God of War: Chains of Olympus Review
I'm not sure how it happened, but my PSP has been getting more use than ever recently. After literally months of being a professional dust magnet and many internal conversa-tions in which I (barely) talked myself out of selling the handheld, the PSP has, seem-ingly out of nowhere, become my most played system, portable or otherwise. Patapon (you can read my review here), a fantastic and unique game resparked my interest in Sony's handheld in late February and now, the long-anticipated release of God of War: Chains of Olympus has worn my PSP's battery down to dead nearly every day for the past two weeks. You might call it a good night's sleep, but I'm starting to view the late night hours as a time when my PSP can rest up for the next day. Things seem unlikely to change, as the late March release of Final Fantasy: Crisis Core will no doubt have me cursing myself for being too cheap to spring for the extended life PSP battery. It feels foolish to look ahead, though; between God of War and Patapon, the only people who aren't glued to their PSPs now are the anti-Sony crowd and the folks who can't tear their eyes away from Super Smash Bros: Brawl for long enough to eat, let alone play another game.
Everyone pretty much knew that the first God of War title on Sony's PSP was going to be good, but now that it is out, people are getting to see just how much quality developers Ready at Dawn (Daxter) managed to squeeze into the title. Like the PS2 games, God of War: Chains of Olympus puts the player in charge of Kratos, a Spartan warrior who, with the help of some knives on chains (think nunchuks, but longer and much more danger-ous), cuts a swath through ancient locales, doing the Olympian god's dirty work. This game serves a prequel of sorts to the PS2 titles, but even if you've never played them, you won't have any trouble figuring out what is going on. The narrative isn't always clear, though; Kratos goal (which isn't even revealed until about halfway through the game) is evident at times, but in other instances, it can seem like you are ripping mythical enemies to pieces simply because they exist, not because there is a "point-a-to-point-b" progression.
On top of a disjointed narrative, Kratos' enemies in this game feel very "B-team," if you know what I mean. You'll fight a large monster at the end of the first level (which is an awesome fight, by the way), but for the rest of the game, you'll fight mostly minor ene-mies. There are two other boss fights, but if you know anything about Greek mythology, you'll recognize them for the second tier characters they are. Ares, Poseidon, Zeus, Athena… these are the mythological gods that get things done; a guy with a boat and a woman most famous for her choice in disgusting fruit don't really inspire fear or awe in anyone, and certainly not a guy known for the enjoyment he gets from tearing the wings off Harpies and Gorgons (that was as spoiler-free as I could make it, sorry if I ruined anything for you).
The other drawback to Kratos' first PSP adventure is the length. Most God of War alums (myself included) will argue that none of the games are particularly long; the replay value comes from unlocking challenges and conquering higher difficulty levels. That is fine for us superfans, but most people won't get more than one playthrough out of Chains of Olympus. Depending on how quickly you progress, that one playthrough could be com-pleted in between 5-8 hours. I took it slow and finished off the last boss on the normal difficulty in just about 7 hours. What makes the length even more of a letdown is that by the time you find and upgrade all the weapons and magic, the game is almost instantly over. Playing through about half a level and one boss fight at full power just doesn't feel like enough.
This is made even more annoying by the fact that the game's new weapon, a golden gauntlet (I won't call it by name to avoid spoiling a small bit of the plot) that allows for some punishing new combos and the destruction of large pieces of your environment, is so much fun to play with. Upon finally getting your hands on this new weapon, you back-track through one level, fight a boss you've fought before, watch a cutscene and fight the final boss. That's it. There needed to be at least one more honest-to-goodness level in there to play with your new toy. There isn't one. Thankfully, you can restart the game with all your weapons and upgrades, though they are only available on a second play-through of a difficulty you've already bested. Forget about maxing yourself out on an easier difficulty with the intention of starting a harder one with an advantage - the game won't allow it.