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Review: God of War: Chains of Olympus (Sony PSP)

GodofWarCoOGod of War: Chains of Olympus
Developer: Ready at Dawn Studios
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment of America
Genre: Action
Release Date: 03/04/2008

Let us rewind back to two years ago. On March 16, 2006, Ready at Dawn Studios made a huge splash when the released Daxter for the PSP. It was widely held to be perhaps the best game on the system and maybe even just as good as the PS2 games that preceded it. People were amazed at the graphics, the controls, and how it translated to the portable realm without losing that classic Jak and Daxter feel.

Ready at Dawn wasn’t just about to rest on their laurels. Almost immediately after they were done with Daxter, they approached Sony with the idea of bringing another major franchise onto the PSP.

Here we are now in March of 2008 with God of War: Chains of Olympus. Expectations couldn’t be any higher. We’ve all seen the tremendous screenshots and played the demo, and now it’s finally time for Kratos to conquer another platform. Is it possible to take a series that pushed the PS2 to its limits with every frame and put it on a portable system without completely stripping it down?

Let’s take a look.

Story

Chains of Olympus takes place during the ten years before the first God of War. Kratos is in the service of the gods in hopes that once he has done enough to appease them, they will remove the horrid memories of his past. For series stalwarts, you’ll notice that Kratos is much more trusting of the gods at this point. He serves them almost blindly, believing that his service will be rewarded. This is a stark contrast to the Kratos that has freed the Titans and declared war on Olympus at the end of God of War II.

The game begins in typical GoW fashion. Kratos is called to save the Greek city of Attica from a Persian attack. The Persians have unleashed a huge Basilisk, and he’s tearing everything apart. The battle isn’t quite as memorable as the Hydra/Colossus battles in previous installments, but it’s still an epic battle.

After his task is completed, Kratos challenges the gods to give him something more worthy of his talents. This would be about the time the sun crashes into the earth. (For those of you confused, the sun in Greek Mythology wasn’t nearly so big, and was pulled by a chariot in the sky). The world goes dark, and the god of dreams, Morpheus, takes control. Kratos is soon tasked with brining the sun back in the sky, and saving earth, and Olympus itself from total destruction.

The story in CoO is a bit strange. Previous God of War games have been straightforward. You’re introduced to the antagonist early on, and most of the game is the long road toward him. Here, the antagonist kind of jumps out at the end without any explanation. This person’s name is never mentioned before, and their motives can’t be fully understood unless you know the Mythological background. The whole thing feels disjointed and abstract. In this way, the story is a bit of a disappointment.
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The game also has a roster issue. I imagine that Ready at Dawn was given a list of Greek characters they could and couldn’t use for the game. After all, God of War III is going to be much more important in the long run. Because of this, the game feels like it’s filled with a bunch of third string gods and heroes. People unversed in Greek Mythology might not even recognize the names of Helios, Eos, or Persephone, who all play roles in the story. Even the mighty Basilisk feels like a cheaper version of the Hydra or Colossus seen in other games.

The story is good for one thing though. Fans of Kratos will be delighted by the amount of character development here. I won’t give anything away, but Kratos meets someone in this game who reveals his human nature. Before this game, I didn’t even know he had one. In what is probably the hardest decision I’ve ever seen a video game character make, Kratos sets the wheels in motion for all of the events to come. Turns out, there is a lot more to Kratos than hating the gods and killing monsters.

Graphics

Tekken. Ratchet and Clank. Daxter. Siphon Filter. Metal Gear. All of these franchises helped define how good a PSP game could look. Apparently, the bar they set wasn’t too high, because God of War simply blows them away.

If you were to go back even five years ago and show this game to someone with a Game Boy, they would tell you there was no way Chains was a portable title. The backdrops in this game are simply phenomenal. The locations are huge. You’ll often find yourself fighting in an area with a huge tower or such far in the background. Soon enough, you’ll have worked your way to the tower itself, meaning the background is more than just background in this game. For instance, in the opening level, there’s a beautiful shot of dozens of Persian ships landing on the shores of Attica. Within minutes you’ll find yourself on those very beaches, dodging fire, not to mention even getting to launch a ballista into one of them, sinking it to the waters below.

The character models are simply fantastic. Kratos looks as good as he ever did on the PS2. His animations are smooth, as are those of the games many side characters and bosses. Of particular note, the gorgons and sirens lose none of their coiling and slithering capabilities in the transition to the PSP. When you pull off a finishing move, the camera pulls in close to the action, allowing you to get a great look at Kratos ripping the wings off a harpy, or using a minotaur’s own axe to cleave his head from his shoulders.

