The stuff that comes out of every game in the series has always been top notch, and Ready at Dawn's Chains of Olympus is no exception. The hard work put into Chains of Olympus makes us wonder if the developers themselves adhere to the hardened Spartan culture that they so skillfully instilled in Kratos. Like the strictly disciplined Spartans, do these developers kill off straggling animators, modelers, and ilk if production standards are sub par? We only jest of course, but their skill in game design is so analogous to Sparta's warriors it's hard not to try and draw parallels.
Gallery: God of War: Chains of Olympus
The first thing that many gamers will notice is that the series narrator Gaia is back to give us the scoop on what's going down with everybody's favorite Spartan general. The game kicks off with Kratos in Attica, and just like in the demo, he must defeat the Persian army and their mighty Basilisk. From here is where the focus of the game shifts, and apparently a new evil and a new calling arises. Kratos, eyeing the distant horizon, spots a fiery object fall from the sky; curious, he seeks out the fallen object. In doing so, his journey takes him as far as the depths of Tartarus -- the underworld.
Despite the seemingly alluring plot, the actual narrative is not quite on the epic level like the previous two titles. So don't go into this game expecting to see something like Homer's Illiad. While there's a feeling that lingers that there could have been more, it is expected that Chains of Olympus was not meant to be a full-blown prequel but rather it's a side story fleshing out a bit of Kratos' accursed past. The game does achieve its goal of telling that side story, weaving an interesting tale, and all the while still leaving a lot of room for a proper prequel.
On the flip side, God of War games are not particularly well-known for their depth in storytelling; these games are famous because of their compelling level designs and action-oriented battles. Both of which, Chains of Olympus retains faithfully.
The level designs do well in spacing out the action and puzzle portions of the gameplay. There's a good flow between these elements which also makes the pacing from battle to battle fit like a glove. At first, as in the case of Attica, the levels seemed to be way too linear; however, this problem is remedied in the later stages. Most of the puzzles are not that tough; they're all pretty easy to crack, so there are no worries about getting stuck on any one of them. If there were worries about getting stuck somewhere, it would be in finding the right path because some of the environments and the PSP's relatively small screen make it hard to see destructible barriers or climbable walls.
Battles are entertaining skirmishes due to the game's intuitive controls. Weapons and magic are easy to use; the only difficult move to execute is the dodge role which requires holding down both shoulder buttons and flicking the analog stick in the direction you want to move. Enemies provide just the right amount of varying difficulty -- from quick-kill peon soldiers and harpies, to the combo-input kills of Medusa creatures and the giant Cyclops.
One minor criticism about in-game fights is in the boss battles. The bosses themselves are great. They're challenging and it's enjoyable to figure out the winning strategy to take them down; however, the major problem is that there are far too few of these unique challenges. There are only three major boss duels throughout the game, and it would've been great to have had one more. Honestly though, it's not a game breaking issue, but it wouldn't of hurt to just have squeezed one more boss battle in there.
Kratos has two weapons: his default Blades of Chaos, and the Gauntlet of Zeus which is received much later in the game. The weapon choices does seem lacking, but there isn't really much need for another one as his default blades are great to work with and the gauntlet is used for breaking enemy armor or breaking through certain areas in levels. Kratos will also come across a shield and there are three magic spells for him to learn. The magic is actually quite adequate as each one is useful in different situations: the Efreet summon is good for swarms of nearby enemies or for huge powerful foes, the Light of Dawn spell is a good range attack, and Charon's Wrath is a nice way to temporarily paralyze enemies.
It doesn't take much effort to say that the game is aesthetically pleasing; its visuals are awe inspiring for a portable game and that greatly reflects through the game's many huge environments. If the storyline for Chains of Olympus is not epic enough, well at least its levels leave that sort of air. One gripe though is that the frame rate can be choppy at times. It's suspected though that this is due to playing on an older model PSP. Newer models shouldn't have this problem.
An important note to mention is that the game is addicting. It's completely possible to have forgotten one's sense of time while playing this, which is a good thing since you know you're having fun; however, it's bad if you're not mindful of your battery life. When fully charged, the PSP battery will last approximately five hours while running Chains of Olympus; that's pretty good with all things considered.
Detrimental to this, however, is that the game is extremely short; it can be completed within an afternoon of casual play on normal difficulty. If you haven't noticed, all the criticisms mentioned earlier: lacking boss battles, lacking emphasis on story, and lack of weapons all revolve around the relatively short gameplay. While the main storyline is quick to finish, Chains of Olympus does offer some extra challenges and unlockable bonus content to keep replayability high. Taking on the five Challenges of Hades is one thing to do; another is to replay the game in the uber-difficult god mode. Completing both tasks will unlock more bonus content which includes: bonus costumes, behind-the-scenes videos, and image galleries.
While Chains of Olympus is an excellent game, it's not the definitive God of War experience that perhaps many are craving for. The fundamental differences between the PS2 and the PSP do weigh in heavily, and it's probably the reason why the experience of playing Chains of Olympus feels like it's over too quick. The transition from the console to the portable realm will probably not go ignored by those fans who've played the first two games, but it is something that isn't too difficult to get over. Despite this criticism, Chains of Olympus is one of the best experiences to be had on the PSP and one that should surely not be missed.
PSP Fanboy score: 9.0