Kratos is one rad dude. When not slaying the Gods of Olympus or beasts of epic proportions, the Ghost of Sparta spends his free time stomping the Blades of Chaos directly into some unfortunate Cyclops’ eye. Such activities are proudly flaunted in Ready at Dawn’s God of War: Chains of Olympus for the PlayStation Portable, though the big question remains — does this portable prequel live up to its namesake?
For those of you who have yet to experience one of Kratos’ journeys, shame on you. In all seriousness though, five years prior to Chains of Olympus, Kratos was tricked by the dastardly Ares into slaying his wife and daughter. In order to rid himself of past sins, Kratos pledged servitude to the Gods of Olympus. Chains of Olympus finds the world covered in the darkness of dreams, as the mysterious Morpheus has placed a spell upon the land. Kratos will ultimately be forced to choose between his own personal redemption and saving the world and the slumbering gods from assured obliteration. The plot is captivating and provides several dramatic twists that kept us enticed until the full-circle conclusion, which veterans of the first two titles will surely appreciate.
These fans will also appreciate the authenticity of Chains of Olympus to the look and feel of the God of War universe. The title begins with a battle in Attica against invading Persian forces and their massive basilisk and never goes downhill from there. The pacing of the title, like the other God of Wars, is perfect. The amount and difficulty of enemies is spot on, always tough enough to provide a suitable challenge, but never overly frustrating. Hero (Normal) mode is recommended for series newcomers, while Spartan (Hard) mode provides the most appropriate challenge for experienced players on their first play-through. It will also lengthen the title, which unfortunately took us God of War pros only a mere six hours on Hero. The ridiculously difficult Challenge of the Gods and God (Very Hard) mode are unlocked upon completion of the game. You’ll absolutely want to complete both of these modes, as they undoubtedly add some replay value to an otherwise concise title.
Ready at Dawn discovered and implemented several clever techniques to circumvent the control limitations of the PSP, which in some cases work even better than the previous control mechanics. The drastic changes involve the rolling and magic mechanics. With the lack of a right analog nub, dodging is now handled by holding both L and R simultaneously while moving the analog nub in any direction you desire. Magic has entirely ditched D-pad switching, instead opting for a more approachable system. Hold R and press square, triangle or circle to activate one of the game’s three magic spells, which include an area attack, ranged attack and semi-ranged individual attack.
Even with these new improvements (especially to the magic system), combat is almost identical to the PS2 games. All your favorite combos — with one exception; L and X is no more — remain either untouched or tweaked for the better. Chains of Olympus doesn’t venture outside the proven formula, but we can’t really complain, as the series still has the most fluid combat system seen in any game to date. We’re a bit disappointed Chains of Olympus didn’t decide to bring swinging mechanics seen in God of War II though. What they did include however was a weapon outside of the Blades of Chaos worth using. Other God of War games have generally failed in that department. There’s only one side weapon, but it’s unique, useful, and a bit badass.
Unsurprisingly, quicktime events return for this installment, and for the most part, they’re just as captivating on the small screen. It’s still remarkably satisfying to rip off a gorgon’s head or cut a foe in two with the press of a few buttons, but we had one recurring issue with the analog nub. Any quicktime event that required rotation of the nub was generally more difficult than those with only button presses, as the tiny nub is no replacement for an analog stick. Outside of that irritating issue, quicktime events feel right at home on the PSP.
This begs the question, how does it look when that head pops off or that torso is cut in two? The answer is incredible, as there’s no other way to describe how this game looks. This title does not look like a PSP title; it looks like it belongs on the PS2 or even the Wii. Ready at Dawn has not only crafted the best looking PSP game thus far, but likely the finest looking title the system will ever see during its lifetime. Making full use of the PSP’s processing power, the title sacrifices nothing in its transition to the handheld console. From the incredible polygon count to the sharp texture work and the expert lighting, we couldn’t stop drooling over how outstanding the game looked.
It doesn’t run like a slideshow either; we only noticed minor framerate drops during the heaviest of action. Little touches like the self-lighting Blades of Chaos or the excellent blood effects added even more to the atmosphere. We can’t stress it enough; this game is a technical showcase for the system, includes the stunning vistas and epic set pieces the console versions are known for. This is the closest we’ve seen to graphical perfection on a platform in a long, long time.
The cutscenes, outside of Crisis Core’s CG scenes, are the most cinematographic on the PSP. With extraordinary choreography and execution, the story hasn’t been slighted for the portable audience. The voice acting within game is also fantastic, perfectly on par with that of the console versions. Accompanying the cutscenes, and in fact the entire game, are the musical compositions that we’ve come to know and love. Although there was only 15 minutes of new music recorded for Chains of Olympus, old tracks have been remixed to feel fresh once again.
Ready at Dawn Studios launched their first game, Daxter, in 2006. The title brought the PS2 franchise to the portable scene with style. Showcasing the PSP’s incredible graphical prowess, the game remained markedly enjoyable. We don’t know how they did it, but Ready at Dawn has outdone itself, creating a true console experience on the go. God of War: Chains of Olympus isn’t bound by the typical restrictions of the PSP, as the developers have craftily sidestepped the handheld’s control limitations and somehow managed to push visual fidelity through the roof. As a result, God of War: Chains of Olympus is one of the best games the PSP has ever seen. Well done Ready at Dawn, well done.