lauantai 24. marraskuuta 2012

REVIEW - God of War: Chains of Olympus | PSP | 2008

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: March 4, 2008
AVAILABLE ON: PS3 [God of War Collection Volume II / God of War Saga], PSP
DEVELOPER(S): SCE Santa Monica Studio, Ready at Dawn Studios
PUBLISHER(S): Sony Computer Entertainment

I've been down with an angina and a high fever for the last four or five days - lost count at some point on Thursday, and blame the painkillers - and haven't been able to begin work on the new marathon. I wanted to deliver at least something this weekend, and it seems that whenever I'm in the middle of something I can't really finish at that exact moment, I turn to a pet franchise - namely God of War. Back when I reviewed the magnificent God of War III, one of the main things that drove me to criticize the game a little was closure and continuity to storylines that a lot of players were not familiar with - ones that were introduced in the 2008 handheld game Chains of Olympus, which served as a prequel to the very original God of War. Some other odd scenes turned out to be teasers for yet another PSP exclusive called Ghost of Sparta, which on the other hand was a prequel to God of War II. I, for one, was enraged and pretty sure I'd never get to see those games myself. May the god of war bless Santa Monica Studios, who made good by listening to the fans and re-released both PSP exclusives on the PlayStation 3 in late 2011, as two halves that make up for the God of War Collection Volume II (a.k.a. God of War Origins Collection). The path is finally open to see if these two games were ever worth the hype. First up, God of War: Chains of Olympus - played on the PlayStation 3, but reviewed from the perspective of a guy who's spent quite a lot of time with the PSP in general. In other words, this review is a mix of both - the handheld, and big-screen HD versions of the game.

Breaking the chains

TC Carson : Kratos
Debi Derryberry : Calliope
Marina Gordon : Persephone / Female Greek
Dwight Schultz : Charon / Helios / Male Greek / Fire Guard
Fred Tatasciore : Atlas / Persian King / Soldier #1
Erin Torpey : Eos / Athena
Brian Kimmet : Soldier #2
Don Luce : Soldier #3
Andrew Wheeler : Soldier #4
Linda Hunt : Narrator / Gaia

Helios disappears, which results in the sun plummeting from the sky and all of the land and Mount Olympus itself succumbing to the eternal night of Morpheus, god of dreams. Growing weary of the gods' demands, their champion Kratos reluctantly agrees to find Helios and restore the sun. However, a more personal task once again tempts Kratos to care little for the needs of others.

Can't bode well for the ugly.
Let's start with a really positive note, 'cause it's been a while. God of War, man, God of War! Ever since I first caught wind of the mere plot and setting of God of War when it entered the last stages of production in late 2004, I knew it was destined to become one of my favourite video games, and it did, it absolutely did. It took the best of every 3D action-adventure that came before it - most notably Devil May Cry - and cleaned 'em all right off the table with unparalleled presentations of epic sceneries and over-the-top graphic violence. Kratos was a whole new kind of protagonist, always putting his needs above others' - if he was asked to save the world, fine, but he did it on his own terms and for his very own reasons. If he had to kill a few innocent people to get to his goal, he didn't mind. If the stakes were torn between his peace of mind and peace all over Greece, he chose himself and his personal needs. As Kratos would put it, "he cared little for the world and its problems". God of War turned out a masterpiece, one of PlayStation 2's finest. God of War II turned out even better. God of War III was at the very least on par with the first two games, and it stands as one of the PlayStation 3's flagship games two and a half years after its release. In the between, there was God of War: Chains of Olympus, and it was greatly received by critics; some even went to the no-zone and named Chains of Olympus the best game in the franchise.

You're not going to hear that from me, but God of War: Chains of Olympus is a very good game, and one of the best handheld games ever made, no matter how conflicted it might feel like on the outside. Let's think about it as a part of the timeline, first. Chains of Olympus is a prequel to the first God of War game, so up 'til the release of God of War: Ascension next spring, it chronologically stands as the first chapter in Kratos' saga. God of War was all about doubt; how could a mortal kill a god? You could ask this question and promotion for the first game would be all done - it sounds awesome. It is awesome, everything about how it unfolds is awesome. In the end, Kratos kills Ares and due to a "loophole" in his contract with the gods, he is denied the prize he fought for and decides to end his life. The gods deny even that relief from him, and instead, crown him as a successor to Ares, setting the stage for the next chapter. That is so epic. And so doubtful, that what could Kratos possibly have done to shine half as bright before all this happened? Leave that for Santa Monica Studios to work out, and you've got a plot in which Kratos investigates the apparent abduction of a god, and in the process, is led to believe he is able to save his daughter - whom he "accidentally murdered" - from the afterlife. Does that work for you? It does for me, and after seeing this game to the end (twice), I have no doubts that Santa Monica will come up with another satisfying prequel story for Ascension.

