieves something memorable. Some boss battles blend cut-scenes, QTE, on-rails blasting and pad-thumping brawls seamlessly and repeatedly, taking you on such an exhilarating journey that it’s completely acceptable to forget to blink. There are scenes here that will live long in the cerebral cortex and be talked about for years. Not bad going for a bunch of on-screen button prompts.
Of course, there will be many who deride Asura’s Wrath and lambast its reliance on empty gameplay and narrative over truly groundbreaking or technically-sound mechanics. The lack of consistent interactivity means it can never been considered a true action great; it can never be Vanquish or God Hand or even God Of War. It doesn’t seem like it wants to be. This is as far from a me-too game as you could possibly imagine, and despite its fair share of nods to other games, movies and even religious texts, it’s a genuinely unique proposition.
Is that enough to recommend it, though? It’s such a tough sell, as it’s so short and so little of its running time can actually be defined as ‘gameplay’. It’s such a maverick, though, and such a bananas way to spend eight hours, that it’s almost certainly something everyone should experience. Just don’t go expecting the Earth. Asura’s already smashed it to pieces.