God of War Chains of Olympus Review: Portable Near Perfection

God of War: Chains of Olympus is a stunning and portable prequel to the much touted God of War franchise. Taking place ten years before the original God of War, Kratos is delivered to gamers in a title that can be played on the go. While the story-driven gameplay and over-the-top action of previous God of War games made them nearly instant classics, developers Ready at Dawn had to try and encapsulate all of that screen-filling glory on a 4-inch LCD without losing any of the pizazz.

Ready at Dawn certainly achieved their goals, but they didn't do so without a bit of stumbling.

Loved:
Channeling God of War: This pocket-sized God of War is an amazing reproduction of the big screen version. Everything from the epic scope of the backdrop, to over-the-top battles, to the hidden sex mini-games is packed into this excellent title.
Pacing: As with the original, Chains of Olympus keeps you enthralled with a storyline you care about and the perfectly paced blending of battles and puzzle solving.
Graphics: Miniaturised, Kratos is just as much a bad-arse as he was in the original games. The detail of animation is at times awe-inspiring, and the character design at times almost surpasses the first two in the franchise.
Controls: With the exception of a few quick-time boss battle kills, the controls are flawless, allowing you to hammer out 40 to 50-chain attacks on a screen full of enemies.
Weapons: From the Gauntlets of Zeus to Kratos' mainstay Blades of Chaos, the portable God of War comes packed with an amazing selection of boostable weapons, a half dozen all told.
Bonus Material: While the game's five hours or so of campaign play was more than enough to satisfy my God of War bloodlust, it's nice that the game also includes five challenges that unlock silly bonus material, like being able to play as Kratos in a dress, and a God difficulty.
Addictive: Because of the vagaries of early builds and demos, I managed to play through chunks of Chains of Olympus three to four times, and it never got old. In fact, I had a lot of trouble putting it down. It's rare that a game gets its claws into me so deep. Even rarer that it would be on the PSP.

Hated
The Thumbstick: There are a number of big monster, quick time event kills in which you have to do timed swirls with the thumbstick and often it just doesn't register. There's nothing as annoying as failing in a boss battle or creature fight because of the hardware.
Save Points: There are a couple of unforgivable save points in the game. Why on earth would you put a save point right before the unskippable cut-scene that introduces an incredibly hard boss battle?
Story: This prequel to the original God of War has a wonderful, potentially emotional plot marred by disjointed delivery. There are moments in the game that could have truly touched gamers, but felt too forced to work.

God of War: Chains of Olympus delivers more to the Playstation Portable than I thought was possible. The game is nearly flawless in its production value and what minor issues it does have has more to do with the irritating difficulty than any real design flaws. My only disappointment lies in the story, which had such great potential for evocative gaming, but never fully delivers.

Set aside a chunk of one day to sit down and enjoy this experience uninterrupted from beginning to end. If I could only buy one game for the PSP, this would be it.

God of War: Chains of Olympus, developed by Ready at Dawn, published by SCEA, released March 4, for $US 40. Available on Playstation Portable, played to completion.


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