God of War: Chains of Olympus tells its story through the lens of Greek mythology. Game stories and mythology have a lot in common – both focus on epic plots, larger-than-life heroes, and absurd deus ex machina. God of War’s take on mythology tosses aside logic and flow in favor of grand events and grander characters. It’s simultaneously a generic game story and a loving adaptation.
The grandiose stylings don’t end there – on the small screen, God of War: Chains of Olympus is a powerhouse. As a game you can take anywhere, the visuals remain unmatched. You can see where developer Ready at Dawn cut corners in visual detail, but the game never allows a peak behind the curtain. The result is a world that feels incredibly solid, and well beyond anything you’d expect to see on a portable in 2009, let alone early 2008, when the game was released.
Unfortunately, that solidarity doesn’t extend to the gameplay. It is a competent character action game, rife with all the conventions of the genre. Linear design holds your hand from one enclosed arena to the next. Killing enemies and smashing scenery awards you with colored orbs that level up your skills, and obvious puzzles break up the action. It all leads to inevitable comparisons to Ninja Gaiden, another character action game that shares these trappings. What sets them apart is the combat, and while it’s fun in both instances, God of War isn’t nearly as refined.
The combat is sluggish, with an emphasis on flamboyant combo extravaganzas rather than quick reflexes. The animations are detailed, but you’ll find yourself relying on shorter attacks because the flashy stuff always leaves you open. Blocking, dodging, and countering are all options, but they’re just as sluggish. Doing well requires conscious planning, rather than the instinctual, fight-or-flight reactions Ninja Gaiden demands. The enemies are balanced appropriately, attacking in turn with deliberate strikes, but fighting back feels more like attacking pieces of steak with a blender than toe-to-toe combat.
The reason to play God of War: Chains of Olympus is clear: It’s the game you show off to your friends. It is a showcase of the raw horsepower inside the PSP. The novelty of that alone is enough to toss criticisms aside and enjoy some cutting-edge gaming.