Case in point, this game is being compared to its PS2 counterparts. There were few games even in the same league as God of War on the PS2; and now a PSP game is realistically comparable to it! The framerate is solid. The Greek architecture is beautiful. From a technical and artistic standpoint, this is the best looking game you can possibly get right now for the palm of your hand.

Audio

The audio for this game is simply fantastic. TC Carson once again brings life to Kratos with a voice that fits the character perfectly. He’s got a few more hokey lines than usual, but each one is bellowed out perfectly. With each swing of the blade, Kratos grunts and screams his fury, making each shot as visceral and awesome as it can be.

Linda Hunt also reprises her role as the Narrator, and does a bang up job. None of the voice acting in this game is anything less than great. Gods plot, monster’s roar, and siren’s scream so well that you’ll want headphones so you don’t miss a single moment of it.

The music is mostly reminiscent of the previous games, with the God of War theme playing prominently over a score filled to capacity with booming horns and clashing strings. The music is perfect for the game, even if isn’t the kind of thing that sticks with you like Donkey Kong Country or The Legend of Zelda. godofwarcoo3

Controls and Gameplay

Let me just cut through the BS and say it right here; the controls are flat out better in Chains of Olympus. I know it sounds crazy. The PSP has only one analog stick and less buttons than the PS2 controller. How can it possibly be better?

Well for one thing, the lack of a right analog stick turns out to be a good thing. Traditionally, it controls the dodge feature. For the PSP version, dodge is performed by holding down the top buttons and flicking the analog stick in either direction. This will take a few moments to get used to, but it starts to feel natural pretty fast. The great thing about this s that you never have to take you right thumb off of the face buttons, meaning your response time is actually quickened. Then there is the lack of top buttons. In this case, using the L button will block, and the R button in conjecture with a face button will activate a magic. You no longer have to press a directional button to activate your magic, once again leaving your thumbs where they should be and keeping response time quick and precise. All told, this is the most fluid and streamlined control scheme yet.

Combat is still the same. You have a light and heavy attack, which can be strung together into dozens of combos. Throw in the grab button, and those combo options increase exponentially. The combat is extremely fluid and easy to control. Some people think this means the game is a button mashing fest, but button mashing is just a good way to get you killed against some of the bigger threats. You have a lot of control here too. Holding down the triangle button will launch your enemy in the air, allowing you to fight other enemies, use your chains to pull him back down hard, or jump up and continue the combo in the air using any of three combat buttons. Certain enemies require special moves to be hit, such as an armor breaking combo. Smaller enemies can be killed with a simple grab.

However, most of the enemies you meet can be dispatched of with a quick time event. Pressing circle near a sufficiently injured ogre, for instance, will bring the camera in and let you make button presses and/or analog turns to bring him down in cinematic fashion. This is never required against non-boss enemies however. If you wish you can simply batter them into oblivion with your chain blades. It should be mentioned that the PSP’s analog stick isn’t always up to the task of making the precise circles required. Until you become used to it (which takes longer than it should) you’ll miss more than succeed when they pop up.

What would a God of War game be without superb level design? Most of the game is paced perfectly; with enemies, jumps, and puzzles placed to deliver maximum enjoyment. Most of the game’s puzzles are short and simple. They won’t really test your mind, but they’re a welcome break from the action when they show up. There are a few instances where the level design falters and it feels like you’re just running from room to room killing enemies, but this is rare.

One thing does bother me. God of War staples such as swimming sections and tight rope walks are surprisingly rare. In fact, I think there was only one case of each found throughout. Also, the rope ladder sections are completely absent. This hurts the variety of the gameplay a little, and is a bit disappointing.

Overall, this feels just like a God of War game should. There are tons of enemies to fight, and several epic boss battles to charge through. You’ll play in several uniquely themed locales that are as fun to play through as they are to look at. As far as getting God of War on a handheld goes, Ready at Dawn deserves accolades galore.

Replayability

The only truly disappointing thing about Chains of Olympus is its length. I managed to play through the entire game (while collecting all the upgrades) in less than four and a half hours. godofwarcoo2 This means that you’ll probably beat the game in only one or two sittings. I can’t imagine how they could have made the game longer given the sheer graphical power the game possesses, but the adventure really is over way to fast.

There is a bit of an upside to this though. There are four difficulties to play through. Your first go through should be on regular or hard, with the big goal being to play through and beat the game on god mode. Series vets know that this is where the staying power of God of War lies. Outside of the core story, there’s also the challenge of Hades, which offers player about a half a dozen bonus missions to complete. These are HARD, but the reward is unlockable costumes and special videos that any fan should love.

In the end, the action in God of War is just too good to not want to play through more than once.

