God of War: Chains of Olympus
Can they really shrink Sony's bald badass?
Ready At Dawn
Sony has over the past decade gone from a hardware maker peddling a handful of playable games to one of the powerhouse publishers in the games industry, with a stable of franchises that includes the crushingly beautiful action series God of War. Still, when the PSP series instalment was announced, I joined those who wondered how well the concept would transfer to the portable.
Right from the start, Sony demonstrated that this is more than just a technical exercise conceived to swell the company's bottom line. While Sony's Santa Monica studio had only limited involvement in Chains, the choice of Daxter developer Ready At Dawn has turned out to be on the money. In the brief new PSP game, the California design house shows that it knows what makes Kratos tick, and also what makes the series so compelling to play.
Start with Kratos the man. The brash temperament and drive so present in the previous PlayStation 2 games are juxtaposed here with a subtle, soft side, the memory of a violent past and a father's love for his daughter hidden behind the Ghost of Sparta's unflinching scowl.
God of War creator David Jaffe, who had a part in the story, and Ready At Dawn have not gone easy on Kratos. The servant of the gods is made to choose between the life he once had and the life he knows he must live. And you, the gamer, will have to struggle to make these decisions through some interesting game mechanics employed at various times.
It's in these mechanics that Chains really flexes its muscles, showing just how much the PSP is actually capable of. Much of the repertoire in earlier games has been borrowed but what's remarkable is how well it all works. The missing second analogue stick, something I was convinced would destroy the near-perfect control in previous editions, is no hinderance at all.
Clever mapping of those controls to other buttons means that controlling Kratos is just as satisfying as it's always been. Better still, while some moves and weapons haven't made the transition, there are some new ones, including my new favourite, the gauntlet of Zeus. Not everything works, though. The underwater scenes, already something of a pain on the PS2, are even more confusing here. Realizing this, Ready At Dawn has seen fit to severely limit its presence in the final game to just one scene. Puzzles are set out just as in previous games, so if you speak God of War, they won't pose a problem.
One aspect of Chains many people will loathe is its brevity. I made my way through in under five hours, and from some of the message boards I've looked at, I'm not alone. Finishing the game does unlock the challenging God mode, and there are a few standalone challenges to complete too, but that doesn't change that this is a brief experience. I have no problem with this. Chains is so thrilling to play and interesting to experience that it's a game everyone should finish.
If it's not the battles that flow so gracefully or the graphics that show just how much the portable can do, then it's the story, which I found interesting and nuanced. Despite Ready At Dawn saying it isn't working on a PS2 version of this, I'd wager that some studio somewhere is already toiling away at a port. There's no need to wait, though. Chains is a fantastic game right now on the PSP.