The God of War games are some of the best action titles on the market. Squarely aimed at a Mature audience, the adventures of Kratos, the Ghost of Sparta, are gory and brutal. Whether he's tearing the wings from a harpy or ripping the head off a gorgon, Kratos is one bad shut-yo-mouth. I've always thought of God of War as what would happen if Conan and Clash of the Titans had a baby. Chains of Olympus, developed specifically for the PSP, is a worthy successor to the God of War title. This is a title that really shows how powerful Sony's little handheld is.
In many ways, God of War is great in spite of itself. It doesn't have a whole lot of story to speak of: Kratos is always being asked to perform seemingly impossible tasks (in this case, returning the sun to the sky) by the gods, and then he kills pretty much everything in sight. There is not a lot of depth to these stories. The action is relatively straightforward: Using several combos for each of a handful of weapons, God of War does not require the kind of player-dexterity of a fighting game, nor does it deliver the wide range of weapons one might find in many other titles.
So what makes the God of War games, and specifically Chains of Olympus, so good? It's all in the details.
The God of War games are incredibly well put together. They look great, have excellent voice acting, and the controls are spot-on. It is not difficult to send Kratos into a terrifying whirlwind of destruction, yet it takes real skill and strategy to beat many of the opponents you face. In the case of Chains of Olympus, it is rare to play a PSP title that manages load times so effectively (even on the original PSP hardware). In short, the God of War games have always been known for their technical prowess, and Chains of Olympus is no exception.
The game starts out in Attica as you steer Kratos through a battle against Persian forces. After defeating the King of Persia and his gargantuan basilisk, the sun falls from the sky. Kratos is tasked with returning the sun to its rightful place and releasing the Earth from the grip of Morpheus, the god of dreams and madness... Or at least that's how the story goes in the game. The God of War games are well-known for their liberties with mythological accuracy, but the embellishments usually lead to more spectacular gameplay. This is the also the case in Chains of Olympus. All of the God of War games have a way of taking a scant story, executing the presentation of that story very well, then adding on a litany of boss and demi-boss battles without ruining everything. This is an accomplishment, although an odd one to say the least. Nonetheless, the end result is suitably compelling, and the gameplay is incredible.
Many of the same gameplay elements familiar to the God of War series appear in the PSP version. The fighting system is action packed and uses the shoulder buttons to modify the four face buttons. There are several weapons you'll unlock along the way. Kratos begins with the old, reliable Chain Blades, and eventually gets some cool additional weapons including the Shield of Helios and Gauntlet of Zeus. These are two very useful weapons and add a lot of variety to the fighting. And for once the Chain Blades don't completely dominate the game. The Gauntlet and Shield are vital tools for getting Kratos' job done.
Also returning are the button-pressing minigame elements for finishing bosses and mini-bosses. After beating on a powerful enemy for awhile, an icon appears above the enemy's head. At that point you can enter into the minigame sequence where you must press buttons matching the icons flashing on the screen. It is definitely an intrusive way of handling these gameplay elements, but the trade-off is that the finishing moves are spectacular. Often after executing one of these moves you'll find yourself a little shocked at the violence. Throughout the last portion of the game you'll tap the O button repeatedly to tear the heads off gorgons, which is shocking. However, what Kratos does to the King of Persia made me pause the game for a minute. There is no doubt that this is not a game for children or people with weak stomaches.
Sometimes these button-mashing minigames help to reinforce the action and resonance of the game. There is one sequence near the end of the game where Kratos must push away a small child. Rather than handling this segment in a movie, the game requires you to tap O repeatedly to remove the child from Kratos' leg. If you don't press quick enough, the child just clings more tightly. It is a wonderful, small segment of the game, but it reveals that there is even more potential than what has already been exploited in the God of War gameplay style.
Chains of Olympus has been taking a lot of flack for being a relatively short game. However, I'm increasingly of the opinion that too short is better than too long when it comes to most things, and unless you're a serious God of War fan the game should last you some 10-15 hours. After you've beat the game you can always replay it at a harder difficulty, or you can pursue the Challenges of Hades, which are small goal-based challenges to do things like kill some number of enemies in some particular way. These aren't really going to keep any but the most hardcore fans coming back for more, but it's nice to have them.
The PSP has suffered too many bad games and not nearly enough attention. God of War: Chains of Olympus proves that the system is plenty capable of delivering home console-quality entertainment for grown up players. This is the kind of game we need to see more often: Well crafted, compelling, and incredibly enjoyable. If you own a PSP and you're into things like Conan and gladiator movies, then God of War: Chains of Olympus is a must-buy.