Balance

Balance in God of War has always been fantastic. You start off the game by battling a bunch of scared soldiers that are pretty much cannon fodder to your chain blades. Later on you’ll start facing undead legionnaires that can block and counter attack with the occasional troll, minotaur, or gorgon mixed in. Towards the end of the game, you’ll face two trolls, undead archers, and legionnaires all at the same time in a slow enclosed circle. Your reflexes will have to become sharp if you’re to survive to the end. Blocking and Dodging will become essential, and button mashing the attack buttons will have to be left in the dirt.

All of this happens at a steady incline. There are plenty of health and magic chests to deplete your stores. There are for the most part scattered where you need them. However, experience is far too easy to find towards the middle of the game. I know the game is short, but experience orb chest are everywhere. You’ll have most of your upgrades in no time. Gorgon Eyes and Phoenix Feathers, which are collected to permanently increase magic and health, are in abundance as well. There are actually more of these items than you can use, which means that you’ll get experience boost instead when you run out of them. Thankfully, the difficulty climbs well enough that you’ll never feel overpowered.

Originality

I’ll admit it. This game isn’t very original. Almost everything in this game can be traced back to the original God of War. Sure the magics and extra weapons are completely new, but the enemies are almost palette swaps of previous enemies. The levels are sometimes eerily reminiscent of past games. (This is the third game in a row where you go to Hades.) The music and sound effects are mostly identical.

The story is all new, however. Most of the characters did not appear in other games before, meaning they feel fresh and interesting. Pretty much everything else is similar; even the extras are familiar. However, when what this game is bases off of is one of the best games on the PS2, this isn’t really a bad thing. Fans just shouldn’t expect any series altering changes, is all.

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Addictiveness

There are few games as addicting as God of War. Any ten minutes of this game is just as fun as any other, and the game’s lowest moments are often comparable to other game’s highest.

There are lots of games out there that make you go “just one more match/race/level/hour/life”. God of War is one of those games that take it one step further. Every minute you play will only increase your anticipation for the next, as you’ll need to know what new enemies await the next corner. “Will I get a cut scene? What bad ass thing will Kratos say or do? Will there be another boss fight up ahead? What new magic ability can I get? All I need is just a few more red orbs before I can level up my chain blades!” Unless you have no soul, you’ll find yourself saying or thinking these things to yourself a lot during the course of the game. I said you could finish in one or two sittings, and that’s because the game is so much fun that you won’t want to anything else.

In that sense, it’s probably a good thing that the game isn’t too long. If you’re going to have hours sucked out of your life into a video game, it better not be a long one. Life’s too short after all.

Appeal Factor

Ask pretty much any PSP owner what games they were looking forward to in 2008, and all of them would have had God of War on the list. Since the first videos of it were shown back at E3 2007, it was clear that Ready at Dawn had captured the spirit of the franchise perfectly. This wasn’t a port, or even just a side story. This was another exciting chapter in the God of War saga. Hell, I even heard people claim the DEMO for this game was one of their favorite things to play.

The amount of media coverage for God of War was unheard of for a PSP game. The only one that can compare is Crisis Core, and that’s only because fanboys across the globe need their FFVII fix. Chains is getting commercials on TV, top billing on gaming websites, and huge amounts of chatter on message boards.

The word is out. God of War has gone portable, and Kratos can now kick ass on the go. The only thing that’s keeping the buzz from reaching upper echelon levels is complaints about the game being too short.

Miscellaneous

Just like in previous outings, God of War offers some pretty nice extras to go along with its in game package. You have several interesting things to unlock here. There’s a tour of sorts with Ready at Dawn for starters. Most interesting is a video of levels that didn’t make it into the game. You’ll have to complete the game on God mode in order to unlock this, so only the hardiest of players will see it. (Unless of course you just youtube it.)

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Another thing worth mentioning is the load times. There are none. Ok. Well there are a couple that pop up when a cut scene needs to load, but ninety percent of the time you’ll be running through an entire section without any slowdown whatsoever. What’s even more amazing is that I was getting this out of the old PSP. The game was designed to run on the more powerful slim PSP, which boast a faster processor and even quicker load times. For a game on a system notorious for atrocious load times, this is just icing on the cake.

The production values on this game are just through the roof. Throughout the entire experience, you’ll rightfully feel that this is a showpiece for just what the PSP is capable of. Ready at Dawn are masters at getting the most out of the system in terms of graphics, audio, and performance. Hopefully, other developers will stand up and take notice.

    The Scores

Story/Modes: Above Average
Graphics: Unparalleled
Sound: Classic
Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Very Good
Balance: Great
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Classic
Appeal Factor: Great
Miscellaneous: Great
FINAL SCORE: Great

Short Attention Span Summary:

High Marks all around except for Originality. God of War is truly one of the best games on the PSP and prime example of what the little system is capable of. Players should be wary of the game’s short length, but anyone should be able to enjoy the sheer fun it offers. If you’ve got a PSP, this is a must play.

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