Review by Nightfall

"Brilliant Adaptation to the PSP, But Something is Amiss"

This God of War game for the PSP is exactly like the two GoW games for the PS2, and for me that's a disappointment. That ReadyatDawn was able to create a GoW game virtually indiscernable from its older brothers is a testament to their talent as a developer. Unfortunately, it means the problems with the older GoW games also got imported. ReadyatDawn took absolutely no liberties with this game. They stuck rigidly to the template set by David Jaffe and his successors. Why is this an issue with me, you ask? The combat in the GoW games, although extremely visceral and satisfying to watch, is not as fun as it should be. I couldn't pinpoint exactly why until I played the game Conan. Yes, Conan is a chip off the ol' GoW block, but the combat is a lot more enjoyable because it's more interactive. That is to say, it is highly reaction based. Rather than forcing the player to commit himself to attack combos that cannot be interrupted by a block or a dodge, the combat in Conan allows the player to change his tactics and his actions based on what the enemy is doing. If you start a combo and then see that the enemy is unfazed and about to hit you, you can instantly stop your combo with a block or a dodge. Hit the block at the right time and a beautiful opportunity for an instant-kill parry opens up as the action slows to bullet time. Yes, you saw the right time to block and you were rewarded for it. It is this kind of interactivity that the GoW games lack. Once Kratos starts an attack combo, it cannot be interrupted by a block or a dodge. Since enemies decide that the best time to attack is when Kratos is in the middle of one of his combos, this is a problem. It discourages the use of most of his combos, and forces the player to resort to simple square button strikes with the Blades of Chaos or to use magic.

Likewise, if Kratos is getting pummeled, he cannot bring up his block until the enemy has finished his attack, and by then the block is useless. Kratos also has a very annoying recovery animation that plays out after he dodges, and this prevents the player from executing an action immediately following the dodge. This is another area where the game Conan improved upon the GoW formula. When Conan dodges, it is one smooth, graceful motion with no recovery animation. You can even initiate attack combos during the dodge, and Conan will execute them the instant he rolls up. Having this ability in the GoW games would have improved the combat immensely by putting more control into the hands of the player. The more interactive the combat is, the funner it is. The more it is based on arbitrary design decisions like non-interruptible attack combos, a block that won't come up until the enemy is done, and recovery animations, the more frustrating it is. I enjoyed the first two GoW games, but I've never really been able to sink into the combat, to revel in it and enjoy it, because the games won't give me the level of control and interactivity I need. The gist of my point here is that Chains of Olympus does nothing to improve these problems. It's like they lifted the combat system right out of GoW 2 and put it into Chains of Olympus. If you think I've gone completely insane, play the game Conan for awhile, and you'll see what I'm talking about.

That said, everything else that ReadyatDawn imported from the first two games is brilliant. The graphics, the audio, the drama, the sense of scale, the puzzles, the cutscenes--everything that has to do with production quality is top notch. You'd swear the GoW 2 team made this game. As regards the story, it's not quite as defined as the stories in the first two games. I've been unclear as to what Kratos is doing and why, but I know it has something to do with stopping Morpheus from overrunning the world. Problem is, nothing Kratos does seems to be directly related to that task. The ol' chap seems a bit lost, but the lack of clarity in the story doesn't affect the gameplay and the breathtaking environments. These are the best graphics I've ever seen on the PSP, and what's even better, the frame rate is rock solid. I've noticed no slow down at all, and the only times you might see a "loading" pause is if you decide to run backwards through the level for some reason. The voice actors for Kratos and Gaia are the same, so you can rest assured that you'll be hearing the same guttural roars from Kratos and the same dramatic narrative from Gaia that you're used to.

In some of the reviews I've read, the issue of control has been brought up, particularly the matter of Kratos' dodge. I can happily say that I experienced no problem with dodging whatsoever. The fact that it requires two button presses and an analog stick movement might make it seem cumbersome, but it's not. The dodge can actually be initiated with any one of those three inputs as long as the other two are engaged. In other words, you don't have to press both shoulder buttons first and then use the analog stick. You can have just the left trigger and the analog stick engaged, and initiate the dodge with the right trigger. Or the other way around. I almost always have the left trigger pressed anyway, because that handles blocking and you have to do a lot of it in this game.

Most enemies give Kratos very small windows of opportunity to attack. In fact, if someone told me I had to come up with at least one thing about the combat that is different in Chains of Olympus or they would smite me with the Barbarian Hammer , I would have to say the enemies are even more relentless in their attacks than they are in the previous GoW games. Seriously, you're lucky if you're able to get even a single, three-button attack combo off before the enemies are all over you. The game seems to put a lot of emphasis on parry attacks, but executing parry attacks on a screen this small is no easy matter. The small time window for parries makes them difficult enough, but when you're trying to keep track of exactly when each 1/2 inch tall enemy is swinging at you on a 4X3 screen, it's just a joke. And dodging a lot doesn't help, because enemies pursue you relentlessly. Most of the time, you have to engage enemies close because they won't let you have it any other way. Parrying wouldn't be so difficult if the warning animations each enemy displays before they strike were a bit more obvious. On a screen this small, you have to exaggerate everything just so the player can see it, but this game seems as if it was made for the big tv screen, not the tiny PSP one.

Kratos gets some pretty cool magic attacks this time around, but they're only good for toying with a bit because magic power is always in very short supply. The work has to be done by Kratos' weapons. I wish Kratos' magic attacks had a more integral role in the combat instead of just being flashy light shows that only help you once in awhile. I also wish the game didn't require the player to finish it on the highest difficulty setting to get all the coolest unlockables. For some players, like me, that is simply not a possibility.

Bottom line here is, if you really liked the first two GoW games and had no problem with them, you're not going to have a problem with Chains of Olympus. If you had a problem with either of the first two games, you're going to have the same problem here. In other words, Chains of Olympus is a very faithful adaptation of the GoW franchise to the PSP. It's one of the few games worth owning for the PSP, but prepare for some rough times unless you want to cop out and play the game on easy.

I've spit my rating into two different scores, which you can use depending on your slant:

As an adaptation of the first two games to the PSP: 10
Generally speaking, as an action game: 7

"Explain the 7, you blasphemer!"
Combat isn't as fun as it should be, enemies are too relentless, and the story is a bit weak.

Control: 8
"Explain the 8, you scum on the bottom of Zeus' foot!"
Non-interruptible attack combos, recovery animation after dodging is annoying, can't bring block up once enemy has started wailing on you.

Graphics: 10
This game is beautiful, period. And there are lots of boobies.

Audio: 10
This game sounds beautiful too. Attacks sound every bit as forceful as they do in previous installments, the music is great, and the voices for Kratos and Gaia are back. You should use headphones.

Story: 6
"By the wrath of Aries, explain that 6 or you will lay at the feet of Hades this very day!"
It's there, but it lacks any real definition. None of the things that Kratos does seem to be related to the ultimate goal, which is stopping Morpheus. Why am I freeing the Fire Steeds from the Temple of Helios? Doesn't Apollo need them to make his daily trek across the sky? Why am I freeing the Titan Atlas? I have no idea.

Presentation: 9 Very well done. It's the total GoW experience.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 04/28/08

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

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