Conan will always be remembered as God of War’s pesky little brother. He isn’t as engaging, he doesn’t look as handsome, and overall isn’t as much fun to play with. However, Conan is of the same lineage, so is it possible for him to be completely worthless?
Analogies aside, we’ll move on to the basics; Conan was developed by the relatively unknown Nihilistic Software. The title begins with a tutorial section in which Conan raids a tomb, unintentionally unleashing an imprisoned entity that goes on to spread “The Black Plague" throughout the land. Knocked unconscious, Conan is stripped of his magical armor, and finds himself on a quest to recover each armor piece and destroy the demon that he released upon the world.
As a whole, Conan has numerous striking similarities to God of War (albeit it lacks the high production values of the series). By the way, when we say “striking similarities,” we mean that Conan flat out copies nearly all aspects of Sony’s award-winning action-adventure games. Just to start, the then unique book-like cutscenes that we saw in the God of War series have made their way here, with one noticeable difference in that you won’t give a rat’s underside about the story. You’re a burly dude traveling with a rebellious princess trying to stop an evil sorcerer. Moving on.
Surprisingly, the gameplay in Conan wasn’t as jumbled as the demo led us to expect. Red runes (essentially orbs) provide experience points which can be used to learn new attacks, green runes offer health, and blue runes charge your pieces of magic armor once they have been found (sound familiar?). Once you learn several new attacks, you’ll find the combat system is somewhat deep. You’re able to pilfer the weapons off your adversaries and use them as your own. After the dust settles and you start becoming accustomed with the system, it becomes apparent there are a set number of styles.
Conan can hold a single blade with or without a shield, use two blades simultaneously, or he can utilize a two-handed weapon. Besides rambling on about how much he hates wizards and their loopy magic, Conan learns a new spell with each piece of armor recovered. We only found one of the four, which are mapped to the D-pad, useful in the slightest. This particular one happens to turn Conan’s enemies into stone – that’s not in the least bit like God of War… right?
The combat system works hand in hand with the tremendous counter-kills, which are without a doubt the best part of the game. Block an attack at just the right time and you’ll be prompted to press one of the face buttons to perform a gruesome counter-kill. If there’s one thing Nihilistic did right, it was these awe-inspiring death animations. Each time you see, nay, experience a new one, it’ll get your heart pumping rapidly. However, as you progress through the game, these, along with the regular combat mechanics, become remarkably repetitive (a tough task for a six to seven hour title). Not even the God of War style context sensitive action sequences provide much respite towards the latter half of the game. Don’t expect the bosses to freshen things up either – the last one was so painful we’d rather participate in a real-life game of PAIN than play it again.
Breaking up the action are some puzzle-solving and platforming sequences. In both areas, Conan fails miserably. While the puzzles are by no means hard, you’ll often find yourself running foolishly around trying to see which pillar needs to be knocked over in order to continue. As for platforming, the sections are the polar opposite of those found in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Jumping from ledge to ledge feels less fun than riding a clunky wooden rollercoaster that’s in the middle of collapsing.
The presentation is arguably the worst part of Conan. While the game doesn’t look that dreadful, it certainly won’t win any awards for technical achievement. Playing through the game, it feels like you’re staring at an Alpha build as opposed to experiencing the title on a final retail disc. Various environments and several of the gore effects aren’t half bad, but the little polished details just aren’t present. Additionally, nothing holds up from a close distance (this is especially noticeable during the in-game cutscenes).
Switching senses, the audio in Conan is quite the mixed bag. The musical scores are epic, providing pounding orchestral scores that perfectly fit the barbaric feel of the title. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the dialogue is laughable. Not only would the writing feel stale and corny to a thirteen year old, but also, Conan repeats the same phrases over and over as he beheads his foes. By the 50th time you hear “you scratch like a child,” you’ll have the urge to chuck your controller right into your TV screen. Expect that point to be around 30 minutes into the game. Finally, during our adventures as the Barbarian, we experienced several audio glitches in which the sound (both dialogue and music) stuttered for minutes on end before magically vanishing upon entering a new area.
At points, such as when you cut an enemy in two via a deadly slow-motion counter-kill, Conan can feel supremely satisfying. However, this guilty pleasure is short-lived. Between lacking graphics, hilariously cheesy dialogue, and tediously repetitive gameplay, Conan just isn’t a high-quality game, amounting to a half-decent God of War clone.