"Live in servitude to the gods... forever."

Chains of Olympus was the first handheld God of War title, released in 2008 because the series was iron-hot and Sony wanted to use this opportunity to release a God of War title to promote their new PSP Go (later nicknamed the PSP "Go Away", because that's exactly what the system did after it flopped worse than a fish out of water). The game didn't save the PSP Go by any stretch, but that's not Chains of Olympus' fault. It did all it could by being an outstanding game worthy of the God of War series.

Though the game was released after the two Playstation 2 God of War titles, Chains of Olympus is set as a prequel to the original game in the series. Here, we see Kratos long before he sets out to kill Ares and usurps his throne as the new God of War. Long before he was a god, a ghost, a demonslayer, a martyr, a monster or any other label one would place upon him following the two Playstation 2 games, he was but a simple man -- a mortal.

Chains of Olympus takes place five years into the ten years of service he was ordered to undertake by the gods of Olympus, after his deal with Ares gives him the Blades of chaos and an inescapable thirst for becoming a monster in battle -- after he slays the barbarians and is tricked into killing his own family. The gods offer him a chance for respite: 10 years of servitude and Kratos will be released from the never-ending nightmares from his past.

And serve he did. Kratos was nothing short of a perfect monster in battle, a brilliant leader for the Spartan army and known far and wide as the "Ghost of Sparta" because of his ashen skin tone. But at the end of the day, he was still a pawn for the gods, cursed by nightmares of slaying his wife and daughter with his own two hands. He continued in his servitude, but after five years he began to distrust the word of the gods.

When Chains of Olympus begins, we see Kratos at this point -- 5 years into his service. Kratos is sent to the city of Attica, to help them defend against the invading Persian army. God of War games have mastered early shock and awe tactics, and the first part of Chains of Olympus is just outstanding. Kratos runs all throughout the city, battling Persians and a gigantic Basilisk at every turn, all while you the player are given various tutorial prompts to learn how to play the game in case this is your first foray into the series. Eventually he reaches the Persian King, kills him in a grand battle, steals all of his women for himself and moves on to the Basilisk itself. In a thoroughly epic and brutal fight, Kratos eventually bests the Basilisk with one of the best death sequences in the entire series. Even for being on the PSP, some of the graphics and deaths in this game are enough to make even the most hardened adult cringe.

And all of that is only the intro. We expect this sort of thing in God of War games, but for some reason it never gets old. Following the slaying of the Basilisk and its Persian army, Kratos witnesses the sun falling out of the sky and his true task begins. Helios's disappearance is a terrible event for the gods, as Morpheus uses the opportunity to put the gods into a deep sleep. Without the god of the sun to illuminate the land, Morpheus is able to envelop everything in a deep fog and live up to his billing as the god of dreams. Not even Olympus is able to avoid the manipulation.

Olympus obviously doesn't appreciate this situation very much, and Athena comes to Kratos with the promise of releasing him from his nightmares if he finds and rescues Helios. Kratos doesn't exactly believe the oft-dishonest gods, but is left with little choice and goes along with the plan anyway. Any veteran of Greek mythology, Greek tragedies or even the God of War series itself can probably see where this is going, as the gods are big on self-made downfalls.

The plot in God of War games stays remarkably close to Greek mythology, but the main selling point in these games is the gameplay. Chains of Olympus delivers here quite well, though it feels closer to the original title more than any other in the series. This means less emphasis on cutscenes and boss fights, and a bigger focus on the core gameplay and puzzle solving. Those big into massive amounts of bosses and action may not appreciate this much, but that doesn't make Chains of Olympus a bad game by any stretch. A little thinking can be good for you, though this game does offer more in the way of boss fights than the original.

That said, the core gameplay that draws people to these games is still here. Kratos starts out fairly weak, with only the Blades of Chaos as weapons. As you continue through the game, you gradually get stronger by acquiring new spells and weapons to play around with, and everything can be upgraded. Kratos is also brutal as hell to all his enemies and will destroy them in some of the most disgusting ways possible. For almost every enemy in the game, you can enter a quick-time event (QTE) to kill them rather than just stabbing them to death, and the death animations are about as violent as it gets. You will see Kratos climb up a Cyclops and stab it in the eye so hard that he'll have to reach into the thing's skull to get his sword back. Anything with wings won't keep their wings for very long. If you have a throat, you might want to keep Kratos away from it. If you have a sword, you might not want to let Kratos grab hold of it. And if you're a boss, you are reserved the most gruesome deaths of all for thinking you stood any chance in a fight. A lot of video game characters walk around acting tough, like anyone who messes with them will get disemboweled or something, but they tend to not live up to the hype. Kratos, however, always goes far and beyond what he says. If he sets out to kill something, it will die. It's only a question of how long it takes and how disgusting the deathblow will be.

The apex of the game happens fairly late, when you plow through one enemy gauntlet room after another after being lied to over and over again, and Chains of Olympus is the only game in the series where the final boss isn't announced from the very beginning. There's a couple of nice plot twists at the end for those who make it that far, and of course the ending sequences detail the events laid out by the first God of War for the Playstation 2. Chains of Olympus ends up telling a pretty good story with great continuity compared to the rest of the series, and while it may not measure up to how great some of the other games are, it's still an outstanding game on its own.

When you get right down to it, there are no bad God of War games. They're all outstanding, and no matter how many times you see enemies getting thoroughly destroyed it never gets old watching Kratos go completely nuts on anything that moves. It's just fun, which is what video games are all about.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/13/11

Game Release: God of War: Chains of Olympus (US, 03/04/08)


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