IGN Review of God of War: Chains of Olympus
Ready at Dawn Studios burst onto the scene in 2006 with Daxter, a PSP take on the PS2's Jak series, starring everyone's favorite Ottsel. The game was visually stunning for its time, featuring fantastic animation and great overall art design. It also didn't hurt that it was a damn fun title, making it quite the breakout release for the fledgling developer.
Given Daxter's fantastic showing, I had very high expectations for the studio's second PS2-to-PSP transition, God of War: Chains of Olympus. While creating an offshoot title that stars a sidekick is one thing, it's a whole different ballgame to take the reigns of Kratos and attempt to follow up two of the PlayStation 2's absolute best (and fan favorite) titles. Somehow though, Ready at Dawn has done it again.
Chains of Olympus works as a prequel to the original God of War. Kratos has already been saved by Ares and is working out his seemingly never-ending payback by doing the bidding of Olympus. The game opens in Attica, where Kratos helps defend the city against the impeding Persian forces. If you've gotten your hands on the demo disc, you've already played the game's opening moments.
After chasing down the Persians' basilisk throughout the city, which of course culminates in a signature God of War boss battle, the game shifts its focus to an entirely different tale. I won't even begin to hint at its contents since much of the story is shrouded in mystery until the end, but it does work very nicely into the overall franchise and helps give a little more character to Kratos. There's even a bit of foreshadowing here that relates to what happens in the second and, I assume, third games, which is pretty cool.
Aside from its rather stunning visuals, the first thing you'll immediately notice about Chains of Olympus is that Ready at Dawn has done a stellar job of keeping Kratos' move set intact. From what I can tell without doing an actual side-by-side comparison of the two games, Kratos' moves appear to be identical to what you'll find in God of War 2. Furthermore, combat is extremely responsive, perfectly mimicking the console versions. I immediately and naturally went back to my favorite combos, and they worked exactly as I'd remembered.
Though the PSP is missing the L2 and R2 buttons and the right analog stick of the Dual Shock 2, I dare say that the control scheme here works better than on the PS2. Instead of having to use the D-Pad to change between magic types, you now hold R and press a corresponding face button. This means you won't accidentally trigger something you didn't mean to a waste precious magic, and it also means you can switch between them much more easily. Since there isn't a second analog stick, dodging works by pressing L and R at the same time, which again works even better than on the PS2 pad since you don't have to move your thumb off the face buttons. Each of the control changes has been implemented fantastically and you won't miss any of the missing buttons.
Given that this is a God of War title, most of your time will be spent in combat. Ready at Dawn didn't mess with the franchise's proven formula whatsoever, which is perhaps one of our only (small) gripes for the game. You'll generally lay waste to anything in front of you as you progress through the game's stellar environments, occasionally being trapped in a room until you've dispatched everyone (and everything) inside of it. Like the previous titles, it's a very linear experience, with only small nooks and crannies hidden away with secrets that'll take you off the beaten path for a few moments. It would have been nice to have seen a little experimentation here or there to mix things up. Things like the Pegasus elements of God of War II did this to some extent, but you won't find anything like that here.
The enemies too are largely based on previous beasts that we've seen. If you can imagine lining up the creatures from previous installments and then mixing and matching their abilities a tad, you pretty much know what to expect. That doesn't mean they're boring, as each enemy type has its own unique attack, defense and movement characteristics, meaning that you'll have different combat tactics for everything you face. Still though, it would have been nice to have seen something a little more inventive here, even if it was only one wholly unique creature.
While Ready at Dawn didn't stray from the formula, it has done a fantastic job of keeping the intensity the series is known for cranked up to 10 the whole way through. The environments always provide interesting arenas to fight in (or at least look at) and there's never a section where you're not doing something to progress, be it fighting, navigating the environment or solving some sort of puzzle.
Like the other God of War titles, the puzzle elements aren't all that difficult by and large, but solving them does generally give you the satisfaction of completing it as the game doesn't hold your hand. It might only take a quick glance around the area to figure out where to move a statue to trigger a door to open, but most things are immediately apparent. Again, most of the puzzles won't test the weight of your brain matter, but they do provide a nice break from the action.
One other thing that I'm slightly disappointed with is the short list of boss fights. The basilisk that you encounter in Attica is the only gigantic beast you'll fight in the game. You'll find things like Cyclopes and whatnot along the way, but the only boss fight against a huge creature is against the basilisk. That's not to say that the other fights aren't good, but you only once get the satisfaction of taking down something 100 times your size.
Magic and an additional weapon are of course present in the game, all of which are new to the title, at least in name. Some of the magic is similar to what we've seen before, like the lightning-esque ranged attack you'll learn, but there are also some cool new unique abilities. I won't go into detail on the other stuff you'll get to keep things as spoiler-free as possible, but it is worth noting that the other weapon you'll get is actually quite useful this time around, especially when upgraded.
While Ready at Dawn's first title, Daxter, was a visual accomplishment for its time, God of War: Chains of Olympus is quite simply the best looking title on the system, bar none. Practically everything in the game is on par with what you'll find in the PS2 titles (or close to it, anyway), be it the animation, environments or even the texture work, which is stunning. The care that went into the construction of the environments is phenomenal, especially for a portable game. The sense of scale seen in the console titles remains wholly intact here, with extremely large set pieces that perfectly fit into the God of War universe. The only noticeable downgrade that I wish could have been better is the small number of kill animations for when you grab an enemy, but this is clearly chalked up to memory restrictions and is easily forgiven.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the whole visual presentation is that after you start the game or load a save, you'll never see a loading screen again. Well, if you go backwards to somewhere the game doesn't expect you to then you will, but you can forge straight through the game without looking back and never see a loading icon.
The audio in Chains of Olympus is right on par with its visuals. The combat effects, which seem like they're ripped right from the PS2 titles, sound great here, and the soundtrack perhaps even better than the score from the first two titles. Phenomenal work here, proving that Ready at Dawn can hit the mark on every level of production.
As has been the case with the original God of War and its sequel, there's a fair bit of bonus content here. The Challenge of Hades replaces the Challenge of the Gods, but works identically, and offers a number of unlockables for use if you can manage to finish it. New costumes for subsequent playthroughs are attainable, there's a small concept gallery and even some "making of" stuff. The look inside Ready at Dawn was disappointing as it was just a montage of quick shots from each of the studio's staff, but some of the other stuff is great.
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