God of War: Chains of Olympus

[1 April 2008]

By Azmol Meah

Has it really been three whole years since the first God of War? So much has changed since then, we’ve seen the resurrection of Nintendo, been cursed by Microsoft’s red rings, and even witnessed good ol’ Sly Stallone attempt to bring back the ‘80s action man by literally tearing through hundreds of evil Burmese soldiers.

Kratos (God of War‘s protagonist) is very much your John Rambo type chap. He kills for fun, knows no fear, can mow through any army, no matter the size, and his games have always contained a body count that would put even a century’s worth of Rambo flicks to shame; sans rifle, perhaps, but in its place the Blades of Chaos—oh, and then there’s whole Greek mythology setting as well.

What’s also amazing to see is just how, for better or for worse, the God of War series hasn’t changed at all.

The graphics on the PSP version are just as good as Chains of Olympus’ two older PS2 brothers; the score is as epic as we’ve come to expect, to the point where one could easily mistake it for a John Williams piece, while the combat remains blissfully underdeveloped and Kratos retains his crown as undoubtedly the biggest dick in the industry today.
He’s a dick, however, that seems to win various ‘best character’ awards from press and award associations alike. It’s something of a sad reflection on the poor state of characterisation in videogames today, that someone like Kratos stands out head and shoulders above his contemporaries just because he speaks with a sailor’s tongue and is generally very nasty, angry and violent.
What’s even sadder is that his badass, fuck-the-world attitude is highlighted and glorified by reviewers around the world; it’s in times like these that Roger Ebert’s criticism of our medium seems justifiable.
For a fan of the action-adventure genre (i.e. Zelda, Devil May Cry, Prince of Persia, Ico et al), the God of War series holds immense appeal. The original God of War was a pleasant mixture of the aforementioned titles; Olympus, however, has chosen to focus on the weakest aspect of the series, the combat. This leaves it right in the firing line of the far superior Devil May Cry series, and there was only ever going to be one winner in that category.

One must give credit where credit is due, though, and Ready At Dawn have managed to wring a hell of a lot from the PSP’s modest control system—how they’ve crammed so much in there and retained an ease of use and accessibility that even your Wii Sports-loving grandma would welcome is testament to their obvious talent. It’s just a pity, then, that the actual combat mechanics are so shallow, lacking any of the grace, elegance or depth that it purports to have.
You can easily fight your way through the entire game simply by using the L + Square combo, and though you’ll learn new moves and earn new abilities as you level up the various tools at your disposal, there really is no need for them as it’s far easier just to button-bash the combos you find most effective.
What stops you from mixing it up a little, is that regardless of how much damage you’re inflicting on your foes, they’ll always manage to land a blow on you, which sends you flying halfway across the room. This disrupts any sense of progression or fluidity, killing with it any desire within you to experiment, not to mention that it feels both unfair and illogical. To compound matters further, the game won’t allow you to input another move until the animation of the move you’re currently attempting is complete, which utterly shatters the illusion of control and any chance to link different combos together.

If that doesn’t kill it for you, then the moronic, brain-dead grunts you encounter along the way will. At one point in the game, countless archers just happily stood around waiting for me to tear them in two, putting up no resistance whatsoever. These are meant to be skilled, ruthless killers, not zombies straight out of Dawn of the Dead.

Unlike Devil May Cry, where you make your own combos and essentially orchestrate the combat, God of War fails to offer any such equivalent, and as such its depth and skill requirement levels sink faster than the Titanic. The lack of any truly challenging puzzles or compelling boss fights does nothing to break up the monotony, and the series’ fetish with Quick-Time Event prompts continues, albeit with sequences that lack any sense of urgency (which all QTE prompts should inspire), further highlighting just how rigid and scripted your actions are.

Throw in a heavily fragmented story which has somehow managed to make Greek mythology convoluted and tedious, and you’ve got a series that’s looking old before its time.

To rub salt in the wounds, the game can easily be completed in less than five hours, with very little to go back for other than some generic costumes and some rather naff minigames. At full price, simply put, there’s just not enough bang for your buck here, friends.
I still remain a fan of the series; maybe it’s my interest in Greek mythology stemming from my school days, maybe it’s my love of the action genre, or maybe it’s just that I love mouthing off and going against popular consensus. However, the flaws of God of War: Chains of Olympus can’t be ignored. I wanted to fall in love with this title, and I truly hope that the PS3 chapter in the trilogy rethinks the formula rather than simply HD-ifying the visuals.
Times have changed, and God of War needs to change with them. It would be a real shame if the series were to find itself creatively bankrupt, when it was only three years ago that it stormed the market as something so fresh and new.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/god-of-war-chains-of-olympus/