Sunday, June 15, 2008

God of War: Chains of Olympus Review

The Chains That Bind
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The God of War franchise has quickly made its presence known as one of the grandest Western-developed IPs of the last generation of consoles. If you've yet to partake in one of the two fantastic titles for the Playstation 2, you may want to check those out before this prequel. Ready At Dawn Studios, makers of the wonderful Daxter, had a tough task ahead of them. They were assigned the duty of taking the epic and fierce action that the God of War series is known for and placing it onto the smaller screen for PSP owners. Is their project, God of War: Chains of Olympus, the PSP's next killer app, or are these these chains simply too quick to rust?

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Kratos looks over the highly detailed landscape.

As said previously, Chains of Olympus a direct prequel to the Playstation 2 God of Wars. We delve into the afflicted past of Kratos who serves the gods in exchange for his pietistic rise of power. It's with this power that makes him an "errand boy", if you will, of the gods, and Kratos has no choice but to follow their every beck and call. While not revealing too much, Chains of Olympus does a very admirable job of giving the character of Kratos a little more background and detail. This quest will take him from the chaotic city of Attica, through the Temple of Helios, and even across the fabled River Styx.

The game begins with an incredibly intense romp through Attica which is under invasion by the Persians. Kratos is sent here by the gods to lend support from the raiders. You'll defend against trespassing soldiers, launch a fire arrow at opposing vessels and monsters, and even take on not one or two, but three different boss encounters: two against the intimidating basilisk and one against the Persian leader. It's all this action from the demo that makes you believe this type of carnage is going to happen later on in the game, right? Wrong. After the siege of Attica, Kratos will find himself in the much more subdued Temple of Helios. The action sort of eclipses at Attica and then dies off only to crescendo a little during each area until the final boss fight. It's a shame that the later parts of the game didn't go anywhere near the intensity of Attica. Don't get me wrong though, the entire game is very much an enjoyable experience... for all five hours of it (even less your second time through). It's quite short, but there's multiple difficulties to play through as well as Challenges of Hades (kill all 50 guards with magic, don't get hit in battle, etc) to unlock new costumes for the main story mode.

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The Basilisk requires in-depth strategy... Aw, hell. Just beat it to death.

Nonetheless, God of War plays almost exactly how it would on a console. It's just mind-boggling how Ready At Dawn was able to pull this off, even with a missing analog stick. God of War is your standard "obliterate any and all enemies" march through linear levels with an occasional hidden treasure chest or two to discover. Kratos will constantly find himself locked inside an arena with his only means of escape is to murder all monsters and beasts around him. This is where the majority of the macabre mayhem occurs in Chains of Olympus with wave after wave of soldiers and miscreants to eliminate. These savage stadiums feel as if they appear way too often, however, so be on your toes. While there aren't as much magic and moves to learn as the console titles, there's still plenty to take out your foes with. Partner this with the ability to upgrade which gives Kratos new moves, strengths, and combos, and you have a wealth of moves and spells at your disposal.

While less prominent in this installment of God of War, there are an adequate amount of puzzles to pick your brain on. None of these will last you all too long, but they do a beneficial job of breaking up the action. Chains of Olympus is the type of game where the game leads you where you need to go. That's not saying you might not get stuck, but it's never the game's fault. I had two experiences where I didn't know how to reach something or how to progress, but it was just something I needed a better solution to than the one I already had.

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And that's just the lighting...

Going with the idea of the game leading you, Chains of Olympus has an automatic camera which will look where you are and seldom give you grief. This is to compensate for the lack of a second analog nub, of course, but it works well and is intelligent. Ample amounts of save points and checkpoints give you multiple chances to retry if a certain part of the game just isn't going your way. Unfortunately there is a problem with Chains of Olympus, there's just way too many invisible walls. I would think I should be able to leap up to this foot-high platform or reach this little crevasse here, but I wouldn't be able to. I don't know if that's lazy design or what, but I didn't like it.

What I did like though was how smoothly Kratos moves. Even without that blasted second nub, he can perform all the necessary moves to advance through the game and in combat. Dodging, which I thought would be nigh-impossible on the PSP, is performed by pressing both the shoulder buttons and then flicking the analog nub in the direction you wish to roll. For normal attacks, square is your buddy, for stronger attacks, triangle is your pal, and for grabs, there's the circle button. Most of the game is played with the Blades of Chaos, those chain-like weapons for close-range as well as long-range assaults. The only other weapon available is the awesome Gauntlet of Zeus used for strongly pummeling an enemy with your newly-found pugilistic power.

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Efreet is a huge help-- especially in later difficulties.

Quick Time Events return, for better or worse. This gives you the ability to mash on a button to lift open a door, press a series of buttons to give the final brutal blows to bigger baddies, and sometimes getting you out of an enemy's clutches. Button bashing and mashing is all well and good, but trying to use the analog nub to make circles and half-circles is something to get used to, and even then it's still a bit trying.

God of War: Chains of Olympus is simply a technical marvel. It's easily the best graphics on a handheld to date with minimal loading times. The production values on this baby are just phenomenal. Characters and enemy models are fluid, backgrounds are immensely detailed, and special effects sprinkled throughout add to the experience. The score is brilliant, sometimes haunting, sometimes powerful, and the voice work is remarkable as well. This is a game that the PSP speakers won't do justice. Stick with headphones, audiophiles.

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My drachma's on the Cyclops.

Chains of Olympus is a fun romp, but if you're expecting the quality of the console titles you'll be disappointed. The epic action eclipses from the first area of the game, and undulates occasionally throughout the rest of the game. Let it be known though that this title is the most visually impressive handheld title yet, and it plays almost to perfection even without a second analog stick or nub. Kratos has had better journeys, but this godly expedition is by no means a failure-- not even close.

[SuperPhillip Says]

Story: The prequel begins with Kratos supporting the Spartans from the invading Persians. The rest of the quest nicely builds the character of Kratos.

Graphics: Stunning. I could not believe I was holding something so beautiful between my two hands. Well, that sounds dirty.

Gameplay: Short but sweet. A five hour adventure that begs to be played more than once. The controls work well to compensate for only one analog nub.

Sound: Wear headphones. You'll thank me later.

Replay Value: God mode opens up after the first playthrough. It's tough as nails, too.

Overall: 8.5/10

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