Some people are intrigued by the complexity of the Second World War. Others prefer Tolkien’s elves, hobbits and orcs, or the fremens and philosophical undertones of Herbert’s Dune. I even know people who valiantly defend the Romanian folklore mythology. We each have our very own small obsessions, stories and worlds that impressed us so profoundly that we get to use them as main themes in our casual debates and conversations. Regarding myself, I’ve lost a substantial number of childhood evenings going through Greek Mythology. And contrary to popular belief, the game’s box description or Fidel’s Castro’s opinion, God of War doesn’t have more to share with Greek mythology than, for instance, Romania has to do with football. Any Greek heroes, gods and minotaur maniacs will roll their eyes upon hearing this game being associated with the object of their mania, but might I ask, does it really matter?
About a year and a half ago I was getting my hand on God of War for the first time, after a lot of my friends suggested I gave it a try, because, they said, “it’s the absolute pinnacle of awesomeness ever to hit the PlayStation 2”. I smirked, like a tolerant father who gets assaulted by the naiveté of his children, after which I gave it a shot. And when I say “I gave it a shot” I actually mean that I gave it my undivided attention for as long as the story unveiled. Why would I even consider doing that if it had let me down?
Because it hadn’t, obviously. When you play God of War, you don’t really expect philosophical subtlety, the gentle touch of metaphors or silky dialogues that would render the sensitive aspect of a culture that has long dusked. No. Just by watching the trailer or screenshots you find the essence to be a rather Hollywood-like perspective, with heads rolling and topless women warmly inviting you to indoor sport sessions.
You don’t start God of War out of spiritual thirst; you do it out of bloodlust. To watch beheadings, eviscerations and some poor guy getting beaten to a pulp, all under the pretext of a cinematic storyline. The sequel itself, having been released for a while now on the PlayStation 2 doesn’t stray from that formula. During the long wait for the third part of the series, Ready at Dawn made the title at hand, the story of which takes place ten years before the events of the original God of War, for the pocket wonder popularly known as the PlayStation Portable.
…and the bard shouted: “Let there be blood!”
The storyline of Chains of Olympus describes a 3 to 4 hours adventure cut out from the voyages of the antihero known as Kratos during his service for the gods. And because this guy in particular isn’t really renowned for his philanthropy, we are faced, as usual, with delicious massacres that start out in Attica and end on the summit from the original God of War.
It just so happens that at one point, the Persians got this wacky idea to invade Greek territory (300 anyone?), so they got in their ships and packed a Basilisk roughly 100 feet tall just to face the future god slayer. Here’s where the visual feast that the other games got us used to begins.
The already famous blades tied to the spartan’s wrists are our basic weapons, with the animations being precisely the same, which is not necessarily bad – if something works, I see no reason to change it. The aerial acrobatics, the brutal fatalities, the spells that shake the camera and the ground alike – these are all visually shocking, even on the 4 inch screen. Basically, this is where the God of War series gets its merits. The learning curve is almost non-existent, the fights are especially fluid and spectacular. More so, even the PSP release allows every weapon and spell to be upgraded by investing the “monetary resource” – the red orbs that pop out everything you kill or smash.
Those frustrating challenges are still around, boosting the replay value as a regular feature of the franchise, as well as unlockable content, such as alternative costumes for Kratos, a concept art gallery or dev diaries about the game’s production. The fact that most of the animations and hits are exactly the same as in the previous titles represents a small flaw in terms of innovation, and I can safely say that the fans of the franchise won’t find anything new to toy with here.
Even so, such fluid animations (that make even Altair blush) would be useless if we didn’t have comfortable controls. What really carves out the combat is the fact that anyone can play God of War, regardless of their gaming experience, without tripping over convoluted control schemes. The actions flow naturally and are easy to execute, in such a manner that you don’t have to be a gamepad-smasher or a genre enthusiast to get to the game’s ending without breaking your fingers trying to somersault. In my opinion though, Chains of Olympus made a basic (and overly used) action unnecessarily convoluted – I’m talking about rolling. It’s going to take a bit to get used to the controls of this maneuver that, at least on the higher difficulty levels, is absolutely mandatory to survive.