I have to be honest. God of War: Chains of Olympus is exactly the same as any other God of War game. But, when you think about it, that's a true accomplishment. Keep in mind that it's a PSP game. I liked Crisis Core very much - would I like to play a port of Crisis Core on the PS3? No. It would only bring out the worst in the game. The Grand Theft Auto games released on the PSP were formidable handheld entertainment, true Rockstar quality in that small format, but the PS2 ports sucked, although they were exactly the same; they simply didn't live up to the major platform standards of Grand Theft Auto in any way. God of War: Chains of Olympus, however, is a full-blooded God of War game - an experience any long-time fan of the series will surely enjoy. The control scheme is just genius, as the developers seriously sacrificed a minimal amount of any features you'd have in any major God of War game. Visual presentation's a different thing, but an area that lacks both understandably and tolerably.

There's ALWAYS time for love.
Not very many epic boss fights against giants to be had here, and just about any character notably larger than a human - the kind we've grown expecting to see in this franchise - is either a part of the background or cutscene, or a very brief QTE scene. In addition, Chains of Olympus looks very bland - not ugly, but bland, and a bit "fuzzy", despite the surprisingly thorough rendition for the HD collection. The way it sounds is far from bland. There's a mix of tunes from the first two games, and new songs from Gerard Marino, who worked on the previous in some capacity. It's just as epic as you'd expect, and there are audiovisual surprises and treats throughout that will remind you where this game spawned from, you can count on that.

As I said, God of War: Chains of Olympus is a full-blooded God of War game, despite the fact that it was originally a handheld exclusive AND that the violence that was probably quite impressive and oochy on the PSP ends up lacking a lot of punch on the big screen. Were it not for the severely downgraded graphics, you wouldn't know the difference between the first God of War game and this one in any average scene taking place during the first half of the game. All of you who've read this review this far probably know what God of War's all about as a game - killing, and puzzles. Yes, there are both of them present here, more of the killing though. No boss fights against gods or titans, but a couple of yummy ones for the history books. Let's get to the points that truly annoy me about this game before wrapping it up.

I've never been a sworn enemy of Quick Time Events - God of War basically popularized them, and had a huge flaw in its QTE scheme, namely analog prompts. They never worked right, especially not in the first game. Well, just imagine analog prompts on the PSP, which has a disc instead of a stick. I can't imagine - or actually, I CAN imagine - how they must feel on the PSP. Luckily, most analog prompts in this game are "completely optional" (you guessed it, not for Trophy hunters they aren't), but they are a tide-turner in one of the boss fights. No, the analog prompts don't work too well for the port, either. Luckily, ferociously wiggling the analog stick back and forth to shake off an enemy is completely replaced by alternating between L1 and R1. That is one common prompt I've always hated in every game - I've lost many controllers to this scourge during the last decade. I'm so glad it isn't here. Since we're talking positives here, remember the walks on narrow walkways and how annoying they would be in a PSP game? Well, get ready for a positive surprise after completing one in the PS3 version.

The temple of Helios. A little too much light for
my taste.
Other things that might annoy at least some folk are the simplicity, easiness, and once again "ugliness" of the game. I'm there with you with the simplicity and easiness. Chains of Olympus is a handheld, very basic God of War game, and nothing more, BUT you've got to give credit to it as the PSP showcase Santa Monica originally wanted delivered, that they managed to fit the challenges and all that here. But, it is easy. It's almost as lengthy as the first game, but very easy - on the usual high standard of the God of War franchise, so don't go thinking it's a walk in the park. The collectables are easy to find (and there are plenty of spares), all weapons and equipment are easy to upgrade to the max by the end of the game, enemy and boss strategies are easy enough to learn, the PSP's capacity doesn't allow huge, neverending bedlams (or they didn't dare to try 'em out) and everything's just generally lax, probably in thought of PSP user comfort. Beating the game on Hard yields the Trophy "Getting Your Money's Worth", which probably reflects on the fact that Hard is pretty much what most God of War games are on Normal. There are some really hard and frustrating individual scenes in the game, and the challenges are as brutal as ever, and there's that one Trophy which requires you to respond to the analog prompts a lot more often you'd want to, making the Platinum Trophy that much more of a mere flicker of light in the distant horizon.

God of War: Chains of Olympus was a very positive surprise. I honestly didn't expect enjoying it this much, let alone going at it twice in a month. It's a brilliant handheld game, an exceptionally brilliant port and alone serves as great proof that a God of War fan and PS3 owner will certainly get his/her money's worth with the second God of War collection. I'll get back to you with Ghost of Sparta in a couple of days.

+ A surprisingly full-blooded God of War installment with minimal sacrifices made to the traditional gameplay scheme
+ Kratos
+ Great music and a familiar, comfortable atmosphere

- The story is good, but it lacks the epic drive and crazy twists of the major timeline
- The analog prompts suck
- The divide between combat and puzzles is not as even as I hoped
- It's a bit easy on the usual scale, partly due to understandable issues with the capacity
- You can't skip cutscenes on the first playthrough, not even on the 23rd viewing (the final boss gave me a little bit of trouble on the first run)

< 9.0 >

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