Kratos, the Ghost of Sparta, had already been on a long, arduous road before he made his appearance in the original God of War. The first PlayStation Portable release of the series, God of War: Chains of Olympus tells the tale of Kratos up to the events of the original. A prequel, if you will. A strong release, to be sure, but our favorite Mortal Kombat-esque Greek antihero also finds himself in an adventure that is a little less so this time around.
At the point where Chain of Olympus picks up, Kratos has already done the deeds that haunt him and has already been set on his path of redemption by the gods. Helios has disappeared, and with his chariot crashed to earth the Sun is no longer burning its way across the sky. Morpheus, the god of sleep, has arisen and cast a dark fog over the land to send both god and man to slumber. It is now up to Kratos to find Helios and to get him back into the sky, lest all fall under the heel of Morpheus.
Linda Hunt has returned to reprise her role of Awesome Narrator and sets the tone perfectly for a new outing. Likewise, the phenomenal graphics and sound do a great job in placing Chains of Olympus comfortably within the series. So when it comes to the production values, the portable version definitely holds its own against the console releases; however, the game isnít as strong as the others when it comes to design.
The standards of the series are here, to be sure, dual chains and all. The combat is the same system that fans have come to love, with chained light and hard attack combos sending bloody mythological creatures flying about. Dead enemies leave behind red orbs that are collected and allocated towards one of several powers, upgrading everything from increased combo damage to extending damage dealt by a summoned beast. This light upgrade system continues to serve the series well; and the ability to deflect projectiles with timed blocks was one that I particularly enjoyed. There is also a useful weapon introduced later in the game that can be counted as a proper replacement for the chained swords, which is a welcomed addition. Like the others, it takes a few hours to get to the really good stuff, but considering that the game clocks in at around 7 hours, even when you take the time to treasure hunt (for Gorgon Eyes and Feathers, to permanently extend health and magic bars, respectively), those few hours are precious.
If I may make a quick plea here, though: please, no more quick time events. I know the idea of a player still having control, however limited, over a very cinematic sequence is appealing, but I am tired of them. They were novel in Shenmue, not bad in God of War, but they have since worn out their welcome as games either donít do them right (Spider-Man 3) or abuse them (Heavenly Sword). At the least, limit them. Chains of Olympus does them better than most, and I think they are a series standard at this point, but I would still like to see them replaced with something more immersive.
I have always enjoyed the combat system, so I have no problems there. What I was disappointed with were the level designs and puzzles. The levels, despite being linear and offering a random hint, can somehow manage to be confusing. There were some areas that offered no hint as to what to do and I found myself amazed that I was completely stuck. The camera doesnít help either, with its forced mount making it difficult to spot doorways or paths. Judging by other gamersí questions on the official PlayStation forum, it appears that I am far from alone. The puzzles have also never been the seriesí strongest aspect, but they were in place either to serve a narrative purpose or to simply offer some non-combat variety.
It seems as though the only thing Ready at Dawn took away from the puzzles in the previous titles is that they must involve crates and levers. Do they ever involve crates and levers. The puzzles are often far too laborious for their own good: figuring out what to do is simple, but doing it takes forever. The difference between having to drag a statue a few feet and having to drag a statue across a room becomes readily apparent as you grind down on the analog pad. This is an action game, and having to haul objects, often obtusely placed, is the antithesis of action.
Still, the series manages to translate very well to the PSP. I was genuinely surprised at how much it looked and played like a God of War title. The series isnít for everyone, so those who opted out of the console versions would do well to stay away from this one as well Ė itís just like those, only in widescreen, portable format. For those that canít get enough of Kratos, then the adventure Chains of Olympus offers is exactly what you have been waiting for.
Overall: 8.5/10God of War: Chains of Olympus is a stellar technological achievement for the PSP. It looks great, sounds great, and has fantastic controls. It is the premier action title on the system, but it also has its share of problems. The incessantly protracted puzzles and oft confusing level design constantly break up the gameís flow. A game that clocks in at around seven hours needs more meaty content and less filler. There are still some phenomenal levels, though, which do help to balance things out. Despite its shortcomings, I still have no problem recommending Chains of Olympus to any PSP owner. Zzzeeeuuusss!