God of War: Chains of Olympus Review
When God of War II was announced, many gamers just assumed that it'd be released on the PS3, being that it would be released a few months after Sony's big bad console. But it was for the PS2, leaving those with cash to burn and the loyalty to stick with Sony wondering what was going on. And while there is a third God of War game in the works for the PS3, we won't be seeing it for quite a while still. In the meantime, though, Sony and developer Ready at Dawn Studios have put together a prequel on the PSP that, surprisingly for some, manages to stuff that all of the series' epic style into the little portable.
Chains of Olympus is a prequel to the original God of War, but it still takes place inside the timeline set by the first game. It's during the early days of his service to the God of War, Ares, and it starts with his defense of Sparta from none other than the Persian Empire. When the sun quite literally falls from the sky, Kratos knows that more games of the Gods are being perpetrated, and like always, Athena needs him as their human agent to fix it. So starts a new adventure with Helios as the god that needs to be rescued as the darkness from the god Morpheus engulfs the planet in shadow. There are the same block-moving, body-carrying puzzles, levers and switches, varieties of both weak and tough enemies, setpiece battles, and huge bosses that you're familiar with. What is nice is that there are new combos, magic abilities, and a new weapon to try out, but as with past games, most of the core action will be the same as we've seen before.
The graphics and texture quality are about as good as the PSP's screen is going to be able to display for us, and the game uses almost no loading times anywhere; just like its PS2 brethren, Chains of Olympus is set up to intelligently stream everything off of the disc as you play. Kratos looks almost as detailed has he does on the PS2, while many of the enemies and backgrounds have been scaled down a bit more to fit onto the Sony portable. Still, both the sound and graphics are among the best you can find on the PSP, and the key voice actors and sweeping musical score are all here. As with all PSP games, the sound come out pretty weak over the tinny little speakers, but if you plug in some headphones you'll find the game's soundtrack and effects to be just as good as the rest of the series.
Ready at Dawn has done an excellent job reproducing the look, feel, and style of this series on the PSP, but in some ways, maybe they did too good a job. I am having a hard time complaining about this because it's nice getting a PSP game that plays so much like the PS2 original (and looks about as good as it, too!) yet is a new game entirely rather than just a port. But I can't shake the notion that this game is really, really derivative - even with the all-new levels. The level design, architecture, fight structures, and even enemy design in Chains of Olympus could have easily been right at home all in the first two games. It's just so eerily similar.
It's more than that, though, that irks me. Chains of Olympus sits at the standard PSP game price of $39.99, which I've always thought was just a bit too high, but it's also about half as long as the other God of War games. A couple of sacrifices also had to be made in the controls (since the PSP has only one analog stick, dodging now requires you to press both triggers and pull the stick in a direction) and I had a hard time getting accustomed to it.
Of course, the package has been rounded out well enough with the series' signature unlockable content, multiple difficulty modes, and secret items that will keep those gamers that are dedicated enough coming back. The game itself does work pretty well with a more mobile style of play, as you'll find that unless you get stuck somewhere, you can find a save point about every ten to fifteen minutes. It turns out that this was also true for the first two games, but it becomes even more important here on the PSP.
Once you get an hour into God of War: Chains of Olympus, it's sometimes easy to forget that you're playing it on a portable system - it feels so similar in so many ways to the home console originals that you might be fooled for a little while at a time. From that perspective, well, I'm not sure there's a better endorsement for a handheld game. Still, it doesn't take the series in any new directions and it's not quite as good (nor as fresh) as the original game. It's the perfect title for someone looking for a great experience on a portable system, but if you're getting it as a fan and specifically want to extend out Kratos' adventures, then you might be just a little let down. Not that that should stop you from picking this one up, but we'll have to wait for the next game on the PS3 to really bring the series to new heights.