Reviewed: March 3, 2008
Released: March 4, 2008
Ask anyone what their favorite PS2 game of all time is and chances are you’ll hear one of the two God of War titles mentioned; and if it’s not their favorite it’s in their top ten. There is just something very primal about this franchise that appeals to gamers despite the repetitive hack and slash gameplay that is mirrored in so many of these action games these days.
A lot of it has to do with the rich and mystical setting of Greek mythology. Just the mention of Zeus, Athena, Mount Olympus, Titans, and fabled monsters stirs the adventurous spirit in us all. Toss in a totally ripped hero like Kratos, complete with powerful weapons and a bad attitude and you have the makings of an epic franchise.
The original God of War debuted in 2005 and took the PlayStation world by storm. Two years later Sony dazzled us with a sequel that defied the power and capabilities of the PS2. And while we wait for a true next-gen installment on the PS3, Sony is back to wow us yet again with God of War: Chains of Olympus releasing exclusively on the PSP next month.
Chains of Olympus is a prequel of sorts in that we are now following Kratos in a series of events and adventures that takes place before the original God of War game. The story takes us into Kratos’ past as father and husband, and slave to the gods. We’ll learn of his love and sacrifice for his daughter and his hatred of Zeus as we travel through heaven and hell, battle all sorts of monsters, titans, and even the gods themselves.
This is a younger, fiercer Kratos than we’ve ever seen before, and while the gameplay is an all too familiar experience, the action and suspense feels surprisingly fresh and original. Fans of the series will certainly enjoy the flawless merging of the end of this game with the beginning of the first…just make sure to keep watching after the credits.
For anybody who has ever played a God of War game, there is something instantly familiar about the gameplay. The designers have managed to flawlessly capture the look and feel of the first two console titles, and in many ways, even improve on the hack-and-slash button mashing, adding some flair and finesse to this mythical bloodbath. Expect to see a lot of the improvement that went into God of War 2 make their way into the portable version.
I have to admit, I had my doubts about how well the controls would transfer to the PSP, but the designers have done a superb job of delivering a fluid movement and combat system using the analog pad and the face buttons for those infamous action-combat sequences. Kratos walks, runs, jumps, and climbs like the hero he is, and the PSP offers some slick controls for performing side dodges, forward tumbles, and even a new swimming system that takes our hero on some exciting underwater adventures.
There is some great level interaction. You’ll constantly be rapid-tapping the action button to open doors or holding it down to open chests containing health, mana, and those precious red orbs that you can use as currency to upgrade your weapons. Gorgon Eyes and Phoenix Feathers are still the primary collectibles used to permanently increase your health and mana bars, and there are numerous artifacts like a magic shield, mystical trident, and the Gauntlet of Zeus that will enhance your interaction with the environments and add to your combat arsenal.
Gameplay is a mix of combat and exploration with an emphasis on combat. You’ll constantly be fighting off wave after wave of smaller enemies with the occasional mid-sized mini-boss thrown in, but all of this is just to prep you for the major encounters. Here, you will be required to whittle away at the enemy’s health bar until prompted to begin an action sequence where carefully timed button presses and swirls of the analog pad will result in bloody, spectacular, cinematic finishes.
The combat system is surprisingly deep considering it’s mostly rooted in two buttons, but the more you power-up your weapons the more combos you will unlock, and these become increasingly powerful and more fun to watch. Soon, the left and right triggers will be added to shift to alternate attacks and the Circle button becomes more than just a grab move. As always, you have a combo counter that tallies the consecutive hits, but unlike a game like Devil May Cry, there are no tangible rewards or ranking to be earned.
The exploration side, while a much smaller part of the game is still great fun, and you are rewarded for exploring every nook and dead end you can find. These rewards will usually be chests containing feathers and eyes, but if you are lucky you might stumble upon one of God of War’s notorious “sex scenes” complete with attractive and very naked ladies ready to reward you with bonus health if you are man enough to deserve it.
