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God of War: Chains of Olympus


When it comes to Sony’s first party titles, it doesn't get much better than the God of War franchise. The action opus hit the PlayStation 2 like a lightning bolt straight from Zeus' fingertips and it was an instant success. Though the title didn't bring a whole bag of new material to the table, it brought enough new life into the platforming action genre. Full of blood, mythological creatures, blood, intense action, blood, and even a little nooky for the main character, God of War quickly changed the scope of how an action title was perceived.

As the cursed warrior Kratos you ravaged through the land at the beck and call of Ares, God of War. With a pair of chained blades affixed to his arms and the ashes of his dead family coating his skin, Kratos defined what it meant to be a badass. He's very much the anti-hero thanks to the copious amounts of blood that drips from his hands. However, Kratos is a very tragic character whose life has been twisted by violence and malice. Bent on destroying Ares, Kratos set out on a journey worthy of Olympus.

As the first title in the series proved to be successful, a sequel soon followed as one might expect. This sophomore outing proved to be just as hard-hitting as the original though it didn't introduce too many new aspects. What it did do, it did surprisingly well. God of War 2 quickly became another smash for Sony and it solidified Kratos' stature among the Gods of Olympus.

Now, you'd think that a huge title like God of War would remain strictly on home consoles, right? Wrong! Developer Ready at Dawn has pulled out an incredible effort to bring the series to the Sony PlayStation Portable. Set ten years prior to the start of the first God of War title, Chains of Olympus does what most thought was impossible. This title breaks the preconceptions surrounding the PSP's ability to sport games that rival those found on the PS2. Chains of Olympus is a solid experience from start to finish and it's one that fans of Kratos definitely need to check out.

Gameplay


The thing that makes Chains of Olympus so successful is the fact that the controls hardly feel any different from its PS2 counterparts. That's what struck me as most surprising considering the fact that the game mechanics went from dual analog control down to a single stick. Each and every time I have seen this happen the controls have suffered and the experience has wound up being a disappointment. That's not the case with this title and because of that (plus many other reasons) Chains of Olympus is a must have PSP game.

With the single analog stick, Kratos proves to be just as agile as he ever has been. The button mapping plays a big part of that as shoulder buttons are employed for dodging while the face ones are left for combat. Stage design is another key factor in improving the way Kratos fits into his environment. With well-placed camera pans, intuitive angles for jumping, and other facets that play out in wall-climbing sections this portable God of War wholly represents what the console versions offers in that department. Sure some invisible walls are kind of annoying and yes, some moments tend to drag, but on the whole you're going to be too wrapped up in the action to care.

To put it bluntly, the combat here is exemplary. The signature God of War combo system is back and it's just as good as ever. Kratos rips through legions of mythological creatures and Spartans like a hot knife through gobs of Olympian butter. The chains prove to be just as efficient as we've become accustomed to and as the game progresses they only get better. Upgrading Kratos' powers has been one of the defining elements of the franchise and in Chains of Olympus it's no different. Upgrading to new moves and combos is satisfying and rewarding, especially later in the game when you have access to magic and another powerful weapon. Seriously, if you're a fan of the series you'll love the latter half of this game.

It has been done numerous times since the first God of War came out but timed button press action makes a return in Chains of Olympus. Boss fights become visceral and are arguably the best you'll ever experience on the PSP. With the action up close and personal, Kratos gets right up to his foe and affords you the ability to cause some serious pain simply by pressing Square, Triangle, or Circle when the icon appears. These moments helped define the original game and in his prequel they prove to be no different.

When you're not tearing a Cyclops a new one or chopping the head off of a Minotaur, you're going to be spending your time solving puzzles. The cerebral elements have always been a part of God of War though these challenges have never been enough to stop the action for long. On the PSP version these diversions are little more than few second lulls that cause Kratos to pause while making his way from point A to B. I wish these bits were stepped up a tad but I suppose given this is a handheld title the gameplay should be a tad quicker. In all you can expect this game to last you roughly seven hours or so and with the ability to save frequently it's easy enough to pick up and play.

God of War: Chains of Olympus is quite possible the best PSP title to ever hit store shelves. This is an amazing action game from start to finish and it truly harnesses the intensity enjoyed by its console brethren. Ready at Dawn did a stellar job bringing the venerable franchise to the handheld market and fans of Kratos absolutely must check it out. This is the first "Must Own" title for the PSP in a while and hopefully it's a sign of things to come for Sony's handheld.

Graphics


With the PSP you're never sure what you're going to get when you talk about graphics. Some titles stand out while others tend to disappoint with quality equal to or less than PlayStation 1's abilities. With God of War I was stunned by how gorgeous everything was. This is a game that truly breaks the idea of what a handheld can look like and for all intents and purposes it's a cinematic experience much like the PlayStation 2 titles. From the level and character designs to animation, the art direction for this title is simply superb.

Technically speaking it's a marvel as well. The game's textures look fantastic, the effects are nice, and thanks to the whole package this is a very intense game for a handheld. The PSP's widescreen is used to its fullest here and you'll be hard-pressed to find something to gripe about apart from some clipping and overlapping of cutscenes. Heck, even the loading times are virtually non-existent!

Sound


Who knew a UMD could pack so much quality into such a confined space? The soundtrack here is incredible and the music composition is quite possibly better than the console God of War games. Sound effects and voice work are also impressive and leave an impression. Sometimes the primal mutterings of Kratos can feel out of place within the context of the story but even so, this is a solid package all around. If you can hook this title up to an external sound source then you'll be in good shape. Otherwise just use some headphones because the PSP's speakers don't provide the necessary output.

Conclusion


Chains of Olympus is a game of mythical proportions. The God of War franchise is rock solid to begin with but considering how well Ready at Dawn brought it to the PSP, I must admit that I'm stunned. Everything from the graphics and sound to the gameplay has been ported successfully. The presumed limitations of just one analog stick are a thing of the past as this title controls perfectly. For so many reasons this is the best PSP game on the market and if you own the system you absolutely must check it out. I must tip my hat to Ready at Dawn. This game completely blew me out of the water and it's an adventure that rivals the console God of War titles.