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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Game Review - God of War: Chains of Olympus

This game is the god.



The Good:
Solid plot * A visual powerhouse * Great combat sound effects * Memorable score * Accessible, intuitive, tight and responsive controls * Hidden treasure chests, platforming sections and puzzles provide diversity * Great variety of enemies * Mini-games provide fun diversion from combat * Several unlockables, including collector's edition-esque specials

The Bad:
Levels are relatively linear

During a console’s lifespan, there would at least be one good game that would be released on the platform – and that game would be such a masterpiece that it would make you rethink what the console is really capable of. The game in question here is God of War: Chains of Olympus – and this game is what Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword is to the DS – it pushes the technical boundaries of the console and introduces gameplay so intense, so enjoyable, so addictive, and controls so intuitive that it sets the benchmark for other games on the platform. God of War: Chains of Olympus is what you’d come to expect from a God of War game: the combat is elaborate and engaging, there is sex and blood, and the entire game is quite simply a satisfying and terrific package that no PSP owner should be without.

God of War: Chains of Olympus takes place before the events of the original God of War on PS2 – so this is essentially a prequel. It is a mythical tale that’s considerably intriguing, with a few twists and turns towards the end of the game to pop in a few surprises. Overall, there is a solid plot in place, but I don’t think there has ever been a need for God of War games to be novels since all you need is a reason for you to go around slaughtering mythical creatures.

After you get past the opening cut scene, the first thing you would probably notice about this game is that it doesn’t look gorgeous – it IS gorgeous. Beyond a shadow of doubt, this is simply the game with the most proficient graphics that the PSP has ever seen – and never once did I think I was playing on the PSP because this game IS a PS2 game on a PSP. The environments are huge and detailed – and there’s not a single muddled texture in sight. The character models are equally stunning – all indications that a monolithic amount of effort has been invested to make this game a visual exhibition. The combat animations are smooth and when the game switches to cut scenes, there is no denying that what you’re getting is of top-notch quality. And when Kratos is engaging in combat with several enemies at any one time, the framerate doesn’t dip even when there are background battles and explosions. With so much details and activities going on, I was expecting long load times to hamper my experience – but what I got was astonishing: The game only loads when you start the game and when you retrieve a game save, and even when the game needs to load, it takes no more than 6 seconds to do so. All in all, this game is an absolute technical accomplishment that would make anyone reconsider the unrealised potential of the power under the hood of the PSP.

The excellent audio here will only serve to complement the visuals. The combat effects sound fantastic and the score fits in so perfectly with the theme and action of the entire game that this wouldn’t be God of War: Chains of Olympus without the score; in fact, the score in this game acts very much like how the Halo score is instrumental in creating a uniquely Halo experience – just that in this case, the score creates a uniquely God of War experience. It’s memorable, and it is immersive.

Beyond the visual and audio, however, lies an equally, if not more, competent component of the game. The combat mechanics are very well-constructed – there are 2 weapons for butchering enemies, magic spells to obliterate large hordes of enemies quickly, and a good variety of tools that can be utilized for specific purposes. As Kratos kill more enemies and progresses through the game, he will also collect orbs of varying colors: Red orbs allow him to level up, making available more moves and abilities for each weapon, magic spell and tool, while green and blue orbs replenish Kratos’ health bar and magic respectively. Gorgeon eyes and phoenix feathers increase the limits of his health and magic and are scattered throughout the game.

With all these taken into consideration, it would not erroneous to say that you would end up with a relatively large number of moves and abilities for your weapons, magic spells and tools mid-way through the game. When faced with more powerful and stubborn enemies later in the game, having the option to use and switch to various moves and abilities at the flip of a finger becomes very much mandatory – but given the limited number of buttons on the PSP, this could be quite a challenge. Fortunately, Ready at Dawn, the brains behind this game, has it all nailed down. Controls are very accessible and intuitive – nope, there aren’t any unnecessarily complicated button presses and combinations to memorize. For instance, to execute different types of combos using magic spells, all you have to do is to hold down the R button and hit the corresponding face button. In the PS2 versions of God of War, the second analogue stick is used to roll off and evade attacks, but since the PSP’s lacking a second analogue stick, something has to be done to overcome the absence of the said. The solution? Holding down the L and R buttons while pushing the analogue stick in the desired direction becomes the choice of control for evading attacks and it works – and not only does it works, it becomes a perfect solution. All in all, the controls are very tight and responsive, but perhaps more noteworthy are how seamlessly they actually integrate into the gameplay.

Perhaps the only gripe I have about this game is how linear some levels are. Basically, you enter a room, and then get locked in by some glowing red force fields with some weird demonic faces on them before some enemies spawn in to take you on. It’s an uncreative and uninspiring way of introducing enemies into the game and locking you into a room would only make the game seem more linear than initially intended. Occassionally, there are some off-beaten paths that you would want to transverse to unlock hidden treasure chests, platforming sections to overcome, and puzzles to solve and while they do add the much needed diversity into the gameplay, they aren’t very difficult hurdles save for a few puzzles which may take you about 10 minutes or so to figure out what to do.

The sheer variety of enemies that you would encounter here does help, though. Each enemy type requires varying combat strategies that will take it down more effectively. Deal ample damage to each, and you’ll be provided with the option of playing a mini-game of timed button presses and analogue stick turns, which when won, will wield more orbs. However, I don’t like the idea of being forced to engage in compulsory mini-games during some instances. As much as I dislike the idea of being forced, I must mention that the mini-games are certainly a healthy diversion to keep things interesting. Overall, the pace of the game feels right and the gameplay is consistently intense throughout.

I took 7 hours to finish this game on normal difficulty. That’s a little short, but is easily forgiven for there are several unlockables, including the god mode difficulty, bonus challenges, as well as behind the scenes and making of variety of videos that you would normally expect to be in a collector’s edition and not in the standard edition of a game.

Final Comments
There is no question that you should get this game – to experience its goodness and to show your friends what the PSP is really capable of. The story is solid and this game’s a visual and audio powerhouse. There’s also a competent combat mechanics, which may seem outwardly convoluted, but is actually not – thanks to the one of the best controls ever to grace the PSP. Unfortunately, this game is a relatively linear experience, but the many hidden treasures, platforming sections and puzzles, mostly easy, but some hard, keep this flaw a minor one. The great variety of enemies that you will face here is also a boon and the mini-games keep things fresh.


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