God of War even manages to work in a few puzzles, although these are nothing that will tax your mind for long. These usually require the movement of statues to activate pressure plates in the floor or perhaps bounce light beams from shield to shield until you reach the desired location. It’s obvious this game was targeted for action gamers so the designers didn’t want to make you think too hard or for too long before you get back to the killing.
The game offers a friendly checkpoint system that soft saves at just about every significant point during your adventure. You will also find special altars in which you can save your game more permanently to your PSP memory card. It's a fantastic system that keeps you from ever having to play huge parts of the game over because of an untimely death. I wish there had been more available slots, as there are about twice as many save altars as slots.
Chains of Olympus is one gorgeous game, but Ready At Dawn has already proven they can handle the PSP with their previous release Daxter. God of War puts Daxter in his place…second, that is, as this game easily achieves the honor of the best looking game currently available on the PSP.
Nothing can prepare you for the mind-blowing visuals you will experience from the opening movie to the first epic boss fight. The levels are massive, yet manageable, and the animation is fluid. The camera work is flawless, as it has to be since the PSP doesn’t have a second stick for camera control. Not once in the entire six hours it took me to finish this game, did the camera ever get stuck or cause me any problems. It as flawless.
God of War maintains that epic look by using some impressive scaling and camera tricks. You’ll enter a new area and the camera will zoom out to give you a breathtaking view of the level, then zoom back in to a comfortable angle for normal combat and gameplay, and once you start performing finishing moves and playing the action games on the bosses the camera will always zoom in to give you the best angle on the splashing blood.
To go along with these state-of-the-art visuals is one of the best sound packages I’ve heard on the PSP. It’s one of a very few games that you can actually hear using the built-in speakers on the PSP, but you’ll still want a quality pair of headphones to enjoy the epic music and familiar sound effects that were taken straight from the PS2 version. I’d swear they even worked in some virtual surround effects, as the game just really opens up aurally.
The music is of the caliber of something you’d heard in a feature film. It’s totally instrumental and I was expecting to see the name of some symphony orchestra in the credits, but this was the work of about a dozen brilliant musicians and sound designers. Even though the music doesn’t interactively synch with the ongoing action, it is still the perfect background to gameplay and cutscenes.
I must also congratulate the entire cast of wonderful voice actors starting with TC Carson who did Kratos in such a violently disturbed way that I feared he would leap out of my PSP and rip my throat out if I failed to win the game. This guy is either a fantastic actor or has severe rage issues he is able to channel into his vocal performance…or perhaps both. The rest of the cast all turn in superior performances, often for multiple characters.
I played through God of War on the Normal skill level for my first pass, and there were a couple of encounters where the game empathized with my poor performance and offered to lower the combat difficulty to Easy, but I resisted. It ultimately took me just under 6 hours to beat the game. Yes, that is incredibly short, but true God of War fans will almost certainly replay the game on Hard mode, assuming they don’t start there, and once you finish the game you unlock God mode, the ultimate God of War experience.
There are also plenty of bonuses in the Treasure menu including new costumes, bonus movies, and a sequence of special Challenge mini-games that require you to kill with style and precision. These are extremely challenging and even after my first hour of trying, I have yet to complete the first one – Kill 50 soldiers with Efreet fire ONLY. It sounds easy until Ogres start appearing out of the floor and attack the soldiers.
Even though the game is extremely short, there is enough reason to replay the entire game at least twice, if not three times. It would have been nice to have some online leaderboards so people could compare scores, combos, orb collections, etc. or even race to see who could finish the game the fastest.
God of War is an amazing franchise and God of War: Chains of Olympus is an outstanding achievement, not just for the PSP, but as a worthy installment in this legendary saga. In many ways it plays better than the console version when it comes to controls, and the visuals and sound certainly won’t disappoint even the most jaded of gamers.
I’ve only said this for very few titles, but Chains of Olympus is reason enough to purchase a PSP to play it on. Sure, we’ve seen most quality PSP titles eventually make their way to the PS2, but you won’t want to wait for the port…assuming there is one even in the works. I can guarantee that anyone who picks up Chains of Olympus won’t be able to put it down. It truly is one of the best PSP games currently available for the system.