Wednesday, March 12, 2008

God of War: Chains of Olympus review

Note: this review contain spoilers.

Kratos is pissed off. He is pissed because day after day he is haunted of his past misdeeds. He is guilty of killing his own wife and child, and is angry because it gives him nightmares and the Gods would not take it away from him. With such a life you would want to kill yourself, but for Kratos, forgetting is everything worth living and fighting for. So he does the only one thing he loves - he fights and kills under the bidding of the Olympians, the same Gods who would come to betray him. You could say his entire life has been a repeat of one Greek tragedy after another and here in God of War: Chains of Olympus we find out what made the Ghost of Sparta even more pissed off as he battles demons, monsters, titans and gods as he journeys to lands no mortal has ever walked upon. And moaning while doing so to. Lifetime of servitude to Zeus indeed. But all Kratos intents on doing is salvaging any possible humanity left in him.

Chains of Olympus begins at Attica where Kratos and his group of Spartan warriors are battling against the invading Persian Army. Defeating the Persian Basilisk, Kratos sees the sun plummeting and the world plunging into darkness. Hauled to the Chariot of the Sun God Helios he learns that through the Goddess Athena and Eos, of the fate of Helios. Because Helios has been downed, most of the Gods have entered a state of hibernation, therefore unable to prevent the God of Dreams Morpheus from condemning the world to permanent darkness. Kratos agrees to the Olympians request restore light, hoping that by doing so the Gods would grant him freedom by banishing his nightmares. As the story unfolds we find out more of Kratos's brewing hatred for the gods as he journeys through the depths of Tartarus as well as how the Titan Atlas came to his condition in God of War II.

From the start it is clear that developer Ready at Dawn and Sony Studios Santa Monica had a clear aim that Chains of Olympus should emulate the epic experience of first two games, even to the point of throwing an (almost) massive boss fight right from the get-go. But digging through there are subtle difference that sets this apart from the PS2 titles. For one the platforming portion of the first two games is a downsized experience. There is also a new weapon here called the Gauntlet of Zeus, which allows Kratos to fight like a street brawler. It is pretty powerful, though area attack are limited to a few combos. Combo animations are shorter though, so if Kratos misses his target at least you can recover quickly. Despite that, Kratos standard weapon the Blades of Chaos is a pretty effective weapon especially once you hit the maximum level. Besides physical weapons, Kratos also has a range of magic abilities like the Efreet, which is handy for dealing moderate size area damage. You will also eventually have access to the Sun Shield which allows Kratos to deflect beams.

Visually the game is ridiculously beautiful and is easily the best looking game on the PSP. While aliasing is a problem, the architecture and environment are detailed with high quality textures used sparingly. I have yet to encounter a single bad or blurred textures anywhere. Even the lower polygons model of Kratos looks farm more convincing than his God of War version, at least anatomically and definitely facial expressions. It is almost unreal, and even comes close at times to matching the visuals of God of War II though clearly the first two games has an advantage of having far more models around running around. At times I wished I could seize control of the dynamic camera flyovers just so I could admire the environment. I can't stress this enough, but Chains of Olympus is seriously the best looking game available on a portable console. You will also never see the loading screen, which is a very impressive technical feat for a console infamously known for its spectacularly awful loading.

I've played the demo a couple of times since and has since got used to the PSP controls. The analog pad used to control Kratos movement still isn't as intuitive as a Dual Shock analog stick, but at least it works fine here. In my demo review I did acknowledge that the change in dodge control may affect some people, but seriously, it works just fine. Previously on the console games the player would have to move the right thumb from the face buttons to the right analog stick, but with the new dodge mode (hold down 'L' and 'R' and flick the analog pad), your thumb is free to stay where it belongs - hovering above the square button. A couple of fights in you will find the controls to be of second nature, and may even prefer it to the PS2 controls. You will never encounter a problem dodging, climbing, jumping and diving. But it isn't perfect though. One of the issues I have with the controls is the same one I had with the original games: Quick Time Event (QTE). But here it is slightly worse. Some QTEs require the swirling of the analog pad for the mini-game to be won. Because of the way the PSP's analog pad is designed, it isn't as easy to pull off.

As for the audio, the typical God of War experience is well replicated here. I have to admit that I have never warmed to God of War voice acting, as the voices are distinctly laced with American accent. Having said that I still love the voice of Linda Hunt who retains her wonderful voice as the narrator Goddess Gaia. Her voice is the only want that ever connects with me, but the same can't be said of the rest (yes, even Kratos), but at least the sound quality is high enough. The score on the other hand is truly epic, and surpasses musical scores in many other big budget video games and even films. The details just can not be conveyed through the PSP's twin speakers and the only way to experience the soundtrack is to plug in a high quality headphone or earphone set. Sound effects are equally well presented with details like rattling chains and dropped swords evident.

Chains of Olympus isn't a particularly long game. For my first playthrough I completed the game (in normal Hero mode) in roughly six hours across three sittings. It is a little bit easy and generous in granting red orbs used for upgrading weapons. While some has lamented the short campaign, certainly in this day and age I would rather play a satisfying short but quality game than a long but deary one and save my long hours of an epic RPG once every two months. For those who are unsatisfied with the length, there are a number of bonus materials like costumes and challenges waiting to be unlocked not to mention New Game +, which should add to its replay value. Well spaced puzzles which breaks up the action, but are unlikely to cause you much trouble save a few spots. Admitelly I was quite disappointed by the lack of head scracthing puzzles. Huge boss fights are also rare, but the very few are pretty good, though sadly none has that Colossus of Rhodes wow factor in them.

God of War: Chains of Olympus is, despite some of its shortcomings and compromises, a stunning game. It is a shame that is unlikely to sell as well as it deserves because of still common misconception of the PSP console. If this doesn't convince you then nothing will, but at least I can still take comfort that I have tried - and this coming from a guy who once hated the PSP. Anyway, this is all I have to say regarding the game: like the first God of War, Chains of Olympus is worth buying a new console for. At least it will keep you engaged until God of War III arrives a year later.

Architecture detail
Brilliant cinematography
Excellent storyline and plot
Unlockable costumes are funny
Epic soundtrack and sound effects
Visually, the most impressive yet on the PSP

Very linear
Lost Levels cut
Puzzles are a bit lacking
QTE via PSP's analog pad


God of War: Chains of Olympus is available for pre-order from Amazon UK. None-EU residents may want to try Play-Asia and other import stores. Alternatively MovieTyme and VideoGamesPlus will sort you.


Anonymous said...

Ending was so sad when Kratos has to push his daughter away.

Jon Choo said...

I honestly believed Kratos was going to break her neck...

Anonymous said...

Those looks like a PS2 game! I may need to just buy a PSP eventually if Sony doesn't port this to PS2.

Anonymous said...

This is such a technically amazing game which unfortunately suffers from length and lack of locations. Why were we forced to revisit Hades yet again?

Anonymous said...

I am getting a PSP because of this and Crisis Core!

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