Review by terminall
By the Gods!
Two points of note:
1) This review is written after a complete playthrough on the Spartan difficulty and may contain minor gameplay/weapon spoilers.
2) It is written with the previous GoW titles held as benchmarks, rather than solely as a handheld title; if this irks you in some way, please feel free to inform yourself from one of the other lovely reviews provided at GameFAQs.
Let's get to the meat of it, shall we?
Kratos is a bad man; if you haven't gathered this by the third iteration of the series, you should perhaps quit taking bathroom breaks during the cutscenes. With Chains of Olympus, his persona has transferred quite nicely onto the PSP, and his vengeful motivations are more expressly revealed. He literally faces his bloody past, and, in a lovely Sophie's Choice moment, he's forced to handle some quite damning decisions.
However, while Kratos has his personal story presented quite nicely, the villains of CoO seem a bit underdeveloped. One god, portrayed through narration as a nearly omnipotent antagonist, is never even seen; the cutscenes merely tell you he has come and gone. Additionally, the final boss seems to suddenly appear, vent his/her master plan, and is dealt with accordingly. It's as if Ready at Dawn is incapable of properly utilizing foreshadowing, which remains a source of lingering annoyance after the last foe is felled.
Herein lies the true beauty of the game. Compared to the previous GoW titles, this release demands far more tactical play. Once the player gains the ability to parry enemy attacks, he'll need to use it ceaselessly to battle demons. Even the evasive roll remains intact, seemingly tightened by its movement to an L + R and joystick motion (far more fluid than it sounds). Many, many more opponents rely on successful dodges/counters to their attacks to be beaten than any GoW thus far; while this may disappoint many fans of the hack-and-slash genre, to the odd Devil May Cry fan, it's likely a plus.
The weapons, both of them, remain as satisfying as ever, with the speedy and reaching Blades of Chaos dutifully present and a newcomer, the Gauntlet of Zeus, offering the slow but powerful approach. Armored enemies are even intelligently placed to be dealt with by the more robust gauntlet, helping keep the game's balance.
Spells, those are fun to use, too. Although its a bit infuriating that for the third game in a row, your ranged magic is obscenely worthless, the other offerings provide the player a great deal more help. The final spell, especially, makes your efforts seem worthwhile.
That's not to say all is well. Overall, the refinements to the game deftly defeat the annoyances, but there are some changes to the core formula that seem a bit off. For one, I direct you to the new grab system, or lack thereof. In previous games, a grab allowed Kratos to wail on the opponent, perform a brutal kill, or throw them into surrounding opposition. Now it's been reduced to a mere brutal kill (to be fair, I actually believe one enemy type can be damaged with a grab pre-kill), which cannot even be performed while climbing.
Which brings me to the the climbing. Most sections involving it are oddly empty, with enemies failing to spawn on any vertical surface until so late in the game the player believes it an impossibility. This strikes me as an odd move.
As for the bosses, they are relatively few, and their spacing is a bit unorthodox. Within the first hour of the game, two fights are held, only to deny the player another grand encounter until the final act looms relatively close ahead. The fights that are there though are truly spectacular, my personal favorite being the last.
Have you ever witnessed a sunrise over the Grand Canyon? Hiked mountainous glaciers in Patagonia? Watched a rainbow form through Victoria Falls?
While not quite rivaling those natural vistas, CoO is likely the closest we'll see for a long time to a handheld equivalent. In a word, it's breathtaking. Other PSP developers should look to this for inspiration. It's truly hard to describe perfection.
With every review I've read thus far, I've met with the phrase, "Play with headphones." Well, the masses are right. The score cultivates an atmosphere you'll fall in love with, and the traditional sounds of battle seem appropriately gruesome. Voice acting takes a minor hit though, with one left wondering why Kratos seems to yell in a few of the game's more casual conversations. The villains, if anything, perhaps overact a bit, but it's not really distracting unless you're looking to critique it.
Those who've played the earlier games shouldn't be too surprised here; the Challenge of Hades takes over for the Challenge of the Gods/Titans, and the expected unlockable costumes and behind-the-scenes tidbits are all there. The costumes, admittedly, do seem a bit weak though, and due to the scripted nature of most of the game's events, there are likely only so many playthroughs most gamers will seek out.
Still a significant deal of fun to be had, although it's a reasonably short experience (7 hrs for me, IIRC).
Yes, my numbers don't magically average out to a 9/10, but ultimately, my score does. Why's that? The improvements and refinements to the GoW gameplay mean quite more to the overall score than the accompanying categories. Play this game, and you'll not be disappointed. It's the will of the gods.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: God of War: Chains of Olympus (US, 03/04/08)
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