The Nintendo DS may sell more units than any other gaming platform, but where handhelds are concerned, Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP) delivers by far the most console-like experience you can get this side of the sofa. Sure, it’s got a gorgeous display, and yes, the Internet functionality is nice, but if you’re looking for console-like games on the go, the PSP has got you covered. Case in point: God of War: Chains of Olympus.
God of War: Chains of Olympus may be a handheld game, it may have a handheld game’s length, and it may have the occasional signs of handheld graphics, but in spite of it all, this handheld game can hold its own against about half of its console kin. Unlike certain “unnamed-to-protect-the-not-so-innocent” hardware manufacturers, Sony’s been very protective of its hallmark series, avoiding most temptations to spam the brand out there for the sake of making a few fanboy-infused marketing bucks. Instead, the God of War series has, in just two games, bred a tradition of excellence that gamers downright expect from anything with “God of War” in the title.
And the first God of War handheld game most definitely upholds that standard.
All the intense, over-the-top action is intact on the PSP, and surprisingly, the lack of a second analog stick doesn’t really hold the gore-fest back. This is because heavy and light attacks are accomplished with specific buttons, and the new bloodbath-inducing combos are simply a matter of using pretty intuitive button patterns. The lone exception to the simple controls is the evade maneuver, which requires both shoulder buttons to be held down while you move the thumbstick. At first this seems a bit hobbling, because in the middle of these intense fights, even with Kratos’ limited magic and ability to use an alternate weapon, you’ll want easy evading capabilties. However, after a few sequences, this shoulder-button pressing doesn’t seem nearly as awkward, as it basically equates to modifier buttons in a fighting game.
The plot of the game (yes, there’s more to God of War than simply bashing skulls and sex mini-games) can feel a bit awkward, though, but not for reasons you might expect. You see, God of War: Chains of Olympus is essentially a prequel, as it takes place before the original God of War. This is all well and good, but after slaying your way through the first two excellent PS2 games, it can be a bit challenging to remember exactly what happened that the events in Chains of Olympus are leading up to. The narrative does a decent job pulling players through the game’s linear levels, though, and by the end of the eight-hour game, you definitely feel a more rewarded than you did in, say, Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
The gameplay itself pulls you through the levels as well, which is no small feat on the PSP. Handheld systems are often known for simplistic controls and play mechanics, but somehow Sony was able to fit what one could easily argue is a full-on PS2 game onto a UMD. God of War: Chains of Olympus includes a massive amount of gory action, a healthy dose of magic, a smattering of platforming, a pinch of puzzle solving and even a sex mini-game to spice things up. Between this diverse mix and the fact that the game’s levels never seem to require loading — an amazing accomplishment on the PSP — God of War: Chains of Olympus truly feels like a seamless, complete and representative God of War title, handheld or not.
The game does have one blemish, but it’s really quite minor: the old “enter a room and not be able to leave until every enemy is killed” trick. I fully understand and respect the purpose of this, but at the same time, considering how well the rest of the game is executed, it would’ve been nice to see the developers avoid pulling this trick from the industry’s dusty old hat. Almost to make up for relying on this “old standby,” though, Sony made the ingenious decision to add a little RPG spice. With each enemy kill, players release a red orb that can be used to boost Kratos’ health and magic meters. These orbs can also be found in hidden treasure chests, giving an extra incentive to explore a bit. In a console title, such a move is expected, but handheld games don’t always have this same depth.
Another unexpected surprise is neatly packaged in a little thing we like to call “drop-dead gorgeous graphics.” God of War: Chains of Olympus looks good for a PS2 game, with a whole host of lighting effects and background movement, but to see it running in all its native glory on the PSP is downright incredible. The soundtrack and voice acting is also quite good, but it’s really best experienced with headphones.
“Best experience” is also probably the best way to sum up this amazing game. God of War: Chains of Olympus may be a handheld title, but Sony never uses the platform as an excuse for lazy design or production. Chain of Olympus is a rock-solid entry in the God of War franchise, handheld or not, and as far as PSP games go, it’s one of the best titles to ever release for the system. It’s also the first game we’ve played that made us really look at the PSP and say “now this is a handheld console.”
- Score: 9
- Chains of Olympus is both a worthy entry in the God of War series and a hands-down favorite for “best PSP game released yet.”
— Jonas Allen