Asura's Wrath Review (PS3)

Hot on the heels of last week’s official release of Dear Esther, Capcom has given us its own version of a videogame striving to be quite unlike anything you’ve seen before. Asura’s Wrath is part anime series, part comic, part brawler and part shooter; and it’s altogether quite, quite nuts.

For most of the action you play the titular Asura: one of several demi-gods looking out for the people of Gaea. This is a world that harbours a terrible scourge at its core, regularly spewing hateful creatures onto its surface that terrorise its inhabitants, and then playing host to the mother of all evil transformations once every 12,000 years - into a being so powerful it all but engulfs the entire planet. Asura and his fellow warriors are charged with defeating those “Gohma” that murder the citizens freely, having promised to keep the peace, protect their people, and to look cool whilst doing so.

Shooter? Brawler? Neither? Both?

Of course, this being an anime-inspired videogame, it doesn’t take long for Asura to feel the wrath of one of the other ‘friendly’ omnipotent beings, and the beginning of the game sees him framed for murder and cast into hell for all eternity. That comes after losing his wife to a knife in the stomach, and also having his priestess daughter kidnapped and harnessed to a giant floating space station so she can act as a cosmic battery for the rest of her life, sucking up the souls of those being crushed on the planet below. As you do.

Asura isn’t going to take such an unfortunate turn of events lying down in exile (and let’s face it, that puts Max Payne to shame), and his unadulterated rage eventually forces its way back to the surface, propelling him into a series of battles against those those gods that lost their way. Every step of his journey represents another opportunity to build his anger, and it’s this emotion that relentlessly pushes the plot forwards.

Heavily-infused with Indian themes and filtered through a uniquely Japanese design, Asura’s Wrath is - at times - absolutely stunning to take in. As our hero’s rage escalates with each passing chapter, so to does the scale of the visuals, and it’s not uncommon to go from fighting a ten-story tall frenzied elephant to flying into space and unleashing hell on the orbiting soul-collecting ships. It’s animated absolutely beautifully throughout, and there’s a real sense of style to the way that CyberConnect2 paces its action, not to mention the glorious spectrum of colour and Japanese ink that provides an epic backdrop.

And that's not even the coolest beard in the game

As a unique showcase for those visuals, Asura is split up into 18 chapters, each lasting approximately 20-30 minutes. Each of these is presented as if it were a professional TV series, with intro cards, credits and even a brief trail for what’s to come next. They’re also bookmarked with 3-5 comic-book panels that shift the story forwards or provide a bit of context for what’s to come, each of which is drawn with the same beautiful detail that permeates the main visuals. It’s perfect to pick up and play for a couple of sessions then, but at only around 6-7 hours in length, you might not get too many for your money.

On top of the rather short campaign, the eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that gameplay hasn’t been mentioned a whole lot in the course of the above text, and that’s unfortunately because Asura’s Wrath doesn’t really contain a lot.

Initially things seem promising, as the game transitions from one of those glorious animations straight into a shooting sequence that apes Rez in terms of its control scheme and lock-on mechanic. From there it moves swiftly into several QTE events that trigger action sequences and rarely punish failure, and then it’s onto the surface to get to grips with a hand-to-hand combat engine. Each of the subsequent chapters is a combination of some or all of the above mechanics, with a quick break in the middle to stare at some boobs in a swimming pool. That’s not even a lie.

It’s the fisticuffs and running battles that provide the real meat in Asura, and fortunately the rather basic light-heavy attack combo mechanics hold up just enough over the course of the experience to make them worthwhile. There are two special meters to fill and deploy during the course of any of the fighting sequences, the first of which allows Asura to unleash a flurry of blows and unlimited heavy attacks for a short period of time, and the second of which basically annihilates whatever’s left in the arena and triggers the next animation or battle sequence. Combo attacks can be chained together with a small suite of aerial, projectile or context-sensitive moves, but make no mistake, outside of thematic similarities, this is no God of War.

A piffling punch compared to the one that follows

And it’s there that you’ll either know you’ll love it or hate it. I’d estimate that considerably less than half of the time you spend with Asura’s Wrath is spent engaged in what would traditionally be known as gameplay, and at such a short length, there will no doubt be those that cry foul when reaching the end of the story. What’s there is to a decent enough standard and certainly never outstays its welcome, but - outside of the scale of some of the battles - there’s little to write home about in terms of the mechanics.

Whilst it’s definitely not a game that will stay with you for the action then, it’s still worth noting that Asura’s storyline is engaging and absolutely spectacular in comparison to most other titles. The themes of tragedy, redemption and anger are hardly unique in their own right, but the developer has done such a good job in executing both plot and visual style that it’s compelling to the end. Keep in mind that there’s every chance you might be wishing for a bit more, but who knows, you might find the format to be just the breath of fresh air you were looking for in an otherwise predictable genre.

Best Game Moment: Chatting to the Golden Spider.

Platform Played: Xbox 360