As anyone who's perused my writing here for the past three years knows I am an unabashed PSP fanboy. While so many millions extol the virtues of the Nintendo DS, Sony's little powerhouse would be my no-brainer choice if I had to pick just one mobile gaming rig. Between the sports, driving, and action titles, it delivers the best in handheld gaming experiences.
Then along comes God of War: Chains of Olympus, and everything I thought I knew about the PSP gets blown to bits – in the best way possible. Chains is a masterful tour de force, squeezing all of the power out of the PSP, and showing off just what the machine can do when developers put their minds to it. If you were one of the millions of God of War fans who were more than a little worried that corners may be cut to pack in the blood and fury of Kratos in a tiny UMD, you can rest easy.
Chains of Olympus drips of atmosphere, made all the more engrossing with a typically expansive orchestral soundtrack and wonderfully ominous narration.
There is no deviation from the God of War blueprint at any point, as fans of the series will immediately notice. A wild boss battle ensues within the first few minutes, Kratos sows his wild oats in a sexy mini-game with topless women, and compelling combat with upgradeable weapons and magic drive you from the first enemy encounter to his last stand. The story unfolds through scads of cut-scenes, usually involving a ticked-off Kratos cursing the gods, or his enemies, or anyone else in his plane of vision. In other words, everything you've already seen and played before.
Yet instead of feeling static or self-plagiarizing, its near-perfect implementation comes off as a snug fit in Kratos's story thus far. Or story thus past, as Chains sets itself back a few years from the original PS2 masterpiece and its follow-up. Chains delves deeper into Kratos' backstory as the Ghost of Sparta, defending the ancient world as a representative of the gods. Despite being his younger self, his trademark Blades of Chaos are still in tow, and just as violently capable of beheading and disemboweling enemies with the best of them. As you'd expect they can be upgraded along the way, to dole out some of the most grave acts of bodily harm you've ever seen.
Difficulty levels are uneven. Unless you're new to the series, you'll have no difficulty slashing apart most of the hordes of standard enemies that come your way. It's more interesting to choose the way you'll slice ‘em up too, since you don't really need to worry much about them taking you down. Boss battles, on the other hand, will likely cause you some grief (and more than a couple of retries). These are really the only place that you'll be wishing for that second analog stick or for something more responsive than the directional nub, as the button-ordering and nub-swirling tactics you'll employ don't work quite as well on the handheld. However, it'd be crazy to call the controls wonky or even troublesome. It just takes a little getting used to. Besides, you'll be so immersed in what's going on, you probably won't think twice about it.
Chains of Olympus drips of atmosphere, made all the more engrossing with a typically expansive orchestral soundtrack and wonderfully ominous narration. Add in the fact that both Kratos and the narrator are voiced by the same people as the previous incarnations, and it feels right at home with its big brothers on the console.
About the only significant gripe I have with Chains of Olympus is its fairly short length. Clocking in at about 6 hours front to back on the default difficulty level, I was a little surprised that it ended when it did. On the other hand, as a mobile game, that's not as much of a problem as if it were a full-sized title. Since I spend most of my PSP time on commutes, I found the pace and length to be pretty darned good, spending a couple of weeks getting through it the first time. Plus, as anyone familiar with the series knows, there are plenty of unlockables to attend to. Playing through a second time on a harder level is a virtual guarantee.
Ultimately, God of War: Chains of Olympus is a supremely impressive game that just might be the best title yet for the PSP. Start to finish, it's an engrossing experience that should not be missed by any mature gamer who owns Sony's handheld. It's just that good.