God of War Chains of Olympus is a weak and diluted experience that fails to capture the essence of the console games
Setho10 wrote this review on .
Developed by Ready at Dawn, the team behind the excellent Daxter, God of War: Chains of Olympus is a portable rendition of Sony's premier franchise, but in the translation from living room to handheld much of the grandiose splendor and excess that made the God of War franchise famous has been removed or toned down. Since God of War has never been known for it's deep combat, the lack of set piece encounters and epic puzzles greatly hurt the experience.
Chains of Olympus is a prequel to the first game, detailing how Kratos first came into contact with Atlus, and foreshadowing Kratos' later involvement in bringing down the Gods and Zeus. The tale feels like the side story that it is. While it offers some background on the events that later transpired in the series, it lacks the spectacle of the first two games, and the epic journeys that made those games so worth playing.
Probably the best thing about Chains of Olympus is how Ready at Dawn managed to adapt the complex control scheme of the PS2 games onto the limited PSP. Players will find it easy to pull off lengthy combos, unleash devastating magic, block, dodge, and more. This is no small achievement, and the combat is by far the best part of the game. Puzzles on the other hand have been simplified and greatly reduced in scope. Gamers who fondly remember the massive circular room puzzle in the first God of War will be disappointed to learn that this game has no such mind benders. Most puzzles are simple one room affairs, and even a larger puzzle towards the beginning of the game seems minor in comparison to those of the console games.
In fact, smaller and simpler seems to be the order of the day here. Gone are the stunning vistas that made the first two games such a sight to behold. There's no giant Ares fighting hundreds of soldiers as you walk through a massive archway with huge flags billowing in the background. There's no enormous horse island, and the classic God of War experience of walking towards an enormous building and watching as your character slowly shrinks to the size of an ant in front of it is undermined by possibly my biggest grievance with the environments. While one could argue that the limited backgrounds were a necessary concession to get the game on the PSP, there is no reason for the miniscule color palette. Virtually every environment is one hundred percent brown and red. Walking up to a giant building that seems to be made of dull brown stones ruins that "Holy ****" moment. Likewise, the insides of palaces are depressingly monochrome. Even the Game Boy Color was capable of producing more color variation than one will find in this game. It's simply unacceptable in a game so dependent on graphics for both the backgrounds and color palette to be so limited.
Also noticeably shrunk from the console iterations are the bosses. While the opening boss battle is acceptably large, the (very few) remaining bosses are all human-sized. After the likes of the Colossous of Rhodes and the Hydra, these bosses just seem so utterly underwhelming that they are almost an insult to the spirit of the previous games. While it would seem to be a given that the experience would have to shrink to put a console game on a handheld, it just seems that God of War is a terrible fit for anything other than large, loud, and epic. Some games work well on handhelds. God of War is an experience that should only be experienced on a large TV screen.
If one part of the experience survived the translation to the PSP it is the audio. All the major cast members reprise their roles, and deliver strong performances. The score is suitably bombastic, and with a pair of good headphones one can hear little ambient details, like a crow calling during a level in Hades.
Chains of Olympus is also far shorter than any of the previous games, clocking in at around six hours. Like the other games, an arena challenge mode is included, as is an unlockable difficulty and numerous costumes, videos, and makings-of. Still, players will probably be less willing to play through the game second and third times when the experience is as diluted as it is here.
God of War as a series has always excelled at providing epic, grandiose, and enormous scenarios for anti-hero Kratos to travel through. While the minute to minute gameplay has always been solid, even great, God of War just doesn't work without the complete package of stunning visuals, complex puzzles, and humongous bosses. With none of those present, Chains of Olympus is forced to survive solely on the strength of its combat, and while that combat is as good as it was in the console iterations, it isn't enough to hold the entire game together.