God of War: Chains of Olympus Review

If you've played any of the PlayStation 2 God of War entries, you know just what to expect from God of War: Chains of Olympus. It looks like the PlayStation 2 editions. It plays like the PlayStation 2 editions. And considering that the PSP is, well, portable, that's a pretty impressive feat.

But at the same time, the handheld title's similarities to the PlayStation 2 editions create some problems, especially for series veterans. While it's nice to have God of War on the go, it's hard to shake the feeling that you've played it all before.

That's not to say developer Ready at Dawn just blatantly copied SCE Santa Monica's work on the past two games. A prequel set before the first God of War, Chains of Olympus features an all-new adventure--complete with a new weapon and some new abilities--so it's not enitrely familiar territory.

However, the basic hack 'n slash gameplay--battling against countless waves of foes and big bosses--remains unchanged. Just as it was on PlayStation 2, you can't mindlessly mash your way through these encounters. You have to pay attention, knowing when to attack, when to dodge, and when a lengthy and unstoppable combo may not be such a good idea.

Again, that's mostly a good thing. Without those traits, it wouldn't be God of War. All the old solutions to traditional action-adventure annoyances return as well; you can kick blocks across stages instead of slowly dragging them, and often-tedious wall-climbing portions are significantly sped up by simple jumping.

Chains of Olympus even sports the same basic controls as the PlayStation 2 editions, ensuring that returning God of War players will have no problems picking up the game and hacking enemies to pieces within the first few moments. Of course, a few concessions had to be made, since the PSP lacks some of the buttons that appear on the PS2's DualShock 2 controller. However, the transition from using the right analog stick to holding down both triggers to evade is a simple one.

Perhaps the biggest fault with the control scheme is that it makes heavy use of nearly every possible button combination. Absent-minded players, such as myself, will often find themselves inadvertently triggering an unstoppable combo instead of a light attack, simply because they forgot to release the block button.

It's not a major issue, as you eventually train yourself to be more cognizant of what you're holding or pressing, but when you're down to a sliver of health and die because you accidentally activated a special attack, it can be frustrating.

Speaking of frustration, be prepared to repeat a few tricky encounters multiple times. Fortunately, a number of intelligently-placed checkpoints ensure that there isn't too much repetition, though there was an instance or two when I was ready to swear off the game because I didn't want to repeatedly grind through two waves of tough-as-nails enemies only to get slaughtered by their more powerful brethren.

One qualm, that also applies to past God of War titles, is the game's tendency to hide puzzle solutions through its fixed camera system. For example, if a door requires two levers to open, the first will appear in plain sight. Most of the time the second lever is hidden so that you're forced to carefully explore the surrounding area, only to have the camera swing around and highlight the other switch when you're in the proper spot.

The problem isn't that the levers are hidden, it's that the game's camera deceives you into thinking there is only one lever, so that once you reach the closed door, you're forced to backtrack. Finding the other lever isn't a puzzle, it's plain old annoying. While such scenarios only appear a handful of times, it got to the point where, if I was stuck, I would ponder how the the fixed camera could be exploited in that particular environment. More often than not, this line of thinking led to the solution.

Prospective buyers should also prepare themselves for an extremely brief outing, as the game's conclusion can be easily reached within six hours of play. Multiple difficulty settings, a few unlockable costumes, and a couple challenge missions help extend the game's length. Though these will no doubt keep dedicated fans occupied, I'm not sure if many, such as myself, will bother with them for more than a few moments.

I don't mean to sound down on God of War: Chains of Olympus. It's one of the most enjoyable action games on the PSP. Outside of a frustrating encounter or two, I didn't have to force myself to keep going so I could write this review--I actually wanted to keep playing thanks to the game's steady pacing.

Still, I feel like I've gone through these motions before. Perhaps it's a testament to Ready at Dawn's attitude towards game design, or its prowess over the PSP hardware, but either way, this recreation of an existing formula represents an intriguing conundrum. If it stacks up to its console brothers, should a portable game be judged alongside them? Should Ready at Dawn be chastised for so accurately reproducing the series' traditional gameplay?

Regardless, God of War: Chains of Olympus is an entertaining, if familiar, entry in a solid series.

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