Sunday, November 30, 2008

God of War: Chains of Olympus (PSP) Review

My first foray into the God of War franchise is the PlayStation Portable's prequel, God of War: Chains of Olympus, which just so happened to come with my Limited Edition God of War PSP Entertainment Pack. This also happens to be the first handheld game I've gone through since I was a kid with a Gameboy (I mean the original Gameboy from the '80's. Yes, I feel old), and while it can't compare to a full console system in terms of both graphics and scope, God of War: Chains of Olympus is an excellent experience that's simply a lot of fun to play.

Set about 5 years prior to the events of God of War, Kratos is fulfilling his servitude to the gods of Olympus on the promise that they'll remove the horrible memories of his family's murder. The game begins with Kratos in Attica, a city under siege by the Persian Empire. The Persian king has unleashed a Basilisk, a huge dragon-like beast minus the wings, and Kratos' main objective is to butcher the thing, a talent he is most skilled at.

Like its predecessors, God of War: Chains of Olympus is a third person action game where Kratos hacks his way through all opposition to accomplish his goals, solving a few environmental puzzles along the way for good measure. As the story progresses, Kratos finds himself enmeshed in a much larger plot that may hold dire consequences not just for gods and men, but for himself and his own personal desires, and he has no choice but to set off on another dire quest.

Using his trademark Blades of Chaos, swords attached to chains on his wrists, Kratos can unleash all manner of devastating moves and combos upon his enemies. As you progress through the game, you'll be able to acquire new weapons and items as well as Magic (handy for crowd control), and you can upgrade many of these by spending Red Orbs which you collect from defeating enemies, finding them in chests, and smashing stuff (Yay!).

Visually, God of War: Chains of Olympus is a very impressive little game. Again, while it can't match the power of a current generation console, the details and effects that the PSP is able to produce are truly beautiful, and on par with many last generation games. There are excellent smoke, water, and particle effects, character models are crisp and clean, animation is fluid, and environments are a visual treat.

Audio wise, the voice acting is average fair, with Kratos being the all-to-common gruff anti-hero, but the sound and creature effects are spot on. The music, however, is simply excellent, part of a growing trend I've noted in the industry with lots of titles featuring significantly improved composed pieces. The quality of the music alone really raises my opinion of the game's overall soundscape, as it goes a long way to helping immerse the player in God of War's mythical universe.

The controls for the game are very well implemented and wonderfully fluid. You use the Analogue Stick to move Kratos around, and the face buttons execute Light and Heavy Attacks, Jump, and Grab, all the standard fair you'd expect from a hack and slash. Left Bumper blocks, Right Bumper activates Magic in combination with face buttons, and Left and Right Bumper plus the Analogue Stick allows you to Evade (the only major control function that took a little getting used to for me). When all is said and done, the only thing you can't really do is adjust the game's camera angle, something normally reserved for the Right Stick on consoles, but of course this control-option is absent from the PSP. The game always determines your camera angle for you, but thankfully it does an excellent job of this, and I can count on one hand the number of times I was stuck with a bad angle.

One thing to keep in mind though is that God of War: Chains of Olympus is a short game, taking just over 6 hours for me to complete on Normal. While there were some challenges at this difficulty, both combat and puzzle related, most of the enemies are simply canon fodder for Kratos' wrath and they all fell quickly to my Blades. There are several varieties of foes, from common soldiers to mythical creatures (like Medusas) to larger enemies like Cyclops, and many enemies can be finished off with a Finishing move. Once they've taken enough damage, a face button will appear and float above their head. Get close to them and press the corresponding button, and you'll be tossed into a wonderfully animated sequence where you need to quickly press more buttons for a great looking finisher that nets you more Red Orbs, and sometimes Green Orbs which restore Hit Points, and Blue Orbs that restore Magic Points. The major trick with these Finishing Moves, aside from the fact that I'm used to the Xbox brand's face buttons, is using the Analogue Stick with them. Often, I found I just couldn't move that stick fast enough or at just the right angle to satisfy the game, and I'd get tossed out and have to try the sequence again. If you fail though, the sequence isn't just a repeat, but randomized, so you really do need to watch what pops up on screen.

Make no mistake, God of War: Chains of Olympus is a mature title. Not only does it feature a great deal of gore, but it also presents female nudity. Much to my surprise, the game features bare breasts everywhere, be it on statues, gods, or enemies. It's not the presence of breasts that took me by surprise, but the fact that Ready at Dawn was able to get away with including them so prominently and receive only a Mature rating.

Many of my younger readers may not remember, but during the mid-'90's many mature games began including bare breasts, not in a sexually manipulative sort of way, but simply as part of the character models being drawn. Diablo and The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall are excellent examples of this, but then along came the public outrage with Duke Nukem 3D, and the censorship whip was cracked. Hilariously enough, Duke Nukem 3D didn't feature any actual nudity, the game's strippers still wore nipple tassels, but our sexually repressed society was greatly outraged and developers began to steer clear, instead once more obscuring breasts in different ways.

The fact that the God of War series has been able to successfully depict female breasts in the buff again is a step forward, not for horny teenagers who have yet to feel one and will drool all over their Controllers, but for the maturation of the gaming industry itself as a medium and an artform.

For replay value, the game's hardest difficulty is unlocked upon your first completion, and there are also extra costumes that grant various abilities which will become available to you. Specific game challenges are also unlocked that you can try to complete to unlock other costumes, videos, or concept art.

Despite it's short length, God of War: Chains of Olympus is an extremely polished game, and has opened the door to the first Sony-exclusive franchise that I don't hate. The fun I've had with God of War: Chains of Olympus has me seriously considering whether I should pick up a PlayStation 2 or not to experience the previous two titles, and it makes me wish the PlayStation 3 would still support backwards compatibility. If you happen to own a PSP, I see no reason why not to pick up this great little gem.

No comments: