Reviewed: December 16, 2007
Released: October 23, 2007
There are certain names in science fiction and fantasy that evoke a sense of awe and reverence among fans. Few names carry as much of that kind of weight as the name Conan. Conan, a fictional barbarian warrior invented all the way back in the 1930's by writer Robert E. Howard, has been a legend in the minds of fantasy fiction fans for generation after generation. And thanks to the classic 1982 film Conan the Barbarian starring Arnold Schwarzenegger almost everyone in the entire English-speaking world knows about him. Conan is a complete bad ass. Everyone knows it.
So expectations for any game, book, or movie starring this quintessential character are naturally very high. Publisher THQ put the fate of our hero in the hands of game developer Nihilistic, who have in the past brought us games such as Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects and Vampire: The Masquerade Redemption. With other action adventure games that are extremely popular now like the God of War series, Ninja Gaiden, and Heavenly Sword, Conan had a lot of high expectations and stiff competition to try and surmount. And perhaps, this is mainly why this game feels a bit like more of the same even though it's not really a sequel.
Conan does not really bring much new to the "hack and slash" genre, but it's a very competent game at the core. Filled with buckets of gore and blood, along with some gratuitous and somewhat hilarious nudity scenes, Conan caters rather boldly to the male teen demographic. Women are likely to be annoyed or ticked off at some of the portrayals and treatment of women in this game. But in all fairness, that just kind of goes along with the Conan "brand", since that was a feature of the stories way back when Robert E. Howard wrote the character. In this game you get to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their women. There really isn't anything better in life, is there?
Conan's game play will be very familiar to fans of games like God of War, Ninja Gaiden Sigma, Heavenly Sword, etc. But Conan does bring a few new interesting features to the table. First of all, as you kill more enemies and rescue more naked maidens and find treasure chests, you are going to be awarded experience points, in the form of "red runes". As you gather more red runes you will be able to choose which new special moves you want to unlock for Conan. Since Conan can use a variety of combat styles, you want to pick the moves that correspond with the combat style you prefer to use.
Conan is able to use one-handed sword, optionally with a shield, or dual wield two one handed swords, or he is also able to use a variety of large two-handed weapons. Most of the weapons can be found off the dead foes littering the combat field. The only down side to the weapons is that there really doesn't seem to be a "best" weapon and it all just depends on how you want to play it. Do you prefer rapid attacks with full on offense? You may prefer dual wielding then. Or, if you are more of a "heavy hitter", preferring slow but devastating attacks, you might stick with the two handed weapons. Different types of weapons seem to be more or less effective against different foes, so experimentation is required.
There are close to a 100 different moves and finishing moves for Conan to learn, depending on the different fighting styles you chose to use. Not only that but as you find more pieces of Conan's special armor, you will unlock magical attacks that can get you out of seemingly hopeless situations with tons of enemies on the screen at the same time. You're going to need to save those magical powers for those times, since you only get so many uses of them. But when you do use them, it can be very satisfying to see the bodies flying.
You'll also find various objects to smash, or pick up and throw. Some of them will give you back health, others will give you experience points, and others are just good weapons that you can use to smash your enemies with. There are a few segments with puzzle like elements but it doesn't really hinder the overall flow of the action and can be a nice change of pace. The one game play element that needed a bit more polish was some of the jumping puzzle segments which could be very frustrating and lacked the kind of grace you see in games like the popular Prince of Persia series which is famous for that kind of thing.
The story of Conan is somewhat cliché but then what game story really isn't? You find a beautiful Amazon princess warrior (but not Red Sonja) who convinces Conan that only he can help stop an evil wizard bent on destroying the world, yada yada. Well, the good news about this story is that it takes you to some rather interesting and diverse locales around the world of Hyboria, so that you can fight a lot of different types of opponents and see some pretty interesting graphics along the way. Sure beats sitting on your ass at home now, doesn't it?
The graphics in Conan are something of a mixed bag. On the good side, this game features some amazing combat animation with glorious and gory dismemberments and decapitations the likes of which you haven't seen since the Mortal Kombat franchise. And the cinematic way the game switches into "bullet time" to show these scenes is a very bloody guilty pleasure of mine. Bodies and blood will litter the ground as you move the barbarian through wave after wave of opponents. And not just humans, either, you'll fight all kinds of monsters from dragons to undead to demons and more. Conan captures that cinematic flavor very well and brings the world of Hyboria to life like no game before it has.
On the down side, Conan does not quite have that "next gen" graphic feel to it. Some of the jumping animations are clunky looking. Some of the textures feel low-res and at times the graphics just look fairly bland and tired. The game really never gives the impression that it's taking full advantage of that fancy PlayStation 3 hardware. It is not that the graphics are bad, and the art style definitely has a certain rustic charm to it that feels somewhat like a Dark Horse Conan graphic novel played out in real time. For those of you who have 1080p HD-TV's, you'll be a bit disappointed to hear that Conan will not take advantage of it, since it supports 720p mode at maximum.
But still, the game delivers in the impressive and bloody kill shots, and they never really look bad, per se, it's just that the do not really wow the player as much as other next-gen titles, such as say Gears of War or Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. Basically the game looks good, and the visual art style is compelling enough to keep you glued to your seat for the duration.
Who put Hellboy in my Conan? There, I said, it, I had to get it out. While Ron Perlman has a great voice and has done some excellent work in other games in the past, I had a hard time not thinking about Hellboy every time Conan opens his mouth in this game. Of course, I guess I would only have been truly satisfied if they got the Governator himself, so likely Ron was as good of a casting choice as anyone, and he did a good job. Most of the other voice work is competent, in fact. Sound effects like swords clashing and objects smashing are well done.
Where the sound truly shines is with the music. The game is filled with glorious orchestral pieces that truly capture the flavor of the 1982 film and bring you back into the mystical age of Hyboria. I couldn't help but remember some of the awesome fights from the film and in some ways the music really helped me feel like I actually was Conan, the strong barbarian who has no peer in combat! The music is dynamic and ebbs and flows with the rhythm of your slashes and kills, and really adds a lot to the overall enjoyment of this game.
Conan is a short, fun little romp that you may indeed want to run through again on the higher difficulty settings. It only takes about 6 to 8 hours to beat the game on Normal, and from there you can replay with "cheats" enabled from the option menu to give you more powers and effects, and play again on Hard mode. If you beat the game on Hard you can move on to King mode. But the higher difficulties really don't change the content so if you're not the type to like a harder replay then there isn't much replay value here.
One really irritating non-feature of the game is the online mode, or near lack thereof. The back of the box says that the game is PlayStation Network compatible, but only as a technicality. All you can do is compare scores with other PS3 owners; you can't actually play the game with or against other players. This could really have upped the fun factor of the game in a big way, and it was a bit of a let down to find out that's all there was.
If you are a fan of the quintessential fantasy character, Conan (and lets be honest, what red blooded male isn't?) then you're in the target audience here. This game is a visceral treat. The only problems with it are that it feels a bit "been there, done that" when compared to other games in the action/adventure genre such as the obviously imitated God of War franchise. But, still, that can also be a good thing, if you relish that kind of game, and many people do.
There may not be much that is innovative about Conan, but it doesn't really falter much apart from the clunky jumping segments. So while this game may not break new ground, it offers very competent game play along with decent graphics, excellent music, and a character many of us have grown up loving. Who can really ask for much more than that?
If you're into the character Conan or the action/adventure "hack and slash" style genre then you owe it to yourself to spend an evening or two with this game. Sometimes the guilty pleasures in life are the best kind.