Since its release in 2004, the PlayStation Portable has lived a existence ruled by a series of stutters and false starts. Perhaps typical of Sony’s business model of late, the handheld’s life has thus far been defined by a collection of titles that appear to have been made with the right intentions, just without the right technical know-how. Luckily for Sony, Ready At Dawn are a company that managed to buck the trend in 2006 when they released the delightful Daxter, a spin-off from Naughty Dog’s highly-acclaimed Jak & Daxter series.
So how does the company fair when attempting to help another, arguably more illustrious IP make the transition from home console to portable device? Can the grand scale of God Of War translate itself well on the small screen? Read on to find out what we thought of Kratos’ latest battle.
Set before the events of the orginal PS2 installment, Chains Of Olympus does a great job of creating an atmosphere that will be instantly recognisable to faithful God Of War fans. The opening battle is probably the most jaw-dropping sequence witnessed on a PSP game. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that no handheld game has ever looked quite as impressive as this.
The Persian army has the city of Attica under attack; battle ships approach the docks, devastating cannonballs blasting from their decks wreaking havoc on the shoreline defense. A balding (you wouldn’t call him bald to his face would you?), snarling Kratos – and this is certainly him, rendered in fine detail – is introduced through a cutscene that results in the camera gracefully pulling back, almost seamlessly throwing the player into the midst of this war. It’s exquisitely done, a battle-cry from the PSP, which from the off is waving both arms above its head, shouting: “Look at meeee! Look. At. Me.”
The next few minutes involve incredibly high-octane brutality, ending inevitably with both soldiers and (oh yes!) even ships feeling the thunderous wrath of our athletically tuned protagonist. I’ll admit, once completing the opening ten minutes of the game I restarted without saving just to witness the experience again, attempting to draw the attention of whoever was near by as I did so. This was a secret that just had to get out.
In terms of controls, Ready At Dawn have done a stellar job in creating a scheme that compensates for the lack of the second analogue stick which was so critical in numbers 1 and 2. While the PlayStation 2 iterations utilised the right stick for evasive manoeuvres, Chains Of Olympus asks the player to adapt using just the one at the PSP’s disposal. When hoping to somehow escape impending doom, holding the L and R buttons while toggling the stick results in a sprawling roll. It soon becomes second nature, but can feel a little over-bearing at first.
As a series, God Of War prides itself on visceral hack ‘n’ slash gameplay. Incredibly, Chains Of Olympus stands up rather well to its older brothers in terms of combat. Familiar combos and variations on old special moves make up the bulk of how you are expected to dispose of your enemies, a finely implemented upgrade system gradually easing players into a state of absolute badass-ness. You never quite feel overpowered, yet you learn more and more techniques as the game goes by, each one providing a trial and error situation against your various foe.
Your enemies range from cannon fodder archers to giant, shimmering body-armoured knights to a huge basilisk. The latter arrives early on in the game, presenting a thrilling encounter that really allows you to adapt to both offensive and defensives moves. Taking the basilisk down is another “wow” moment notched up in God Of War’s arsenal, the scale of the hulking, savage beast really bringing home the fact that the PSP is capable of so much more than is normally provided. Of course, the use of quick time events in such situations will always divide opinion but, on the handheld at least, they enable breathtaking visuals to really take centre stage.
Finding yourself surrounded by more than half a dozen enemies – from flying pests to sword-wielding guards – occurs around every corner in Chains Of Olympus, but things never get out of hand. For example, throw one up in the air and you’re out of the way for a second or two, concentrating on the unlucky guy being flung around like a ragdoll as the camera zooms in, rendering others motionless. Towards the end of the game, things deteriorate into sending wave upon wave at you, prompting you to crave more of the puzzle sequences that become increasingly rare. In this sense, it can feel a touch repetitive.
The score does well in its job of building up tension when neccessary, heading into epic crescendos when battles are nearing their climax. Its consistency throughout the series is a credit to composer Gerard Marino, who’s presence here, along with T.C. Carson as Kratos and the calm narration of Linda Hunt, further enforces the trademark God Of War stamp on this title.
While the storyline can feel like its been read from a school history book, its fair to say that it helps drive you to reach the end of the game. God Of War veterans will be keen to learn how this tale began, while newcomers will find solace in the way Kratos’ relationship with his daughter manages to ground the story and even provide some moments of true emotion; quite an accomplishment for a handheld game – just don’t go bawling on the bus, eh?
It’s something of a mystery that the PSP hasn’t taken the gaming world by storm when you consider just how complete a game God Of War: Chains Of Olympus is. These are the kind of graphics we anticipated from the start. The iconic image of Kratos, recreated to a standard as great as ever, is no better way to make the world stand up and really pay attention to Sony’s flawed venture. What’s more, the gameplay is as emmersive and engulfing as anything on any console.
Incredible detail with a remarkable framerate make this the best looking game on the PSP.
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Could have done with more puzzles but the meaty hack 'n' slash gameplay is great.
Dialogue and score are fantastically produced, while never breaking any boundaries.
Some extras may keep fanatics glued, but repetititve gameplay will make one play-through enough for most.
A superb handheld experience that manages to hold up against any console title.